We’ll never profess to know sports in the way that we do luxury travel, but we have a keen feel for the former, too, and it was on full display during our recent talk with NFL legend Larry Fitzgerald. For weeks, the football world — particularly in Phoenix, where Fitz has starred his past 15 Hall of Fame seasons with the Arizona Cardinals — has wondered if the gifted receiver would retire or return for another year. During our chat, he never specified his intentions, but we could hear something in his inflections that suggested his playing days were far from over. Fitz formally announced his return to the league the day after our interview.
But while Fitzgerald never revealed details about his playing future to us, when the conversation turned to his other love, traveling around the world, the athlete who’s No. 2 on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards was more than game to open up about the league’s grueling schedule, loving golf and visiting 100 countries.
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A fire burned inside of me my rookie year…a desire, over all else, to be great. To excel on the field. To impact the lives of others off of it. I’m grateful that the fire still burns just as bright today, and that this organization has let me chase that fire for well over a decade. Nothing excites me more than continuing to chase greatness with everyone here on and off the field. Let’s get to work! #YEAR16
Super Bowl LIII is upon us. Will you be participating in festivities surrounding the game?
Yeah, I’ll be there all week.
Are you rooting for a particular team?
I don’t have a rooting interest or anything. I’m not like, “Hey, I hope [New England Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady wins” or “I hope [L.A. Rams quarterback] Jared Goff throws five touchdowns.” But I want it to be a fun, entertaining game, where it is viewed [by a lot of people] and the popularity of the game continues to grow.
Golf seems to be one of your offseason joys. When did you fall in love with the sport?
I was introduced to the game by my father as a child. But I’ll never forget Tiger Woods coming to Minnesota and putting a golf club in my hand [as an adult] and teaching me how to grip the club. I didn’t really fall in love with the game at that point, but that was my introduction to it. I knew [enough about] it to understand it; if you asked me the rules, I could have laid out exactly what was going on, but I just didn’t play it.
I was more into the fast sports — football, basketball, baseball, track and things of that nature. I didn’t really get into the game again until about 2012. My buddy who plays for the New York Jets, Andre Roberts — we played together here in Arizona — was like, “Fitz, man, you sit at the house and you just be chillin’ at the house playing video games. You need to come out here and play this game. It’s great. It’s wonderful. It’s entertaining. It’s competitive. It’s right up your alley.”
So, we went up to this charity event and I played in it. I didn’t play well or anything, but I hit a couple shots and I’m like, “Man, that feels good.”
Like any competition, you know you’re not going to get any better unless you put the time in, so I started grinding. I started practicing and really, really getting into it, and I got better and better and better and better.
You know, the great thing about golf is you’re never where you want to be. I remember when I was shooting in the 100s, the 115s, and I would think, “Man, if I could just shoot 90, I would be so happy with that.” Right? And then you get to 90 and you be like, “Man, if I could just consistently shoot 85, I think I would die and go to heaven.” Right? And then you start shooting consistently 85 and your standards are always [rising]. You hold yourself to a higher standard every time. That’s what I love about the game.
You watch [PGA pro] Jim Furyk when he shot that 58 [back in 2016]. I watched an interview with him after and he was like, “Man, I hit that one shot on 14. If I would have just been able to make that putt I could have shot better.” This dude shot a 58 and is talking about a shot that he missed. It doesn’t matter. I love the endless pursuit of perfection that the game brings.
I call golf the best four-hour interview you could have. If you play golf with somebody, it’s pretty much going to tell me a lot about that person, their character. I see the ball behind a tree [and I’m thinking], what is he going to do with that ball? Is he going to play it as it lies, or is he going to move the ball so he can have a better shot? Is he teeing the ball up in front of the tee marker? Is he marking his ball correctly? When he does hit a bad shot, what’s his temperament like? Is he going to overreact? Is he going to throw his clubs? Is he going to use profanity?
That’s golf. It forces you to police yourself and you learn a lot about somebody and it reveals a lot of character about them. That’s what I like.
You recently played with President Obama. What did you learn about his temperament?
He’s the coolest dude you’ll ever meet. He’s so chill. So thoughtful and engaging and just down-to-earth, charismatic. He’s passionate about the game of golf as well, and his game is drastically improving. I don’t think he missed the fairway all day when we played.
He’s very generous to the people he’s playing with in terms of giving them putts, which I really enjoyed. And it was, overall, one of those days you just will never forget. He was just a true gentleman, and everything that you saw on TV and heard about him and read about him is 100 percent accurate.
I know you missed January’s Diamond Resort Tournament of Champions, but you have some other golf events on your schedule, right?
I had too many conflicts, so I couldn’t go, but I will be competing in AT&T [Pebble Beach Pro-Am] the week after the Super Bowl. I would also like to compete at the event in Tahoe. [Edgewood Tahoe’s American Century Championship] is an awesome event as well.
Where are some of your favorite places that you’ve played golf?
I’ve played pretty much all the courses you would imagine: Pebble Beach, Augusta, Pinehurst. Once you get over the nostalgia and just the aura of the course, you kind of just settle down and start playing and you play a lot better.
I remember the first time going to Augusta, I can only equate it to a kid going to Disney World, right? It is so far from your realm of imagination. Coming from a middle-class family, you didn’t have parents driving fancy cars and you weren’t living in big houses. Augusta is one of those places where it’s just not something you can really touch. It’s so far out of the realm of imagination for people who play golf to have the opportunity to actually go there and walk those hallowed grounds and see the spots where some of the greatest players who have ever played our game have played in.
Just seeing the condition of the courses. I remember playing it for the first time, walking the fairways. I didn’t sleep the whole night before. Not a wink. I read every book in my room. I was completely engaged in the experience. Then, I remember coming down on [Augusta National’s] Amen Corner and feeling the same feeling that every kid feels at Disney World when your parents are like, “Okay, you got about an hour to go before we gotta go home.” And you’re like, “Nooo! Please, no! I don’t want to go home.” That was so sweet.
Do you still have that same excitement for football?
Oh, yeah, man. I still feel like that little kid who grew up in south Minneapolis, going to his first football practice at Martin Luther King Park. I still gets those jitters every time I walk on the field. My heart skips a beat still. I absolutely love it. I love the competition. I love the camaraderie that you share with your boys out there. I love the smell of the grass. It’s all like I’m a child when it comes to that. And so, I really do take a lot of joy, a lot of passion, in doing something I love to do.
In life, it is not often that you are able to do something you truly, truly, truly love to do, you know? Every time my feet hit the bed I thank the Lord for waking me up that morning. I’m up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed because I want to do something that I really enjoy doing, something that I have always dreamt of doing since I was a six-year-old and I first started playing. I’m generally just a really joyous person. It usually takes something monumental to really take me out of that mood.
I can hear you packing your bags now. In season or out, you’re always on the go. How do you stay energized with your travel schedule?
I just push through, honestly. I love the travel. I have an unbelievable passion and desire to learn about different cultures and try different cuisines and things of that nature, so I am just enthusiastic about it. Travel is a part of my business. I have to travel to different cities to play ball. I have my own travel company [Nomad Hill] that I started a few years ago with my partners Andrew [Bacik] and Dennis [Amodio], and we want to bring that same excitement that I share, that we share, to everybody else. That’s why we got involved in it. That’s why I do it so much because I’m truly passionate and I love it.
I’ve heard the quote and it really holds true. I can’t remember who the quote originated from, but the quote was, “Travel is the only thing that you spend money on that actually makes you rich.” Some of the experiences that I’ve had, some of the times that I’ve gone through these small villages and seen kids playing in the dirt [have taught me a lot]. When you look at them from a worldly perspective, they don’t have anything. But they’re so happy and so fulfilled. They’re so eager and just blessed about life. It teaches you a lot. It puts life in perspective for me when I see things like that. And that’s why it’s food for my soul when I am able to get out and see and serve people that need to be served.
Tell me more about your travel company.
I’m really passionate about business. I’m actually headed to the airport right now, taking an executive business program at Harvard for the week. I really have a strong passion for growth and knowledge and expanding my abilities. It’s one thing to rest on your laurels as an athlete, but I feel like God put me on this earth for much more than to catch a football and to run with it.
And I think I’m in constant pursuit of a higher calling, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to get into the travel business because I kind of get that feeling of euphoria when I’m traveling, when I’m out doing things like hiking to the base camp of Mt. Everest or I’m watching a pride of lions attack a gazelle. I feel this unbelievable feeling inside my being that just says, “This is life.” And I wanted to bring that authentic feeling to other people that will travel with us.
If you had a friend visiting Phoenix for the first time, what are a few things you’d do to give them a taste of the city?
The great thing about Arizona is that it’s one of the few places that, in the wintertime, you can ski in the morning up north and then you could play golf in the afternoon.
But there are things for everybody. If you are an outdoors person and you love to hike, they have plenty of hiking and bike trails for the people who are enthusiastic about getting out and working out.
If you love to golf, there’s no better place in the country to play golf.
We have unbelievable culinary experiences here. From Steak 44 to Ocean 44 to Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles to Tarbell’s and [Sanctuary on Camelback’s] Elements. They’ve got some really, really special restaurants that you would enjoy. Unbelievable botanical gardens. Unbelievable aquarium here in Scottsdale. Some great children’s museums. Sporting events from basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, football. We have all the sports. I think there’s something for everybody in the great metropolitan area of Phoenix.
Is it true that you’ve gone to nearly 100 countries?
Yeah, I hit 100 last year when I went to Sweden. That was my 100th country.
Where haven’t you gone?
I really want to get to Greece. That’s high on my list of places to visit. And I want to go to Mongolia and Brunei. I’d like to get to Greenland. I would like to get to Polynesia: Bora Bora, Tahiti and Fiji. I’ve never been there before.
Also, I would love to get to the Maldives, especially since the ocean’s rising and they’re saying that it could be under water within the next 20 to 30 years. Those are places that are high, high on my bucket list.