Jets coach Robert Saleh finds escape in his golf obsession

Robert Saleh had no idea at the time that he needed an escape.

He was a 29-year-old and living his dream as an NFL assistant coach, a newlywed to his wife, Sanaa, and feeling like he had life by the scruff of the neck.

Saleh had no idea what golf might one day bring him.

Then, a series of kismet moments – beginning with the urging of Sanaa – brought Saleh to the game and he’s never looked back, a man addicted to it as so many of us are.

The only shame for Saleh, 43, is that he’s too busy at the moment – leading the Jets as their second-year head coach and continuing to build a life for his six children – that he doesn’t have nearly enough time to play as often as he’d like.

NFL head coaches have a very small window of unencumbered free time in between the season, the draft, free agency, OTAs, minicamps and training camp.

The current period is that one window, between the final minicamp and training camp (which begins in a couple of weeks), and Saleh, on a muggy summer day last week, took the time to play 18 holes with me at Suburban Golf Club in Union, NJ

Jets coach Robert Saleh practices putting before a round of golf in Union, New Jersey.
Jets coach Robert Saleh, like many of us, is hooked on golf.
Mark Cannizzaro / New York Post

Sure, we talked football, talked about the exciting offseason acquisitions the team made, the unknowns about which of those players may emerge as stars, and about the linchpin that second-year quarterback Zach Wilson and third-year left tackle Mekhi Becton are to the Jets’ success.

But we mostly talked golf. What brought him to the game. Staff milestones. Coolest courses he’s played. Biggest thrills. How he became such a golf junkie that he became a course rater for Golf Digest.

Jets fans, you already know from what you’ve seen of Saleh how passionate he is as a coach and about turning your team into a winner.

Saleh is also passionate about golf. There were several times during our round when he picked the brain of Suburban head pro Mark McCormick about the golf swing.

“Everyone needs a vice,” Saleh said. “It’s an opportunity to either get away from everything, being out on the course by yourself, or be with people you enjoy being around. I’ve also used it as an opportunity to bond with the kids. I’ll grab the kids out of school and take one of them every day to go play nine holes. It’s kind of a getaway, it’s a hobby, an enjoyment, just something I like to do. ”

Golf is Saleh’s escape.

Being a head coach in the NFL is stressful. Being the head coach of the Jets, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and whose last Super Bowl appearance was in 1969, is even more stressful.

Jets head coach Robert Saleh smiles during drills at the team’s training facility in Florham Park, NJ, Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Jets head coach Robert Saleh smiles during drills at the team’s training facility in Florham Park, NJ, in May.
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That’s where those late-afternoon nine-hole sessions with his kids come in handy to sooth the soul.

Saleh didn’t play as a kid growing up outside of Detroit. He took the game up when his wife saw so many of his coaching peers playing in their free time and nudged him to join them.

Saleh recalled Sanaa once asking him what the other coaches were doing during their free time and Saleh said, “They’re probably playing golf. ”

“Well, why don’t you take up golf?” She asked him.

“And the next week, the last practice of OTAs, we had a bowling outing with [Texans head coach Gary] Kubiak and I happened to roll the best score among the coaches, ” Saleh recalled. “Because of that, I won a $ 300 gift card to a golf store. My wife had been encouraging me to play as a way to network with the other coaches and colleagues, so I took that as kind of my sign to get into golf. That’s how I got started in golf. I blame my wife. ”

Robert Saleh hits a fairway shot during a round of golf.
Robert Saleh hits a fairway shot during a round of golf.
Courtesy of Robert Saleh

Saleh smiled at that last line, because what he really was doing was thanking his wife.

Saleh used that $ 300 gift card to buy a set of Cleveland clubs. Then he invested in some lessons.

“The very first lesson I ever got I was getting frustrated – I just couldn’t hit the ball straight – and the pro stops me and says,‘ Hey Rob, I’m going to give you your first piece of advice on golf: You’re never going to be good enough to be mad, so just enjoy the game, ” ‘Saleh recalled. “So, from that day forward it’s just been about coming out and enjoying the game. It’s a getaway, so if I’m spending time getting frustrated then I’m not enjoying the game. That’s the attitude I’ve taken with it.

“The second I hit one flush, it was over for me, I had the bug. ”

Saleh, who’s handicap is hovering around 10 at the moment, has had it as low as 6.

“I remember the first time I broke 90 – it was when we were let go in Houston as a defensive staff [in 2010], ” Saleh recalled. “It was the day after we got fired and I had nothing to do and I was like, ‘I’m just going to go play by myself.’

“I don’t remember when I broke 80 for the first time, but I do remember when I broke 70. I shot a 69. ”

It was during the COVID shutdown and he was coaching in San Francisco. He took his oldest son, Adam, to play one afternoon at Almaden Golf and Country Club in San Jose.

“I was just going to play nine holes, but I shot a 34 on the front nine – I was on fire – and I was like,‘ You know what? I’ve got to keep this going, ” Saleh said. “We made the turn and I kept playing well and I shot 69. It was the best round I ever played. It was pretty awesome. ”

How much of a golf nerd has Saleh become?

When he was coaching in Houston, Saleh met a man at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club in Michigan who was rating courses for Golf Digest, and Saleh immediately wanted in.

“I was getting ready to play and another gentleman is coming off the course and he’s got all these bag tags from very nice courses on his bag,” Saleh recalled. “We struck up a conversation and he told me he was part of the golf course rating process. I told him I was interested and gave him my card. ”

The man helped him get into the process and now Saleh has been a part of rating some of the best courses in the country.

Robert Saleh follows through on a fairway shot as a caddy looks on with a lighthouse in the background.
Robert Saleh’s goal is to get to 1,000 golf courses.
Robert Saleh

“I became so obsessed with golf and the course rating, it actually helped me in the game with the things you wouldn’t otherwise know as a casual golfer – the things they teach you to look for like the architecture of the golf course, the conditioning, the placement of bunkers, the shot values, ” he said.

Saleh has bought a bag for each of his kids. In his new home in New Jersey, he has a golf room, where he houses his golf memorabilia, a USA-Canada Bubble Hockey Table and a popcorn machine for movie nights with the kids.

Also in there is a rack where he keeps a logo ball from every new course he plays. As soon as we were finished with our round, his first order of business was to buy a Suburban logoed ball from the pro shop for his collection.

“My goal is to get to 1,000 courses,” Saleh said. “I’m in the 400s somewhere now.”

So, what’s next in golf for a guy who’s already played Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Shinnecock Hills, National and a number of other top-rated courses in the world and broke 70 while playing with his oldest son?

“I just enjoy playing,” Saleh said. “I really don’t have a goal.”

Pause.

“Obviously, Augusta would be nice, ” he went on. “But I feel like we’ve got to win around here first to be able to do that. Just being in New York and having the privilege to interact with fans and season-ticket holders… this place is going to go nuts when we flip it. It’s going to be cool. ”

So will his first trip around Amen Corner at Augusta National.

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