FRAMINGHAM — The NFL goes on summer vacation for about six weeks from June into July, but it’s a misnomer to call it that for the players.
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry is a good example. He got in a trip home to Arkansas with his wife and baby to see family and friends, but this summer he’s mostly staying in New England, running and lifting weights four days a week as he prepares to report for his eighth NFL season on July 25.
”It’s about maintaining your body this time of year, being ready to go,” Henry said on Wednesday. “I’m pumped, man. You get here and it feels like the offseason flew by, but you’re excited because football is finally back. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but excited for it.”
Henry is also trying to squeeze in a little fun before life starts to get real — training camp in late July, and a second baby expected in early September.
Henry, like many of his teammates, has caught the golf bug. He barely played the sport until six years ago, and has never taken a lesson, but now is logging rounds and taking it more seriously. You might find Henry, 28, hitting a bucket of balls at McGolf in Dedham, or playing with buddy Mac Jones — “Mac can really smack it,” Henry said — at TPC Boston, Granite Links or Dedham Country Club.
On Wednesday, Henry was at the PXG store,getting fitted for a new set of clubs. He hit about 130 balls over two hours in the virtual golf bay as he tested out different clubheads and shafts, while computers measured his spin rate, ball speed, distance (carry and roll), swing path, launch angle, face-to-path, and more.
The PXG store has been popular among Patriots players this offseason — first, Ty Montgomery came in for a fitting, per store manager Daren Balter, and he was soon followed by Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, Christian Gonzalez, and now Henry.
“Every time I play with somebody, they’re like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to get clubs that fit you,’ ” Henry said. “But there’s a lot of work still. These clubs aren’t going to magically fix my game.”
Henry has just a couple of weeks to enjoy his new clubs before camp begins. He said he has been working hard with Mac Jones and is excited to hopefully bounce back from a tough 2022 season, in which the Patriots missed the playoffs and Henry caught a career-low two touchdown passes (down from nine in 2021).
“Me and Mac are close, we spend a good amount of time together, we’ve been throwing, getting after it, just trying to get ready to go,” Henry said. “I think everyone’s excited for a fresh start and a fresh season. Everybody will be fired up and be ready to go.”
Henry didn’t golf much as a kid — “My dad hated golf,” he said with a smile — but he realized after his rookie year in the NFL that he needed to learn the sport. Philip Rivers had invited Henry and his Chargers teammates to his club in San Diego, and the round did not go well.
“I just went out there and sucked. And I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t do this again,’ ” Henry said. “If I get invited to a nice club like this, I want to be able to hit the ball and be adequate, so I just started playing a lot.”
In 2017, Henry ordered his first set of clubs off the Internet and bought a 3-wood at Wal-Mart (“Got to represent Arkansas,” he quipped), and he began teaching himself. He said he’s really only been playing for four years, since knee, back, and shoulder injuries prevented him from golfing in two offseasons.
Golfing during the season is not possible for most players — “When you’re in a car wreck every Sunday, there’s no time for it,” he said — but Henry estimates he plays 10-12 rounds from March to July each year.
Henry may be a professional athlete, but he golfs like the rest of us. He mostly shoots in the low 90s, and hits his drives and irons with a pesky fade. He hits his 7-iron about 165 yards and his driver about 220, but often hits his hybrid off the tee because he didn’t trust his old driver.
“It’s the most humbling sport in the world. That’s why I like it,” Henry said. “You come out here and think it’s going to be so easy just to hit this little ball. Man, this sport will bring you down real quick. I played with a kid that was half my size and was hitting the ball 50 yards farther than me.”
Henry said there isn’t much carryover between football and golf, except that perhaps he’s in-tune with his hands. Henry said he has decent touch around the green, and he was a quick study on Wednesday when PXG pro Brian Fitzgibbons had Henry work on rolling over his wrists to reduce his fade. Within three swings, Henry was hitting the ball straight.
“I’m coachable, Coach,” he quipped.
Golf is a natural draw for Henry, providing a competitive challenge without the violence and chaos of his job in the NFL.
“It’s not overstimulating, and it’s something you do too, so you understand how difficult it is and what they’re doing,” Henry said. “People expect me to hit the ball like 300 yards every time. They think I’m going to be really good. But I don’t take golf so seriously. I’m usually in the trees, fairway bunker, something like that. I’m just out there to have some fun.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.