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Jermaine Kearse tees it up with Jordan Spieth for a new kind of pressure

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Jets WR Jermaine Kearse talks about his round with Jordan Spieth at (0:19)

Jets WR Jermaine Kearse talks about his round with Jordan Spieth at the Travelers Championship celebrity pro-am. Video by Rich Cimini (0:19)

CROMWELL, Conn. -- Jermaine Kearse has played in 12 postseason games in his NFL career, including two Super Bowls. He has made acrobatic catches in the biggest moments, feats born of unshakable concentration and a strong immunity to pressure. Dude is clutch. He doesn't get rattled.

On Wednesday, Kearse's mental toughness was put to the test as he stepped to the first tee at the Travelers Championship celebrity pro-am. This was his first time playing golf in front of a crowd, and it was a big crowd because the pro in his foursome was the popular Jordan Spieth, the fifth-ranked golfer in the world and the tournament's defending champion.

Kearse could've picked an easier public debut, like, say, the local Rotary Club outing, but he went all-in: big tournament, big playing partner. Moments before his first shot, the New York Jets' wide receiver noted how he's played before 80,000 in football stadiums across the country but wasn't sure how he'd handle a few hundred spectators on the golf course. Truth be told, his knees were knocking and his stomach was somersaulting.

"You could kind of see it," his older brother and caddie, Jovan Kearse, said afterward. "When he was holding the club, he was shaking a little bit."

Kearse's first drive was long, if not straight, but he accomplished his modest goal: make contact. He overcame an early case of nerves to shoot an 88 on the challenging TPC River Highlands course, no small feat for someone who picked up golf only five years ago. He made back-to-back birdies (he lipped out two other birdie putts) and mashed a few drives that exceeded 300 yards, drawing applause from the gallery.

Clutch is clutch, regardless of the arena.

"Great shot," Spieth told Kearse several times throughout the round.

Jets WR Jermaine Kearse knocks it to within 12 feet on this 120-yard par-3 in the Travelers Championship celebrity pro-am. His birdie putt lipped out. It would've been his third straight birdie.

Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer ago

Kearse, a 9-handicap, has developed into a full-fledged golfing fanatic. When the Jets had an off day in the spring, he was on a golf course somewhere in New Jersey or New York. Competing against your big brother is one thing; playing alongside a three-time major winner is on another level.

"It was very awesome to come out here and play with a player of his caliber and see why he's so great," said Kearse, who landed a spot in the marquee foursome because of his friendship with Spieth's longtime caddie, Michael Greller.

Kearse and Greller met a few years ago at a Seattle Seahawks practice and they became fast friends. They're both from the Seattle area, where Greller was a middle-school math teacher before caddying for Spieth and where Kearse was a high-school and college-football star before landing with the Seahawks out of the University of Washington.

On Wednesday, Greller introduced Kearse to Spieth, and they hit it off so well they exchanged cell numbers after the round. They spent a lot of time together on the course, walking and talking.

They talked golf, as Kearse probed for advice on how to make in-round adjustments. They talked football, as Spieth asked about the Jets and what it felt like to be traded after five years in Seattle.

"He's a Cowboys fan, but he was curious about how the Jets are going to do this year," said Kearse, who led the team with 65 receptions last season. "I told him I feel really good about our team."

On their long walk across the lush fairways, Kearse and Spieth discovered a cosmic connection between their two sports -- the importance of mental toughness. In football, they go play to play. In golf, it's shot to shot. The goal is the same: Forget about the bad ones and move on. At one point, Spieth teased Kearse, telling him golf is tougher on the players than football because there's no place to hide after a mistake.

Clearly, Kearse is serious about golf. At the 11th tee, he took out his cell phone and took video of Spieth's tee shot. Hey, football players are trained for film study, aren't they? After hooking a few early drives, Kearse asked Spieth for advice. Spieth suggested an adjustment in his stance, and it worked. On the 17th hole, Kearse cleared water with a 350-yard drive -- the golf equivalent of an 80-yard touchdown catch.

"It's been an interesting ride to see where he started to where he is now," Jovan Kearse said of his brother's golf game. "It's kind of like his football career. He started out undrafted out of college, and he's come a long way."

Spieth was the star attraction, but the galleries recognized Kearse. At the second hole, one fan said to another, "He's the guy who made that crazy catch in the Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks." He was referring to Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015, and that circus catch nearly beat the New England Patriots. Malcolm Butler saved the Patriots with his goal-line interception.

There were no heckling Patriots' fans in the gallery. They were kind to Kearse, who received plenty of autograph requests, including from a few Jets fans in the crowd. During a delay at the 15th tee, he and Greller sat on a bench, away from the crowd, talking about old times and eating pizza. Golf is fun for Kearse. Well, let's just say he takes his fun seriously.

"It's a good getaway from football," he said. "You can relax your mind and be competitive at the same time."