This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports MagazineRead the full digital edition.

Brandon McManus bends carefully at the waist. His eyes peer downward, almost as if he’s afraid to look. He sees exactly what he was hoping not to. He quickly rises and shakes his head.

“Thought I had it,” he chuckles.

His brand new golf shoes are covered in black mud.

The 532-yard 16th at Colorado Golf Club – one of the state’s prettiest, yet toughest, golf courses – has a little creek that meanders along the entire right side of the fairway, and from tee to green it’s been toying with McManus, the placekicker for the Denver Broncos, like a crosswind in the south end zone of Mile High Stadium. The safe shot from the tee box is to play left; that’s the shortest and easiest way hit one’s second shot from the fairway. But that route also results in the longest possible second shot on an already difficult par 5. Launching a drive to the right is unquestionably the shorter path to the green, but it’s not that simple. The farther right the drive, the more the creek comes into play. Many a golf ball, hit just shy of the intended target, has gone swimming in its calm but hungry waters.

Back at the elevated tee box, McManus boldly stared down the creek and accepted the challenge. And in the ensuing exchange of blows between kicker and creek, McManus landed the first punch.

Athan Kerr, said it was the longest drive on the 16th he’d personally ever seen. Kerr has been caddying at the club for four years, so he’s seen plenty. After approaching the ball and doing some quick math, he assessed that McManus’ drive traveled 364 yards. And it’s dry as a bone.

But not by much. As McManus stood over the ball, knowing full well he had the club to find the center of the green – after all, it was only 168 yards away – he stopped. His lie was not the best. In fact, it wasn’t good at all. The area that led down to the creek was covered in native grasses and his stance was uneven at best, treacherous at worst. He regathered himself, same club in hand, knowing he’d have to hit the ball cleanly to put it anywhere near the stick.

He didn’t. Instead, he found himself back on the other side of the creek. The ball was well-struck, but it just kept tailing off farther and farther from its intended target. When it landed, that damn creek gurgled between the ball and where McManus wanted it to be. Still, though, the ball was dry.

At Colorado Golf Club (or any course, really), you’re not supposed to drive a cart into the native. The magnificent track played home to the 2010 Senior PGA Championship and the 2013 Solheim Cup, but it’s the acres and acres of native that play home to deer, bull snakes and a flock of turkeys that fittingly gobble after most poorly hit shots. The native is also why McManus had a long walk to his ball, which now sat 75 yards to the right of the green.

McManus grabbed a club and started walking; Kerr hustled over to the cart, drove it around to the path, hopped out and then stood about where he thought his loop should hit it. Laying two, McManus flopped the ball perfectly from the rough onto the green – exactly where Kerr had suggested. It was the perfect recovery from a bad second shot.

The next challenge, however, was not the putt, but rather the creek. Walking to a bridge would require some serious backtracking and a lot of unnecessary time and effort. Crossing the creek – which in most spots was doable – seemed like a better option. McManus decided to take the shortest path back to the green, a straight line.

Now, this line and the creek met at a place where the water spread out just a bit wider. Coming out of college in 2013, McManus was not invited to the NFL Combine, but he participated in Temple’s pro day, as well as the NFL’s regional combine, where he posted a respectable broad jump distance of 9 feet and 6 inches. The creek didn’t look wider than that, so he leapt.

And he made it.

The only problem was that the land on the fairway side of the creek was only dry on top. As soon as his shoes hit the ground, they sunk in. His Titleist Pro V1 had somehow eluded the creek. His brand new Nikes, a trendy looking pair of saddle-colored Lunar Waverlys, did not.

Now on the green laying three, here he stands, mud covering his shoes, staring at the 30 feet between his ball and a birdie.

“Where’s it gonna go?” he asks Kerr.

Kerr wiggles the flagstick in a small circle, pointing to an area where he wants the putt to travel.

“But give it speed,” says the caddy.

McManus finds the right line, but he fails to gauge the the distance; with the help of strong gusts all day long, the lightning fast greens at Colorado Golf Club have even the most confident putter seizing up and second-guessing their backswing. It’s not a bad putt, but it’s a miss nonetheless.

His card that day won’t show a birdie, but he taps in for a well-scrambled par.

“Look at those shoes!” says his playing partner, pointing at the mud that’s caked nearly up to the swoosh.

“That’s why they’re shoes,” he replies.

“We can get got those cleaned up for you back at the clubhouse,” says Kerr. “I can definitely have those taken care of.”

McManus stops. He looks back at Kerr.

“No. I couldn’t do that,” he says. “It’s not a big deal.”

“But they’re brand new? You should,” says Kerr.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t you?” the partner asks. “Those kicks are brand new.”

“Have someone else clean the mud off my shoes? No way. That was totally my fault,” McManus says, dismissing the notion once and for all, as if it were ridiculous to begin with.

He hops in the cart and he’s off to the 17th.

But the 16th hole is significant. Not because of his big drive or his hard-earned par, but because of the journey. And because of the mud. It’s often said that one can learn more about a man over 18 holes of golf than in a boardroom or over a lunch meeting. This adage holds true for McManus, who doesn’t spend much time in boardrooms or lunch meetings anyway. In fact, the 16th hole alone reveals plenty.

From tee to green, here’s what was learned.

McManus doesn’t back down from a challenge; the creek called and he answered. An excellent, four-sport high school athlete, he’s one competitive sonuvagun. He’s not a trash talker, but if and when someone calls him out – like when he was caught on camera jawing with Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler during the AFC Championship – he’s not afraid to hold his own. He doesn’t remember what Butler said to goad him, and he doesn’t recall what his reply was, either – “Heat of the moment kind of thing,” he says – but he knows he didn’t sit quietly and just take it. He never does.

Like any golfer, or human being for that matter, he is not perfect; for as masterful as his first shot was, his second was humbling, if not downright bad. Perhaps more than most, however, he is extremely mentally resilient – his third shot from the deep stuff and onto the green proved that. Of course, that’s probably a prerequisite for his day job. The chip from 75 yards, in the rough, across the creek speaks volumes, but something he says back in the cart reinforces the notion: “From high school on, I’ve never missed back-to-back kicks.”

Against the Bengals last season, he shanked what might have been one of the biggest kicks of his life. With four seconds left on the clock and a chance to win the game, McManus duck-hooked a 45-yard field goal worse than any golf shot during this particular outing. But just five minutes later in overtime, he coolly nailed the game-winner from 37 yards out. From Week 11 to Week 15, McManus missed at least one kick in five consecutive games – four field goals and one extra point, his first ever. But from Week 16 to Super Bowl 50’s final gun, he was perfect. The offensively challenged Broncos needed him to be.

“I would rather be kicking a 65-yarder for the win than standing over a two-foot putt,” he says. “I love pressure-packed situations. I love having the game on the line.”

He says that seriously – very seriously – but he’s not overly serious.

After his playing partner dribbled a putt woefully short on No. 6, he offered a vintage golf barb: “Maybe next time your husband can play with us.” His work for an anti-bullying campaign is evidence that his jokes are only in jest.

While arranging the details for playing golf, and a few instructions for the photo shoot that will precede the round – namely, “wear pants, not shorts,” he responded instantly via text: “Come on guys, I’m a fashionista. I know I need to wear pants.” He’s wasn’t lying, either. He arrived that morning wearing the latest and greatest from Nike and FootJoy – brand new and matching the orange and blue of his Denver Broncos. His shoes and belt match perfectly. It’s probably safe to assume that he’s a bear for detail, the kind of precision that makes snappy dressers, good golfers and elite kickers.

All of these tee-to-green discoveries shed light on why McManus has ascended to the rank of professional in the world of sports. He gets paid to play a game, and it’s easy to see how and why.

But it is the mud – after the par putt drops – that tells a story of who he is, where he comes from and what he stands for.

The fact that he has no interest in allowing a clubbie to clean his shoes has nothing to do with money (word around the club is that McManus is a generous tipper), nor does it suggest that he’d rather not have some kid messing with his new golf spikes. Remember, “they’re just shoes.”

As of the first week of May, McManus became one of the newest members at Colorado Golf Club. More than just his membership status, it’s all new to him. This might be the first “private” institution he’s ever been a part of. He’s been playing golf since he was a little kid, but his game was developed primarily on public tracks. His high school, North Penn, which is 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia, is public. Temple, which he chose because he’d have the opportunity to be a four-year starter, is an inner-city, formerly private, turned public university.

“I don’t believe in going to private school,” he says.

Although he can now afford the same membership that “one of the top Microsoft guys” has, he is not the country club type. He says he joined Colorado Golf Club because of the amazing views and its proximity to Dove Valley, but early in the round he reconsiders the question without being prompted. “I joined a club so I could play a lot and get better,” he says bluntly.

The thought of paying someone – or even asking for that matter – to clean the mud off his shoes is foreign to him. He’s used to the harsh language and brutal honesty of sports fans from Philly. He’s not rough around the edges, but at the same time, he’s the furthest thing from Judge Elihu Smails. McManus is more Ty Webb – young, confident, free-flowing, just looking for a game.

After the round, back inside the pristinely kept clubhouse, McManus grabs a seat in the lounge to make sure his playing partner – a writer – has everything he needs for the story. Almost midsentence, he perks up, noticing some commotion on a nearby television. PGA pro Will Wilcox has just hit a hole-in-one on the “island” 17th at TPC Sawgrass, a feat that hadn’t happened in 14 years – 6,300 attempts to be exact.

“Ever had a hole-in-one?” the writer asks.

“Nope. Never,” he says. “But I did have my best round ever there.”

“At Sawgrass?”

“Yep. I shot an 80.”

Now that he has a course where he can play regularly and consistently work on his game, a score of 80, even at Colorado Golf Club, is surely just around the corner. Before the Broncos are immersed in their title defense, it’s a certainty that McManus will spend plenty of time in pursuit of making 80 his second-best round. He didn’t come close to that number today. The high winds and the distraction of an inquisitive reporter make this round feel a like a miss.

He’s done golfing for the day, but will return tomorrow with the mud still stuck to his shoes, knowing he doesn’t miss back-to-back.