John Smoltz, the former All-Star Major League Baseball pitcher, has become one of the top celebrity golfers and is good enough that he has played in some PGA Champion Tour events.
This week he is Lake Tahoe playing in the American Century Championships at the iconic Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
The tournament has gotten to be a big party, with the area around the 17th hole beginning to rival the 16th hole at the Waste Management Open. This year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no spectators allowed at the course.
Smoltz took some time out to virtually chat with the media as only a select few reporters are being allowed at the tournament.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome Mr. John Smoltz, one of our favorites in the tournament.
I think this is his 12th time playing in the American Century Championship. Looking for his first win here. He’s won the last two tournaments at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in Orlando, two-time defending champ. Welcome back.
Q – John, you finished ahead of, I think it was, Mark Calcavecchia, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, at a recent Champions event. I know those guys are a little bit older now but is that still kind of a surreal moment to you to be in that kind of — those guys are major championship winners.
SMOLTZ: Yeah, it is. First of all, that event and that field, I know where I stand, right? But I’ve learned so much watching them play. And playing in those events, it helps me for tournaments like this.
Running joke was, for a while, you know, somebody was telling me: How can you play in those events and you’ve never won Tahoe? And I said, “Because I need to play in my age group.”
And no one got the joke. Like they’re the best 50-year-olds in the world. I said, The players here are younger, and stronger, and hit it farther.
But it really has helped me become a better golfer. And I learned a lot about myself.
But I’m not going to lie. Those names you mentioned, and those players, my tournament in Atlanta, I played in the final round with Tom Watson and Calcavecchia, and all I wanted to do was beat them. I wanted to be able to play with them. And luckily that day I did. But it’s a treat, when you think about all that they’ve accomplished.
Q. Romo’s the guy to shoot for this year again, I would think. You can beat him. Mulder can beat him. Do you think Steph Curry can now this year, too, given the circumstances of the NBA season?
SMOLTZ: I really do. Given the circumstances of what everybody’s been under for the last three months, I would assume that the majority of people that had nothing to do that love golf probably played golf. So, their game is probably as good as it’s going to get coming into this, because every one of us, with the exception of a few people, are coming off a sport season.
For me, baseball, I’m always coming here after the All-Star Game, flying in, trying to hurry up to play a tournament. This year I had nothing but time.
So, I think Steph — and the fact that this year’s going to be so unique without fans — and the fans make this tournament, we all know that, — there will be some less nerves.
And a little quicker play, where that comes into play coming, 16, 17, 18, you wait; it takes about an hour and change to play those three holes.
So, if you don’t have your swing right and you don’t have your nerves right, coming into those holes and waiting, it exacerbates it and makes it worse. So I think the guys will be in more rhythm in the golf tournament.
And ironically, the course will play a little harder because of that; no grandstands; no fans to frame the hole. So, the holes are actually playing a little different when you don’t see things you normally are used to seeing.
Q – I think you know this, obviously, you started at 30-to-1. Did that shock you?
SMOLTZ: Oh, my gosh, I thought it was a misprint.
Q – And you’ve dropped to 14-to-1, which means they either fixed it or somebody put a lot of money on it. Did you by chance bet on yourself?
SMOLTZ: I did. I did not go in early enough to see the 30-to-1. I just didn’t even believe it, didn’t even wander in. I thought it was a misprint. Lo and behold it was not. So that was shocking to me. So, I know I haven’t had great success here. And last year’s last round was about the worst golf round I could have played, so maybe they were going off that.
Q – We seem to be on some streaks here. Tony Romo has won this twice in a row. Before that, Mark Mulder won it three times. You’ve won two in a row down in Orlando. Why the streaks?
SMOLTZ: You know, the Orlando tournament is different than this. It’s four rounds. It’s more of a pace yourself. And this is a shootout. And I’ve yet to have a round where I’ve done the shootout.
Those guys you mentioned, when they make their birdies and they’re making six and seven a round, that’s what you have to do here. You can’t walk around this golf course and shoot par and have a bunch of pars and maybe one or two birdies. This is really taking advantage of the point system. And three points is a big advantage over the one point for par.
As opposed to Diamonds, it’s two points for par and three points for birdie. So, I strategically play that course a lot different mindset than when you come out here trying to fire at birdies.
I will have to say, this is the best conditioned course that I’ve ever seen here at Edgewood. Everyone is just blown away by the shape it’s in. The greens are the most intimidating greens I’ve seen in a long time. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how guys navigate, and gals, navigate these greens, because, man, they’ll strike the fear in you if you’re in the wrong spots.
I think today — I know I had seven birdies today, but I had seven 3-putts. That can tell you what can happen if you’re in the wrong spots today.
Q – Last week Charles Barkley on a conference call, when asked about what the impact of having no fans was going to be, he said, “Well, for me it’s probably going to be pretty good; I won’t hit anybody.” But then he talked about how much he’s been playing and practicing, and he claimed that he was going to finish in the top 60 this year. I think we have 71 players right now.
What would your estimate of that be?
SMOLTZ: I’ve seen him play at my club recently. And of course, with the time that he’s mentioned, he is playing better. And you see Charles at the range, it’s a different golfer. But then what happens is he comes to the course and then the things that start creeping in.
So, I think without the fans, I think it’s going to be better for Charles. I wouldn’t put it past him. I really wouldn’t. Like I said, the people that normally come here at a disadvantage because of nerves and tension I think will be at ease because the pace of play will be better and the fact of people kind of screaming on 16 and all these different elements, which you become used to and love, will be a little bit easier for those guys.
Q – For you, without fans, any pressure or less pressure; you seem to respond all the time?
SMOLTZ: I’ll be honest when you talk about Champions Tour, my biggest fault in my golf game is that I don’t like playing slow. And I create really bad habits, because I’ll play 36 holes in the time it takes most people to play 18.
So, the pace of play should help me, I would think. The fans, I love the focus of having the fans line a course or be around. I really think that part doesn’t bother me. I like it.
It’s the sitting around and waiting that really gets to me. And I’ve learned how to do that on Champions Tour. But it’s a little different here when you’ve got the excitement and the entertainment and the people always interacting, that won’t happen. So, I think you’ll see some better scores because of it.
Q – What’s your call for MLB? When you hear the stories now that there’s been some COVID infections and whatnot and there’s some doubts out there, what is your overall take?
SMOLTZ: I think baseball has the hardest challenge. There are a million things they have to think about more than probably some of the other sports just because of the moving parts and the amount of games and the amount of players.
I think football has a challenge, but it’s later. Baseball is just going to have to make a decision, I think, and follow kind of like what golf did, in my opinion. They’ve made the right decision by moving forward and taking their protocols seriously but understanding that some people are going to get it, and then in time they’ll be able to come back.
I think baseball players are the same. Again, just about every one of these guys are in great shape. Should get over it really quick. And the mindset’s gotta be next guy up.
We’ve got to play this season. And I think getting through the season will have its challenges, but I’m confident that they will be able to do that, whether it’s even sometimes having to move a team from a different stadium if there’s a hotspot.
But baseball being back and basketball coming back and hockey and football, for this country, and for people who have really trying to figure out what the future holds, it will be a nice — it will be nice to have options back on TV.
I know people are getting used to things they never got used to before; and for me personally, my schedule just got crazy because I’m going to be doing a lot of games from a studio. And that’s going to be hard for me.
I like structure. I like being at the stadium. I like seeing the players. I like knowing what’s going on. First week I’m going to be flying blind a little bit trying to figure out this thing works and technology that’s going to allow me to broadcast a game.
So, the 24th or 25th is my first game for MLB Network and Fox. And I’ll be going at it pretty hard, as long as the season keeps going.