Leading into the American Century Championships at Edgewood in South Lake Tahoe, I had a chance to be part of conference call with former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, one of the top golfers in the celebrity event.
The tournament play starts Friday at Edgewood and goes through Sunday in what promises to be another big party on the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Smoltz won the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions in January. In March he finished 53rd in a field of 76 in the Cologuard Classic in Tucson in the PGA TOUR Champions.
In April he was 61st in a field of 77 in the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. And recently he was 76th in the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wisconsin, again with the best 50‑and‑over players in the world.
Smoltz not only talked golf, but baseball as well. Following are excerpts from the conversation.
John, just to get us started, who was the most impressive talent that you’ve seen on the PGA TOUR Champions when you’ve been teeing it up with those guys this spring?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, first and foremost, the experience has been unbelievable. And every one of them, they’ve done this their whole life. What I’ve been most blown away by is how far they hit it.
Most of my friends say to me that I must be one of the longer guys out on that field. And it’s not really the case. Guys like Scott McCarron, who every time you look up, he’s either first, second or third.
Of course, there’s so many great golfers. Scott Parel hits it a long way. There’s a lot of my friends that I’ve gotten to know that I’ve golfed with out there that have been U.S. Open winners.
And it’s just amazing to watch what they do how they navigate the golf course. Every single tournament that’s kind of like their routine and their structure. It’s been a treat to be part of it. And I’ve learned a lot.
Bernhard Langer, obviously, is the cream of the crop of that tour. And age doesn’t seem to be slowing him down at all.
Q John, what do you think will help you more playing at the American Century Championship? Last year you were 10th; you had a plus‑53. Do you think winning the Diamond Resorts will give you that confidence to bring you up to first and beat Tony Romo or Mulder? Or do you think it’s competing, like you will be next week against some of the best players in the world on the PGA TOUR Champions?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Combination of both. Last year coming off the U.S. Senior Open event, I ended up, unfortunately, blowing my back out in the middle of last year’s tournament, which was a bummer.
I had a really good first round. High expectations. And had a hard time finishing. So, the win in Florida, a four‑day event, which we’re used to playing three‑day events, will go a long way to helping me for Tahoe. For the American Century Championship, it’s one of those things you mark your calendar. I’ve learned how to slow down a little bit. My schedule is brutal. But I’ve learned some things along the way that actually gives me a better feeling for competing in the field that we have there.
Q I do have a question about The Hall of Fame. This year two pitchers were elected with considerably less than 300 wins. It used to be that 300 was an automatic more or less for Hall of Fame induction. Do you feel that the bar is coming down?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well it’s going to have to, not necessarily just because of the two you’re talking about ‑‑ they had brilliant careers, it’s just the way the game is being played. Pitchers, length of their careers are going to be shortened.
The expectation of what their role is is going to be lessened. So, with that is going to come in some categories a reduced version of what maybe typically your kind of used to. So those other numbers that will be much higher, strikeouts is one of them. ERAs will be much lower.
But from the standpoint of the wins department, yes, I don’t know that we’ll ever see that again. And at some point, it will self‑correct and things will turn around and it will be more expected from a starter. But at this point I think it’s a fair statement to make.
Q C.C. Sabathia leads all pitchers in wins, he’s around 260. Do you think we’ll ever see another 300‑game winner?
JOHN SMOLTZ: No, no, that’s what I was referring to. I don’t think that 300 will be anything that we talk about. I think that there’s an outside chance for someone to reach back with their unique style and body. Justin Verlander would be the guy. I don’t know how many wins he has currently. I know it’s over 200. But he could be, maybe the one guy that pitches beyond what he has to or needs to. But that’s a difficult thing to foresee someone getting 300 wins based on how pitching has kind of changed and the usage of it.
Q John, I saw in the transcript from the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions that you never had an eagle at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. How is that even possible with all those reachable par‑5s?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I think I finally did ‑‑ I’m not sure I got one last year or not, but I’ve just not taken advantage of the par‑5s, which I’m learning not to get so excited about when I get ready to play it because it’s reachable. And for whatever reason hadn’t had much luck.
Ironically, this past tournament in Orlando I think I had two eagles in the same tournament. So maybe I’ve broken the seal with that.
But there’s no doubt that you win the golf tournament at American Century Championship by taking advantage of them early because you’ve got back‑to‑back par‑5s. And especially if you do well, and if you don’t then it works opposite.
But it’s some things, just like in my sport, in baseball, there were certain stadiums and places that fit your eyes, certain hitters, for whatever reason, sometimes it just works that way with golf. Some holes you don’t have success on. There’s no reason ‑‑ there’s no way to come up with a reason.
But I’ve learned really a lot about my golf game in the last couple of years and that is, I think, going to help me play the golf course the way the golf course and the shots are to be played instead of always gambling and taking high risk and going for everything.
So, I’ve got to take advantage of it in the next couple of years, because when you start getting around 55, 56, 57, your opportunities of reaching par‑5s in 2s will probably be going down.
Q John how well do you know Tony Romo? And do you guys have a connection on playing in these PGA TOUR events and going up against this outrageously strong competition multiple times?
JOHN SMOLTZ: The first tournament Tony played in, we were matched up, I think we both tied for second along with Elway. And that was obviously when he was still playing. His game was pretty strong. And the PGA TOUR extended an opportunity for him in his hometown to play in that event.
It is as simple as you don’t know what you don’t know until you go and do it. As great of a golfer as Tony is at that level, you tell yourself you can do it, it’s just another tournament, it’s just a game and you’ve played a million rounds of them.
But I guarantee you he learned a lot in that experience, as I did in the U.S. Open. And I think, as any athlete who is trying to do something great, you have to stare failure in the face and learn from it. Obviously, people are going to ‑‑ there’s a bunch of naysayers in whatever walk of life or whatever you’re trying to do.
But as far as American Century Championship, Tony came in on fire. He was, I think, at the Wisconsin Amateur, he won by eight shots or something coming in. So, he definitely was in a good place. And it’s his offseason.
I’m not really retired anymore. It’s in the middle of baseball. So, I’m having to show up as well to try and learn from past experiences to try to play the golf course because I’ll be coming in from Cleveland right after doing the All‑Star Game. nd I’ve learned not to hurry up and play golf there. I’ve learned some lessons of trying to play 36 and hit so many golf balls and hurry up and try ‑‑ the best thing I can do now is whatever game I have, play it and not wish I had something else, and enjoy one of the greatest venues in the world.
By Dennis Miller