Five things with John Smoltz: Talks playing with Tiger, Annika
Smoltz will tee it up at the Cologuard Classic on PGA TOUR Champions
February 18, 2021
By Connor Stange, PGATOUR.COM
- February 18, 2021
- Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz has long loved the game of golf. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Eight-time MLB All-Star pitcher John Smoltz is set to make his sixth start on PGA TOUR Champions next week when he tees it up at the Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona, for the third time. Smoltz, a 2015 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, spent 21 years in Major League Baseball from 1988 to 2009, including 20 seasons with the Atlanta Braves.
Smoltz started playing golf when he was 19 years old in Class A Minor League Baseball and admittedly didn’t like it at first. But after a couple years, he fell in love with the game and hasn’t stopped playing since. The 1996 NL Cy Young Award winner has played in five PGA TOUR Champions events, including four since 2019.
1. Tunnel vision is key in baseball, golf
Smoltz said there are lots of similarities between the way he approached pitching and the way he plays golf.
“The approach of ‘I’m going to throw a ball here’ is the same as ‘I’m going to hit a ball there,’ but you never want to have a negative thought in your mind,” Smoltz said. “You never want to say on the mound ‘don’t hang this slider’ or ‘don’t throw it in.’ Because ‘don’t’ doesn’t compute with the brain … or at least it doesn’t in mine. It works better when you say, ‘throw a slider down and away.’ I’ve always told all my caddies, ‘don’t tell me not where to hit it. Tell me where to hit it.’”
Smoltz added that his best shots often come when he’s hitting out of the woods and trying to fit the ball through a small opening.
“To me, the driving range is a place where I see too much,” Smoltz said. “When I was on the mound, I saw a tunnel between me and the catcher and I lived in that tunnel. If I’m on a driving range, that’s not a tunnel. That’s a huge, gigantic field. So those similarities (between baseball and golf) exist.”
2. Handling nerves on the golf course and in the broadcast booth
“I’ve never been nervous in baseball, but I sure do get nervous in golf because I know there’s a couple shots I just don’t have,” Smoltz said. “Those kind of nerves are real. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I felt those nerves in baseball.”
After retiring from baseball, Smoltz traded in his glove for a microphone, joining FOX Sports in 2014 as an analyst. Two years later, he was promoted to the network’s lead broadcast team with Joe Buck and together they have called every World Series game since 2016.
“I was a little nervous the first year I did it like anyone would be, but I was still in my comfort zone,” Smoltz said. “Baseball is what I knew and what I had played. Everyone who gets into broadcasting knows there’s a difference between ‘knowing what you know’ and being able to say it in a way that translates. And that’s easier said than done.
“I prepare a ton for broadcasting – way more than I would have prepared as a pitcher. Because as a broadcaster, I need to know 50 individuals. As a player, I only needed to know nine or 10 guys that I was going to face – that was it. I didn’t need to know anybody else. (When I started broadcasting), I was surprised how slow the game was and how at ease I was once I really got in.”
3. A memorable round with Tiger at Augusta
Each year, Spring Training is a time for professional baseball players to prepare for the upcoming grind of a 162-game regular season. One year during his career, Smoltz said his manager, Bobby Cox, let him do something that no other manager in the world would let him do.
“Tiger (Woods) offered to fly me up to Augusta like two or three weeks before the Masters,” Smoltz said. “There was a Sunday during Spring Training and he said, ‘I’ll have you back by 3 o’clock.’ And my manager let me do it. Nobody found out. I flew up there with Tiger and, of course, had the time of my life playing the Sunday (hole locations). All the pins that would have literally been in the tournament on Sunday. And watching that man play that golf course was ridiculous. I think I shot 76 (from the back tees) and he shot 66.”
4. Playing with the pros
Having played with professional golfers on numerous occasions, Smoltz said he’s amazed at how the players manage a tournament and manage their game.
“I’m sure things bother them, but they don’t give off a sense that they do,” Smoltz said. “I’m amazed that they’re managing their set of tools and they don’t make a lot of mistakes. I’m sure they’d all like to hit it a lot better because they’re all perfectionists.
“Everyone’s got a little bit of a different swing, but they all have pretty much the same component that makes them good. If I had to sum it up, they’re all technically sound, they’ve all got technology on their side and it’s matched perfectly, where I’m trying to piece everything together. I’m trying to figure it out as we go. It’s a thrill and it’s a puzzle.”
5. “Who’s your dream foursome?”
“I always say my dream foursome needs to have someone funny, like a Bill Murray,” Smoltz said. “My dream is to play with somebody that I could never play with or spend four hours on a golf course with, like going back in time with Jackie Robinson.
“I’ve always wanted to meet Will Smith. I think he’d be awesome on a golf course. When it comes to PGA TOUR players, any of them are awesome to play with.”
Smoltz added that one of the most memorable rounds he played was with Annika Sorenstam, Tiger Woods and Braves teammate Chipper Jones.
“I just can’t get out of my mind playing with the two No. 1 golfers in the world at the time,” Smoltz said. “It was a memorable round because it was the first time Annika and Tiger had ever played together. I tell people all the time ‘you have no idea.’ TV doesn’t do justice to what the greatest golfers in the world can do to a golf ball. It’s just ridiculous.”