Smoltz eager for start at Cologuard Classic
February 28, 2019
By Bob McClellan , PGATOUR.COM
- February 28, 2019
- John Smoltz once played 73 of the top 100 courses in one MLB season. (Getty Images)
Because he was a pitcher during his Hall of Fame baseball career, John Smoltz had a lot of time to play golf.
And so he did. Often.
Go ahead and Google “John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and golf.” Part of a revered Atlanta Braves pitching staff together, Smoltz told Golf Digest the three pitchers once played 73 of the top 100 golf courses in the United States … in one major-league season.
He loves the game, and he has plenty of game himself. No less than Tiger Woods has vouched for Smoltz’s golf chops. The two are good friends and have teed it up frequently.
Smoltz, 51, will test himself against the best in the world this week at the PGA TOUR Champions Cologuard Classic in Tucson, Arizona. It is one of three events in which the former Braves star has been offered a sponsor’s exemption.
To say he’s looking forward to it is an understatement.
“I’ve been thinking about this for the last three months or whenever since I first found out,” Smoltz said. “Planning my schedule and trying to literally calm down, meaning as we get closer, downplay it. But the honest truth is I’m as excited as you can imagine and I look forward to teeing it up on Friday.
“These next two days are kind of what I’ve learned to, you know, if I was pitching, I wouldn’t think about pitching until the first throw in the bullpen. The problem with golf is I think about it all the time.”
He even has spent a little time dwelling on his only other tournament appearance – the 2018 U.S. Senior Open. It was a major story and accomplishment that Smoltz qualified. But he was humbled at The Broadmoor East Course in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Keep in mind the winning score for the four-round USGA event was 3-under par. It was a tough course set up to play tough. Smoltz shot an opening 85, making it virtually impossible for him to make the cut. He was a little better with a second-round 77, but at 22-over he missed the cut by 14 strokes.
There will be no cut at the Cologuard Classic. Smoltz will play 54 holes, and he hopes to glean whatever he can from it for his next two chances on PGA TOUR Champions.
“I will be the happiest guy here no matter what the scores are,” Smoltz said. “That wasn’t the case at the Open. I was not prepared for a lot of things. I kind of beat myself up a little bit because I was focused on the score, and then I realized this is a great opportunity to learn. I qualified, and the thing I have to keep remembering is that I’ve learned that last year. It wasn’t … this was something that was hard and this event here will have … I know I’m going to play in threes, so this is the first stage of trying to be as good as I can be and then learn.”
Smoltz is in good shape and by all accounts has plenty of power. The difference for him, as it would be for any accomplished amateur golfer, is consistency. And he knows it.”
“I played with so many great players on this tour and I watch them constantly and I go, wow, there’s the separator,” Smoltz said. “If you think you’re really good as an amateur and you think you can play, just play in a practice round with some of these guys and you’ll realize where your weaknesses are without even having to say it.
“It’s one of those things where they don’t draw pictures, right, on a scorecard, they just put the score. These guys know how to score. I can hit it on the range whatever far and it looks good. It’s what you do under the gun of shots that you go, man, I’m not really comfortable with this shot. I’m learning to be more comfortable.”
The pedigree of a pitcher, one of the greatest in postseason history, too, gives Smoltz a bit of an edge over other athletes who might fancy themselves good enough to take on Bernhard Langer, Steve Stricker, Jerry Kelly and the like on the links. But just as none of them would stand much a chance in a batter’s box against the hard-throwing righthander, these guys have been at the top of the golf world for years.
“They just can go low at any time they want,” Smoltz said. “It can be very intimidating. I literally watched the last three events, and the third one I had to turn off because I was like ‘8 under, 9 under in a round?’ I’m going … that’s how much appreciation I have for the greatness that these guys have.”
Smoltz worked fast on the mound. And a pitcher is in charge of the action. He admits he likes to play fast golf. So slowing himself and his thought process down to fit the professional game is something he believes could be a struggle.
He harbors no illusions of even a top-10 finish in the desert, saying it would be akin to winning three Cy Young Awards in a row.
“A great high school pitcher could pitch a couple innings in the big leagues and do fine. It’s just the longer the game goes, the more that is going to expose him, and that’s the way I feel about this golf,” Smoltz said. “I can hang in there in practice rounds and certainly one round, but it’s what they’ve done their whole life that separates you from the rest. I know I can compete, I know I can play golf. It’s just a matter of under this environment, so I’m looking forward to that.”