Between the $140 million he made in his baseball career, two broadcasting jobs, the frequent speaking engagements and the three geezer basketball leagues he plays in, there is little reason to feel sorry for John Smoltz if this professional golf thing doesn’t quite work out.
“It’s pie in the sky,” the former Braves pitcher said Tuesday after walking off the Atlanta Country Club golf course around 8 p.m. and failing to advance in qualifying for the U.S. Open (a very large pie, very high in the sky). “My motto has always been to dream big.”
At least he eagled his final hole of the day, No. 9 (he started on the back nine).
“I won the skin!” Smoltz shouted on the green.
Realistically, he knew this U.S. Open thing wasn’t going to happen. (This was his third try.) He hung in there on a tough course until his 11th hole at No. 2, when he lost his tee shot in the trees (or bushes, or pine straw) and wound up with a triple bogey.
“I blew it. Three-run homer,” Smoltz said. He finished at 4 over.
The bigger issue is the Champions (Senior) Tour. It has been Smoltz’s dream for years to play on it when he turns 50.
But Tuesday, the eve of his 46th birthday, he admitted that shoulder problems “dim my hopes for pursuing what I’ve always wanted to pursue.”
He has arthritis in his shoulder. Welcome, John. Your AARP card is waiting.
The condition has prevented him from practicing three or four days in a row. “If you can’t hit a bunch of balls, you just can’t do it,” Smoltz said.
Here’s the irony. Smoltz’s pain is in his left (non-throwing) shoulder, not his right. He hurt it while at the plate. In November 2011, he underwent surgery for a torn labrum, which he suffered on “a swing and a miss” in 1997. It was the season Smoltz won the Silver Slugger award.
“That’s what I get for trying to hit home runs all the time,” he said.
The surgery helped for a while. But after several months arthritis developed. He played pain-free Tuesday and says he has felt well for a few weeks. But he isn’t overly confident things will remain that way.
Then again, this wouldn’t be the first time he has overcome pain, or odds. This is the pitcher who rebounded from multiple surgeries and went from starter to closer and back to starter again. But now he has to deal with a middle-aged body possibly breaking down.
Smoltz tried to qualify for the Open in 2010. Before his round that day at the Marietta Country Club, he stood in the parking lot by his trunk, musing over his first tough decision. “The hardest thing is picking 14 clubs. That’s a dumb rule,” he said.
He was a novelty then: would-be Hall of Fame pitcher embarking on a new career path. Some-40 fans and media members followed him around the course. Smoltz didn’t embarrass himself, but he struggled with his putter and shot 6 over, not good enough to advance to the second stage of qualifying.
Smoltz missed advancing in qualifying by one shot in 2011. But he followed that relative high with a grease fire. He got a sponsor’s exemption into the Nationwide tournament in Valdosta. Didn’t go well. His two rounds scores: 84 and 87.
No wildlife was harmed in this experiment.
“Embarrassing,” Smoltz said. “But as humiliating as that was, I learned something about myself.”
You know what he learned? He hates delays. Can’t stand the pace. Doesn’t like waiting for the one or two or 12 groups ahead of him.
When Smoltz pitched, he would head to the course on days off during his career and play 36 holes in seemingly 27 minutes. He spent a lot less time thinking. He was a better golfer when he was a pitcher, playing for fun, when there was less time to focus. The slow pace of tournament play drives him nuts.
“I know that’s my Achilles,” he said.
So you can imagine his reaction Tuesday when he and his two playing partners had to wait 45 minutes before playing their third hole of the day because of the backup. There were delays all day. When it loosened in the evening, a woman official walked up to Smoltz’s group and asked them to pick up the pace. Somehow, he didn’t throw his club.
“Where was she two hours ago?” he said. “If she was an umpire, I would’ve been thrown out.”
Smoltz had parred his first two holes. But after the delay, he bogeyed the next three.
“The slowdown hurt him,” said his caddie, former club pro Chuck Knobels.
Two birdies got him back into contention, but the triple bogey on No. 4 dropped him to 4 over.
“I was starting to get interested again,” he said.
Smoltz couldn’t help but notice the difference in his gallery from 2010. There was no crowd following him this time. Just as well. Nothing to see yet.
“Ah, I don’t want to shock the world yet,” he said.
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