(UPDATED: 5:45 p.m. I just spoke by phone to John Smoltz and updated this blog with his comments.)
John Smoltz has been talking about playing professional golf since long before he ever retired from baseball. The opportunity just arrived.
Smoltz has accepted a sponsor’s invitation to play in the Nationwide Tour’s South Georgia Classic April 28-May 1 at the Kinderlou Forest Golf Club in Valdosta.
“A guy contacted me last year about doing this and I told him I’d love to but I had to wait and see what my TV commitments were,” said Smoltz, who a color commentator on baseball broadcasts for TBS and MLB. “When the schedule came out, everything just fell into place. I understand the whole process. This is just something I want to try right now. I’ve said all along that I don’t want to do this the wrong way and take spots [with sponsor exemptions] from people who are trying to have a career. But I want to see where it’s like. I’m preparing for it as much as I can.”
The last time I saw Smoltz on a golf course was at the Marietta Country Club last May when he failed in a long-shot attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open. “Back to the putting green,” he cracked afterward.
This time, he didn’t have to qualify for a tournament, thanks to the exemption. The Nationwide Tour is a legitimate circuit and sort of the Triple A for the PGA Tour. This will be the first time Smoltz competes in a PGA Tour co-sanctioned event.
I told Smoltz that I wanted to caddy. He said I was the third to ask but I’ve got a shot.
“You’re in the running,” he said. “What’s that line from Dumb and Dumber? I’m telling you that you’ve got a chance.”
Could I help him much on the course? No. But I promised four hours of daily entertainment — especially if he’s nowhere close to making the cut on Friday.
“I don’t doubt that,” he said, laughing. “The thought did come to me that this could quite embarrassing. I hope to make a good showing. ”
Smoltz, one of the Braves’ all-time greatest pitchers and a likely Hall of Famer with 213 wins, 154 saves and a Cy Young, transitioned into broadcasting last year following retirement. He will play in at least five events this year, including Michael Jordan’s celebrity weekend event for charity in Las Vegas in two weeks (Smoltz will be partnered with Julius Erving), and a two-man, best ball event in Scottsdale, Arizona in mid-April.
He has said on several occasions that he would like to compete one day on the Champions (formerly Seniors) Tour. He’ll have to wait a little while. Smoltz is 44, and that tour’s minimum age is 50. So this is sort of like spring training.
By Jeff Schultz