Not sure if this will result in self-fulfilling prophecy or not, but John Smoltz is a little worried that he'll take some heat for playing this week in golf's Triple-A league, the Nationwide Tour.
"It's not my intention to take a spot from anybody," he said.
Of course, that's exactly what he's doing.
But in the grand scheme of the game, so what? If some misguided player or critic fires a heater at his ear hole, they deserve the equivalent of having the benches clear and being at the bottom of the ensuing dogpile. Then being fined and ejected.
Upon the invitation of the sponsor, Smoltz is playing this week at the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta, Ga., a couple of hours south of where he toiled for several years as the best pitcher in recent Atlanta Braves history. Bluntly put, if Stone Mountain had been carved more recently, they would have etched his face in the granite alongside Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
How about Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux -- rocks of Braves baseball for about 15 years -- instead?
Anyway, Smoltz is playing this week as a professional, carries a plus-2 handicap and is very serious about golf. His 21-acre home includes multiple tees and greens, and at 43, he is entertaining thoughts about the Champions Tour down the road, like former pro jocks John Brodie and Rick Rhoden.
He took up the game when he was 20 and playing for the Detroit Tiger organization's Lakeland, Fla., minor-league affiliate, though he admits he seriously undervalued the decorum elements. A few years later, he was invited to play a private track in San Francisco, where he teed up an exploding ball on the first tee as caddies and members watched.
"Nobody laughed," Smoltz recalled. "Thankfully, I was forgiven and invited back."
He's been bitten by the full-blown bug. During spring training with the Braves at Disney World, Smoltz routinely played casual rounds with Tiger Woods, and the group included Annika Sorenstam a couple of times. Since the Arnold Palmer Invitational was played during March, word leaked out that Smoltz had beaten Sorenstam in their round.
"I got more publicity for that than anything I did as a baseball player," Smoltz said. "It was all I heard about for a week. 'Hey, good job beating Annika.'"
A year later, they had a rematch.
"She kicked my butt," he said.
Smoltz is a serious player and club champ at his home track north of Atlanta. He hits the ball as far as many tour players, though the Kinderlou venue this week is the longest of the year on the Nationwide. He might need to grab a bigger bat.
"I'm not sure my driver has enough horsepower," he said.
As for his expectations, the guy isn’t messing around, like say, former NFL receiver Jerry Rice, who made a joke of his appearance at the Nationwide last year by shooting a million and getting disqualified for breaking a rule regarding rangefinders. Smoltz took the weekend off from his Fox broadcasting duties.
"Just like I have done in the postseason, even when on the brink of elimination, I've packed enough clothes for all four days," he said. "I don't know any other way to go about it."
Neither does the tour. Smoltz will generate more pub for the tournament than any of the tour players in the field, which is exactly how sponsor exemptions are supposed to work. That's why good stories like double heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, Naval Academy grad Bobby Hurley and Sam Saunders, Arnold Palmer's grandson, get so many exemptions.
No knock on former PGA Tour players like Tom Scherrer, Nick Thompson or Marco Dawson, who are all back on the Nationwide again, but we know what those guys can do and it isn’t exactly making fans line up three deep to buy tickets. Smoltz's appearance, meanwhile, has already generated stories in the New York Times and USA Today.
Besides, don’t faint if the guy makes the cut. He's good enough. Just ask his former playing partner.
"I had not played with an amateur that had ever shot the scores he shot," Wooods said in March. "He is a hell of an athlete. He can play basketball, obviously he was an incredible pitcher. But I think just the way he's able to take that same tenacity into golf is pretty amazing.
"I've gone out there and played with him and he shot, what, 69-67 in the same day. Not too many amateurs can do that, especially when they are still playing a professional sport at the time. So it's pretty phenomenal."
Not many guys recorded 24 wins and 55 saves in different seasons, either. Like, nobody.
"I am doing this because I flat-out enjoy it," he said by phone this week as he drove south through Georgia. "And the competitor in me, I think I can do it."