John Smoltz once played alongside both Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam in the same round. The Hall of Fame baseball player is a self-taught golfer who enjoys being in competition alongside the world’s best – it’s how he learns.
“I don’t know what TV does for every other sport as far as those who watch it and what they feel like they can get out of it,” said Smotz. “But golf, there’s just no way until you see it live, until you’re in the group, until you watch a person hit a golf ball, TV cannot duplicate that or give you the sense of what it’s like. That’s what I found.”
Smoltz, 51, is among the celebrity headliners at the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions Jan. 17-20 at Tranquilo Golf Course at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando. It’s the first TOC on the LPGA schedule since 2007. Celebrities like Smoltz, Larry Fitzgerald, Roger Clemens and Toby Keith will play 72 holes alongside LPGA champions in a separate competition. The celebrities and amateurs will use a modified Stableford format and compete for a $500,000 purse.
Now that it’s a slow time for his two broadcasting jobs, a re-energized Smoltz is eager to see if he can put what he has practiced into competition. Physically, he said, he’s in a better place than he’s been in years to play six consecutive rounds with his bum shoulder.
Smoltz qualified for last year’s U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor, where he missed the cut with rounds of 85-77.
“I’m just here to tell you that if an amateur sitting at home thinks they can do something, like a lot of people think that they can sit on the couch and say, I could break 80 at that golf course,” said Smoltz, “I’ve got news for them all: You can’t.”
Smoltz says he has learned through his share of embarrassing golf tournaments, particularly the way that he manages his way around the course.
“I have that monster within me that wants to go for everything,” he said.
Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona doesn’t compete in as many high-stakes rounds as Smoltz, at least the kind in which there aren’t any gimmes.
“If you think it takes courage to do baseball,” said Francona, “it takes a ton of courage to get on that golf course because we might play in front of 35 or 40,000 people every night and never blink an eye. And then you get over there on the golf course and there might be 200 people standing there and you can barely get the club back. It’s a whole different world for a guy like me.”
Former Vanderbilt star Marina Alex won for the first time on the LPGA in 2018. Having a winner’s-only event back on the schedule shows the growing strength of the women’s tour, she said. And the fact that celebrities are along for the ride at such an elite event: not a problem.
“It’s not really much different than playing in an LPGA event where maybe you’re playing with someone who you haven’t played with for the first time,” said Alex. “And you, again, are just trying to feel out your competitors and your playing partners as to whether they like to talk a lot, whether they’re strictly focused on their games and kind of just going off of that.”
World No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn has committed to the field, as has Brooke Henderson, Stacy Lewis, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome and Lydia Ko.
They’ll all have the respect of Smoltz.
“To me, golf is the greatest challenge in the world between your mind, body and nobody else,” he said. “I mean, I can get bailed out as a pitcher by my teammate. You don’t get bailed out in golf.”