Golf Buzz

January 26, 2015 - 12:21pm
Posted by:
Carroll Rogers, For PGA.com
mark.aumann's picture
John Smoltz
PGA.com
Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz is as competitive on the golf course as he was on the mound.

For newly-elected Baseball Hall of Famer John Smoltz, golf has always been a part of the equation. He first took up the game to kill time while pitching in Class A Lakeland (Fla.) with the Detroit Tigers organization. He used golf as an outlet for his competitive nature and high-energy personality as he developed into one of baseball’s great pitchers after being traded to the Atlanta Braves.

A long driver with a self-taught swing, Smoltz became both a scratch golfer -- he estimates he’s now a 1-handicapper -- and the ringleader of a golf-crazed Braves pitching staff.

SWING ANALYSIS: What makes John Smoltz's swing so great

Smoltz was well-known around the Braves’ clubhouse for his little black book of golf contacts. He had a knack for both the tough shot and the tough get, orchestrating tee times on the road for his fellow Braves and eventual fellow-Hall-of-Fame pitchers Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux.

“The great thing for us with him was when the wheels were going down on the plane wherever you were going on a road trip, it was ‘All right, Smoltzie, where are we playing and what time do we need to be in the lobby?’” Glavine said. “And he had it all handled. It was phenomenal.”

The trio played courses like Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Merion and Pine Valley. Smoltz got them on at Olympic Club, at Riviera, Shinnecock Hills and Cypress Point.

“He knew two weeks in advance what the golf schedule was,” Maddux said recently of the guy he calls one of his all-time favorite teammates. “That was the impressive thing because most guys wouldn’t do that. ‘We’ll wait and call the day of, or the day before.’”

The decorum was no accident. Smoltz inherited an address book of contacts from veteran Braves who taught him how to handle himself on exclusive golf courses -- Rick Mahler and Jerry Royster -- and he spent years adding to it. Smoltz called clubs, talked to pros and built relationships that have helped him create “an army” of people around golf he’s gotten to know and enjoy.

“What I learned to do was just call up the clubs and get the pro’s name and ask the pro ‘What are your rules? How does this work?'” Smoltz said. “And in the early part of my career, not literally but figuratively, I couldn’t get past the ‘Hi, I’m John Smoltz of the Atlanta Braves,’ click - because we lost 100 games every year. I just worked my way into finding different people, and they would point me to different people, and you’d inevitably get one or two guys that know like 60 people each.”

HALL OF FAME SWINGS: Ten baseball greats who excel at golf

Smoltz said he learned golf etiquette the hard way. He was a rookie pitcher on a trip to the West Coast when Mahler invited him to play at San Francisco Club, when he tried to pull a practical joke.

“I had an exploding golf ball on the first tee, and he didn’t know it,” Smoltz said. “Nobody knew it. I knew it was going to be funny. And so I asked the caddies and everyone standing around ‘How far is the trap way down there?’ And they said, ‘You can’t reach the trap.’ I said ‘Well, watch me, because I can crush a golf ball,’ and I almost started giggling…

“I swung and the ball exploded and nobody said a word. Nobody laughed. And Rick was embarrassed. We were walking down the fairway and I turned to Rick and I said ‘This place is a joke. You can have it.’ And he goes, ‘Listen, don’t utter those words ever again and just be glad that we may come back one day.’ I then realized how awesome this place was and what I had done. And from that point on I started to learn etiquette, what to do and what not to do.”

That little black book, which actually turned into several little black books, is now scattered through the contacts of Smoltz’s phone. He typed in all the numbers himself over plane trips and down time. It’s all the better now for backing them up and for always having them handy.

“I don’t know how many (contacts) you’re allowed in your phone but I’m pushing the limit,” Smoltz said.

HALL OF FAME ROTATION: Like Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine bitten by golf bug

And yes Maddux and Glavine still don’t mind getting Smoltz’s help for tee times from time to time. Now they want to see what kind of pull Smoltz has overseas. The three of them always talked about playing golf together in Scotland and Ireland when they retired. They’re making plans to take a trip to one or the other or both in April if their schedules permit.

Smoltz estimates he’s played 75 of the top 100 courses in the U.S. but the only place he’s played outside the United States is in the Bahamas.

Here are some other fun facts and tall tales about Smoltz in golf.

ACES FOR AN ACE

Smoltz said he has had eight holes in one. Eight! His favorite one was at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas. He hit driver on No. 11, a par 4 with an elevated green.

“It was a shot you’re not really supposed to try,” Smoltz said. “There was no room for error. To give you a perspective, it was in a practice round and then the next day of the tournament, I tried it again and I made a 7.”

FIRST TIME AT AUGUSTA

Smoltz has played Augusta National a handful of times, including once with Tiger Woods, but his most vivid memory of playing there is his first time when he played with fellow Braves pitcher Charlie Leibrandt.

“After the ‘91 World Series, we were folk heroes and everyone thought we won, and it was just crazy the way it all went down,” Smoltz said. “We played Augusta in ‘Caddyshack’ rain, coming down so hard that the caddies looked at us and said ‘What are you guys doing?’ We said, ‘We don’t know if we are ever going to get back. We’re playing as long as they don’t kick us off.’”

TRASH TALK

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy and fellow Atlanta resident is a close friend of Smoltz’s. Their kids attended the same school and they are in the same men’s bible study group. Foxworthy loves to tell the story of how Smoltz finally talked him into playing golf together.

“I remember the first time he wanted to play golf with me, and I’m like ‘No, you play with Tiger, I’m not playing with you.’ And we go over to Golf Club of Georgia and the first hole is a par 5, and I hit my drive about 205 yards. But it’s in the middle. I can see it. I’m happy. He steps up and hits his like 340 yards, just like a rocket launch, and as we were walking back to the cart he said ‘Hey, did you hear they’re going to be building a new mall over here?’ I’m like ‘No, where would they put it?’ He said, ‘Somewhere between your ball and my ball.’ And I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be a long, long day.’” 

January 26, 2015 - 9:37am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Bill Haas
YouTube
Bill Haas won the Humana Challenge Sunday (left) thanks to a clutch shot down the stretch -- something he's done before (right, at the 2011 Tour Championship).

Did you see the shot Bill Haas hit on the final hole at PGA West yesterday? It helped him save par and secure a one-shot victory, the sixth of his career on the PGA Tour and his second in the Humana Challenge.

In case you missed it, here's the shot:

That shot would be remarkable under any circumstances, but especially with the tournament on the line.

RELATED: Haas wins Humana Challenge | Final leaderboard | Winners' bags

It reminded me of another more extraordinary shot Haas pulled off in the 2011 Tour Championship at East Lake on his way to winning that tournament and, ultimately, the FedExCup.

Playing the 17th hole -- the second hole of a playoff with Hunter Mahan -- Haas's second shot sailed left of the green and settled just on the bank of the lake. It looked like his hopes of winning were nothing more than ripples in the water.

The ball was half-submerged -- just enough to give most golfers false hope that they might be able to pull off a miracle shot.

But, that's precisely what Haas did. Playing it like a bunker shot, Haas popped the ball out of the water -- with spin -- and got it to settle 2 feet from the hole to set up a par when most of the world's best players probably would have been delighted just to get the ball on the green.

Haas won the tournament on the next hole.

Sunday's shot at the Humana Challenge may not have been as impressive as that one at East Lake in 2011, but the level of difficulty (particularly when you consider the circumstances) had to be just as high.

I mean, come on, when he told his caddie: "I could whiff it, you know?" did you really think he'd execute the shot as well as he did?

That was impressive stuff.
 

Bill Haas
Bill Haas prepares to hit his second shot from an awkward lie at No. 18 Sunday.

Nursing a one-shot lead into the final hole Sunday at the Humana Challenge, the last thing Bill Haas wanted to have was a difficult lie. But boy, did he get a doozy.

His tee shot went way right and the ball landed on the lip of a bunker, forcing him to stand in the sand and swing almost parallel in an effort to advance the ball.

WINNERS' BAG: Check out the clubs Bill Haas used to win at La Quinta

He admitted to his caddie, "I could whiff it, you know?" But Haas calmly stepped up and this is was happened next:

 

 

You couldn't have asked for a better result, as Haas pulled off a swing worthy of any Major League Baseball player. Haas then hit a solid third shot into the green and two-putted to avoid what could have been a wild multi-player playoff.

 

 

January 25, 2015 - 6:14pm
andrew.prezioso's picture
Phil Mickelson
PGA Tour | YouTube
Phil Mickelson was coming off of a bogey on No. 16.

We have another example that shows why Phil Mickelson is one of the best golfers when it comes to getting out of a bad situation. 

On the 17th hole during the final round of the Humana Challenge, Phil Mickelson was trying to avoid bogeying consecutive holes when his tee shot went into the canal. Faced with a putt to save par after taking a drop, Lefty did what Lefty seemingly always does and sank it. 

Related: Phil Mickelson hits shot off grandstand in consecutive days

We've seen plenty of examples this weekend of the rocks playing havoc with some golfers. Both Scott Piercy and James Hahn got good bounces off those same rocks on Saturday. During the first round, a different set of rocks redirected a shot by Zach Johnson into the water. Even in Hawaii, Bernard Langer had to card a 10 on a hole after a run-in with lava rocks.  

Mickelson ended his round with a 4-under par 68 to go 15 under for the tournament in his first start of the year. He will skip the Pebble Beach Pro-Am and the Northern Trust Open next month to spend time with his family. 

January 24, 2015 - 5:12pm
andrew.prezioso's picture
Scott Piercy
PGA Tour | YouTube
Scott Piercy made a birdie on No. 17 after his getting a lucky bounce off the rocks.

In the past 24 hours, we've seen plenty of evidence to prove that a pile of rocks is not a golfer's friend. Scott Piercy is challenging that idea. 

While teeing off on No. 17 during the third round of the Humana Challenge, Piercy's shot bounced off the rocks and wound up coming to a rest in the middle of the green. The results for him could have been much worse, as you can see in the video:

 

Piercy ended up making the putt for a birdie to move to 3 under for the round. 

Yesterday at the Humana Challenge, we saw a Zach Johnson shot go backwards and land in the water after hitting some rocks. A few hours later at the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii, Bernhard Langer ended up with a quadruple bogey after a run-in with lava rocks.

Later on in the round, James Hahn hit a similar shot, and actually got his ball closer to the hole. 

Bernhard Langer
YouTube
Bernhard Langer's 2015 season got off to a rocky start at the Mitsubishi Electric Challenge.
On Friday afternoon, we saw Zach Johnson hit one of the most memorably worst shots of his career when he got tangled up with some rocks en route to a double bogey at the Humana Challenge. A few hours later in Hawaii, Bernhard Langer saw Johnson's double and raised him three more shots – thanks to his own detour into some rocks.
 
Langer – the defending champion at the Champions Tour's Mitsubishi Electric Championship – hit his second shot into the lava rocks just off the right side of the fairway on the par-5 seventh hole at Hualalai. Several painful minutes later, he walked off the nearby green with a quintuple-bogey 10. 
 
When Langer found his ball in the hardened lava, it was well below his feet but was sitting up on the rocks. He took a cut and apparently missed the ball. He made contact on his next swing, but the ball hit the rocks and bounced backward into even deeper trouble in the thigh-high wispy grass.
 
 
His next swing left him in roughly the same position, and he finally knocked his ball onto the green with his next shot. Just one thing – he double-hit the ball, and immediately called the one-stroke penalty on himself.
 
That left him facing a 50-foot putt, and he rolled his ball past the hole on the right side. He banged that putt home from six feet, but the damage was done – Langer had been 3 under through six holes, but found himself 2 over after the disastrous seventh. He went on to shoot an even-par 72 and finish the first round of the 2015 season six shots behind leader Rocco Mediate.  
 
UPDATE: Langer's score on the hole led to considerable confusion both during and after the round. Both the Golf Channel announcers and the graphic that the channel displayed indicated that Langer made a 9, and the text accompanying the video clip on both YouTube and the PGA Tour website still say he made a 9. His scorecard on the PGA Tour website also said 9, but at some point later was changed to 10. As of the end of Saturday's second round, there is no explanation on the site as to where the 10th stroke came from. 
 
In any case, the most shocking hole of Langer's senior career came less than a day after a ceremonial dinner in which he received the four big trophies he earned last season. Those trophies were for winning the 2014 Schwab Cup and the money title, and posting the lowest scoring average and being named the Player of the Year. 
 
Here's the video of a hole Langer will never forget: