CHICAGO -- It's a staff known for going low. Cubs starters lead baseball with a collective 2.34 ERA through Wednesday, and the opposition hits a measly .204 when Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel or Kyle Hendricks takes the hill.
Yet this fivesome might post even more impressive numbers on days off.
"We've got a good staff as far as the golfing goes," Hendricks said. "Hammel is probably the best. Lester is right behind him. Jake hits the ball a freakin' mile. Haven't played with Lack yet."
Hendricks forgot to mention the tidiest golfer of all: himself.
"Kyle is the best by far," Arrieta said. "He's a sleeper. Doesn't play much and then he'll go out and shoot 2 over."
They're part of a strong golf culture embraced by manager Joe Maddon.
"To play (baseball) every five days is kind of boring," Maddon said. "You have to fill the blank spaces somehow. There's a form of competition involved, a form of focus. There's the relaxation component. And just pure enjoyment."
The number on Maddon's jersey, 70, represents a good U.S. Open score. And toward the end of his minor-league playing days, he could shoot in the high 70s at public courses around Monterey, Calif., such as Salinas Fairways and Laguna Seca.
"I was decent for a while," he said. "Since then, I am horrible. I still play about once a year and do enjoy it. But if I have four hours, I'm riding my bike."
If Lester and Arrieta get four free hours and nice weather on a road trip, they'll make an effort to play. Aces seeking aces.
"It's a stress reliever," Arrieta said, "and it's something fun to do with a group of guys -- get out early on the road and whack it around a bit and try to shoot under 90. That's really the goal for me in-season: Hit some good iron shots, make some putts and have a good time."
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Lester is more serious about the game. His resume includes an offseason trip to Augusta National, where he shot 81 and could probably describe every one of them.
"Birdied No. 2," he said. "Hit it 12 feet left of the hole. Had an eagle putt, but I stink at putting. ... I was on in two at No. 13, but the pin was front left and I was back right, so I had no chance (to two-putt for birdie)."
Lester called the experience "awesome."
"You watch it on TV and think the TV does something to make the course look that green," he said. "On the first hole the guy I was playing with said, 'Hey, if you see a weed anywhere, let me know.' That's what I remember most, how perfect and pristine every hole was."
Arrieta said of Lester's playing at the home of the Masters: "He has a nice Rolodex, nice connections. He's the only one so far (to play there), but we're working on it."
The finest golfing pitching staff of all time had to be the 1990s Braves with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Maddux carried a 4 handicap -- and that was the highest of the group.
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When Diamondbacks aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling dueled on the links, the prize would be a logoed shirt from the club. The Cubs often do that, mixing in a $50 Nassau or a game of "Wolf," which calls for rotating teams.
"Every course I go to, I like to get a ball marker and a polo, for some memories," Arrieta said. "I don't know if I earned them. I bought 'em in the pro shop, that's for sure."
Maddon's only request is that position players avoid playing during the season. The longtime hitting instructor said the golf swing "can run counter to a good baseball swing."
Lester and Arrieta won't play on the day they pitch, of course. And they'll generally pass up golf the day before a start.
"I couldn't live with myself if I tweaked something and didn't have a day to recover," Lester said. "Really any day you take that risk, but it's more of an ease-of-mind thing."
Hendricks plays just a few times a year, even though the game's in his blood. His father, John, was a longtime teaching professional in California who earned a spot in the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, shooting 83-80.
"That was his first thing, golf," John said of Kyle. "He had these little plastic clubs when he was 2 years old. He'd say, 'Whack ball, Daddy, whack ball,' and plastic balls would go flying across the kitchen. But he never loved golf. He loved baseball."
That explains why a guy good enough to make three eagles in a round (a 1-under 70 at a course near Lake Tahoe) lets his sticks collect dust most of the year.
"My focus is just on baseball," Hendricks said, "and when I get away from the field, I just like relaxing."
But Hendricks is ready to make an exception this weekend. The Cubs have three games in San Francisco, a reasonable drive to a sliver of heaven known as Pebble Beach.
"I might be in on that one," Hendricks said. "If we play Pebble, I can't turn 'em down."
But won't that night's starting pitcher be out of luck?
"True," Hendricks replied. "We're going to have to talk to Joe, butter him up."
This article was written by Teddy Greenstein from Chicago Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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