John Smoltz says qualifying for US Senior Open better than first MLB win
John Smoltz has a request. Four days after he qualified to play in this month's U.S. Senior Open, he wants everyone to understand how elated he is to achieve a dream he's had for more than a quarter-century.
The excitement was still palpable in Smoltz's voice Monday as he relived the excruciating and exhilarating 13-hour day he endured Thursday at Planterra Ridge Golf Club in Peachtree City, Ga., where he claimed the third and final spot in a qualifying tournament by surviving a three-man playoff and winning with a double bogey on the third extra hole.
The Hall of Fame pitcher, who was born in Warren and grew up in Lansing, said it was even better than earning his first win the major leagues.
"My first victory, I didn't think it could get much better with the excitement of family and friends who were there in Shea Stadium," Smoltz said Monday in a phone interview with the Free Press. "But I was by myself and did this myself and nobody handed it to me.
"And the feeling I had was such a sense of first, I can't believe this. And then I got in the car and I yelled. I called my wife (Kathryn) and started yelling. Basically screaming. She said she's never seen me so happy."
Smoltz, 51, earned the trip to the Senior Open on June 28 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo., after his longest day of golf. He arrived at the course at 7:10 a.m. and his group was one of the first to finish around 11 a.m. He shot 3-under-par 69 -- then had to wait 7 hours, 45 minutes for the playoff.
"I'd look at the computer," said Smoltz, an analyst for Fox and MLB Network. "I couldn't take looking at the computer because of the scores. Then I started working on my game (preparation) for baseball for about an hour and a half. Then I started watching the Memorial. I was borderline going crazy because it was a long time."
When the playoff came, he and Brian Ferris of Atlanta survived the first hole with birdies. They both made double bogeys on the second hole. On the third playoff hole, Smoltz's tee shot landed in a fairway bunker.
"So, it was that walk to the bunker that I started getting pretty nervous," he said. "And I've never been nervous like this in baseball at all. I've been anxious, but I've never been 'OK, I'm playing this out, I've got a great chance to go to the U.S. (Senior) Open.' I learned such a great lesson that I hope never happens again."
Smoltz got too aggressive. His shot caught the lip of the bunker and landed in the water. But he hit a good approach to 12 feet and won when Ferris, who found the water on his tee shot, three-putted from 20 feet.
Then the congratulations started flying in. Tiger Woods, Fred Couples, Lee Janzen and Mark O'Meara texted him.
"I'm not kidding you, it's been more texts about this than the Hall of Fame," Smoltz said. "Tiger texted me while he was getting ready to play in the Memorial. Everybody you can imagine who's been blown away by it has been so congratulatory."
Smoltz -- who plays to about a plus-2 handicap and has eight holes-in-one, including one on a 334-yard par-four -- already has practice rounds lined up at the Senior Open with Janzen and Billy Andrade. It will be one of the few times Smoltz will have to practice because of his demanding broadcast schedule.
After he qualified Thursday night, he got no sleep, flew to New York and got in at 2:30 a.m. He then broadcast a 14-inning game Saturday night between the Cubs and Mets that ended after midnight. On Sunday, Smoltz got up at 7:45 a.m. and practiced for 90 minutes.
Fox will broadcast the Senior Open and his partner, Joe Buck, will call the action. Smoltz is eager to help out anyway he can.
"I told them the whole time, 'I'll wear a mic, I'll do whatever, (offer) a different perspective,' " he said. "So, lo and behold, I called (Buck), I started yelling. I did it. So yeah, he's going to be announcing while I'm playing in the Open."
Smoltz never played golf growing up. It wasn't until the Tigers drafted him in 1985 that he started playing golf when he joined their Class-A team in Lakeland, Fla. The game provided relief from the mental and mechanical rigors of pitching.
After the Tigers traded him to Atlanta in 1987, Smoltz became the Braves' golf concierge, lining up tee times for teammates. When Smoltz grabbed headlines with a career-low 70 in a 1992 charity event with Tom Glavine, Steve Avery, Lee Trevino and Mark Calcavecchia, he began squawking about playing the senior tour someday.
That someday will be here soon and Smoltz said he expects to be nervous. He hopes to shoot a pair of 75s but doesn't expect to make the cut because he believes in reasonable goals.
"It's not like I'm sitting here saying I'm going to grow a head of hair again when I know I can't," he said. "But within reality, I really feel like I can accomplish things when I put my brain to it and I put my mind to it."
There's also one more goal Smoltz has.
"I know this. I going to have the time of my life," he said. "No one handed me this. No sponsor's exemption. This is something I can feel good about."
This article is written by Carlos Monarrez from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.