Rhoden Wants to Play 2; Ex-Pitcher Eyes Champions Tour

By Smits, Garry | The Florida Times Union, May 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

Rhoden Wants to Play 2; Ex-Pitcher Eyes Champions Tour


Smits, Garry, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Garry Smits, Times-Union sports writer

There were perhaps 2,000 people lining the first fairway of the Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course near Lake Tahoe, Nev., in 1990, drawn to one of the early Celebrity Players Tour events by the prospect of seeing some of their favorite baseball, football, basketball or hockey heros on the links.

Rick Rhoden, composed enough over 16 major league seasons to win 151 games in front of sellout crowds at Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, remembers standing in a daze on the first tee as his name was announced.

"I could barely get the tee in the ground," he recalled.

An All-Star pitcher, nervous about playing golf in front of a crowd?

"Hey, I had been in baseball all my life," he said. "I was a professional. Golf was just something I played, until then."

Rhoden's nervousness wore off quickly. He shot 76 in that first round, then had an even-par 72 the next day in bad weather to win the tournament. It was the first of 43 CPT events he won in more than 12 years. Rhoden is the celebrity circuit's career leader in earnings (more than $1.4 million) and scoring average (70.52).

Armed with that kind of game and confidence, albeit against other retired team-sports athletes, Rhoden is ready for the next step. He turned 50 on May 16 and became eligible by age to play on the Champions Tour.

Rhoden, a member of the Pablo Creek Club and a resident of Ponte Vedra Beach for more than two years, will attempt to play through Monday qualifying tournaments or sponsor invitations. He will make the field by finishing among the top four in any of the 18-hole qualifying tournaments, and can receive up to seven invitations in one season.

He's hoping that his name recognition as a major league player with four teams will draw the attention of tournament directors. Later this year, Rhoden will make his second attempt to reach the Tour through the national qualifying tournament.

Rhoden harbors no illusions about the difficulty of his quest.

"In a given tournament on the Celebrity Tour, there are about 20 guys who can break par," Rhoden said. "Obviously, that number is far greater in a Champions Tour event. There's no question that if I make a tournament field, I'm competing against great players who have made a living at golf for a number of years. It's going to be tough."

But anyone who pitched shutouts against Cincinnati's Big Red Machine and won 10 or more games in 10 major league seasons has confidence.

"I know what I'm capable of, and a lot of it depends on me against the course," Rhoden said. "If I play Tiger Woods and shoot a 68, then he's going to have to put up a pretty good number to beat me."

Rhoden nearly made the Champions Tour at last year's national qualifying tournament. He shot 70-68-70 in the first three rounds and at 8-under-par, was only one shot behind eighth place, the final spot that would earn a full exemption for 2003.

Rhoden had one bad hole in the final round, closed with a 75 and at 5-under 283, finished four strokes behind eighth-place Mark Pfeil and one shot out of a playoff for 16th place, the final conditionally exempt spot.

Disappointment aside, Rhoden knows that for 71 of the 72 holes he played, he proved he belonged on the Champions Tour. Other observers have no doubts.

"I think he's got a good swing," said two-time PGA Tour winner Len Mattiace, who recently played in a foursome with Rhoden at Pablo Creek. "He controls the ball well and to me, being a major league pitcher might be good training, mentally, for golf at this level, if Rick can shoot the numbers he needs to get out there."

Pablo Creek head professional Richie Bryant, who frequently plays with club members who are PGA Tour and Champions Tour winners, gives Rhoden an excellent chance.

"You hear people talk about guys they know who they think can be a good [Champions Tour] player, but most of them never wind up getting there," Bryant said. …

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