Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz excited for US Senior Open, celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz excited for US Senior Open, celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe

By Bill Rozak Tahoe Daily Tribune

John Smoltz is shown at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament.

Hall of Famer John Smoltz says he is having a difficult time thinking about baseball right now.

The former Atlanta Braves fireballer and MLB Network analyst still has white spheres on his mind, but the kind you hit with clubs, not bats.

Smoltz endured “the longest day of his life” May 31 to qualify for the US Senior Open, an experience he says is the greatest feeling since winning the World Series championship in 1995.

“I got in my car and I called my wife,” Smoltz said in a phone interview during media day Tuesday, June 4, at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. “I just started screaming … yelling ‘I made it!’ And it just seems like it’s a dream.”

Smoltz, 51, will play in the US Senior Open, June 28 to July 1, at Broadmoor East Course in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The event has a purse of $4 million and will be broadcast on Fox and FS1.

Two weeks later, Smoltz will be on NBC TV when he visits the South Shore to compete as one of the favorites to knock off defending champ Mark Mulder in the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament.

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“Kind of the running joke with a couple of my buddies is I said with a little wink, wink, ‘I get to finally play in my age group at the Senior Open, whereas the young bucks at Tahoe are studly.’ Every year I get there (Tahoe), I have such high expectations. I probably put too much pressure on myself because I enjoy that event so much.”

Smoltz will be nervous on the first tee for the senior open and he hopes his preparation prepares him to play well and make a run at the ACC title, where his best finish is a tie for second place in 2010.

“With my career, I game plan a lot, I dream a lot and I put myself in situations that hopefully when I get in them, they’re second nature,” said Smoltz, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. “So the process I’m trying to do now is I’m literally trying to do things slower. I’m trying to downplay what I’m about to be part of, because if I don’t I know how excited I’m going to be and those elements don’t usually work for playing golf. You gotta have a slow heartbeat and you’ve got to be able to believe you can play and your game’s got to be at obviously a certain level.

The American Century Championship for me has always been that kind of event. And usually it’s right after the (MLB) All Star Game. This year it’s before it. I’m super excited to get there. So excited to play that when I get in the actual round I’ve never slowed anything down to actually play to the best of my ability.”

After three shoulder surgeries, Smoltz doesn’t have the power he once had, but the high elevation golf he’s about to play at the senior open and at the ACC will make him feel a little stronger. Peachtree, in Georgia, where Smoltz qualified, sits at approximately 900 feet above sea level. Lake Tahoe has an elevation of about 6,200 feet.

“The golf ball about 15 to 20 percent at times flies a little bit farther,” Smoltz said. “I will get out there, play some practice rounds and try to adjust on the fly.”

Smoltz said he has just three days off from the MLB Network before the senior open and he’ll play as much as possible as his schedule allows.

He also said everybody feels like a Hall of Famer at the ACC.

“When you get to play in this event, it’s the closest thing that all of us who played in different life, different worlds, different sports get a chance to appreciate what the professional golfers get to do. It’s the number one event for celebrities and, until you experience it, you can’t really believe how incredible it is.”