No disrespect: Smoltz can play

His appearance in Nationwide event no publicity stunt

April 28, 2011|By Jeff Shain, Tribune newspapers

John Smoltz understands the stigma he's facing when he tees it up on the Nationwide Tour this week.

Hall of Fame talent in other sports often doesn't mean a whit on the golf course — sometimes glaringly so.

Then again, the onetime Atlanta Braves ace brings more fairway cred to the South Georgia Classic than past athlete-turned-sponsor-exemptions. Just ask Tiger Woods.

"Smoltzy? I had not played with an amateur that had shot the scores he shot," Woods said recently. "He's shot, what, 69-67 in the same day. Not too many amateurs can do that, especially when they're still playing a professional sport."

Smoltz carries a plus-2 handicap, often sharpened between starts in the Braves rotation. When he became the closer late in his career, he played every day.

"I'm not trying to be a story. This is who I am," Smoltz told Sirius/XM Radio. "I want to respect the game the way it's supposed to be respected."

It'll be an interesting contrast with the travails of Jerry Rice, player/host of the Nationwide Tour's stop in Northern California. The NFL Hall of Famer, who didn't take up the game until early in his 49ers career, has failed to break 80 in four rounds there.

Push to Sawgrass: This week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans marks the final chance for pros to punch a ticket for The Players Championship by cracking the top 50 in next Monday's world rankings.

Italian teen Matteo Manassero, now 33rd after winning the Malaysian Open two weeks ago, is assured of a late entry along with South Korea's Kyung-Tae Kim (No. 39), Sweden's Peter Hanson (No. 43) and Japan's Ryo Ishikawa (No. 44).

Less certain are No. 47 Ross Fisher and No. 49 Anders Hanson — especially with both taking this week off.

The Zurich champion and next week's winner in Charlotte, N.C., also earn automatic berths if not already qualified.

Tap-ins: Arnold Palmer will play next week's Wells Fargo Championship pro-am, paired with grandson Sam Saunders. The 81-year-old is a longtime Quail Hollow member. … U.S. Women's Open champion Paula Creamer spent part of last week at Augusta National, where she got in 36 holes.

— Jeff Shain

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