Former Atlanta Braves star pitcher - and a shoo-in for Cooperstown - John Smoltz is a great golfer. In a 2007 ESPN article, he was cited as having a 0.2 handicap.
For those who don't know, that's pretty darn good. It means he averages around par for an 18 hole round.
Last week, he played in the Nationwide Tour's South Georgia Classic on a sponsor's exemption. I was interested to see how he would do. Not all athletes are great golfers (i.e. Charles Barkley), but some are.
Well, the results are in, and they aren't good. Smoltz didn't win, or even come close. In fact, he didn't even make it to the weekend. He shot an 84-87, and missed the cut by 27 shots - nine shots worse than anyone else in the field. That's not very good.
Last year, Jerry Rice, a 1 handicap, played in the Fresh Express Classic on the Nationwide Tour. He shot 81-82, which doesn't seem that bad. Until you realize that he finished eight shots worse than any other player.
I'm not saying that Jerry Rice or John Smoltz aren't great golfers. Because they probably are. I'm just saying that people tend to think they can work hard and compete on the professional level in golf because - and this especially rings true with people who have never played - the game "just doesn't look that hard."
But it is. Trust me.
I played competitive golf for a long time. When I was four years old, my father got me my first set of clubs. I played in my first tournament at age 10, shooting a 48 over nine holes. Over the next seven years, I worked my butt off over the summers at The Willows Golf Club, playing and practicing almost every day.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I competing in junior golf tournaments all throughout Ohio. During my senior year, I got my handicap down to a 1.2. I didn't shoot above 80 for an entire year, and I did pretty well in the state championship. I've shot under par in a competitive round. I received a college scholarship to play at the University of Dayton, where I played for two years. I was a pretty good player.
Even with playing for all those years, practicing all those hours, and shooting some low scores, I never thought of myself as being able to compete as a professional.
Because like their advertising campaign says, those guys are good. Real good.
The best round of my life was played at the Legislator in Prattville, Alabama.
I've played Harbour Town, home of the Heritage Classic, which was played two weeks ago. I shot a 79 from the same tees the pros play. Brandt Snedeker shot a 64 on Sunday this year.
I've shot an 83 at Muirfield Village from the same tees the pros play - the worst round shot in the 2010 edition of the Memorial was the same number.
I played NCR South, host of the 2005 U.S. Senior Open, about 100 times in college since it was our home course. I never broke 75. Champion Allen Doyle shot a 63 on Sunday to win on some of the slickest greens in existence.
When I played those courses they weren't in tournament conditions either. When a professional event comes to town, the greens get faster, the rough gets higher, and the fairways get smaller. Which the caliber of play on the professional tours even more fascinating.
There's a reason why NBC has a competition to see if a single digit handicap player can even break 100 at the U.S. Open. So people can truly realize that the gap in skill levels between even the best amateur golfers and professionals is larger than anyone can imagine.
The great thing about the game of golf is that anyone can be the best in the world for a shot. I've played with guys who can barely get the ball off the tee, but they've had a hole-in-one. Talk to anyone who has played for long enough, and they'll tell you, "this one time I hit this shot..." It goes on from there.
But to be a professional golfer, you have to have a shot that the average golfer dreams of every single time. In 2004, I sat on the range at the Memorial and watched Stuart Appleby hit 20 consecutive 7-irons.
Appleby has been a steady player for over a decade, but no one would consider him to be one of the best players on Tour. Of those 20 7-irons, one ended up outside 20 feet of the flagstick.
Now think about what Tiger could do.
Next time a professional event is in your town, go and hit the range there for awhile to watch. The talent every single one of those players has is something most of us can't even dream of. Even John Smoltz.