Q and A with John Smoltz

By Win McMurryMay 7, 2010, 11:33 pm

Golf Channel’s Win McMurry spoke with future Major League Baseball Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz Thursday from Boston. The former Atlanta Braves pitcher is playing in the qualifier Monday for the U.S. Open at Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga. Smoltz also will face off against former Braves teammate Tom Glavine in the season finale of Donald J. Trump's Fabulous World of Golf on May 17.

When did you begin playing golf?

I didn’t play until I was 19 years old. When I got to Class A ball I realized I had a lot of time on my hands so I took up golf and fishing. I’m just self-taught and as I traveled I just started playing more and more. It kept me from going crazy, kept me sane.

What golfer do you try to emulate?

I don’t know if there is one. In baseball I was able to emulate a lot of different things because I did it growing up, but I go about golf in my own unique way. So much like baseball growing up where I’d throw against a wall, I just went out there and tried to teach myself. I never had any lessons in baseball; I just watched on TV and tried to copy what I saw. But I never watched golf on TV until I got into golf.

You play to a plus-2 handicap, what was your best round and where was it? Who were you playing with?

My best round is 63. I shot it at the Floridian. I always say score isn’t indicative of your best round though. My best round was at Seminole. I had seven birdies and an eagle and had a chance at 18 to make the course record, or amateur record, but had another double bogey to shoot 67. But I could have shot 64.

Why did you decide to try to qualify for the U.S. Open this year for the first time?

Someone just told me I should do it – a club pro at Hawk’s Ridge. He told me to consider it and it happened to fit into a day I wasn’t doing TV or anything. It’s not like I’m beating a bunch of balls trying to qualify. I’m just trying to see how I do. It’s a good measuring stick for me. These other guys out there I know will have been trying really hard to get ready but I just think it’s going to be interesting to see how I stack up.

Is the U.S. Open the major you like the most?

What’s funny is I like watching it the most. Not playing it. It’d be the ultimate challenge. Like trying to survive an All-Star line-up in four straight starts. You’re going to suffer because you’re playing the best. It’s the most humiliating test of golf. It’s funny because it’s set up for a different golfer for the straightest hitting golfer. You don’t have to be long, just keep it in the fairway. . . and by the way it wouldn’t be me. I like to bomb it.

What do you feel your chances are of qualifying?

My schedule hasn’t let me play. But I think I’ll be able to shoot between 66 and 75. We’ll just have to see which me shows up out there!

How many times have you played Pebble Beach and what’s been your best round there?

I had the dream day off, an off day before we went to San Francisco. We drove down and played Cypress Pointe in morning, Spyglass in the afternoon, and then Pebble the morning of the next day game. At those three I shot par at Cypress, 1 or 2 under at Spyglass…and I think my best was 72 or somewhere around par at Pebble. But I don’t have a chance to play these courses in prime condition. It’s usually after a ton of people have been playing them.

I know that you and Tiger Woods are friends and have played many rounds together. If you do get into the U.S. Open, would you let Tiger Woods play a practice round with you?

I’m one of these guys, if I could live out a reality I’d have a hard time on the PGA Tour. I like guys talking to me. In golf there doesn’t seem to be much conversation. I just like to have fun and talk. I mean I’m grinding, but even in the midst of competition, I like to have fun out there.

Have you ever beaten Tiger, I’ve heard you’ve competed with him pretty closely?

I’ve come pretty close. We don’t play stroke play, it’s match or Nassau. But when the stars are aligned, I believe I’m going to. Tiger’s redefined golf as a sport and made it athletic. You know the greatest measure is if you can do it for four rounds and can you be better than the 120 or 140 or whatever they start off with in the field.

Of the top-100 golf courses in the world, how many do you feel you’ve played and what are your favorites?

Through baseball I think I’ve played 70 of the top 100 courses in the U.S. It’s difficult for me to rank the top-5. I’m a spoiled golfer. I like courses in premiere condition. I’ve always liked Butler National in Chicago, Oakmont, Pine Valley, Merion, and if I had a choice I’d rather play a Medinah or a northeastern course, I like all the grass they have to work with up there and the greens. Early in my career, I got to go to the San Francisco Golf Club and I didn’t know golf history or etiquette, it wasn’t until later when I realized what I had done and it was my first intro to golf in its place in history and tradition. Half Moon Bay was one of the first places I learned to play. And it’s so beautiful there with the holes by the water.

Have to ask you about the John Smoltz Country Club, the three-hole course you have in your backyard. Did you model any of the holes after favorite holes you’ve played?

It came together piece by piece. Every shot value was something I wanted to work on personally. A right to left here or if there was a certain distance I wanted to work on. My short game was all set up that way too. Honestly it’s one of the greatest toys in the world, and it’s made me a better golfer. It’s pretty unique. You can hit every shot in your bag in the backyard. I just love it.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”