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.