Q&A with John Smoltz

Continued (page 2 of 3)

What would be your normal match with Tiger?
A Nassau -- front nine, back nine and overall. And in my mind we're playing medal play but that ends real quick. You start out thinking: Today might be the day. And that ends real quick. In a match, Tiger wants to win the last few holes and that's what he usually does. I'm not anywhere near a professional golfer but I can see where a professional golfer changes his game and approach because of playing alongside Tiger. I've had a lot of great rounds but very few have ever been with him. He gets you thinking you have to hit the perfect shot, because he's always doing it. It's amazing. It's fun to watch. I've been more comfortable with him lately.

How many strokes does he give you?
It starts out at two a side and I try to beg for three a side. But two a side is pretty fair.

Is the wager something I could never relate to?
No, no, no. It's fine. What's fun is the bantering back and forth -- the good-natured fun.

And I hear he can talk smack.
There's nobody in his league.

Have you played 10 rounds with him? Twenty rounds? Or too many to count?
I've played quite a few. It's fun. How would I explain it? I would say it's like a ride that you never want to end. Once I played with Tiger and Annika. I mean -- gosh.

You played in the same group as Tiger and Annika?
Yeah. At Isleworth.

What was their relationship like? Were they bantering back and forth?
Yeah. What it basically boiled down to: I was really trying to compete hard against Annika. And on the first tee Tiger said, "I'll bet she beats you." We all played from the same tees. And she was super nice. And she was probably a little nervous because that was her first time playing with him. My whole focus was that he threw the gauntlet out. And I did it, I won. And I didn't say a word. And there was more stuff written about that round in the following weeks. It was like my whole career paled in comparison to that one event. The next time I played her, she kicked my butt [Laughs.] And she let me know about it too. [Laughs. ]

Do you like gambling on the golf course because you're betting on yourself? Because you have some control over the situation?
Baseball is where many components come into play to determine success. In golf you can get a bad break, but there aren't relief pitchers. No one's coming in after 15 holes saying, "I'll take it now." In golf it's your match and it's under the gun. I'm not the kind of guy who can play golf by myself. I'm just not. I like competing with other people, seeing how they do under pressure, trying to get into their skull. It's a lot of fun.

I'm a 7 handicap. If we walked out to the first tee of your course, how many strokes would you give me and would you be cool playing for $5?
Yeah. I'd want to beat you. I don't care if we play for a Diet Coke. I'd give you about four a side, and I'd want to beat you.

So you're about a plus-two handicap?
Yeah. But the handicap system is a joke. I think you're either a scratch or you're not.

What's your low round on any course?
I shot 63 at the Floridian from all the way back. The next day I shot 38-30-32-33 for 36 holes. So that middle 18 holes I did squeeze out a 62, but it wasn't official.

Can you compare that feeling of having everything firing on all cylinders in golf to the feeling you have on the mound where you're hitting all your spots?
You can. They're similar in the sense that you can't just master any of those rounds. Why can't you do it for four rounds? Why can't you do it for seven starts? Why can't you do it for nine innings? When you're on fire you'd think you could just go back out the next day and do the same thing. It just doesn't work that way. But when it's clicking you don't think too much, and it's coming off the club great, or it's coming out of your hand great. Baseball is a little out of your control. Golf you have a little bit more control, with the exception of Mother Nature.

Do you have a favorite architect?
Tom Fazio. I'm a big fan of his. I haven't seen one of his courses I didn't like. I also like Arthur Hills.

What's your perfect scenario post-baseball career and how serious are you about a professional golf career?
I'm real serious. I want to do it. I want to see how far I can go. I want to make a cut on the PGA Tour, but in reality I want to play on the senior tour. I'm fighting age and time, but I'm not afraid of the challenge.

Do you take lessons on a regular basis?
I've never had a lesson. The way I look at it, until I get physically fit, it's irrelevant. I've learned a swing. It may not be the right swing, but it's the swing I need from the physical standpoint to get it done. I've always adapted to the condition I'm in.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your game?
My short game has gotten real good. That's why my scores have gotten so low. Because of some of my injuries I don't hit it as far but I hit it straighter, so the tradeoff is pretty good. I have creativity. I think I can hit certain shots and see things differently than most. That may have something to with baseball. I like to feel like I can work the ball. I see different things when I'm in the trees, and I feel like I can pull it off. I'm learning to use that type of atmosphere or personality to my advantage, and learn within both golf and baseball what I can and can't do, and stay within those boundaries.

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