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Pitch And Putt

Continued (page 2 of 2)

"With the Cubs, we were allowed to stay out all night drinking until 3 or 4 in the morning," Maddux once said. "But if you got up at 8 to take your golf clubs out, it was, 'Whoa, don't do that.' I never understood it, but that's kind of the way it was."

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Baseball players' passion for golf dates back many decades, from Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb to Willie Mays and Willie McCovey. One of Ruth's teammates, Sam Byrd, retired at age 30 and subsequently won six PGA Tour events (and twice finished in the top five at the Masters). Among players of more recent vintage, pitcher Rick Rhoden has earned more than $340,000 on the Champions Tour.

Mays and McCovey formed a star-powered golfing tandem as Giants teammates and later as amateurs in the Bing Crosby-turned-AT&T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. McCovey, now 71 and unable to play because of debilitating knee injuries, said he "misses golf more than anything." He initially was reluctant to play the game during his baseball career, but manager Alvin Dark's arrival with the Giants in 1961 -- Dark was an enthusiastic golfer --changed the landscape in San Francisco.

"At one time, they thought it would mess up your baseball swing to play golf," McCovey said. "I found out that wasn't true. That was a myth."

Fellow Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt thought golf actually helped his baseball swing. There clearly are many parallels between the games: spending several hours outside, hitting a round ball with a long, thin object and grinding away in relative solitude. "The mental part of golf is similar to playing baseball," said former major-league infielder Mike Gallego, now the A's third-base coach. "It can be very lonely on a baseball field, just like golf."

Then again, as Sutton said, "There are similarities (to pitching) in that you stand alone in golf, but there's nobody to dive and correct your mistakes."

"With the Cubs, we were allowed to stay out all night drinking ... but if you got up at 8 to take your golf clubs out, it was, 'Whoa, don't do that.'" -- Greg Maddux

Baseball players' attachment to the game has led many major-league teams to create charity golf events -- not surprisingly, players happily mingle with fans and sponsors if they know there are 18 holes involved. But the best example of the link between the games might be Baseball's World Series of Golf, an annual event in which baseball players relinquish their most prized possession -- money -- to gather on the Monterey Peninsula each fall.

The event was created by former pitchers Tom Browning and Rick Mahler, along with Jamie Warren of Carmel, Calif.-based Creative Events, Inc. The idea, initially, was to bring two players from each major-league team and have some friendly competition on acclaimed golf courses. The event evolved over the years, and now one major-league player brings an amateur partner -- father, neighbor, whomever -- and up to 32 foursomes convene for four days of pure golf (plus a few card games) at Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Spanish Bay.

The 20th edition of the event will take place in December, and Warren expects another strong turnout, steep price (starting at $3,995) and all. A partial list of major leaguers to play in Baseball's World Series of Golf resembles an All-Star roster: George Brett, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Phil Nevin, Bret Boone, Richie Sexson, Xavier Nady, Smoltz, Glavine, Maddux. They all roll into town and cause little nighttime havoc, knowing morning tee times await.

"They come here and want to play golf," Warren said. "I wouldn't say they're serious about their game, but they're passionate about it. They love to come to Pebble."

(Former shortstop Spike Owen momentarily loved the time his tee shot on No. 7 at Pebble -- the famously short, downhill, oceanfront par-3 -- settled into the cup for a hole-in-one. That cost Owen some money in the Tap Room.)

It helps to have access to these great courses, but not all golf outings unfold as planned, even for major-league ballplayers. This brings us back to Krukow, now a Giants broadcaster who had just come from a round at San Francisco Golf Club on the day he spoke to GolfDigest.com. (Krukow, a member of San Luis Obispo Country Club, carries a handicap index of 4.3).

He also told the story of one year when the Giants lost more than 90 games, stirring early visions of an offseason on the links. In Krukow's last start of the season, one hitter sent a searing line drive back to the mound. Krukow instinctively raised his hands to protect his face -- and the ball broke his hand.

"I couldn't play golf for six weeks," he said. "I was pissed."

Ron Kroichick covers golf (and occasionally baseball) for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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July 28, 2014

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