Q&A: Former MLB pitcher Mark Mulder on winning the American Century Celebrity Championship and the differences between baseball and golf
Editor's Note: Mark Mulder, 37, was a two-time MLB All-Star and one of the best pitchers in baseball in the 2000s. He's now a scratch golfer who lives in Arizona, works for ESPN and won the American Century Celebrity Championship two weekends ago with a final-round 67. We caught up with him about the win at Lake Tahoe, where NBC Sports Group announced it will remain a tournament title sponsor through 2022.
First of all, congrats on the win. That's a really competitive field -- how'd you get it done?
It was amazing. It was a lot of fun. I knew it was in there. In past years, I knew I had a chance to win. I could always compete with some of the better players but just never got it done. When I finished third, I had a couple holes that just killed me. I always played well enough but not great. But I also never went into the tournament feeling really really good about my game. And this year, my game felt better than past years but not great. But the first day on the range, man, no joke, one of the pro-am days, after my first five swings, it was just like, There it is.' It was what I was searching for in the three weeks prior to the event.
I just hadn't been playing that well, I was shooting low to mid-70s leading up to the tournament. And just could never get anything going. And then finally got it going in the practice rounds and just continued it through the weekend.
What was the difference? Was it a tip or something that you got?
I've taken one golf lesson in my life, three or four years ago at Whisper Rock with our head pro when I was just playing awful. No, it's just, for me, it's all feel. I don't really know how to fix my swing. There are a couple drills I'll go back to sometimes. But I don't have a great understanding of my swing. But to be honest, I pitched on feel and I play golf on feel. You know? If my feel isn't there, I'm probably not gonna play that well.
Because I go through funks man. I'll go through funks where I shoot in the 80s every day. And that's because I don't really know how to fix my swing. But there's a part of me that doesn't care enough. I'm not that into it, where I need to fix it right away. My wife and I have three little kids, so I get golfed out real easy. So I might play four out of five days, but then I won't touch a club for a week or so. And that often fixes my problems sometimes.
Yeah, that's so true, I think a lot of golfers would agree that can clear your head from what you're thinking about. But as someone who was an elite-level pitcher and athlete for years, it's probably easy to go off of feel. So I'm wondering, for the last five years or so when you've played seriously, is there something that's clicked, or something you've developed or realized in your swing?
The biggest difference is that I play year-round now. When the baseball season started, I'd be really good when spring training started because I'd be playing all winter. And then the season starts, and in April and May, you're playing in cold cities and I played maybe once a month. And then you get into July and August, you play a couple different cities, and it depended when I was pitching and how the schedule worked out. So I wouldn't play a bunch during the season, so then your short game goes away.
But now I'm playing so you get in a groove. Some of the best courses I've gotten to play over the years around the country, Augusta National, for example, I played so-so because it was during baseball season and I wasn't playing great. But then I got done, I had to fill that competitive void somehow.
When I started playing in the Golf Channel Am Tour things, just so I could compete, I was tied with one of the guys, and I knew I had a chance tow in this thing. And I flat-out choked. It wasn't that bad, I just made a couple of bogeys over the last couple holes. But I never played any competitive golf. Then I got in the Lake Tahoe tournament the first year, it was like a mad scramble trying to find tournaments to play in to prepare myself a little bit. Because I'm well aware that you can't just show up at a golf tournament not knowing how to win under those conditions. And the first year in Tahoe, my first round, I played really well. And it was like, oh boy. I couldn't sleep that night. The next round I played awful. So part of me had to learn how to play tournament golf. I had never done it before.
There was a learning curve I guess you could say, how to handle myself, and not get too excited. I've learned, at Tahoe, when you get down to those last couple of holes - with all those people, plus the elevation, and that, I'll take a full less club because I know how much adrenaline I have. And I can hit a three-quarter little knockdown. But under the gun? I have no chance. And on the 17th hole, there's no finesse on that hole. I just take a wedge and hit it full for about 170 yards. And even this year, I choked down on the wedge, cuz I knew I had even more adrenaline.
As someone who has pitched on some of the biggest stages in baseball, was that surprising to you to feel the heat like that?
I'm fully aware that I haven't hit thousands of golf balls in practice like tour players have. There were 50,000 people in the stands at baseball games. But during a playoff game or whatever, I'd never get nervous in my life, because I had a complete confidence in what I'm doing. And I describe to people, the first couple years I played in this, all of a sudden the cameras come right and set up 10 feet behind you to broadcast your shot, and the only thought going through my head was: "If my buddies see me shank this, I'll never live it down." That's the type of stuff you think about.
And I said to myself, Wait a minute. What are you doing?' I would hit a couple hits in the Tahoe tournament that I'll never hit again for another full year. Things happen, and when you get under pressure that just don't happen at other times. And it's definitely a very different thing from baseball, because I guess I don't have that "under-the-gun" experience in golf. Pitching all those big-pressure games, I've never done in golf. The knowing that I've been there and done that. Baseball, it was fine. Golf, not a chance.