“It’s our Masters, our U.S. Open, our British Open,” said Billy Joe Tolliver, a former NFL signal-caller who won his third celebrity title in record-breaking fashion last year.
“It’s our major, and we love being here competing for it,” Tolliver said. He’s among 16 past and present quarterbacks in the field of 85 sports stars and entertainers.
“We’re the best athletes, end of story,” he teased earlier in the week.
Rhoden, who pitched 14 seasons mostly for the Pirates, Dodgers and Yankees, has won the celebrity title a record eight times between 1991 and 2008.
“Pitching and golf are very similar,” he said. “You better have a short memory, or you’re going to be in trouble real quick.”
Rhoden, a former all-star who also has played on the Senior and Champions’ pro golf tours, is the 5-2 co-favorite with Romo in the 54-hole tourney that runs through Sunday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
The Dallas Cowboys quarterback has finished no worse than a tie for third in his three previous tries on the shores of the azure mountain lake. He tied for second last year with Smoltz, actor Jack Wagner and Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway.
NBA great Michael Jordan and ex-shortstop Ozzie Smith are among the other hall of famers in the field along with the NFL’s Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.
Current NFL quarterbacks Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel, Matt Schaub, Kyle Boller and Tim Tebow all plan to play at Tahoe this week. In addition to Elway, past QBs in the field include Steve Beuerlein, Chris Chandler, Trent Dilfer, Trent Green, Jim McMahon, Mark Rypien, Vinny Testaverde and Joe Theismann.
Other pitchers playing are Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, Bret Saberhagen, Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Mark Mulder, Andy Pettitte and David Wells.
Smoltz, 44, is a Cy Young winner with 3,000 career strikeouts, 200 wins and 150 saves. He said he is on a six-year plan to make it to the Champions Tour.
But he also said he still has a lot to learn, especially about patience and the mental part of the game. He said he got a big dose of humility in his debut on the Nationwide Tour at the South Georgia Classic in April when he missed the cut by 27 strokes in a nightmare that began with a five-hour rain delay.
“What ended up happening was an embarrassment,” Smoltz said. “I hit three or four greens in two days, I never made a putt, I never got up and down.”
“It’s the equivalent of if I stood on the mound and waited eight minutes in between pitches to face Albert Pujols with the bases loaded with nothing but time to think about how I’m going to get him out. More than likely you’re going to think of a lot of bad things that can happen. And that’s what I found myself doing.”
Rhoden said he only gets nervous now if he’s playing poorly, but he remembers being scared to death the first time he played. He also recalls being on the first tee with a horrified Robin Yount the only time he played in the celebrity tourney in 1994.
“He teed up and hit grounder into the creek about 50 yards in front of the tee box,” Rhoden said.
“I asked him after the round how he thought it went. (Yount) said, ‘I’ve played in the World Series and All-Star games. I’ve never been so scared in my life with that first tee shot,’” Rhoden said.
“That’s what it does to you. Most of the guys are just out of their element. Until you get enough of these events in to where you’re not scared to death on that first tee. It’s good to have that adrenaline going and be a little nervous, but once you get past that, it’s just playing golf.”