With senior tour card, Rhoden still eligible to play with stars | TahoeDailyTribune.com

With senior tour card, Rhoden still eligible to play with stars

Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

Rick Rhoden celebrates “the big 50” today and he has reason to celebrate the birthday, unlike most aging men.

On Monday, the five-time celebrity golf championship winner will attempt to qualify for his first Champions Tour event — the $1.5 million Columbus Southern Open May 23-25 at Green Island Country Club in Columbus, Ga.

“I’m going up there with the idea that I’m going through Monday qualifying. Hopefully when I get there, they’ll tell me I have a sponsor’s exemption,” Rhoden said.

Rhoden, who is eligible to play in 14 events, believes sponsors should find him worthy of an exemption.

“I played well at the qualifying tournament and I think I have a story to tell and hopefully the sponsors will think the same thing,” said Rhoden via a teleconference on Thursday. “If I can get in an event and play well, it will sure make it lot easier for them to invite me.”

When Rhoden does play his first Champions Tour event, he’ll remain eligible for the celebrity tour. An NBC representative informed Phil Weidinger, whose firm promotes the July 18-20 American Century Celebrity Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, of Rhoden’s eligibility status on Thursday.

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“The distinction here is that if you’re a regular member of the pro tour, you would not be eligible. Since Rick has not yet qualified, he’s still eligible,” Weidinger said.

Rhoden playfully turned the question around when responding about his celebrity tour status.

“I don’t see how the Champions Tour will be worried about me playing on the celebrity tour,” he said.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in playing up, even as a kid. Usually if you’re the youngest kid on a team, you end being the best in the long run. Anytime you play against better competition, it only makes you better.”

Last fall, the former major league pitcher missed qualifying for pro golf tour for 50-and-over set by one stroke. He blamed his failure to qualify for the tour on eratic iron play, not nerves.

“I never felt pressure with what I was trying to achieve,” Rhoden said. “The pressure came from knowing that I wasn’t hitting long irons on the club face. I wasn’t nervous because I had to shoot a 71 to get in or whatever. But for three weeks, standing over a 3-, 4-, or 5-iron and you can’t hit anywhere near where your aiming, that’ll make you nervous.”

His steely nerves make him a natural for the ultracompetitive Monday qualifiers, where more than 100 players usually compete for four spots into that week’s tournament.

“If I don’t get in, obviously I’m going to keep playing on the celebrity tour,” Rhoden said. “My goal right now is to get in as many tournaments as I can — hopefully I’ll get in some. You never know, if you get one, maybe you win. My goal is to play out there and win some tournaments..”

Rhoden ran away with the 2003 celebrity tour’s opener, winning the Stan Humphries Classic by 10 strokes May 1-4 in San Diego. Rhoden was the only player under par.

Before the teleconferene concluded, Rhoden was asked his opinion of Annika Sorenstam playing the PGA Tour’s Colonial tournament next week.

“The tournament is an invitational. They can invite whoever they want to invite,” Rhoden said. “Obviously she’d do well against the celebrities. Against the seniors, people don’t realize they play some good golf. But you’re talking about one of the best golfers in the world. It doesn’t matter where you play, when you can shoot 59 like she did, obviously you are very good.

“The LPGA, right now, is the best I’ve ever seen it talent-wise. They have some great players out there, not just her.”

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