After four top-10 finishes, John Smoltz is tired a being a contender at the American Century Championship.
The former Atlanta Braves pitcher, who compiled 213 wins and 154 saves in his stellar 21-year career, has his eye on the big prize when the 24th annual event starts July 19 at the Edgewood Golf Club in Stateline.
Smoltz, who was second in 2010, has finished ninth the last two years which is something he wants to change. He is a 5-1 choice at the local sportsbook.
“The last two years have been pretty difficult for me, but I’ve learned a lot,” Smoltz said during a conference call Wednesday. “I’ve got more pressure on me than I’d like because when you’re supposed to win or compete to win and you don’t live up to expectations, it’s kind of frustrating.
Physically I’m in a better place, so hopefully it will transcend into better results. I need to do better than an eighth or ninth-place finish, whatever the last two years were. I’m really looking forward to it. The broadcasting gig gets in the way a little bit. I’m at the mercy of where I’m going whether I can play a little golf here or there. I think my new approach when I get there is going to pay off. I’m going to be a little more rested.”
Smoltz’s former regimen for the tournament would be to play 36 holes on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and 18 on Thursday prior to Friday’s first round.
“And I wondered why I didn’t have my fastball when I ended the game,” Smoltz said. “When you don’t get to play two weeks up to that point, that’s what I felt I had to do, but now I don’t have to deal with it anymore.”
Smoltz has scored 50 or more points in his last three ACC appearances with his best showing of 65 in 2010 when he finished second. He said he has some numbers in mind that will help him realize his first championship.
“Anything over 16 points in the first round, which I’ve never been able to top,” Smoltz said. “I’d love to average 24-26 points a day. This format, I think it’s a great format for this field, If you make six birdies and six bogeys, you are better off than making 18 pars. You’ve really got to make birdies and eagles. The guy who makes the (most) birdies and eagles is the one that is going to win.
“I find myself every once in a while getting carried a way with my personal score, and there is no reason to do that. The second year I started out with three straight birdies. Last year when I messed up, I was standing on 16 waiting 20 minutes to hit my shot, adding all the points that I was going to make the remainder of the way. It didn’t happen. I shanked my next shot, so those are things you learn.”
And, Smoltz admitted that he needs to learn to master the greens at Edgewood. That has been his achilles heel in the past. He was told by publicist Steve Griffith that the greens were in the best shape that they have been in the last 10 years.
“I love Edgewood,” Smoltz said. “It all comes down to the greens, putting them, trying to find a way to make putts. There are no lip-ins, just lip-outs. It’s a great venue. I love playing this course. Last year I hit the first 12 greens (in regulation) and was 3-over-par. I pretty much checked out after that. I have to find a way not to let the greens change. Poa annua is different out West. Players struggle east to west and west to east. I now understand the difference. I’ll spend more time putting and chipping when I get there than I normally do.”
Smoltz won’t be the only former Atlanta Brave player in the field. Former pitcher Greg Maddux and infielder Chipper Jones, who is enjoying his first year of retirement, also are in the field. What a great first-round pairing that would be.
“It will be fun for people if they like to see shots all over the place,” joked Smoltz. “No, I’m kidding. I just never want to have my back to Chipper. He can hit it a country mile. It will be a fun event for him; first event since retiring. Greg is starting to catch on a little bit. I’ve played a 100 or so rounds with Greg. I’ll probably have to help Chipper out a little bit because he’s going to hit it a long ways. It’s a matter of keeping it on the course the first time. You want to do well, and the best way to have a blast is not to have to chase your ball around too much.”
Smoltz, Maddux and Tom Glavine played a lot of golf together when they were with the Braves, and to hear Smoltz tell it, he was the best of the three.
“I was tired of hearing those guys crying about strokes, so I played them 2 on 1, which allowed them to win a few more times. We had a blast. We never let it get carried away. It was hard for Glavine to pay for dinner, so when he won in golf, he got to pay for dinner.”
Smoltz admitted that he wasn’t a fan of golf when he was younger.
“I hated golf,” he said. “I didn’t think it was much of a sport. I my first year of A ball (minor league baseball), I had time on my hands, so I picked that up and fishing. I became obsessed with it (golf). I didn’t understand the history of it, the etiquette, nothing. I’ve gotten to play some of the best courses in the world because of baseball.”
And, that includes Edgewood.
“Just about every hole here, you need a good shot,” Smoltz said. “I love playing this course. This is the greatest event we get to play in. It’s the greatest tournament for celebrities. Any time yo have a chance to look at a leaderboard and see where you can finish among your peers, it’s a blast.”