Does celebrity tourney really need a different winner? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Does celebrity tourney really need a different winner?

Steve Yingling

Does it really matter that we almost always have the same champion in the American Century Championship?

Obviously, Dan Quinn and Rick Rhoden certainly don’t mind.

The two former pro athletes have combined to win 10 of the 15 championships at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. If my math is correct, 66.7 percent of the tournaments are won by these two pro golfers.

Yes, pro golfers. They have proven that they are capable of competing on other golf tours.

Short of NBC leaving them off the invitation list, Quinn and Rhoden are probably going to contend for the celebrity title every year they come here.

It’s not their fault. It’s up to the other players to raise their games to the next level or hire Butch Harmon as a swing coach. I hear he’s available.

Tiger Woods’ dominance on the PGA Tour is the best comparison. For two years he won about every major title in sight until Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh elevated their games and Tiger parted ways with Harmon.

During Sunday’s post-tournament press conference, Quinn and Rhoden were asked if they needed more competition.

“I don’t hear of too many good golfers that are currently playing that could,” Quinn said. “It would be nice to get another two or three players that could come in that are like Rick and I.

“We are in a unique era. The longevity of this is a testimony to the celebrities that have played from day one and are still playing.”

In addition to winning the championship more than any star, Rhoden has never finished worse than fourth. That’s a 14-year track record no other golfer on any tour can match.

Rhoden, though, has a plan for the players who want to win the $100,000 first prize.

“We have three or four guys that could really be good golfers if they spent as much time working at it probably as we do, or playing as much as we do,” Rhoden said. “Mario Lemieux could be really good … John Elway could be a really good golfer.

“They don’t have the time to spend to get out there and do it and I don’t think they really are trying to do it. They like to go play with their buddies, but they are not out there practicing and doing stuff because they don’t have the time.”

I overheard a fan next to 16th green on Sunday say, “Anybody but Rhoden” to win the tournament.

Unless he put the July mortgage payment on Billy Joe Tolliver at Caesars Tahoe, it shouldn’t matter who wins. Do you think Michael Jordan, Elway or Mario Lemieux will stop coming because Rhoden and Quinn hog all of the championship trophies?

The uniqueness of Lake Tahoe’s biggest sporting event of the year is that it attracts spectators for a variety of reasons: They’ll keep paying $20 per ticket because NBC continues to update the field, autograph seekers can make a killing and the quality of golf isn’t too bad if you follow the final three threesomes.

Besides, how many other sporting events can you rub elbows with Donald Trump and Charles Barkley?

Al Del Greco was the last player other than Quinn or Rhoden to win the championship and Lemieux is the biggest star to ever win here.

Lemieux has one of the nicest swings on any tour, but he obviously doesn’t practice enough and has trouble playing tournament golf. Since winning in 1998, Lemieux hasn’t finished higher than the 13th (he was 32nd this year).

Eight-time Grand Slam tennis tournament champion Ivan Lendl may someday win here. Actor Jack Wagner and NHL star Brett Hull could, too.

But keep an eye on Jerry Rice. As soon as Rice gives up catching passes in the NFL, he could start contending. He was a career-best 20th this year after doing no better than 33rd in his other seven appearances. And football fans know how much Rice likes to practice.

But it might take the Raiders waiving Rice to convince the sure Hall of Famer to spend more time on his golf game.

Until then, won’t it be Rhoden’s turn to win next year’s championship?

– Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or syingling@tahoedailytribune.com


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