Gambling part of championship’s culture |

Gambling part of championship’s culture

Jeremy Evans
Steve Newell / Special to the Tribune What a surprise for Tribune photographer Dan Thrift when Charles Barkley used him as a cushion. After putting on hole No. 1, Barkley sauntered across the green to where Thrift was lying taking pictures, circled around behind him and then took a break on top of him. Who knows why the 320-pound future NBA Hall of Famer chose a lanky, bony, 175-pound skinny guy as a resting spot. "He was light as a feather, really," Thrift said.

STATELINE – When actor Jack Wagner finished his practice round on Wednesday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course, he stopped and talked with a reporter. During their conversation, the caddie of one of his playing partners handed Wagner several $100 bills, the result of several skins he had won from either Dan Quinn, John Elway or Chris Chandler.

Just another day at the American Century Championship, a tournament that’s held less than a mile from one of Nevada’s largest gaming venues. Gambling has certainly developed into part of the culture of the annual celebrity golf event, with side bets between players and wagers at sports books at MontBleu and Harveys adding to the tournament’s popularity.

Boxer Oscar De La Hoya reportedly won about $500,000 gambling at a Stateline casino one year, though that report has never been confirmed. Other celebrities have been rumored to lose close to that much during their stay in Lake Tahoe. And the casinos might have seen another sure loser walk through its doors before today’s first round started.

When actor Cheech Marin heard he was 100-1 odds at Harveys to win the tournament, he responded “I’m a 100-to-1? Shoot, I’m going to put some money down.”

Although casino odds are popular with locals and tourists, the big money seems to be exchanged on the golf course. The past three years, Charles Barkley and Chris Webber have bet $50,000 that they won’t finish lower than the other on Sunday’s final leaderboard.

The loser of the bet donates $50,000 to the other players’ charity of choice. Webber, a NBA forward with the Philadelphia 76ers, won last’s year bet. However, he is still waiting for Barkley to pay up.

“He didn’t pay me,” said Webber, whose personal charity goes to help children. “It would be good to double up on that, like in Vegas, it’s good to double down, just like blackjack.”

Chefs Ming Tsai and Bobby Flay reportedly had a small wager going until Flay pulled out of the event. Former University of California quarterbacks and close friends Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller also might seek some action.

“I think we will have a small wager between us this weekend,” said Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ second-string quarterback.

Since they were both first-round draft picks, their bank accounts probably aren’t suffering. But Rodgers wouldn’t divulge the amount of their wager.

“I don’t know if I can disclose that. I won’t lose to him so it won’t matter,” Rodgers said.

A Barkley sandwich

Tahoe Daily Tribune staff photographer Dan Thrift experienced a surprise close encounter with former NBA star Charles Barkley on Thursday. Lying near a sand trap on hole No. 1, Thrift was focused on Barkley walking across the green when suddenly Barkley’s 300-pound frame no longer filled Thrift’s camera’s frame.

Within seconds, Barkley had one leg on either side of the Thrift’s body and proceeded to lay on the defenseless journalist.

“He was light as a feather, really,” said Thrift, who weighs 175 pounds. “Really.”

Armstrong packs a house

Lance Armstrong, who flew to Lake Tahoe on Thursday to play in the American Century Celeb-Am Tournament, set another mark in his record-breaking career. In addition to his seven straight Tour de France titles (1999-2005), the cyclist attracted the largest press conference in the tournament’s history, according to spokesman Phil Weidinger.

“Get to know your neighbor,” Weidinger advised before Armstrong arrived at Edgewood’s clubhouse.

Tsai one-ups Tiger

First-time ACC participant and celebrity chef Ming Tsai occasionally cooks for Tiger Woods. But when he asked the world’s No. 1 ranked golfer for some advice going into this week’s tournament, Woods responded “play a lot.” Not exactly appreciative of Woods’ comment, Tsai said Thursday there is one thing he’s better than Woods at.

“I am a better (cook) than him,” said Tsai, who will cook on Saturday for a tournament event.

Take no prisoners

Former Olympic figure skater Scott Hamilton also has some public relations skills. When a fan approached him with a cellular phone in hand, he asked Hamilton to say hello to his mother in Arizona because she’s a big fan.

“Hi, Mom. You raised him well. He’s not in prison,” Hamilton quipped.

Tahoe Daily Tribune staffers Dan Thrift, Susan Wood and William Ferchland contributed to this report.

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