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Nakatani jockeying for position

Michael Traum

Corey Nakatani is used to people asking him who he is in everyday life. But in his sporting element, the 27-year-old California native is a household name.

Nakatani is a highly successful jockey who has run in the Kentucky Derby as well as other top horse races throughout the country. His career mount earnings top $50 million. So when it comes to his rookie outing in the Isuzu Celebrity Golf Championship, Nakatani said the pressure of cameras, spectators, sports stars and prize money will be a familiar experience.

“I’m used to playing for a lot higher stakes than what this is, so that’s not a big deal. I compete in front of quite a few people, go out there and get paid to ride in the big races. Your nerves don’t get to you. Some people are just capable of dealing with it,”said Nakatani, who was mistaken for Oscar De La Hoya during the Tuesday practice round, which he played with moguls gold medalist Jonny Moseley. “Horse racing is kind of its own little world. But it’s starting to get more well known. The thing about this tournament is you’re going to meet a lot of great guys and make some good friendships.”

Nakatani has a 6.8 golf handicap, with a career-best round of 68. With a stereotypically small yet powerful frame, what he lacks in height he makes up for in power, consistency driving balls long and straight.

“He hits the ball great,” Moseley said. “He uses a regular driver and looks like he’s standing way too far back. He takes the club way back and follows through all the way around.”

The jockey isn’t sure how he’ll match up on the Sunday leader board. But he’s made the most of his time so far at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and looks forward to finally playing in the tournament.

“I got here Sunday night, played a couple of rounds, made a lot of birdies and a lot of bogies. The big key is learning about the greens, being able to get up and down,” said Nakatani, who typically works during the celebrity championships but is forgoing a race to be in Tahoe. “It’s a great course and great tournament. I’ve been trying to play in it for four years but hadn’t had the opportunity. We have a nice filly that is running this weekend, but I made already made the commitment to be here.”

Lendl, Del Greco make the most of practice time

Many players got extra cuts by playing more than one practice round on Tuesday. But Al Del Greco and Ivan Lendl were making the most of their time on the course.

Both guys were hitting more than one ball on a hole, and at times up to four apiece. On the par-4 13th hole, Del Greco mishit his second shot to the front of the plateau green. Not pleased with the roller, Del Greco smacked three more from the fairway, with only one landing in a puttable spot.

Lendl did much the same, hitting a handful of balls, including four on the 13th.

It’s not an uncommon site during the early rounds, as the players are getting a feel for the course. Come Friday, though, they all count.

Greens may not get any faster

After Lendl and Del Greco finished practicing, they asked Edgewood head pro Paul Martin if the greens were going to be made faster for the weekend tournament.

Martin, who said the greens ran about 9.5 on the stimpmeter last year, wasn’t sure if the maintenance crew was going to roll or cut the putting surfaces before Friday’s round.

Not that the players necessarily prefer quick to slow greens, according to Lendl, they’re just interested in consistency.

Martin said he thinks the greens, which were top-dressed and verticut last week, are in great shape. He said the course will probably take a stimpmeter reading today.

Past champ fires a 72 but drops dough to Cheese

Billy Joe Tolliver, the 1996 champion, carded a 72 during Tuesday’s practice round. But while the scorecard was pleasing, Tolliver’s wallet took a minor hit.

Like many of the players, Tolliver and his caddie and longtime friend, Jeff “Cheeseburger” Fortunato, had a wager on the round. Cheese used a few gift strokes from Billy Joe to beat his buddy by a single swing.

While the amount was kept quiet, the words from Cheese were not. Tolliver characteristically shrugged it off, though. And the way the pair typically jibe one another throughout the week, smiling while smacking each other around, here’s betting that Billy Joe will get the dough back – and then some.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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