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NBC claims celebrity golf tourney has best field ever

Jokes and laughter filled the clubhouse at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course on Wednesday, signaling the fast-approaching 10th annual American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.

“It’s been (almost) 10 years since I’ve won. If this was the PGA Tour, I’d have to win this year. It’s my 10-year exemption,” said 1992 Super Bowl MVP and the tournament’s first champion Mark Rypien, who along with moguls skier Jonny Moseley attended a press conference previewing the July 2-4 tournament.

NBC, which will televise the second and final rounds of the 54-hole championship, is touting the 79-player field as its best ever.



Committed to playing in the $500,000 tournament are recently retired Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, hockey’s retired “Great One” Wayne Gretzky, welterweight boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya, NBA star Charles Barkley, 49ers receiver Jerry Rice, Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino and defending champion Mario Lemieux.

An injection of first-time participants has been a focal point of NBC’s. Rookies include George Brett, Jimmy Connors, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Scott Hamilton, Ahmad Rashad, Claude Lemieux, Rick Pitino and Marty Schottenheimer.



“We are very cognizant each year to try and change the field and get new faces into the competition,” said NBC’s Kevin Monaghan.

However, it was a name that was missing from the player entry list that caused the most concern. Retired NBA icon Michael Jordan, who hasn’t played in the tournament since 1996, hasn’t decided if he’ll tee it up in July.

“Michael Jordan has been invited to the event, and he’s told his buddies that he expects to play. We don’t want to announce that he’s playing until we hear from Michael himself, but we feel pretty good that he will play,” Monaghan said. “If you can imagine what our final group would be on Friday (July 2) with Gretzky, Elway and hopefully Michael.”

For the players who have already announced their intentions of playing, they couldn’t think of a better venue to spend their Fourth of July weekend.

“I know I’m a long shot, but I want to win this tournament. One day my name will be on that mantel. I believe in miracles, Mike,” said former Raiders running back Marcus Allen, who enthusiastically commented about the tournament along with 1980 USA gold medal hockey team captain Mike Eurizone via a teleconference.

Allen is still trying to come to grips with the pressure the game brings.

“I’ve played in front of 100,000 people in the Super Bowl and was never nervous. I’ve been nervous over a 3-foot putt. I look down and my hand is shaking, and so are my legs and pants,” Allen said. “This game is very difficult, but it’s also a heck of a lot of fun.”

Rypien, who hasn’t contended since winning the initial tournament, says he might be wise to avoid any side bets with Elway.

“He has a room in his house and it’s called the Rypien room. He built it based on what he’s won from me,” said Rypien, who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery and contemplating retirement. “Elway always seems to spite me. He gets to the 18th green and I’m one shot ahead of him. We have a little $5 bet going, and I won’t tell you how many zeros are behind the 5, but he’ll birdie or eagle that hole and it just seems to be a snowball effect.”

After being Elway’s whipping boy so often, Rypien finds solace in the casinos.

“The other nice thing to do is just sit and watch Michael Jordan play baccarat. I don’t know if I’d ever do that, but that’s his money and he can do what he wants with it,” Rypien said.

All six champions are entered, including Rypien, Lemieux, Dan Quinn, Rick Rhoden (four-time winner), Dick Anderson and Billy Joe Tolliver.

NBC Sports will televise the second and final rounds July 3 (1 to 3 p.m.), and on July 4 (noon to 3 p.m.). The Golf Channel will carry first-round action on July 2 from noon to 3 p.m. A Celebrity/Amateur Tournament is set for July 1 and practice rounds are June 29 and 30. Gallery tickets are available Tuesday through Sunday. Practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday cost $10, while the Celebrity/Amateur on Thursday and the three rounds of tournament require $15 per person daily.

Tickets are available each day at the gate. Discounted tickets can be purchased in advance for Friday through Sunday rounds at $12.50 each through BASS, or by calling the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority toll-free central reservations at (800) AT-TAHOE.


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