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No shame for Rhoden to return to Tahoe

Steve Yingling

The way former major league pitcher Rick Rhoden has dominated the American Century Championship, the 54-hole celebrity golf tournament should one day be renamed after him.

Rhoden’s commitment to the July 16-18 championship has been tested over the past year as he tries to earn a regular spot on the Champions Tour.

The six-time champion at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course said during a teleconference on Tuesday that if he had a sponsor’s exemption for a senior tour event during the week of the championship, he’d still come to Lake Tahoe.

“I hope they have that event another 20 years,” said Rhoden, who has earned $732,289 in 13 visits to the South Shore.

“Everyone likes to come play in Tahoe: perfect weather, great golf course, nice crowds. We’re treated great there.”

Rhoden has only participated in one Champions Tour event this year, finishing 29th in the Royal Caribbean Classic in February. Sponsors’ exemptions are responsible for four of his five appearances on the senior tour. He’s likely to receive a fifth next week for the Allianz Championship in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Last year, the 50-year-old Rhoden nearly won the Allianz Championship, leading briefly on the final day before faltering to a fifth-place tie.

“I think if I had more experience, I would have had a really good chance to win (that week),” said Rhoden, who made a tournament-best 19 birdies that week. “The courses play faster, the greens are harder, which to me is the most difficult thing, hitting into the flag. It’s more precise play. I’d hit a lot of balls into the flag and they’d roll 25 feet and they might go down a slope or something and I’d end up getting a bogey.

“It’s different golf. If you’re out there week after week it becomes natural, but if you show up and do one once every two months, it’s a little tougher.”

Rhoden has yet to qualify for a Champions Tour event through the arduous Monday qualifying, where up to 90 players compete over 18 holes for two spots in that week’s tournament.

“I knew it would be difficult and I think frustrating is the word for a few of them,” Rhoden said. “I haven’t Monday qualified yet and I think I should have done it three or four times.

“A lot of these guys play these one-day events, these mini-tour events their whole lives and it’s a different mindset. I’m more of a consistent player. I’m used to playing in a two- or three-day thing where if you have a bad hole, that’s OK because you have 27 more holes left.”

The 151-game winner in the bigs will use a different approach in his remaining qualifying attempts this year.

“I think I play a little cautious so I have to get a little more aggressive,” he said. “Seventy-five is no worse than 69 in most of them because neither one gets you in.”

Rhoden usually is the favorite in any celebrity tournament he enters, but competing with the 50-and-older set is another matter.

“When you go to a Monday qualifying there’s probably 25 guys out of 90 who are capable of shooting in the mid-60s and on our tour there’s probably a handful of guys who can do that on a given day,” Rhoden said.

“Tahoe is a three-day (event) so if you have an average first round like I did last year, you still have an opportunity to come back. In Monday qualifying it’s do or die. You’re out there and you know you have to shoot a low score. If you have one or two bad holes, you’re not gonna be one of the top two.”

Rhoden didn’t miss an opportunity to start schmoozing multimillionaire Donald Trump. Trump recently announced he’ll play in the celebrity championship for the first time.

“Maybe he’ll want to sponsor one of our events. Make sure you great him good,” Rhoden said.

Rhoden needs to finish among the top 30 on the Champions Tour’s money list to earn exempt status for next season. Players ranked 31st to 50th gain partial exempt status.

A more attainable goal for Rhoden might be to finish among the top 75. Players 51st through 75th on the money list are exempt from the first state of qualifying. Rhoden was ousted during that stage last year.

“If I play well, I can finish in the top 10 any week that I play,” Rhoden said.

The defending American Century winner never says that when he comes to Tahoe.


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