Rhoden begins quest to qualify for Champions Tour | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rhoden begins quest to qualify for Champions Tour

Former major leaguer Rick Rhoden possesses 41 career celebrity golf titles on his resumZ and the experience of having the world watch him pitch in the World Series.

So when the 49-year-old Rhoden tees off this morning in the opening round of Champions Tour qualifying in St. Augustine, Fla., he’s bound to be at ease.

“I only get nervous when I feel like I’m not playing really good,” said Rhoden, who fired a 68 during the final practice round Monday at Marsh Creek Country Club. “Golf is a crazy game. You never know what can happen. Hopefully, I’ll play decent this week.”

Rhoden is attempting to become the first member of the Celebrity Players Tour to qualify for a regular pro golf tour. Former Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski, also a regular on the celebrity tour, is trying to make the cut for the final stage of Champions Tour qualifying at the same venue. The Senior Tour has been renamed the Champions Tour for 2003.

South Shore golf fans and stargazers are well aware of Rhoden’s golf ability. They have watched him capture five celebrity championship trophies at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

“What I’ve done out here (on the celebrity tour) doesn’t mean anything starting (today),” Rhoden said. “But having played in (competitive) tournaments, that is going to help me.

“As long as I’m hitting the ball well, I’ll play with anybody then.”

During practice rounds earlier this week, Rhoden noticed that he’s longer off the tee than many of the players. But Rhoden said advancing to the qualifying finals Nov. 19-22 isn’t contingent on his driving ability.

“What it comes down to is the short game,” he said. “It’s what you do with a wedge in your hands when you get around the green and with your putter up on the green.”

The Ormond Beach, Fla., resident is accustomed to playing in Florida’s ever-shifting winds. But the lower irons that will help him keep the ball low and out of the teeth of the wind haven’t been kind to him lately.

“I’m not hitting my long irons as well as I’d like to,” he said. “It’s more mental than anything.”

Rhoden once dominated celebrity golf, winning as many as seven titles in 2000, but former hockey player Dan Quinn, ex-NFL placekicker Al Del Greco and actor Jack Wagner have reduced his titles the past two years. His only victory in 2002 came in the Sun Microsystems John Elway Celebrity Classic last June.

“He has the game to do it, but a lot of things have to go your way,” said Quinn, the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship winner the past two years. “As far as 50-year-olds, he’s as good as a lot of them.”

But Quinn said the odds aren’t in Rhoden’s favor.

“Getting out there is so hard when you don’t have any status,” Quinn said. “There are only eight cards and eight conditional cards. You have to go through two stages to get eight cards. It’s very difficult.”

Andy Bean, Craig Stadler and Jerry Pate are several former PGA stars who will be eligible to play on the 2003 Champions Tour.

Eleven players from the four-round Marsh Creek qualifier will advance with the survivors from four other regions to the finals in Brooksville, Fla. If Rhoden plays well, he expects to be one of them.

“If I play anywhere near like I’m capable of playing, I’ll move on,” he said. “But if I don’t play well, I don’t expect to move on.”

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