Rhoden’s iron will sends him into finals
For three rounds, Rick Rhoden’s erratic iron play didn’t hurt his overall score or standing in Champions Tour Qualifying at the Marsh Creek Country Club regional last week in St. Augustine, Fla.
But the former major league pitcher’s poor iron shots caught up to him in the final round Friday and nearly prevented him from moving into the finals. The five-time celebrity golf championship winner at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course shot a 4-over-par 76 for a four-round total of 289, one stroke ahead of the final qualifying number.
“I felt good getting through because I wasn’t hitting my irons that good,” said the 49-year-old. “Between now and next week I need to learn how to hit my irons on the club face.”
Rhoden was one of 16 players from the Marsh Creek site to advance to the qualifying finals Nov. 19-22 at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla. The top eight finishers at the finals will earn full exempt status for the 2003 Champions Tour, formerly known as the Seniors Tour. The ninth- through 16-place finishers will earn partial tour status.
Near flawless driving and a savvy short game kept Rhoden in the running throughout the week. He hit 53 of 56 fairways but only 45 of 76 greens.
“I got up and down out of some tough spots all four days and that’s what saved me,” Rhoden said.
Rhoden came to the 17th hole at 1-under par but wayward second shots into the wind got him into trouble on both holes. He bogeyed the par 3 17th and on No. 18 he hit his 4-wood second shot into a 25 mph wind, finding the bunker. He didn’t get up and down for par, leaving him in a tie for 14th place with Spike Smith.
George Burns overcame a second-round 78 to nail down the final berth at 2-over-par 290.
Des Smyth of Ireland won the regional by six shots, shooting three 70s and a 67. Rhoden and Smyth were playing companions for the second round.
“He’s by far the best player I played with,” Rhoden said. “He shot 2 under that day and he could have shot 5 or 6 under, and it was a really horrible day.”
Former NFL and Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski finished 40th, closing with a 75.
Despite four rounds of misery with a iron in his hands, Rhoden is hopeful that he can turn it around for the finals.
“I feel good because I know I can play a lot better,” he said. “I can’t worry about how everyone else is doing, and I’m not going to try to shoot par, that’s for sure.”
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