Rhoden’s loss is our gain | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Rhoden’s loss is our gain

Excuse American Century Golf Championship followers for exchanging high-fives following Rick Rhoden’s near qualification for the Champions Tour.

Now that the former major league pitcher has remained eligible for 2003 celebrity golf tournaments, tournament organizers will allow Dan Quinn to keep his driver in the bag and won’t force the former NHL center to putt with a hockey stick.

Seriously, celebrity golf will benefit having Rhoden back — if only for one more season. Rhoden’s tour card for senior golf looked as certain as finding junk in your son’s pants pocket before running a load of wash.

“I was quite impressed,” said Reno’s Butch Sheehan, who finished in a tie for the 11th qualifying spot. “He hits the ball a lot better than I thought he did.”

Rhoden was so close to becoming a pro golfer that he could have rearranged his wallet to make room for the golden tour card. He was fourth halfway through the 72-hole national qualifying finals and seventh entering the final round. All he needed was one of those trademark par-or-better rounds that continually make the boys back home at Pablo Beach Golf Club in Jacksonville, Fla., reach for their wallets.

“We were pulling for him,” said Kevin Monaghan, NBC’s vice president of business development. “I knew he really had his heart set on it.”

Tantamount to serving a seventh-game gopher ball in the National League Championship Series, Rhoden lost his trusty groove last Friday, shooting a 3-over-par 75 to fall out of the top 16 qualifying positions.

But the 49-year-old Rhoden shouldn’t remain disconsolate for long. Celebrity golf wants him back, especially the NBC-driven American Century Championship. They don’t consider him a professional golfer yet, even though he beat many former PGA players en route to his 20th-place finish last week.

A tour card would have precluded Rhoden from participation in celebrity events, just as it did for former 49er quarterback John Brodie back in the early and mid-1990s.

Brodie won the Senior Tour’s 1991 Security Pacific Tournament in a sudden-death playoff with Chi Chi Rodriguez. The former Stanford golfer made it through qualifying school three times and earned more than half a million dollars in 210 tournaments.

However, Brodie had to wait until he was 60 in 1996 to be welcomed into the 7-year-old world of celebrity golf.

“There was a fear at one point that John could go in and win by 15 shots because of his week-to-week play. But as time went on, he was playing less and less and the feeling was it evened the field out a bit,” said Monaghan, whose TV network chooses the championship field. “John told us that he finally got invited to play after he got too old.”

Still, Brodie and his distinguishable long putter made their mark in celebrity golf before a stroke nearly killed him a couple years ago. Brodie was third in the 1996 celebrity championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course and second in 1997, seventh in 1998, fifth in 1999 and third in 2000.

Rhoden will likely receive sponsors’ exemptions into a handful of Champions Tour events next year, just as Baseball Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench have received in recent years.

“He’s obviously not going to (senior golf) the weekend of the American Celebrity Championship,” Monaghan said. “That’s a pretty big payday for him.”

That it is. Rhoden has made more than half a million dollars in 12 championship appearances.

With Rhoden coming back, Quinn now has a major challenger in his quest for an unprecedented third straight championship in July. It will also give Rhoden the opportunity to leave celebrity golf with one more championship.

It’s a storyline that gives celebrity golf what pro golf tournaments thrive upon — competitive rivalries.

— Tribune Sports Editor Steve Yingling can be reached at (530) 542-8010 or at syingling@tahoedailytribune.com

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