String music starts as Connors pulls out
Those of you with American Century Celebrity Golf souvenir programs, please turn to page 58, and cross out the photo of Jimmy Connors.
Also, this just in … George Brett will not be making the trip to Lake Tahoe. Allan Houston? Nope. Oscar De La Hoya? Likewise a no-show. And Jason Kidd, Ryne Sandberg and Mike Modano also will not attend.
While the American Century field still stacks up to be one of the best ever – how can you go wrong with John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, Dan Marino and Jesse “The Body” Ventura? – the list of late scratches in the 10th annual event reads like a celebrity who’s-who within itself. The biggest blow was Connors bowing out almost literally at the last minute, which vexed tournament officials no end.
“We have tried to get Connors every year, and finally we got him, we thought,” said NBC Tournament spokesman Kevin Monaghan. “It just happened this morning. His agent called and said there was a late scheduling conflict. It’s too bad, but that happens.”
Monaghan and tournament officials walk a similar tightrope every year, as celebrities fall in and out of the lineup in the week prior to the tournament.
“The feeling we get is that the players really want to be here,” Monaghan said. “They love this tournament. But sometimes it’s really difficult for both sides to balance their schedules.”
Brett, for instance, had to bow out on Monday due to a commitment in Kansas City which also involved American Century.
“American Century is one of the sponsors of a Hall of Fame parade in Kansas City, which Brett said he would attend,” Monaghan said. “He also just purchased a portion of a baseball bat company, so he had a lot of things going on and couldn’t make it out here. I know that he was upset that he had to cancel.”
There are always a variety of last-minute conflicts which send prospective participants to the bench.
“Oscar De La Hoya just got his hand out of a cast, and he has to begin training soon for his fight with Felix Trinidad,” Monaghan said. (Dallas Stars center) Mike Modano has a broken bone in his wrist, and his doctor doesn’t want him to play. Allan Houston quite frankly didn’t think that the Knicks would be playing so far into the season, plus his wife recently had a baby. And Jason Kidd wanted to come, but he had some family matters to attend to.”
Tournament officials try to fill out the field when players cancel, but it isn’t always possible. This year, former San Antonio Spurs All-Star George Gervin and former Chicago Bulls point guard Ron Harper have been added to the lineup.
“We tried to contact several people, such as John Starks and Mookie Blaylock. But we just ran out of time,” Monaghan said.
Although he has always done well in this event, John Elway looks at this year as the new beginning of his golf game.
“It’s great to be able to come out here and not be sore from working out and lifting weights,” said Elway, whose marathon practice round on Wednesday included 27 holes. “As long as my expectations don’t get too high, I think my game will keep improving.”
Elway says that he is still exploring the possibility of getting in on a part-ownership of a potential new NFL franchise in Los Angeles.
“There’s no question that I’m interested,” he said. “We’ll just have to see how that whole thing plays out. The question is, would I be willing to pick up my family and move them out of Denver, where they have roots. The intrigue would be to still be involved in football. We’ll see.”
As the tournament enters its 10th year, a fraternity of Tahoe veterans has emerged. Former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps has played in nine of the tournaments.
“It’s more than just golf,” said Phelps, whose Fighting Irish snapped UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in 1974. “It’s family and friends and being in a great place like Lake Tahoe. It’s a true American holiday, especially when it’s on the Fourth of July like this. Tahoe just opens its arms to you and welcomes you in. You can’t beat it.”
Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan also considers himself a member of the fraternity.
“This is my fourth straight year, and I really enjoy it,” he said. “The more you’re here, the closer you get with the guys. It’s good to have three or four days to get out and forget about other pressures.”
It’s also a good opportunity to get to know your boss away from the office, according to former Broncos quarterback John Elway.
“I’m looking forward to getting to know Mike (Shanahan) on that other level,” Elway said, only half joking. “It’s more fun when he’s not your boss.”
There may be only 10 to 12 players who have a legitimate shot at winning the tournament, but every participant is nervous about achieving another goal – that is, beating the infamous “Dreeson Line.”
“No one wants to fall below the Dreeson Line,” said comedian Tom Dreeson, who has played in every Tahoe celebrity tournament and is on the Celebrity Golf Tournament board of directors. “Getting a lower score than Dreeson is a big disgrace around here.”
The players joke about it, and Dreeson doesn’t seem to mind. Hey, after all, he has made a living by getting people to laugh at him.
“But I’m not that bad, really,” he said. “My best golf memory here was shooting 1-under over the final 17 holes in 1996. But the Dreeson line lives on.”
For the record, the Dreeson Line is usually around 78. Beware.
What is Joe Theismann’s personal prediction for the tournament? Not surprisingly, it’s Joe Theismann. “Don’t be surprised if this 50-year-old quarterback comes up and wins the whole thing,” he said. Incidentally, he also likes the chances of Billy Joe Tolliver and Dan Quinn … Former Kansas City Chiefs head coach Marty Shottenheimer is enjoying his first Tahoe Celebrity event, but he’s golfed in the area before. “A few years ago, I played at Eagle Valley in Carson City with Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves,” Shottenheimer said. “The reason I mention that is because I had my last hole-in-one there. That was a strange threesome, though.” … NFL Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown has seen better days on the golf course. His drives on the practice range were only clearing the ground by a foot or two. “Low line drives,” he said. “I’m not doing so hot. I’m going to play a round with Ahmad (Rashad) to see if things improve.”
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