This could be Rhoden’s last goodbye |

This could be Rhoden’s last goodbye

Column by Steve Yingling, Tribune sports editor

We’ll miss your stylish straw hat and the way real golf fans got off their casino stools to come out and watch you play.

Not to mention how much your electrifying final-round charges will be missed.

We’ll remember how professional and courteous you remained, whether winning or coming in second or third. Did you attend Jack Nicklaus’ school of etiquette?

Anyone who has ever wagered on you will savor the fact that you never intentionally launched a ball during tournament play into Lake Tahoe like comedian Kevin Nealon has.

The casinos won’t miss you, though. You’ve taken a lot of their money, especially that first year in 1991 when you were a longshot to win and a soggy Bill Laimbeer handed the tournament to you while giving his name to the smaller lake guarding the 18th hole. Sorry, Bill, Lake Tahoe will remain the name of the big lake.

Neither will most of your competitors miss you. You’re competitive drive has kept many of them from winning, and stars aren’t accustomed to finishing second.

We won’t miss the suspense you removed from several championships by building such a huge lead that your wife, Liz, could have played a few of your shots down the stretch.

As the 49-year-old Rhoden prepares for his 12th celebrity championship this week, it’s not presumptuous to predict that this will be his last.

While most adults loathe the day they reach a half-century, Rhoden eagerly awaits his 50th birthday. Fifty means he’s eligible for the PGA Senior Tour.

More competition and much larger purses await him by mixing with the seniors.

He’ll attempt to qualify for the 2002-03 tour in November when he goes through the pressure of regional qualifying and the final qualifying school. The draining two weeks teaches the players one of two things — either they are dreamers or they have the game to mix it up with Hale Irwin, Tom Watson and Tom Kite.

“John (Brodie) basically told me I can play out there,” Rhoden said. “I think I can play out there. You have to play well those two weeks. If I play well those two weeks, I have a chance. If I don’t, it’s going to be tough.”

While Rhoden’s candidness suggests he’s confident, he’s not as optimistic as some of his celebrity playing partners are.

“Everywhere I go I get asked how good is this Rick Rhoden,” said Baseball Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who has played in several Senior Tour events. “Rick has a chance of being a top 10 player out there for a number of years.”

Schmidt’s assessments stems from Rhoden’s solid game from tee to green. If he’s putting well, as he did several weeks ago in Denver when he won by seven shots, no celebrity can keep up with him.

Rhoden also has a mental edge over many of his opponents as well.

“Rick could win an event on the Senior Tour,” Schmidt said. “Not much separates Rick and the rest of the players on the Senior Tour, but it’s because it’s not Rick against Bruce Fleisher or Jack Nicklaus. Rick won’t allow that Hale Irwin is in the same group affect his game.

“That’s something I need to learn. I need to play the course, not against Rick Rhoden and Dan Quinn. It’s that focus he has on the golf course and not he and the other players, that’s why Rick will do so well on the Senior Tour.”

Of course, if the improbable happens and Rhoden doesn’t receive his tour card, Schmidt thinks that Rhoden will be invited to play in a number of events.

“He’ll get asked to play in 8-10 senior events next year, anyway, if he makes the finals,” Schmidt said.

As we all know, professional golfers aren’t allowed to participate in the celebrity championship. The tournament won’t be the same without him. Celebrity golf is losing its Nicklaus.

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