Lake Tahoe’s greatest annual event came down to three buddies playing a round of golf on a Sunday afternoon. But at the very end, for the first-time winner, it became more intense than anything he’d ever experienced in his professional athletic career.
Retired Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder overcame a 5-point deficit on the final day to Jacksonville Jaguars placerkicker Josh Scobee to win the 26th annual American Century Championship July 19 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. Mulder and fellow MLB hurler Eric Gagne shot a score of 30 in the final frame while Scobee had 22.
Gagne, the former Los Angeles Dodger relief pitcher, proved he’s a great closer on the links as well. He was 14 points off the lead with 11 holes remaining. The Cy Young winner, who heard “Game Over” when he entered baseball games, played like the ACC was not over.
“Gagne … lives five minutes from me in Scottsdale,” Mulder said. “I’ve known Scobee the last couple of years. Without a doubt, playing with the two of them ‑‑ not against anybody else ‑‑ but having the two of them in that group today, it was just another round. Neither one of us took it that serious but yet we’re there to win, all three of us.”
Indeed, on Edgewood’s signature, beachside 17th hole, the lead group’s trio acted as loose as the celebrities like Justin Timberlake and Charles Barkley who had no illusions about winning. Mulder offered his caddy Kenny Overby $500 if he could win a footrace to the green against the other two caddies and Gagne tossed a football and signed autographs as he strolled down the fairway.
But on No. 18 Mulder had to make a shot to win the championship.
“That putt was the most nervous I’ve seen him,” Overby said.
Back in the clubhouse, Mulder confirmed his partner’s assessment.
“People don’t understand, this isn’t what I or any of the other guys, this isn’t what we do for a living,” Mulder said. “You put me on the mound in front of a hundred thousand people and I could care less. You put me in front of a couple thousand people and it’s a different animal. I don’t think people understand that. I see guys make fun of PGA Tour players when they hit a bad shot. People don’t understand how stressful this is and how difficult this is.”
A few years ago, the American Century Championship began to use the Modified Stableford Scoring System due to the embarrassing conventional scores posted by hacks such as Barkley, Chris Webber and Lou Holtz. A double bogey or worse is only counted as minus 2 points.
Scobee tied the course record at Saturday’s second round with 33 points but his aggressive play Sunday was defeated by Mulder’s conservative strategy.
Scobee, whose life becomes more difficult this season when points-after-touchdown will be attempted from 32 yards, couldn’t hold the lead after some poor approach shots.
Mulder had just enough in the tank to complete the win. He moved to a seemingly comfortable lead before Gagne closed ground on the 16th and 18th holes, leading to an exciting finish.
Television golf analyst Gary Koch said, “We are seeing a little changing of the guard here at the American Century Championship. All four of the top finishers are guys that really haven’t contended in the past. This is new generation of guys that I think we will be seeing and winning this American Century Championship in the future.”
Perennial stars Rick Rhoden finished fifth, Jack Wagner sixth and Billy Joe Tolliver tied for 11th.
Mulder, who has a second home in the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff, might have had an advantage because he is accustomed to playing at altitude and has played in the ACC six times. His victory was particularly sweet, he said, because he was able to compete again in a pressure situation.
“I think when you’re a professional athlete and your career’s done ‑‑ and mine the way it ended early — you don’t get to compete at a high level anymore,” Mulder said. “So just that competitiveness, you kind of miss that. And to be able to do this, whether I played good or bad, I enjoy it. And I love that nervousness. I love that feeling. I love that grind almost, the mental grind. Because that’s what it is. It’s who can stay mentally stable out there and who can control their emotions the best. And that’s what I think is the greatest part about it.”