Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz didn’t need a 98 mph fastball to win the Diamond Resorts Celebrity Division Championship in January.
Instead, Smoltz turned to his new self-standing putter to secure the victory.
“This putter has become a part of me,” he chuckled. “It really helped me see the green and find the breaks. It did that part for me, so all I had to focus on was speed and control …. It was one of the biggest reasons why I won.”
Smoltz, 52, has competed against the best 50-and-over golfers in the world on the PGA TOUR Champions over the spring. He has emerged as a co-favorite with Tony Romo to win the 30th rendition of the American Century Championship July 12-14 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
“The win will go a long way for me in Tahoe,” he said. “It’s one of the things you mark your calendar for and I’ve learned to slow down along the way. My schedule is brutal, but this is something I always look forward to.”
In last year’s tournament, Smoltz placed 10th with 53 points on the Stableford scoring system. Smoltz has grown to appreciate the Tahoe scenery, but he’s focused on using the course to his advantage.
“There are certain (baseball) stadiums that catch your eye — it’s the same with golf,” he said. “It’s stunning here. But I’ve learned a lot about my golf game in the last couple years to take what’s given to me instead of risking it all on some par fives.”
Newly acquired Washington Redskins quarterback Case Keenum has returned for his second start at the $600,000 competition. He led the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship in 2017. Keenum started all 16 games with the Denver Broncos last season before being traded to Washington .
Keenum is looking to improve off a rocky first year at Edgewood. He finished tied for 24th place with 40 points.
“I don’t think I had the best finish of some of the guys,” he said. “I think we’re all gonna love to get out and do something we don’t normally do, but keep that competitive mindset.”
Quarterback participants are a common theme in the tournament. Of the 92 participants in last year, 11 were signal callers.
For Keenum, the pressure of performing on the gridiron translates well to the course.
“The rotation and energy from my upper-body and arm transitions from my hands to the club,” he said. “We like to compete and we like to have the ball in our hands. In golf, the game is in your hands and I think that’s one of the reasons why (quarterbacks) like playing so much.”
Retired U.S. Marine Capt. Jerry Woods will make his first appearance. He earned a spot in the field by winning the Bush Institute’s 2019 Warrior Open in May. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. In 2004 while deployed in Iraq, he and two other Marines were hit by a mortar round and Woods received several shrapnel wounds to his left leg. He recovered and went on to serve in Afghanistan.
After his return home, Woods used golf as a form of therapy throughout his return to civilian life.
“It was a good way to get out there,” he said. “It’s not too strenuous and I love to walk. It gave me an opportunity to get out there and meet people. I’ve met so many friends along the way, it’s something else we can do and still bond.”
Woods is confident going up against the cream of the crop in his first go around at Edgewood.
“I’ve never been to Tahoe before,” he said. “I look forward to this opportunity to be in the ACC. I love golf and it’s great to be apart of this event … I’m thinking I can give Tony (Romo) or John (Smoltz) a run for their money.”
The 54-hole tournament features a celebrity field of 90-plus sports and entertainment stars. Competition is televised live by NBCSN Friday, July 12, and NBC on Saturday and Sunday, July 13-14, with additional coverage on the Golf Channel. The tournament has raised more than $5 million for national and local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which is the beneficiary of this year’s event.