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Mike Sorensen: Pro golfers play the game at a whole different level

Published: Sunday, June 26 2011 7:53 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — As easy as Rory McIlroy made it look a couple of weeks ago at the U.S. Open, golf is a hard sport, perhaps as difficult as any sport to master.

I'm not saying other sports aren't tough. I can't imagine trying to hit a 100-mile-an-hour fastball or return a Roger Federer serve or execute a triple Lutz on ice skates.

But I find it amusing how many athletes from other sports figure they can make it in the golf profession just because they're pretty good with the sticks.

Earlier this year, a couple of athletes who were all-stars in their respective sports, former major league baseball pitcher John Smoltz and Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice, showed just how tough it is to play alongside professionals on the golf course.

Smoltz, a plus-2 handicap, played in the Nationwide Tour event in Georgia and fired rounds of 84 and 87. He missed the cut by 27 strokes. Twenty-seven strokes!

Rice was a little better than Smoltz in his Nationwide Tour debut last year, shooting 83-76 in a tournament in Hayward, Calif. He "only" missed the cut by 19 strokes, while beating one player in the field.

Later in the year when he played at a Nationwide event in South Carolina, Rice shot a 92 before getting disqualified for using a rangefinder. Obviously it didn't help his game much that day. Earlier this year, Rice played in the same Nationwide event in California as a year earlier and shot 81-82 to miss the cut by 22 shots.

Uh, Jerry, I don't think you're going to make it on the Champions Tour when you turn 50 in a couple of years. Nor are you, John, even if you claimed that weather delays threw your game off in Georgia.

Of course, Smoltz and Rice and Michael Jordan or whomever, have the right to try to make it as professional golfers. But after observing the golf scene closely for the past three decades, I believe their chances of making it are next to impossible.

I've been watching top Utah professionals such as Steve Schneiter and Jimmy Blair trying to make the big golf tours for years without success. Both are fabulous golfers, two of the best the state of Utah has ever produced, yet they have never made the PGA Tour on a regular basis.

Blair has also never made it on the Champions Tour and Schneiter's chance when he turns 50 in a couple of years are slim. Just look at someone like St. George's Jay Don Blake, a 20-year veteran of the PGA Tour, who is struggling to become exempt on the Champions Tour.

So if guys like Blair and Schneiter can't make it with the big boys, why do guys like Rice and Smoltz think they can?

Perhaps because golf is different than most sports in that the average guy can do better than the best golfers in the world on a given shot. You can make a 15-foot, left-to-right downhill breaker putt and watch Phil Mickelson miss a three-footer and say, "I'm just as good as he is." Or you might be able to unleash a 300-yard drive on occasion and think to yourself, "That's as good as anyone on the PGA Tour."

I'm sure Smoltz and Rice and thousands of others who shoot around par most of the time believe they are good enough to play with the big boys.

The difference with the best golfers in the world and the scratch golfers at the local club, is that the PGA golfers can make great shots on every hole throughout an entire round day after day after day for months and years on end.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to play a couple of courses in California that have played host to PGA Tour events. I played one from the blue tees and felt absolutely beat up by the end of the round. The holes felt extremely long, there were sand bunkers everywhere and the greens were lightning fast.

Imagine if I was playing in a PGA Tour event. The tees would have been back even farther, adding another 500 yards to the total. The greens would have been cut even shorter, making the putts even more difficult. Then imagine if a few thousand spectators were lining the fairways, watching every shot I tried. Under such conditions, most scratch golfers couldn't break 80. Maybe not 85.

Before his first foray into the Nationwide Tour, Rice said, "I respect the game of golf, and I work hard at it. I have the opportunity to go out there and prove to everybody that I can play golf."

OK, Jerry, perhaps you can play golf. So can I and millions of others. But playing among professionals who have excelled at golf their entire lives is a different story.

Just promise to keep away from any more professional golf tournaments. I'm sure Rory McIlroy will promise not to try to catch passes in the NFL.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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