Chatter at LPGA’s TOC turns to cheating in golf, stealing signs in baseball


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Brooke Henderson begins the 2020 season on Thursday alongside MLB’s John Smoltz and Josh Donaldson and, of course, she’ll try to crush the ball.

“I’ll try to hit it just as far,” said a smiling Henderson. “I’ll be a little short, but I’ll try to crank it out there too. You know, just to make some birdies with them and have some fun.”

Fun is the over-arching theme of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. Particularly for those paired with Larry the Cable Guy.

But they want to win too. Henderson’s determined to extend her streak of two-wins seasons, which dates back to 2016. Smoltz won his first golf title last year at the Diamond Resorts, and the MLB Hall of Famer is thirsty for more.

Celebrities like Smoltz, Justin Verlander, Grant Hill, Brian Urlacher and Roger Clemens help bring new fans to the LPGA. Even Smoltz addressing the Astros cheating scandal during the pre-tournament press conference helps to generate buzz outside of normal golf circles.

“It’s not the only team,” said Smoltz, “but it’s going to be the team that’s been made an example of because they have the most evidence of what was happening. It’s irrefutable. …

“What makes golf unique is that it’s up to the integrity of each person to determine whether they want to apply the rules as they’re meant, and that’s why golf has always been known as the gentleman’s game. But it’s frowned upon, and we all know enough people and play with enough people at our clubs that just can’t help themselves by getting an advantage and an edge because they want to compete, and they want to be successful. That bothers me, but it’s not immune from anywhere.”

Asked to weigh in on Patrick Reed’s recent run-in with the rules, Smoltz said that technology made Reed’s actions in the bunker look particularly egregious.

“The live (feed) is more up for interpretation,” he said.

But between the two sports, Smoltz continued, baseball players rely on teammates to get information. They’re constantly reading things, taking advantage of what another player is giving.

Golf is more straightforward.

“Baseball has a little bit more of a way to govern itself … ” said Smoltz. “That doesn’t happen as much anymore.

“In other words, if Jack (Wagner) was at the plate and he was peeking, and he was peeking at the catcher, it’s within his right to peek at the catcher to see what signs are, but then it’s within my right to give him a bruise on his derriere with a baseball. That’s what would happen 25 years ago. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.”

Jack Wagner, an actor who was taking part in the early-week presser alongside Smoltz, didn’t miss a beat.

“Just don’t hit the face,” he said.

Only a handful of celebrities have the game to hang with the likes of Wagner and Smoltz. They’ll play for a $500,000 purse, with the winner receiving $100,000.

While the LPGA field is missing a number of heavy hitters, including the top two players in the world, Jin Young Ko and Sung Hyun Park, Henderson is among the favorites this week, having played in the Diamond event before it became an LPGA stop. The purse for the LPGA pros is $1.2 million, with a winner’s portion of $180,000.

After the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship, Henderson stayed back in Naples, Florida, where she makes her second home, for a month soaking up the sun. Then she went home to Canada for two weeks with sister, Brittany, where temperatures dipped to minus 30. She’s ready to get 2020 started.

“I think a key thing for me is scoring average and keeping it below 70,” said the Canadian star, “which I did again last year.”

Henderson is the all-time winningest Canadian player – male or female. Smoltz said the pressure of trying to win a golf tournament compared to a World Series is “night and day.” He’d rather have the bases loaded, nobody out and a 3-2 count on every hitter.

“I think that’s what I was primed to do,” he said. “I know what my strengths were in that sport. This intuitively is all self-pressure, and there’s a lot of doubt. Golf exposes your doubt really quickly. So you may have a weakness and you try to hide it for a couple of days, it will show up.”

Smoltz mastered the ability to get amnesia about mistakes on the mound. In golf, he’s still working on it.

 

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