Celebrity Golfers at American Century: Who do they want to beat?

Many of the celebrity golfers in the American Century Championship are still competitive, just not in the sport they played in their primes.
Michael Jordan - American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament
Michael Jordan - American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament / Michael Bezjian/GettyImages

Golf is one way they can still beat each other’s brains out without getting hurt, at least most of the time. John Smoltz recently got hit in the head with a golf ball, so even recreational sports have their dangers.

“First time it's ever happened to me on a golf course,” Smoltz said during a pre-tournament interview for the American Century. “I got hit in the head right above the eye, about 100 miles an hour.  Hardest I've ever been hit.”

Notice he didn’t say it was the only time he’d been hit.

As a result of the golf ball strike, Smoltz still has some hearing issues, but that’s the only residual complication.

John Smoltz has never won the American Century Championship

But he knows who the serious competition is.   

“Mardy Fish is very familiar with winning on our tour, and he's the guy that we have to beat. Obviously, Tony Romo,” he suggested. “But Mardy Fish, always a tournament favorite.  I kind of owe him one.  I lost to him in Dallas.  I'd love to get in the final group and play with him this time.”

Smoltz admitted that he wants to beat everybody who shows up. Everybody.

Two Pro Football Hall of Famers, Joe Theismann and Tim Brown, have different goals at the American Century. 

Theismann’s goal is well identified.

“I try and finish somewhere in the middle of the pack,” he explained in an interview for The Golf Show 2.0.  Since he’s aged up a few years, that’s probably a reasonable target.

“There are 80 players,” Theismann continued, “I try and finish somewhere in the high 20s, maybe early you know 30s or so. If I can get there, feel pretty good.”

Brown has a specific objective at the American Century Championship

“I have one goal and one goal only,” Brown said in an interview with The Golf Show 2.0. “That's to beat the great Jerry Rice. If I beat Jerry Rice, I am happy. I don't care if I'm 89th, then he's 90th, long as I’m in front of him I am happy.”

For him, it’s about the bragging rights that come with beating another legend.

“You can bet that we will be checking each other's scorecards after the after the rounds!” Brown insisted.

Brown had notable stories about places he had holes-in-one. He aced a hole at Augusta National’s par three course, and he holed out on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass. He had the scorecards to prove it.

Brown’s been 2-under par on courses he plays, so he’s not a lightweight at golf. Lately, he’s worked with PGA Tour Champions player Y.E. Yang’s golf coach, and he thinks that has led to improved scoring.

After playing for two years in the American Century, former Colt, Dwight Freeney, who was just enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is learning what to do and what not to do in the tournament to be successful. He has recently changed his strategy.

“This will be my third year.  I just feel like it's just, gotta pick the right club, and for me that's just what it is,” he explained. “I have this, I guess, I don't know if you want to call it an ego thing, but hit the ball far and hit a driver and hit it as far as you possibly can.  I can outdrive most people. I've got to get rid of that.  I've got to get completely rid of that and literally just make smart decisions off the tee.”

He said Smoltz has been helping him learn to hit other clubs, irons or hybrids instead of taking driver off every tee. 

“It's so hard, so hard to do that for me. But I'm going to try to listen to his advice here this year,” he added.

Freeney knows which of the players in the field he can beat.

“Charles Woodson, I have a good chance.  Last few tournaments I beat him,” Freeney said. “I beat Marcus (Allen) before.” 

He also thinks he can take Matthew Tkachuk of the Panthers hockey team.

Doug Pederson, Jaguars head coach, is closer to Theismann in expectations.   

“For me it's not about who I want to beat,” he said. “I think it's a goal of mine is, each year I just say, hey, try to be in the top third of the field.  I'm not going to be in the top 10, 15 or 20.  But at the same time I want to have fun, do well, score some points. “

Lately, Pederson has been working on tempo, and he has developed a game plan.

“This course is set up favorable for the players,” he noted. “You just try to keep it in the fairway.  And sometimes you don't need a driver off every tee box. You can use a hybrid or a 3‑wood.” 

Last spring he was lucky enough to be invited to play Augusta National. He took Trevor Lawrence and Christian Kirk with him. All were guests of an Augusta National member. But anyone would be hard-pressed to call that a tune-up for the American Century. 

At the American Century, with the modified Stableford scoring system, the lowest actual score doesn’t always win. Each hole is given a point value based on whether the golfer got a par, birdie, eagle, bogey, double-bogey, or worse. Those points are added up, and the person with the most points wins the tournament.  Normally in golf, it’s the person with the least strokes taken during the tournament that wins.

Regardless of the system used, there are still great memories made on the course. Joe Theismann recalled a great shot he made one year.  

“I actually made an eagle on 18 in the American Century tournament a number of years ago, and all I saw (in my mind) was Hale Irwin -- remember that shot he made in the U.S. Open? --  all I saw was him running around giving everybody high fives. That's exactly what I did!” 

Irwin ran around the entire 18th green giving fans high fives.

“You know, you live for those moments, and they keep bringing you back,” he concluded.

They certainly bring legends of the sport back every year to the American Century Championship.