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Giddy John Smoltz thrilled to play in U. S. Senior Open

John Smoltz tees off on the first hole

John Smoltz tees off on the first hole at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic tournament at the TPC Sugarloaf Golf Club Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Duluth, Georgia. Credit: AP / David J. Griffin

John Smoltz’s first call was to his wife. His second was to Joe Buck, his golf buddy and partner on Fox’s No. 1 baseball announcing team. Both involved screaming.

“I swear to God,” Buck said, “he called me on his way out of the golf course and he sounded like a 10-year-old boy.”

It was May 31 and Smoltz, 51, had just won a three-way playoff at a U.S. Senior Open qualifier at a course near his home in the Atlanta suburbs, fulfilling a longtime ambition.

“I have never in my life seen or heard a guy that giddy, especially a guy who has won a World Series, is in the Hall of Fame, stared down the most intense sporting situations and won,” Buck said. “He was like, ‘Oh my God, I just can’t believe it.’ He was recounting every shot.”

Three weeks later, that moment still was fresh in Smoltz’s mind, even as he tried to focus on the next step, which is the competition itself, set for June 28 to July 1 at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.

“It was just a bevy of emotions,” he said Wednesday as he drove to a practice round at a course in Pennsylvania. “I was so fired up. Individually, I’ve never had anything like this happen. It’s always been part of a team sport.

“I told Joe three years ago when I first started working with him: ‘I’m telling you, I’m going to make it. I don’t know when, but you’re going to call a U.S. Senior Open [with me playing].’ Lo and behold, when I knew I would be in it, just the shock of getting in, I started yelling, ‘I made it!’ I have not stopped pinching myself since.”

Smoltz was scheduled to call the Dodgers-Mets game at Citi Field on Saturday night, fly home to Atlanta on Sunday, then head to Colorado on Monday. He said it has been a mixed blessing to be busy with MLB Network and Fox work this month.

On one hand, he has been too busy to golf as much as he would like. On the other, work has kept him from focusing on golf to the point of distraction.

“I’m trying to balance how emotionally tired I am and trying to stay away from being drained,” he said. “It’s like having an energy drink every day for the last two weeks.”

Smoltz has brought his usual meticulousness to the task. He has tried to play courses that resemble Broadmoor, minus the altitude. And he has slowed down daily routines — from driving to eating — as a reminder not to rush.

“For me to play golf when I have time, I play as much as I can as fast as I can,” he said. “That is not a good formula for what I’m about to take on.”

Realistically, Smoltz does not expect to win. But he does have expectations.

“Without knowing the course and without being able to play a ton of golf, if I could shoot 75 or better for two days, that would be great,” he said. “Now, I want to shoot par or better for two days and I want to make the cut, but I am not really going to know how I feel until I get there . . . . When I get there, I hope to be playing four days.”

Smoltz could understand teammates’ skepticism when he started talking about senior golf late in his baseball career, but he has gotten congratulatory texts from many who recalled him saying this would happen someday.

“I feel like, I guess, people who never played baseball and got a chance to go to their favorite team’s fantasy camp,” he said.

Smoltz said he would not mind being mic’ed up for the event by his Fox colleagues, but he wants to be careful.

“For people who are really good amateur golfers wondering what it would be like, I hope to bring that experience to them,” he said. “I’m not doing it to be corny or broadcaster-ish or anything of that nature. I have the ultimate respect for guys who have done it their entire career and I don’t want to diminish one second of that or take anything away.

“I just want to be able to compete in something. I haven’t been able to compete since I retired [after 2009], really. This is kind of that void being [filled]. This is awesome for me, and I want to see what that’s like.”

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