John Smoltz, Annika Sorenstam highlight PGA Tour Champions event

This week, Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, Texas, hosts the Invited Celebrity Classic, one of the most prominent celebrity golf tournaments of the year.

Over 40 celebrities from sports and entertainment will tee it up alongside 78 professionals from the PGA Tour Champions, including John Smoltz, Annika Sorenstam, Greg Maddux, Tony Romo, Larry the Cable Guy and many others.

These celebrities not only help give the PGA Tour Champions further notoriety, but they also help raise over $250,000 for local charities—similar to the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions on the LPGA Tour.

One of the beneficiaries of this event is the Momentous Institute, which helps strengthen young children by providing educational opportunities and supporting those with emotional troubles and mental health disorders. The tournament also helps support The First Tee of Greater Dallas.

But the Invited Celebrity Classic extends much farther than North Texas. Amateur players from around the country compete in regional and national competitions for a chance to be one of 10 players to compete alongside the stars this event has to offer.

“That’s the great thing about golf. You can play with anybody in this game,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen in an interview with Playing Through.

Retief Goosen, The Galleri Classic

Retief Goosen recently won the 2024 Galleri Classic on the PGA Tour Champions.
Photo by Orlando Ramirez/Getty Images

“Everybody’s got a handicap, and everybody plays. Golf is such an equalizer, and it’s nice to have all these other celebs from different sports, play the game and come and play with us. It’s a great attraction for people that come and watch the event to see some others battle it out on a golf course against us professionals.”

John Smoltz’s Place in Golf

One of the big celebrity draws this week is Smoltz, the former Atlanta Braves pitcher who now broadcasts MLB games for FOX Sports.

A terrific player in his own right, Smoltz came close to earning his membership card on the PGA Tour Champions this past Fall. But he fell short in the second round of qualifying. Still, the Invited Celebrity Classic affords Smoltz another opportunity to play alongside the best players in the world aged 50 and older.

“[Smoltz] is somebody we see quite regularly out here on tour,” Goosen added.

“He plays in a few events and he’s a nice guy.”

On a call with members of the media on Apr. 2, Smoltz revealed he has two new hips after recent operations, but that has not affected his drive to compete.

“I feel great and I am able to walk the golf course now,” Smoltz said.

Invited Celebrity Classic, John Smoltz

John Smoltz at the 2023 Invited Celebrity Classic.
Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

“I’m excited about the chance I have, but for me, at the end of the day, its all about making putts.”

During qualifying stages, Smoltz did not have a round with more than 25 putts during the first phase. But he needed at least 38 putts in each round during the second stage, which explains why he did not make it through the second round of qualifying.

“I have a problem,” Smoltz said.

“I would rather play 54 holes in a day than go out and chip and putt. I love golf. I love competition.”

The other aspect that the Hall of Fame pitcher struggles with is with his rhythm.

“I wish there was an ability to hit my shot like when I want to throw my pitch. One good thing about pitching is we dictate the tempo. The one bad thing about golf is you can’t control it,” Smoltz explained.

“You have too much time and your mind wanders while out on the course, but with pitching, I like the tunnel effect of throwing it downhill into the catcher. But I am working on those things, trying to replicate those guys on tour who have made it their livelihoods. But golf is a beautiful thing, it humbles somebody pretty quickly.”

Thankfully for the celebrities, the Invited Celebrity Classic employs a modified stableford format based on handicaps for the amateur players in the field. Therefore, Smoltz will not have to worry about chasing down PGA Tour Champions players, unlike his experience in Q-School.

Annika Sorenstam Looking to Break Through

Still, the competition remains fierce among Smoltz and the other celebrities.

Look no further than Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion on the LPGA Tour. She hopes to finally break through with a victory in a celebrity tournament after recording eight top 10s, which includes two runner-up finishes and a T6 finish at the American Century Championship last summer, which Steph Curry won in epic fashion.

Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions

Annika Sorenstam with her caddie and husband Mike McGee during the 2024 Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

“I am determined one time to get these guys. That’s the main reason. But I also enjoy it. I have a lot of fun. As you know, I don’t play much nowadays, and this makes me practice a little bit, makes me still kind of stay within the game,” Sorenstam said.

“I am competitive and I do enjoy playing and I’m still determined, so I’m going to keep trying.”

In 2023, Sorenstam finished in third place at the Invited Celebrity Classic, six points behind Romo. Mardy Fish, who won in 2022, finished in second.

Funny enough, Sorenstam also came in third in 2022, the tournament’s inaugural year.

“Always fun to see some of the guys I’ve played with in the past and some of the guys I’m trying to beat every time, which obviously, Tony Romo, Mardy Fish, Mark Mulder, just to name a few,” Sorenstam added.

“I enjoy seeing them and enjoy playing with them. But also if you get paired with somebody new, it’s kind of fun, too.”

Now in its third year, the Invited Celebrity Classic offers a $2.7 million purse with $2.2 million going to the professionals and $500,000 going to the celebrities.

First round coverage will air on the Golf Channel as an encore presentation on Friday evening from 9 to 11 p.m. ET.

Golf Channel will broadcast live second and third coverage on Saturday and Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. ET.

Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough for more golf coverage. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko as well.

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