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Smoltz eager to tee it up for U.S. Open

Smoltz eager to tee it up for U.S. Open

ATLANTA -- John Smoltz still believes that there will be a day when he manages to beat his good friend Tiger Woods in a round of golf.

But as he prepares to compete in his first U.S. Open local qualifier next Monday, the accomplished Major League pitcher understands that the accomplishment of the ultimate goal will require more than just one solid showing on the links.

"I'm pretty realistic," Smoltz said. "Even if I set forth a month's worth of practice, my realistic chance of qualifying isn't great. I just want to do it for the experience."

While Smoltz isn't ready to officially put an end to his baseball career, he still seeks that competitive urge that he'll gain next week, when he and more than 9,000 other golfers begin competing in the local qualifiers that will be held at 111 different courses.

Those who advance past this round will compete in 36-hole sectional qualifying events that will be held at 33 courses on June 7. A small number of golfers will then advance to compete in this year's U.S. Open, which will be played the following week at Pebble Beach.

"The other day somebody asked what I thought my chances of qualifying were and I said, 'They're impossible," Smoltz said. "But I still feel like I can do something neat."

With a 2-handicap and the confidence created by multiple rounds of 65 that he has completed this year, Smoltz will tee off at the Marietta Country Club in Kennesaw, Ga., next week with the understanding that he is at least capable of advancing to the next round.

"I want to see what it's like," Smoltz said. "Maybe I'll throw a strange number out there and then see what happens. It's really just an experience. This year, I really haven't been able to wake up and gear up to compete like this. It's going to be fun. "

This will mark the first time Smoltz has been in a competitive public forum since he registered five strikeouts in two innings of relief for the Cardinals in Game 3 of the National League Division Series last year. When he didn't receive an attractive offer this season, the soon-to-be 43-year-old athlete wholeheartedly jumped at the opportunity to handle broadcast duties for MLB Network and Turner Sports.

With the busy travel schedule this new role has brought, Smoltz hasn't had the chance to play golf as much as he would have liked heading into next week's qualifier. But before traveling to Boston to call a Red Sox-Angels game for MLB Network on Thursday, he plans to play at least one practice round at Marietta Country Club.

"I don't want to embarrass myself," Smoltz said. "I just want to see what I can shoot. I think this is something that should be able to help me be a better golfer and prepare for some of the things that I want to do down the road."

Smoltz has long aspired to play on the Champions Tour once he reaches the minimum age of 50. Later this summer, he may attempt to qualify for some events on the Nationwide Tour.

"No matter what I feel or think it will be like to do those kinds of things, I really won't know until I get out there and play in these kinds of competitive settings," Smoltz said.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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