John Smoltz could’ve used a closer to come in and help him finish the first round of the American Family Insurance Championship.
Smoltz, the Hall of Fame pitcher who spent most of his 22-year major league career with the Atlanta Braves, was in good shape most of the day Friday at University Ridge Golf Course.
But then the wheels came off on his last two holes. He double-bogeyed the par-3 No. 8 hole and three-putted for bogey on the par-5 No. 9. So after flirting with par most of the day, he finished at 4-over 76, tied for 74th place in the 78-player field. The only player behind him on the leaderboard was Dudley Hart at 77.
“I turned a really good round into a really bad round,” Smoltz said. “But that’s golf. I hit the ball a lot better than I scored. When you’re out here in these elements trying to trust your swing every single time, you can’t let up one time. There were a couple times where my swing just got away from me.
“I felt like I was in position all day to make a ton of birdies. I missed probably four putts inside of six feet for birdie. Those are the momentum changers.”
Smoltz, playing in his third and final PGA Tour Champions event of the year on a sponsor’s exemption, started play on the back nine and navigated it in 1 under with a birdie on the par-5 No. 16 to go with eight pars.
But things turned sour when he came around to the front nine as he bogeyed No. 1 and played that nine at 5 over.
That’s going to make his goal of finishing the tournament at even par a challenging one, even with the assistance of University of Wisconsin women’s golf coach Todd Oehrlein as his caddie.
“He was gracious enough to help me get around this golf course,” Smoltz said. “He’s been a big help. I can’t thank him enough. I feel confident when I’m asking about certain situations on the course because he’s been on it a bunch. He’s been awesome.
“I always want to shoot par or better. Now I’ve got my work cut out for me. I’m getting closer to trusting everything under the gun. It’s just a matter of knowing how to get around a golf course like these guys get around. I’d like to have a couple swings back, but so would everybody.”
Social media stars
Steve Stricker’s daughters, Bobbi and Izzi, became something of social media sensations after making a video for PGA Tour.com in which they interviewed a number of players on the driving range Thursday.
Among those facing probing questions from the sisters were both of their parents, “Uncle Jerry” Kelly, annual housemate Scott Verplank, Billy Andrade, Scott McCarron, Skip Kendall and Smoltz.
“They had a gas with it,” dad said. “They had a lot of fun. They were nervous coming on the course (Thursday) because they knew they had to do that. They wanted to do it, but they didn’t know really what to expect, their first time doing something like that.
“Both of them said it’s much harder than it looks, but they had a great time doing it. They know a lot of the players here from over the years. A lot of the players know them, too, and that’s made it nice and easy for them.”
Bobbi Stricker is a member of the UW women’s golf team, while Izzi has also shown a gift for the game, according to her dad. And if that doesn’t pan out, she just might have a future in the media.
“She’s not bashful, she’s really not,” Steve Stricker said of his younger daughter. “She’ll let you know what she’s thinking and if you’re not thinking on the same page she’ll let you know again. She’s a good kid. She has a lot of talent in the golf game and she gets along with adults very easily. She can communicate very well and she enjoys that too.”
Crossing the tees
Esteban Toledo was a last-minute addition to the Am Fam field on Friday morning after Bob Tway withdrew because of a back problem. Toledo shot a 3-under 69 and is tied for 16th …
Tom Gillis, playing in the last group, got hot down the stretch as he went 5-under on Nos. 14-17 (birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie) to get to 6 under before bogeying No. 18 … David Toms extended his Tour-best streak of 11 consecutive rounds of par or better with his 5-under 67.