In late April, former Major League Baseball pitcher John Smoltz will take up a sponsors invitation extended his way and tee it up at the South Georgia Classic, a Nationwide Tour event in Valdosta, Ga. He spoke about it on Wednesday, saying "I don't want to step on anyone's toes," and it was a nice gesture, especially considering the experience Jerry Rice had last year at the Tour Fresh Express Classic. I wrote last year that Rice should avoid this at all costs, because no matter how solid you are playing with your buds, this is a completely different beast, and being prepared for pro golf is completely different than any tournament anyone has ever played in before.
But it really isn't right for these guys to dabble in the Nationwide Tour. If pros want to play in a professional event, go do it at a place that makes you pay money up front. Be one of those guys. Or take a sponsors exemption from a PGA Tour event. But stop toying with the Nationwide Tour. These are guys that are almost there, and just need a little bit of a push to actually start making good money for the first time in their lives. They've dreamed day in and day out since they were fetuses that one day they'd make it on the PGA Tour for good, and taking a spot, even if the sponsor extended it to you, isn't a fair move.
Just for a second imagine this. You are a minor league baseball player, hoping that one day you'll be pitching under the bright lights of Turner Field. You work as hard as you can on your body, your arm, your pitches and your delivery. You stay after practices to work with pitching coaches. You try to build as much strength in your arm as possible. You study batters. You do everything you can to make it.
And spring training rolls around, and you get bumped from the lineup because Garth Brooks wants to take batting practice. Or Mark Wahlberg wants to toss a few pitches during a game. You're angry. That wasn't fair! You should be out there doing that, hoping that you could toss enough innings to get noticed by someone watching you.
That's the deal here. There are SO MANY GOOD GOLFERS that are a step away from a big break. A win on the Nationwide Tour and suddenly you're in the top-25. You can see the finish line. You could be Monday qualifying for a Nationwide event like Chris Nallen did in 2004 and then go out and win the damn thing. It could change your career.
I just think if guys want a shot at this that are doing it more for an "opportunity" than anything else, they should either be paying to have their fun on the Hooters or Gateway Tours, or they need to go somewhere where the money doesn't matter. The Nationwide Tour isn't the spot for Smoltz.