STATELINE, Nev. — Former MLB pitcher Rick Rhoden has seven trophies from the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in his case. Former NFL quarterback Rick Rhoden has four.
The two of them were feeling pretty good about themselves and their odds to add more hardware this week at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course until they heard how many trophies this year’s top tournament newcomer has: 89.
Former LPGA Tour player and Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam is coming out of retirement this week to play in the heralded celebrity event and she has a few former champions comparing athletic achievements.
"She never got Mike Schmidt out. That’s the way I look it," joked former MLB pitcher and seven-time American Century Champ Rick Rhoden. "We don’t have any of those kind of trophies at our house. I might have an All-Star team ball or something, but I don’t have any major trophies."
"I’ve got a John Elway autographed jersey," defending champ and former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver offered.
Her presence alone is both intimidating (imagine big Jerome Bettis intimidated by a girl for a minute) and intriguing. At the Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Sportsbook just up the street, the odds opened at 2-to-1. Determining those odds was a much different process than determining those of the usual suspects like Rhoden, Tolliver, John Elway, Mark Rypien and last year’s darkhorse Stephen Curry.
"So what we think is: What are we going to do with Annika? And it’s a decision we kind of toss it around," said sportsbook director Steve Schorr. "When we hear Annika’s playing, it kind of shakes us up a little bit, so we go back and we look: She’s a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, she was the LPGA player of the year eight times before retiring in 2008, she had 89 worldwide victories, including 17 on the LPGA, and 10 major championships and 22 million in earnings."
Sorenstam agreed to play from the men’s tees on a course set up much longer than a typical LPGA course. But the tournament uses the Modified Stableford scoring format, a system which rewards aggressive play without necessarily punishing for a bad hole like stroke play.
"It’s a decision we kind of toss it around," Schorr said. "On the positive side, she’s a champion golfer. On the negative side, the Stableford system, we think that it probably favors the men a little more. She won’t be driving as far as the guys sitting at this table."
The odds have since lowered, but still favor Sorenstam.
"We threw out the number of 2-to-1, and a lot of people thought at 2-to-1 she was a bargain," Schorr said. "So as the betting came in, we lowered the odds. And as of today, we are 12 to win 10.
Sorenstam has long held a residence in the area with a house in Squaw Valley’s Incline Village and has attended the tournament as a fan in previous years. She has twice played at Edgewood and recorded scores of 71 and a 67
Tolliver holds the Edgewood Stableford record, an 84. He still insists that he’s the favorite but clearly Sorenstam is already getting to his head.
"Over the years, (I’ve learned) I don’t need to be sober to get the drop on these dogs," Tolliver said. "But now Annika is in this deal, I kind of have to maybe cut it back to a six-pack. Now, I don’t know how that’s going to affect me."