Smoltz talks U.S. Senior Open berth, Trammell's HOF induction

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Later this month, baseball legend John Smoltz will tee it up in the U.S. Senior Open.

John Smoltz has had a whole lot of memorable sports moments, mostly in baseball, of course — and few more special than the epic 1991 World Series game against then-Twins ace Jack Morris, or the 1995 World Series championship, the Braves' only breakthrough in that streak of all those division championships.

But earlier this month, on a golf course in Georgia, Smoltz added another rung to that ladder of excellence when he qualified for the U.S. Senior Open.

"It was the longest golf day of my life," Smoltz said the other day. "I left my house at 5:15 (a.m.) and I left the golf course at 8:45 (p.m.)."

Smoltz, nearly a scratch golfer, posted a 69 (37-32) as one of the first golfers to tee off at the qualifier at Plantera Ridge Golf Club in Peachtree City, Ga., about a half-hour south of Atlanta. Then Smoltz waited, and waited, and waited some more.

There were three U.S. Senior Open spots available, and Smoltz had to wait out one round after another to see if he had done enough to earn the ultimate prize.

And after all that waiting — about eight hours, he figured — there still was more golf to be played, as two others carded a 69, forcing a three-man playoff for that last spot.

Former major-league pitcher John Smoltz qualified for the U.S. Senior Open earlier this month.

Smoltz quickly headed over to the range to loosen up after hours of sitting around.

"And if you saw me hit balls the second time, you would've told me, if you were my caddie to take it into the house," Smoltz said.

But Smoltz, 51, once a big-game pitcher, proved clutch once again and won the playoff, earning him his spot in the biggest golf tournament of his life — the U.S. Senior Open, set for June 28 through July 1 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Also qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open were Grand Rapids' Tom Werkmeister and Northville's Brian Cairns. West Bloomfield's Gregory Davies is an alternate.

"This was the greatest feeling I've had in a long time, since winning the World Series championship," Smoltz said. "I still wake up trying to calm myself down."

Smoltz, the Lansing native and former Waverly star and Detroit Tigers prospect, long has been an avid golfer, and plays as much as he can — between his rather-busy baseball broadcasting schedule.

And, yes, he expects to be nervous on that first tee in Colorado Springs, just like he is for any golf tournament.

"I'm nervous on every first tee in a tournament," Smoltz said. "It's easy to play with buddies knowing you've got two first balls to hit off the first tee.

"But I dream a lot and I put myself in these situations where hopefully when i get in them, it's second nature. I'm literally trying to do things slower, trying to downplay what I'm about to be a part of, because if I don't, I know how excited I'm going to be in those elements. And that usually doesn't work when playing golf.

"I'm super excited to get there and so excited to play."

The U.S. Senior Open is just part of a busy summer for Smoltz, who's part of the lead Fox baseball broadcasting team along with Joe Buck. Smoltz also will participate in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe in mid-July, and then in later July, he'll head to Cooperstown, N.Y., for the National Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

Among those being inducted this year are Smoltz's longtime Braves teammate Chipper Jones and Smoltz's idol growing up, Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell.

During Smoltz's induction speech in July 2015, he paid tribute to Trammell for the way he treated a young minor-leaguer named Smoltz in the mid-1980s — before Smoltz, famously, was traded to the Braves in the summer of 1987 and went on to become a Hall-of-Fame pitcher, racking up more than 200 wins and more than 150 saves.

"Alan Trammell showed me what a professional baseball player and a man of character is, in a game that, you know, doesn't always have that," Smoltz said. "He doesn't know the impact he had on me."

It was August 1985, just a couple months after the Tigers drafted Smoltz in the 22nd round of the June draft, and Smoltz was hanging in the home clubhouse at Tiger Stadium.

Just 18 years old, you can imagine the intimidation he felt.

Until a man walked over. It was Trammell, who introduced himself — like Smoltz didn't know who he was; Smoltz wore No. 3 in high school because of Trammell — and said, "Anything I can do for you, don't hesitate to ask. This house is your house." (Humble, per usual, Trammell later said he was just passing on what his late manager, Sparky Anderson, taught him.)

John Smoltz had a lot of fun during his 2015 Hall of Fame induction speech, including reliving his glory days (when he had hair). He also paid tribute to Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell, who will join him in the HOF this summer.

Smoltz said he tried to pay that gesture forward, making young players feel welcome and comfortable during his 21-year major-league career.

Trammell is going into the Hall of Fame via his first appearance on the veterans committee, after 15 years on the baseball writers' ballot. He'll be joined by his longtime Tigers teammate, Morris, along with Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman in one of the most star-studded classes in recent memory.

Jones and Smoltz were teammates in Atlanta for 15 years. Trammell and Smoltz were never teammates in Detroit, because of that Doyle Alexander trade that paid off in the short-term for the Tigers and the long-term for the Braves.

But Trammell remains special to Smoltz.

"I'm super happy and grateful (the Hall of Fame) recognized him," said Smoltz, who grew up in Metro Detroit. "He's the classiest guy. I watched him my whole life.

"I loved everything the Tigers were about back then. That will be a special day."