But the decision backfired horribly, as Rice finished DFL and looked more like a weekend hack than a guy who could make a living playing professional golf. As expected, Rice's decision to steal a spot away from a worthy Nationwide Tour player drew the ire of many in the golf media world.
A year later, another Nationwide Tour event, the South Georgia Classic, decided to try the gimmick again, handing a sponsor's exemption to former Major League pitcher John Smoltz, who will be teeing it up in Thursday's first round.
Like Rice, you'd expect Smoltz to take some heat for stealing a spot from one of the guys on the mini-tour. That's until you see his golf resume.
His best round is a 63, he made the cut last year at the Georgia Open, and he's a scratch golfer. Already, he's got a leg up on Jerry Rice. Smoltz has also talked of trying to qualify for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in seven years, and he definitely has some game to make that dream a reality.
While some may still have a problem with another pro athlete playing in a professional golf tournament they didn't qualify for, I honestly don't have as big a problem with Smoltz playing than I did when Rice took a spot.
Call it a double-standard if you want, but I have a feeling Smoltz could make the cut. He just seems more dedicated to actually making a career out of the game in his later years, and his swing seems to be pretty solid. Even if he doesn't have a great week, I'd be willing to bet he doesn't fire a 92 or get disqualified for using a rangefinder.
- Jerry Rice
- John Smoltz
- Nationwide Tour