Sunday, September 25, 2011

Low expectations

By Jason Sobel
September 25, 2011 2:01 PM ET  

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Mark Mulder has traded pinpointing strike zones for pummeling fairways. He has given up trying to avoid the long ball for encouraging it. His wild pitches are now accompanied by awkward bellows of, “Fore!”

A veteran of nine Major League Baseball seasons, the former pitcher is no weekend hacker. He carries a 0.3 index at prestigious Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he often competes against some of the world’s best players.

As a former professional athlete and scratch golfer, Mulder must give some of the elite pros a run for their money, right?

“Uh, no,” the two-time all-star said with a laugh. “Pat Perez is one of my best friends. I’ve probably played 100 rounds with Pat and never beaten him. That’s with me having career days and him playing in flip-flops.
“But I’m lucky because I get to play with these guys. Most people don’t understand the pressure that those guys are under and how good they do and how well they perform. They play with me and shoot 65 with their eyes closed. That’s what people don’t realize. When the pros miss a shot, they miss by five yards and they’re mad. If I hit the green, I’m like, ‘Sweet!’”

Mulder is hoping to hit plenty of greens this week, as he competes in the Championship Flight of the Golf Channel Amateur Tour national championships.

Competitive golf is nothing new to him, either. Last year, Mulder qualified for this event, but was forced to withdraw when he also reached the U.S. Mid-Amateur on the same week. He’s also played in the last four editions of the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship in Lake Tahoe, finishing in a share of 23rd place this year.

Despite such an advanced golfing pedigree, he came into this week’s event with low expectations. Mulder is splitting time these days between his Arizona home and Bristol, Conn., where he serves as a television analyst for ESPN’s baseball coverage – which doesn’t leave much time for teeing it up.

“It’s been awful for a few months now,” he said of the current state of his game. “I’m doing this because I want to have fun. I have a few other buddies who are playing and it’s a good time no matter how bad I play. But my expectations aren’t very high. I’ve never taken a lesson in my life and when I’m down like right now, I don’t know how to fix it.”

A member of the 2006 World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals, Mulder believes there are similarities between playing golf and pitching, though they have less to do with technicalities like mechanics and footwork and more to do with the mental side of each pursuit.

“To me, it’s more the mindset,” he said. “In baseball, nothing can happen until I throw that ball; everything is on me when it comes to that pitch. It’s the same in golf. Everything is on me. If you think about it, those are the only two places in sports where you can think too much. Everything else is a reactionary thing, but pitching and golf are the only two things where you can overthink it. They’re different than anything in any other sport.”
Despite that correlation, don’t expect Mulder to follow his pitching career with a pursuit toward an occupation in professional golf anytime soon.

“You know, when I played baseball, I always thought when I was done playing, I’d try to make the senior tour,” he said. “But to be honest with you, now that I’m done, I realize the game is a getaway. It’s my time away.

“I played a professional sport and worked out and trained at the highest level. I don’t care to do that again. I know the work that I put in for baseball and there’s no chance I ever want to put in that work for golf.”
Mulder will enjoy epitomizing “amateur” in Golf Channel Amateur Tour this week. And even if his game doesn’t improve soon, he’ll still be smiling when it’s over.

“If I took this game too serious,” he said, “I wouldn’t enjoy it.”

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