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Star athletes like fish out of water playing golf

July 08, 2007|From the Associated Press

STATELINE, NEV. — It's one thing to ride a bike as fast as Lance Armstrong, drive the lane like Michael Jordan, throw a pass like Carson Palmer or catch one like Jerry Rice.

But hit a golf ball in front of a big crowd?

"Golf," Armstrong says, stretching out the word like a British sports analyst. "It's a whole 'nother sport, whole 'nother beast. Hell, I get nervous when the lady in the beverage cart pulls up on the tee box."

And he's not even in the tournament.

The seven-time champion of the Tour de France is set to play in the pro-am event preceding the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe next Friday through Sunday.

No, it's not the British Open. But it might as well be for the 81 past and present star athletes, actors, entertainers, politicians and other celebrities chasing the $600,000 purse at Edgewood-Tahoe Golf Course on the banks of the azure mountain lake.

Armstrong is the first to admit he's not much of a golfer.

"I'm happy to break 100," he said.

But like Marcus Allen, John Elway and Charles Barkley, he understands when some of the best athletes ever try to explain what it's like to be a fish out of water on the 7,445-yard, par-72 golf course with a national television audience watching.

"This will be my third year at Tahoe and I haven't played well because of the pressure of all the people," said Palmer, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and NFL Pro Bowl most valuable player for the Cincinnati Bengals.

"When it comes to playing football in front of a packed stadium, I'm confident and comfortable," he said.

"Playing golf is a little out of my comfort zone. I in no way have the game mastered or have the feel mastered to be able to concentrate and not worry about shanking one into the audience and hitting a little kid like I did before."

That was last year. His blind approach to the 10th green struck an 8-year-old in the back -- a boy who happened to be wearing a jersey of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I got up there and I said I was sorry, and I said, 'At least you're a Steelers fan, I don't feel so bad,' " Palmer said.

Rice, a future NFL Hall of Famer who doubles as a DJ at the casino parties that follow each day's round, has played in the tournament 10 times and claims to sport a "zero-point-nine" handicap entering this year's competition. He speaks like a true veteran.

"If I should hit someone, I'm going to make sure I sign the ball for them and give it to them," he said.

Rice remembers the first time he tried to hit a golf ball more than a decade ago.

The former San Francisco 49er had just finished a workout with his personal trainer, who had some golf balls and clubs in his trunk.

"I decided that being the athlete I am I should be able to hit this golf ball, and I couldn't do it. That really frustrated me. It became more of a challenge and after that I got hooked," Rice said.

"You can be great at one thing and not good at golf. Golf is totally different," he said.

"If you have a great round, you think the next day, 'I've got this, I'm going to go out there and have an exceptional round.' And that's really the mistake. That's when the game can really humble you."

The 18th edition of the tournament will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Friday and by NBC on the weekend.

Some of the other celebrities in this year's field include Chris Webber, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ray Romano, Don Cheadle, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Tim Brown, Tiki Barber, Lawrence Taylor, ESPN's Dan Patrick and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

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