NEW YORK -- From bowlers and boxers to surfers and speed skaters, golf mania among professional jocks is rampant. Accordingly, Golf Digest identifies the best golfers from the world of sports in its Athlete-Golfers Ranking appearing in the June 2007 issue (on newsstands May 8). The Athlete-Golfers Ranking can be viewed now at www.golfdigest.com/athletes.
Rick Rhoden, the former major-league baseball pitcher and all-time leading money-winner on the Celebrity Players Tour, is No. 1 in the magazine’s ranking with a plus-2.5 Handicap Index. (A Handicap Index is a measure of a player’s ability. The lower the Handicap Index, the better the player).
Rhoden, 53, is now a professional golfer trying to make his mark on the Champions Tour. “After 10 years I’d seen and been through everything in baseball,” he told Golf Digest. “Every course in America has scratch players, but that doesn’t mean they can make a dime playing professional golf.”
Rounding out the Top 10 are: No. 2 Ray Sheppard, former Detroit Red Wing (plus-2.5); No. 3 Sterling Sharpe, ex-Green Bay Packer (plus-2.4); No. 4 Dan Quinn, Ex-NHLer (plus-2.1); No. 5 Craig Hentrich, Tennessee Titans punter (plus-2.0); T-6 Ryan Longwell, Vikings kicker; T-6 Andy Van Slyke, former Gold Glove outfielder; T-8 Chris Chandler, ex-Falcons quarterback (plus-1.5); T-8 Trent Dilfer, former Ravens quarterback (plus-1.5) and T-8 Billy Joe Tolliver, ex-NFL quarterback.
Others in the diverse crowd of Golf Digest’s athlete-golfers are: John Elway (T-21); Pete Sampras (T-21); Michael Jordan (T-30); surfing great Kelly Slater (No. 42); Larry Bird (No. 60); Ivan Lendl (T-81); Oscar De La Hoya (T-158); skier Bode Miller (T-158); Martina Navratilova (T-158); Barry Bonds (T-172); Hank Aaron (T-209); and Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip (No. 215).
In most cases, the handicaps were gleaned from the U.S. Golf Association’s Golf Handicap and Information Network. Golf Digest also relied on information from state associations, the athletes themselves, professionals at their clubs and friends who have played with them. Handicaps appearing without decimal points are unofficial estimates.
Of the 220 athletes on the ranking, 159 come from football, baseball and the NHL. Football has the most with 70, followed by baseball (58), hockey (31), and basketball (25). Six women made the list, led by tennis great Gigi Fernandez (T-36) with a 1.6 handicap. The other five are: softballer Lisa Fernandez (T-121); WNBA player Lindsay Whalen (T-194); soccer star Brandi Chastain (T-209); former speed skater and Olympic gold medalist Bonnie Blair (No. 214); and former basketball standout Rebecca Lobo (219).
Derek Jeter, the New York Yankees shortstop and an estimated 30-handicapper, is the last of the 220 athlete-golfers who made the list. Jeter’s friends tell Golf Digest he can break 100 on the course but probably won’t get serious about golf until his baseball career ends.
Nearly all of the athletes interviewed by Golf Digest spoke out against the deeply-rooted notion that golf doesn’t require true athleticism. “If I were a golfer, I’d be insulted,” said Gigi Fernandez.
Added former NHL superstar and scratch golfer Brett Hull: “Sure it’s a sport. People don’t understand what it takes to be an elite athlete in any sport. To me the mental preparation and toughness in golf blows away what it takes in any sport. Just because golfers don’t wear running shoes and don’t run down the fairway doesn’t mean they aren’t athletes.”
One of the dissenting views came from former NFL quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver: “Golf is like sex: You don’t have to be an athlete to do it. And you don’t have to be good at it to enjoy it.”