Celebrity golf is all fun and games (for the most part), and there’s no better playground than the American Century Championship held each summer along the picturesque shores of Edgewood Tahoe Resort. Footballs are thrown, basketballs are shot, kids do the latest dance, selfies are snapped and bikini-clad crowds line the beaches and stand atop boats — especially at the signature par-3 17th, which often highlights NBC’s annual television coverage.
But for a handful of celebrities (and the list is growing as more golfing entertainers and athletes turn to the game as a post-career competitive outlet), there’s an actual “championship” to be won — and many take it seriously. And with Edgewood’s very reachable par-5 18th and a Stableford scoring format that rewards birdies and eagles, you’ll often find the leaders “lock in” when the trophy is within sight down the stretch.
So I asked Mark Mulder, a guy who knows a little something about winning on both the professional sports and celebrity golf stages, what it’s like to “flip the switch” and find the zone required to beat not only his playing partners but also the entire field.
His answer is something every golfer should take to heart when the pressure is on.
“I just do it,” says the two-time Major League Baseball all-star who led the American League with 21 wins for the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and has won the American Century three times (and finished second to NFL quarterback-turned-analyst Tony Romo in 2018).
But of course it’s much more than that.
“Last year, it was the final round, my kids are dancing right next to the tee box on 17 in front of all the cameras, and I see the group in front of us finally clear the green, and I just walked over and said, ‘Hey guys, that’s it.’ And they walked away, and then it was, ‘OK, let’s go.’
“I guess I almost look at it as if I gave up a homer, you gotta turn the page. If I lose a game, I can either sit there and dwell on it for four days until my next start or I can start focusing on that next game. If I hit a bad shot in the trees, what am I gonna do about it — other than go find it? So let’s go find it and not make it worse. Let’s go fix it."
Mulder's approach has been to flip back and forth between the competitive golf and embracing the carnival spirit of the championship.
“So I look at it as it’s kind of simple: It’s one shot, and the minute I’m done with that shot, my good buddy who caddies for me, we talk about everything on the course except golf," he said.
"We joke around all day. There were times a few years ago when [Brian] Urlacher, [Jeremy] Roenick and myself were all chest-bumping after every birdie. It’s fun, man. The majority of the guys are here to have fun. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a handful of us, or two, who are here to win, but I’m going to have fun winning. I’m not gonna just keep my head down and walk through the course for three days.”
This year’s fun begins begins July 9 (with NBC television coverage the weekend of July 13-14), and the star-studded field once again includes notable names such as swing-disaster NBA great (and questionable analyst) Charles Barkley. Former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz is an early 3-to-1 favorite to win this year’s event, with Mulder at 7-to-2. Warriors point guard Steph Curry played in the 2018 and is rumored to be returning this summer (his dad, Del Curry, was part of the Media Day press conference on June 4.
Behind Romo and Mulder, the Top 11 at the 2018 American Century Championship included Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks (T3), former NBA star Ray Allen (T3), former Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer (T5), NHL great Jeremy Roenick (7th), another Super Bowl quarterback Mark Rypien (8th), Smoltz (10), and former Green Bay Packers wideout Sterling Sharpe tied with Steph Curry at 11th.