Event looks for more stars
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
Through the first decade of the celebrity golf championship, NBC Sports focused on the quality of golf – with several notable exceptions – to captivate viewers.
Players were required to have a 10 handicap or better and a working knowledge of golf eitiquette.
Now in its 15th year, the American Century Championship has continued to prosper because NBC has loosened qualifying rules and modified scoring for the 54-hole tournament.
During a press conference to announce a three-year agreement with the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course on Wednesday afternoon, NBC executive Gary Quinn said his network doesn’t preclude any star from its invitation list.
“A lot of times we’ll canvas 500 people, not knowing if they play golf,” said Quinn, director of business development for NBC. “We keep our eyes and ears open to topical stars, people who might be popular through the calendar year.
“You throw any big name out there and I’m almost positive we’ve invited them. No one is off our radar screen if they can add to the telecast and the client experience.”
Emphasizing a need to bring in new stars each year, NBC has focused on NFL quarterbacks for the 15th edition of the championship July 16-18 tournament. Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning, a 2003 co-MVP, is expected to play along with Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals’ signal-callers David Carr and Carson Palmer.
“Every year we’re always looking to upgrade the field and rejuvenate the list,” Quinn said.
Quinn has already received confirmations from former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Troy Aikman, actor Dennis Quaid, retired tennis player Pete Sampras and former single-season home run record holder Mark McGwire.
Still, some of the mega celebrities, especially in the movie industry, continue to steer clear of the Lake Tahoe event.
“A lot of people get intimidated by the competition,” said actor John O’Hurley said. “Certain people have been out there and can’t go back because they say it’s too nervewracking.”
Of course, some players have no intention of ever leaving the championship – even if wedding bells are ringing.
“My entire year begins with registration for this one week and everything else revolves around it, including my wedding this year,” said O’Hurley, who celebrated St. Patrick’s Day by obstaining from Irish food.
“I’ll celebrate with anything else but Irish food. It’s like Irish recipes are out of a penal colony.”
O’Hurley was rejuvenated by scoring changes last year, which allowed more players to contend for the title and others to avoid embarrassing numbers.
“For years it was operating like a professional tournament, but now we’re attracting a larger and more prestigious field because they don’t feel penalized,” O’Hurley said.
O’Hurley likes the idea of incurring a two-point penalty when a bad hole creeps onto his scorecard.
“I’ll have moments when I look like a duffer, so it’s nice to pick up,” said the 6 handicap.
In replacing the medal-play format last year, players could pick up their ball on a hole after reaching a double-bogey total.
NBC has no intention of changing scoring again. Players receive 10 points for a double eagle, eight for a hole in one, six for an eagle, three for a birdie and one for a par; they lose two for a double bogey.
“If double bogey was a fabric, I’d be draped in it,” O’Hurley said.
Six-time champion Rick Rhoden, a former major league pitcher, is the defending champion.