Dodgers Driving for Success on the Diamond and the Links
Photo by Matthew Moreno, DodgerBlue.com
GLENDALE – Another baseball season is at hand, another chance for the Los Angeles Dodgers to end a World Series drought that extends to 1988 – and a good chance at that.
However, even during the season, it’s there, in the back of the minds of many a Dodger – the game of golf.
On a spring day in March, when many of Arizona’s top golf courses are packed with players, the Dodgers go about their business in their Camelback Ranch clubhouse during another day of spring training. Their focus is on performing that afternoon against the Los Angeles Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. However, it seems golf is never far from the minds of some players, players who would take on the links anywhere, anytime – as long as it’s not during the season.
Chase Utley, Trace Thompson, Kenley Jansen, Joc Pederson, and Austin Barnes are among the Dodgers who take to the links during the off-season, with varying degrees of experience, skill, and success. A large slice of players are just turning on to the game, while others are just beginning to take it seriously in terms of getting better, being competitive, and winning wagers; almost all are appreciative of the escapism inherent in the game.
Some, like third-baseman Justin Turner, have grown up playing; in his case, right here in Southern California. Turner participated in the Long Beach Junior Golf Association program at Heartwell Golf Course, where he played with childhood friends and “kinda loved it.” These days, he logs a majority of his rounds at Thousand Oaks’ Sherwood Country Club, which has hosted his charity golf tournament for the last three years.
The 2019 Justin Turner Classic is scheduled for January 28 at Sherwood. The tournament, typically held the Monday following DodgerFest, benefits children and families that have been affected by life altering illnesses, and homeless veterans. Together with LA Dream Center, the tournament is helping to facilitate a floor for the Los Angeles area’s homeless male veterans, and a floor for its homeless female veterans. All 148 playing spots sold out in 2018.
The tournament gets the best of Turner’s time and effort where golf is concerned. He concentrates his competitive energies on baseball, minimizing the importance of coming out on top at the golf course, while maximizing the relaxation golf provides.
“I’m at the point in my golf game where I know I’m not good enough to care if I hit a bad shot. It’s just nice to go out there and just get away from all the noise, and it’s basically just you and a big wide-open space. And you can get some clarity, have some fun, win some money, lose some money, and just get away from everything.”
If a clubhouse-wide poll were conducted, pitcher Rich Hill might be named the favorite in a theoretical club championship. Hill was focused on baseball from his early grade-school years, but in junior high, he and a group of pals started playing golf in the Quincy, Massachusetts’ summers.
The boys would often play from sun-up to sundown, all the while realizing how much they were improving – “we didn’t even stop to eat,” Hill said. He eventually teamed with those same pals to win two state championships at Milton High School, where he played golf during the fall, and baseball during the spring.
“During the fall season, it was either golf or football. But at the time, I hadn’t really played football, and I wasn’t very big… I was really really, skinny,” Hill said, laughing.
“To have that option, to play golf in the fall, was something that was extremely exciting. And also, it just happened to flow with the three of us that had been playing in the junior tournaments or whatever tournaments were available to us as we were getting older. To come up together and play together (in high school)…it was just fun.”
One theme was consistent during discussions with players – they’re keenly aware both games are played with a ball. And whether you’re hitting it with a driver, a baseball bat, a putter, or throwing it to a catcher, they’re constantly trying to make the ball do what they want it to.
“I think I try to put some of my baseball routines into my golf routine,” Turner said. “I think it helps me be a better putter, a better chipper, the way you approach a shot, you know, you step back and walk into it…just try to establish a routine like I have in baseball, to try to help me be a more consistent golfer. It hasn’t really paid off yet, but I like to try that stuff.”
Said Barnes: “Where I think golf fills the need is, that it’s obviously really hard, and it can get pretty competitive out there. Then there’s a lot of mechanical stuff where you can do different things with your swing that makes the ball do different things, like fades, draws, that type of thing. I think that’s a fun and interesting part of both games, the swing mechanics in different situations.”
As a pitcher, Hill sees even more of a relationship between the two games.
“Golf is almost….I don’t want to say identical to pitching, but for example, it’s very focused in on the moment,” Hill said. “When you’re focused in on that shot, and you’re trying to make the shot the best that you can while you’re playing the game, it’s the same with baseball. You’re trying to make the ball come out of your hand the way you want it to on that particular pitch, and that’s all that matters, is that pitch, that stroke, that shot, at that time. And trying to shape it or be as creative as you can be with that shot, and be as creative as you can be with that pitch. There’s a ton of similarities between golf and pitching, it’s crazy.”
Of course, the days of going to the bar, the beach, or the golf course on off-days are gone with the wind. So Hill and the rest of his teammates stash the clubs during the season for one simple reason – should any player suffer an injury on the golf course that kept him out of the line-up for any period of time, it would be potentially catastrophic, both personally and for the team.
“During the season I don’t really play, especially with playing every day now,” said Turner. “Back when I was with the (New York) Mets, as a role guy, utility guy, we’d go on the road and I’d get out once a road trip and play. But now playing every day, it just takes too much out of you.”
As a starting pitcher, Hill confessed to having more time to be tempted by an in-season round, and while on the road, he sometimes sneaks out to a course just to check out the facility. He, too, admitted fear of injury is ultimately what keeps him from teeing it up between March and November.
“We do have more time as starters, we do,” Hill said. “But at the same time, I don’t want anything to go bad with my back, or for anything to happen. Because, you know how it is – you get out there and you get that competitive flow going, and you say to yourself, I’m gonna cut that corner and take it over the trees, and then you’re sore the next day.
“The one thing I don’t want to do is go out and play golf and have something happen that would affect my ability to play.”