LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – One of the best shooters in basketball history, Ray Allen won two NBA championships and made 10 all-star teams. He influenced the outcome of countless games. But now his influence extends to the top of world golf.
Allen didn’t just play with Ariya Jutanugarn, the top-ranked female golfer, in the second round of the inaugural Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions. He also served as a mentor of sorts.
“He taught a lot of things to me,” Jutanugarn, from Thailand, said of the 2018 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “I asked him how to manage when you’re like the best player, like how to manage everything. We talked all 18 holes, and he helped me a lot with like how to manage, be like a top player.
“He told me like (when) you’re a top player (to focus on) your next goal. Not only play here … but we should have a next goal. It means so much to me. I kept asking him questions.”
Allen, the NBA career leader in three-point shots made, said he told Jutanugarn a lot of stories and “talked about everything,” including how to handle adversity.
“I talked about preparation and just taking care of your body and getting rest,” said Allen, a scratch handicap who is listed No. 2 on Golf Digest’s list of NBA figures behind fellow sharpshooter Steph Curry. “Also being able to get away from the game. Sometimes when you’re struggling and sometimes when you’re doing well, you’ve got to get away from it.”
The second-ranked baseball player on the Golf Digest celebrity golfer list also is in the Diamond Resorts field: Eight-time All-Star pitcher John Smoltz, the first pitcher to top both 200 wins and 150 saves.
Now 51, Smoltz seems to be getting better with age. He qualified for the U.S. Senior Open last year and made an eagle and seven birdies in the Diamond Resorts second round Friday. He had 43 points under the modified Stableford system, a score that translated to a 6-under-par 65 – his career best in tournament golf.
Aside from three bad drives that led to bogeys, “everything else felt controlled,” Smoltz said. “I’ve been working on my game for the first time to make the proper swing. I’m getting closer and closer to trusting each and every one of them. So in tournament play, hopefully, the more competition I play at a different level will translate.”
One of few active professional athletes in the Diamond Resorts field is one of the most decorated NFL players ever: Arizona Cardinals cornerback and punt return specialist Patrick Peterson. He recently was named to a record-tying eighth consecutive NFL Pro Bowl, joining running backs Jim Brown and Barry Sanders as the only players to be named eight times before their 29th birthday.
Peterson, with a 5.1 handicap index, is the other entrant on the Golf Digest list, ranked 26th among NFL figures. He has played golf all over the world with fellow Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald, such as Australia, New Zealand, Scotland and England.
“Golf can take you so many places you never had an opportunity of going,” Peterson said.
Among those places was Augusta National Golf Club. Peterson said he shot 74 there two weeks before the 2018 Masters despite troubles in Amen Corner, where he double-bogeyed No. 12 and bogeyed 13.
“It was a fun trip,” he said. “Thing I’m most intrigued about is you had to dress up to have dinner.”
Smoltz and other top players in the field here understand that no matter how well they play, it’s difficult beating favorites Mardy Fish and Mark Mulder, winners of the last three fromer Diamond Resorts Invitatioinals.
Hear nine-time NHL all-star Jeremy Roenick, for instance.
“To break through against the big boys, Fish and Mulder, I need to be more verbal,” cracked Roenick, DRI runner-up last year. “I need to talk a bit more about how good they are, how proud I am to be playing with them, how I am in awe of them, and then hopefully, they’ll get a big head.”
Fish, once the top rated U.S. tennis player, was listed as 2019 pre-tournament favorite at 3-to-2 odds by odds maker William Hill. He won the former Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity division in 2016 and ’18 and finished second in 2017.
Mulder, 41, a two-time Major League Baseball all-star, was a close second at 2-to-1. The long hitter was the leading celebrity in the 2017 DRI and won three consecutive American Century Celebrity Golf Championship titles.
None other than Jack Nicklaus has encouraged Fish, 37, to pursue a career in professional golf. After the two played together last month, Nicklaus called Fish “the best non-professional golfer that I have ever seen play“and said he was “flabbergasted” at how good Fish was.
Players with the next best odds were Roenick at 10-1 and Smoltz and actor Jack Wagner at 15-1.