Leaderboard Bunched After First Day of Pro Sports Team Challenge

By: Jay Flemma

[Author's Note: Due to contractual restrictions with broadcast partner Fox Sports Net, we cannot post scores until after the televised broadcast June 28 and 29. We will, however provide some insights into how YOUR favorite athletes are playing.]

Ozzie Smith hasn't stopped smiling all weekend at the Pro Sports Team Challenge All-star golf shootout. His exuberant love of life, golf, and people has been a lighthouse beacon, illuminating the golf tournament and social events with camaraderie, excitement, and laughs, inspiring players, organizers and fans alike. "Since we retired from our respective sports, there's been a competitive void in our lives," he explained with a hint of sad reminiscence. The nostalgic moment passed, quickly and the broad grin returned again. "Athletes never lose their competitive fire" he said with a laugh, "and this competition, where we get to re-unite and play golf for our favorite charities, is a chance for us to give back to those less fortunate, compete against one another once more, and get close to our fans. We're nothing without them."

Indeed, the tournament, which unites four superstars each from baseball basketball, football, and hockey, has been a combination reunion, party, joke-fest, and feisty golf battle. The players compete for a total purse of $250,000 for charity, with $100,000 going to the winning team. Old friends and bitter rivals now find themselves united in an altruistic quest to help America's troops abroad, (USO, Team Basketball's Charity), children whose lives were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, (Operation Kids, Team Football), cancer victims, (Hockey Fights Cancer), and members of the extended baseball family who have fallen on hard times, (the Baseball Assistance Team).

"We've brought back the 1985 World Series," Smith says with a gleam in his eye, referring to his St. Louis Cardinals teammate Vince Coleman, and two of their opponents from that seven game masterpiece against the Kansas City Royals, Bret Saberhagen and George Brett. "Sure we're having fun, but we're also fighting hard for great causes. I'm especially glad we're playing well and look forward to tomorrow in the hope we can do some real good."

Smith talked the talk and walked the walk. He made a natural birdie on his first hole of the tournament and powered his team to a strong performance. "He was amazing from the get go," explained Tom Johnson, a fan who flew in for the event from Santa Cruz. "He grooved his first drive, pured a 9-iron, and drained the 16-foot putt."

"It's been a good team effort so far," Smith added, quickly praising his teammates. "George Brett and Saberhagen have played well so far. Our strategy is to take advantage of a well-balanced team. Our high handicappers and low handicappers are playing well together."

The baseball players are not the only ones ham-and-egging it well to surge to a good first-day performance. Team Football got strong showings from one high handicapper and one low handicapper to position themselves in the thick of the race. John Elway, a 1 handicap, followed Smith's magic with an incendiary bolt of his own, holing a 114-yard gap wedge for a stunning eagle on the par-4 fourteenth holes in his morning match. "That's the way to get started!" he exclaimed to playing partner Drew Brees, as the elated fans shrieked with joy, then let loose a long rolling round of applause that echoed all over the back nine of Eagle Falls Golf Course at Fantasy Springs Resort.

LaDainian Tomlinson, a 15 handicap, heard the roar one hole ahead, fed off the energy and provided a long burst of fireworks himself with a stunning run of his own - three net birdies and a net eagle in his first four holes. His partner Michael Strahan could only grin and celebrate with him and the scores of football fans in the jerseys of their favorite players who came out to watch the matches.

Indeed, all four teams had their moments during the series of round robin matches where each team played the other three in a nine-hole match using "accelerated scoring" - where, for example, a 3 & 2 win counts for five points, three points for each holes won and two point for each hole that the opponent was closed out early on. Although the system exponentially increases the number of points a team can score - and the corresponding fan excitement - all four teams tallied enough points to keep the matches close heading into tomorrows four skins matches. A mere eight points separate the leaders from the fourth place squad. The second-place team is only two points behind the leaders. It's anybody's game for the taking.

Though the pressure on the course has been palpable, The Iceman, George Gervin of Team Basketball has remained as cool as his nickname, doing his best to bring home the title. Paired with Clyde Drexler for two matches and Jason Kidd for the last, Iceman went undefeated for the day. "I can't take all the credit, though," he said generously. "We've been hanging tough and helping each other out all day. Take Jason Kidd - he's been a great assist man on the golf course too. With great putting and chipping and some timely drives, he put up a triple-double out here as well."

"I'm a good scramble partner," Kidd added. "I can drive well and putt well and with some short holes out here, a few long drives and solid putts can keep my partner and I in the game" Kidd provided one of the funniest moments of the tournament as well. Proving that while he - and the rest of the athletes - are superhuman in their chosen sports, they can be mortal on the links. In front of a huge gallery and with a battery of cameras and microphones surrounding him, he topped one drive 30 yards on the ground and into a fescue covered dune.

"Uh, Jason, dribbling is not a part of golf!" said Event Commisioner Charles Barkley, ruthlessly riding his friend. Nevertheless, Gervin pucked up his partner; he smashed a driver, smoothed a 9-iron to 10 feet, and drained the putt for a natural birdie, bringing the hardest hole on the course, a 460-yard par-4 to its knees.

Afterward, Gervin gave a nod to his inspiration, USO, Team Basketball's chosen charity. "The troops inspire me every day with their sacrifice. I admire and appreciate all they do" he said gratefully. "It's because of their work and dedication, I have the freedom to play basketball, play golf, and proudly enjoy freedom and our great country. I'm only too glad to give back to them."

Indeed, through all the star-studded parties, terrific golf, and jokes with friends and fans, that's been the real benefit of the Pro Sports Team Challenge, an inspiring, altruistic giving back to those who need it most. That's what drives these athletes this weekend. With that as their fulcrum, they can move the world. They're all doing a great job of that this weekend - no matter how the scores turn out.

Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.