STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — As dominant as former Major League pitcher Rick Rhoden has been in celebrity golf over the past two decades, there is another part of the game where he has even been better — qualifying for the U.S. Senior Open.

The 56-year-old who has won a record seven times at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship at Lake Tahoe will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Senior Open for the fifth time in five tries when he tees it up Monday at the Dye Preserve Golf Course in Jupiter, Fla.

“I have a good chance of qualifying for a spot, but it depends on the course and I have to shoot under par to get in,” Rhoden said.

“If I play like I’m playing now, I have a good shot,” he told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Rhoden spent 16 seasons pitching in the majors, including with the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. Since then, he’s won more celebrity golf events around the country than anyone else.

“I drive the ball good. I’m probably an above average in length. It’s about putting the ball into play,” Rhoden said. “Golf is a lot like pitching. One day it’s working, and some days nothing is working.”

Qualifying for a U.S Senior open is much easier than earning a spot in a regular Champions Tour event, Rhoden said.

“Talent is spread out through 30 to 40 sites around the country and you feel like there are 10 players you have to beat to get in,” he said. “At each tour event, there are 65-70 guys who are all good competing for a couple of spots.”

Rhoden was fortunate to play in his last Open — the 2007 event at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis., where he made the field as the first alternate.

The three-time Silver Slugger Award winner seldom plays in Champions Tour events these days. In the past three years, Rhoden has participated in only four events.

The bottom fell out of his bid to become a Champions Tour regular in 2007 when as a co-medalist of the tour qualifying school, he was required to go through Monday morning qualifying for each tour event.

Consequently, Rhoden decided to limit the stress on a neck he hurt in a 2002 accident involving a cement truck and focus on the celebrity event at Lake Tahoe in mid-July – the only one of its kind that has survived the country’s recession.

Rhoden has made the cut in two of his four U.S. Open appearances, his best showing a tie for 41st in 2006 – his all-time best season on the tour for players 50 and older. During that season, Rhoden appeared in 15 events and collected $142,714.

Rhoden also made the Open cut in 2005, opening with rounds of 71 and 74 before closing with a 69. If not for a 78 in the third round, he would have finished much higher than 50th place.

His best Open moment and one of most cherished athletic accomplishments occurred in 2005 at the NCR Country Club in Kettering, Ohio, when he became the 13th player to make a hole in one.

Rhoden aced the 170-yard second hole with a 6-iron. A hole earlier, he had ended a long stretch of holes without a birdie.

“I was paired with Pat Laverty of Los Angeles and neither one of us had a birdie for 20 holes, so I birdied the first and I had an ace on the second. It was the best start I ever had in any round,” Rhoden said.

Last July, Rhoden sank a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole to edge Dan Quinn and Tony Romo for his first title at Lake Tahoe since 2003. The two-time All-Star will have a chance to add to his record seven titles in the 20th celebrity championship July 14-19 at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course in Stateline, Nev.

“Who knows how many I can win. It was looking like I wasn’t going to win another one,” Rhoden said. “I’m capable of winning every time I play, but the other players are getting better. I’ll play there as long as they invite me.”


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