Ron Agostini on Golf: Celebs tee it up at Tahoe tourney

07/15/2014 8:28 PM

07/15/2014 8:30 PM

They arrived on the shores of Lake Tahoe 25 years ago and, each year since, made it a point to return.

Only four have come back each year for the American Century Championship, the world’s premier celebrity golf tournament, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary at scenic Edgewood Tahoe on Friday through Sunday.

John Elway and Jim McMahon, two Super Bowl champion quarterbacks, join hockey hero Mike Eruzione and actor Jack Wagner as the event’s most loyal contestants.

The competition still appeals to Elway, a born competitor since his days at Stanford more than three decades ago. The general manager and executive vice president of the Denver Broncos placed second at the ACC in 2010, third in 2012 and tied for sixth last year. He has logged 10 top-10 finishes, in fact, but has never taken home the top prize.

“I’ve been close and all those times kind of run together in my memory,” said Elway, who carries a plus-0.9 handicap index. “My hope is to have two good rounds and put myself in position to win. I know all the guys appreciate the opportunity it gives us to compete at a high level.”

Each of the quartet has earned his respect: Wagner, the only non-athlete to win the tournament (in 2006 and 2011); Eruzione, the captain of the famous USA “miracle on ice” hockey team which shocked the world to win the 1980 Olympic title; and McMahon, the gonzo quarterback of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears.

It doesn’t matter that Eruzione’s game these days makes him an also-ran in the field. He wouldn’t miss his week with old friends in Stateline, Nev.

“We had a better chance of beating the Russians than I have of winning at Lake Tahoe,” he said. “At this point, I just go out there to enjoy myself and be with friends and enjoy the view. A handful of kids last year had Mike Eruzione 1980 Olympic jerseys with my name on the back.”

Also admired is McMahon, who has gained new admirers since he went public in his fight against early-onset dementia.

Wagner believes the hyperactive competition in his profession has helped him against the nation’s top athletes at Edgewood.

“Hollywood is often about dealing with rejection. So is golf,” Wagner said. “I’m mentally tough in a lot of ways that is similar to athletes. Golf is the medium where nothing else really matters. ... The guy who holds his nerve will win. It all averages out on the first tee.”

The ACC long ago surpassed the corporate-heavy AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am as the top magnet for celebrity golfers. This week presents another long list, including Aaron Rodgers, Jerry Rice, Stephen Curry (he almost won it last year) and Charles Barkley.

The betting favorite is LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, who will make her tournament debut. She still keeps a home at nearby Incline Village, Nev. Also at Tahoe for the first time is Geno Auriemma, coach of nine-time NCAA women’s basketball champion Connecticut.

NBC Sports still televises the event, which has grown in popularity over the years. The scene around Edgewood’s shoreside par-3 17th, with the many boats off the beach, is worth the admission ticket by itself.

Fans also enjoy the interaction with the athletes around the course and in the casinos during the week. It makes for a unique sports event.

Golf “is my passion, my way to compete today,” Elway said. “I get nervous and I still want to win. It brings back the butterflies that I still want to feel.”

For ticket and tournament information, visit www.tahoecelebritygolf.com

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