ATLANTA -- Ask John Smoltz to give you a few of his favorite golf stories and you’ll certainly hear the one about Annika Sorenstam and Chipper Jones.
Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion and Hall of Fame golfer, offered Baseball Hall of Famer Jones a backhanded compliment by saying, “I've never seen anybody hit the ball that far, and I've never seen anybody hit it that far offline.”
“She couldn’t believe how many golf balls Chipper actually had in his bag,” Smoltz said. “I think he used to come to the course with like 25 golf balls.”
“It’s Annika,” Jones said. “She’s the nicest person on the planet. You can’t get mad; you’ve just got to laugh.”
Retirement has allowed Jones to become a much better golfer than he was on that day in 2003, when he and Smoltz had the pleasure of playing with Sorenstam and Tiger Woods, who at the time were at the peak of their legendary careers.
In fact, Jones and Jeff Francoeur both beat Smoltz when they played a round Tuesday in Atlanta. But Francoeur still has not lived down the day in 2007 when he uncontrollably imitated Jean van de Velde, or Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner’s fictional character in the film “Tin Cup”).
“There’s no way around it,” Jones said. “He flat out choked.”
“This is my favorite golf story still to this day,” added Smoltz.
To set the scene, Smoltz, Jones, Francoeur and Brian McCann were playing at the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes course, which is located about 10 minutes from the Braves’ former Spring Training site in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Five years earlier, a young prospect named Adam Wainwright had beaten Smoltz during a round and then pleaded that it not be written because he didn’t want the veteran pitcher to think he was gloating. Francoeur’s mindset was completely different. He had been a big leaguer for a season and a half, and it was time for him to finally slay the golf king of the Braves’ clubhouse.
“Frenchy had always wanted to beat me straight up,” Smoltz said. “He’d been trying all those years. He had it going that day, and I didn’t.”
“I had dominated Smoltzy all day,” Francoeur said. “Beat him like a drum.”
“He’d already told the other guys what he was going to do when he won that match,” Smoltz said. “He was going to laminate the [scorecard], come to the park the next day and put a copy in everyone’s locker. He had this whole plan.”
So as Francoeur carried a five-shot lead to the 18th hole, he put his arm around Smoltz and said, “I finally got you.”
Smoltz responded by saying, “Yeah kid, you played pretty well. But we’ve got one more hole to go.”
After Smoltz drilled his tee shot down the middle of the fairway, Francoeur prepared to tackle the par-5, 557-yard hole that doglegs to the left and has water all the way down the left side.
Even if Smoltz birdied the hole, Francoeur would have still won with a triple bogey or better.
“So he sets up as only Frenchy can do and tries to rip his driver 700 yards. He pulls it left into the water,” Smoltz said. “If he’d have just dropped down by the water, I couldn’t beat him. So real quickly, I said, ‘You know, there’s not much advantage by dropping down there. You might as well re-tee it.’ So, he re-tees and he hits it farther left in the water.”
“After he hit the second one in, everybody was like, ‘Oh boy,’” added Jones.
“So I said, ‘You know the drill, might as well re-tee again,’” Smoltz said. “This time, he’s trying to hit it so far right that he pull-hooks it out of bounds. So now he’s hitting seven off the tee. I’m foaming at the mouth. He hits his next drive and it hits land before going in the water.”
With four shots having found the water, Francoeur was lying nine off the tee box and Smoltz’s ball still comfortably rested about 300 yards away in the fairway.
“Frenchy kind of laughed at the first one, giggled at the second and then after the third and fourth [shots], there was some choice language,” Jones said. “He could feel it kind of slipping away with each shot.”
“Each and every shot, you could see him getting angrier and angrier,” Smoltz said. “I knew he had made a 14. So after I birdied the hole, I made him go over it, and I deliberately told him he made a 15. He said he had a 14. I said, ‘No you didn’t. Let’s go over it. One off the tee. Three off the tee. Seven off the tee. I deliberately added a shot. So three times we went over this 14 he made on the 18th hole.”
The story didn’t end there.
“When we went in the clubhouse, he thought I was going to say a bunch of stuff,” Smoltz said. “I never said a word. But everywhere we went to golf after that, I told the cart girl, ‘No matter what he asks for, tell him it’s $14.’ When we had to get into a private club, I’d be the lead car and I told the [club pro], ‘Whenever [Francoeur] buzzes in, tell him the code is pound 14.’ Eventually after enough of this, Frenchy said, ‘Can you stop please?’”
Francoeur finally gained some satisfaction a few weeks later when he beat Smoltz at the Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla. But Smoltz once again got the last laugh.
Having vowed to jump in the water if he won, Francoeur celebrated by jumping in the Atlantic Ocean, which is about 50 yards from the 18th green.
“Then Smoltz reminded me we were playing 36 holes,” Francoeur said. “I had to go buy new clothes. Then he whipped me on the next 18.”
This wasn’t the first time Smoltz saw one of his teammates need to change his wardrobe while playing golf. Tom Glavine was forced to do so a few years earlier. Fortunately, he was playing on his home course and happened to be on the fairway next to his house.
Smoltz had already walked over the stone bridge that stands above a creek on this hole when it happened.
“Fifteen seconds later, I hear what sounds like somebody diving off a diving board into a pool,” Smoltz said. “[Glavine] has completely fallen off and is submerged in the creek. All I could see is his head. He’s up to his head in the water. The stone gave way, and he fell in. He’s completely soaked. He gets out of the creek, walks across the fairway to his house, changes clothes and comes back and finishes the hole.
“Every time I got over the ball to hit my next shot, all I could hear is this giant splash and all I could see is this image of Glav in this creek. He went all in.”
So too did Francoeur with that five-shot lead that evaporated much sooner than the ensuing laughs, which remain strong nearly 14 years later.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.