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January 14, 2020

Jack Wagner

John Smoltz

Lake Buena Vista, Florida

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We'd like to welcome a few of the contenders on the celebrity side today, defending champion John Smoltz and longtime top player Jack Wagner. Gentlemen, welcome back. Great to have you here.

John, I think I'm going to start it with you. Defending champ, what's that feel like? How are you feeling this year, and what's the prognosis for the week?

JOHN SMOLTZ: I've never felt it before, so this is pretty cool to be even talking about it because I've never won anything like this. This is a fun event. There's certain courses that you go to that are pleasing to your eyes, and this is one that's pleasing to my eyes.

Of course, the event at the time of the year in January is as good as it gets. Most of the country is under difficult weather circumstances, and this we get to play in a golf course that's a lot of fun and, of course, in your peer group of celebrities and alongside the LPGA.

This calendar was marked down last year. I couldn't wait for this year to come, and now we're here, and I get a chance to play golf, and that's always a good thing.

THE MODERATOR: Jack, it's good to have you back. You've been among the top players in the celebrity field for a long, long time. Seven-time winner of the club championship at Bel-Air. A couple people thought it was like 15. Anyway, you've been in the top. You've won a couple times out at Lake Tahoe in that event. How's your game this year, and are you ready to try to knock Smoltzy off?

JACK WAGNER: First of all, it's good to be back. It's great to be paired with the LPGA. I think it makes it, first of all, a fun event for our celebrity tour, which now is pretty much two events, Lake Tahoe and this event that NBC and Golf Channel covers, as well as bringing something different to the LPGA.

Big congrats to John last year for winning the way he did. You know what, when somebody of our level shoots the scores John shot, that, I think, brings real value and validity to our games because we can play like that, but to do it actually in a tournament rarely happens for players that are plus 1 scratches. Way to go last year, bro.

JOHN SMOLTZ: Thank you.

JACK WAGNER: Following it up, it's always really going to be probably like a baseball game, right? How do you follow up a one-hitter or no-hitter? He's got a great game. There's probably seven or eight players that can play like John played last year. So we're pretty competitive, yet we're also pretty fun loving.

We actually kind of root for one another as well as compete. Like last year, when I saw John's score -- 64, 67, 66 -- I mean, I would rather root for a guy to play that well as opposed to us battling it around at maybe even par or 1 or 2 over. That's our goal, to shoot some really solid numbers, and John did it last year.

Hopefully, we'll play well with the LPGA players and make it a fun weekend.

Q. John, the William Hill Sportsbook has you going off at defending champion at 4-to-1. They have Mark Mulder at 2-to-1. Obviously, you scared him away from the press conference today. And Mardy Fish at 3-to-1. What are your thoughts on that?
JOHN SMOLTZ: In all honesty, like Jack said, we get a chance to play in these two events. They're like two Super Bowls for the celebrity tour. Mark Mulder and Mardy Fish have dominated for the last eight years, nine years, and that's not anything but fact. It's fun to play against those guys because you know what they're capable of. Any chance you get in the group or around them in a pairing, it motivates you to play your best golf. They both bomb it, hit it a long ways, and really don't have many weaknesses.

So the odds are fun, but more importantly, I think for us -- I don't think I'm the only one that feels that way, but if they're going to keep score and they're going to have a scoreboard and a leaderboard, I want to see how far I can get up the leaderboard. I just think that's the coolest thing in the world. To compete in your own group is one thing, but to compete on a daily basis -- and make no mistake about it, four days is a difference maker for us. We don't get a chance to play in a lot of four-day events. So that's kind of a separator from having one or two good rounds to competing in a four-round tournament. That's a big challenge for me personally.

Jack's in much better shape than I am, and he works out more than I do, but it's definitely a grind.

I have a great appreciation for both the LPGA and the PGA and how they manage a tournament and how they navigate four days. It mentally can take its toll on you.

THE MODERATOR: From last year, obviously, what makes this event unique is the combination of the LPGA pros and the celebrities. What is the most memorable experience you think you had on the golf course playing with one of the LPGA players?

JACK WAGNER: For me last year, I was with Eun-Hee Ji, who won, and we were hitting balls and chipping and hitting bunker shots, and I did it with the Jutanugarn sisters. I just wound up realizing these girls just want to be fun loving and had a great time, and she wound up winning.

I had a ton of hugs this year from Brooke Henderson and probably five or six of the LPGA players that I think John will also attest to, like we've gotten to be very friendly with. When you're inside the ropes, we all know how golf is, you can embarrass yourself, or you can kind of feel pretty good about yourself. So it's been kind of a little journey we've got going now, I'd say, of some real cool friendships with the LPGA players.

JOHN SMOLTZ: And for me, I couldn't believe that their rescue club was better than my wedge. They absolutely manage their golf game -- the conditions were not great on Sunday, and to see the game being played with the distance control they have with every club and how straight they hit it. I learned so much playing in those four days. I love playing with great players because I watch their swing and I try to take something from their swing and apply it to mine. So that was a real cool thing to watch not only how straight, but how incredibly on they were with their distances.

I'm playing geometry a lot. I still don't have my distances where I would like them, and that's a craft that they have mastered.

Q. John, just following up, could you name something specifically that you learned from a player last year?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Yeah, it's like any other Tour player, they know where to miss it. They 100 percent know where to miss it. They just don't do enough wrong to feel like you can compete with them on your best day. I think that's always a natural gauge is some of the things -- when this tournament -- the inception of this tournament was distance. Would the distance be a difference between some of the celebrities as well as the LPGA? I can tell you that has no bearing whatsoever on the final scores because 14 under, I think, won it. Was that right? 14 under won it last year for the score, and I got a chance to watch it whereas there's kind of no way -- I don't think I could be 14 under in four days. So that's the most amazing thing. They know where to miss it. They take what's given to them, and they know their capabilities where we're still trying -- I'm still trying to figure out why I go for every par 5 in two.

Q. And then another follow-up. You talked about mentally how exhausting it can be over four days. Curious, a lot's made in golf about how closing out is so much different. The nerves are ratcheted up. It's a different game closing out. Just curious how that compares to maybe closing out a World Series or something.
JOHN SMOLTZ: Yeah, it's night and day. I'd rather be in my field, bases loaded, nobody out, 3-2 count on every hitter. I really would. I think that's what I was primed to do. I know what my strengths were in that sport. This intuitively is all self pressure, and there's a lot of doubt. Golf exposes your doubt really quickly. So you may have a weakness and you try to hide it for a couple of days, it will show up.

So that's what's so unique about great players winning a tournament is they understand that they're managing their emotions, they're managing their doubt, and they have no memory.

I remember No. 10. Every single day I couldn't wait to play No. 10 to atone for how bad I played it, and I never played it well, and I need to learn how to eliminate that from the golf game. Baseball, I could do that. I put enough reps in, and I loved that part of the game. But closing a game like a closer is the same as trying to close out a tournament. You literally have to have amnesia as fast as you can about whatever didn't happen well.

Q. This is for both of you. How do you ramp up for this event in terms of how many more rounds you play? Do you get a lesson? Have you changed your tactics as you've gone along for the best practices?
JACK WAGNER: I personally don't play much golf anymore. I'm gratefully working a lot in Vancouver. Before this event or even the one in Lake Tahoe, I try to get maybe two or weeks prior to it and play a lot with Mardy Fish because we belong to the same course in L.A., and hit some balls and just literally shake the rust off.

I probably don't compete at the highest level like I used to, but you just never know. If you start to get comfortable, like John said, if you get comfortable, we can all play pretty good golf. I think it's about trying to find a bit of a comfort zone that we see the professional golfers kind of function in normally. It's not normal for us.

Like John said, I'd rather have a big monologue and have one take and hit a mark and say that monologue is my comfort zone, and he'd be 3-2 bases loaded is his comfort zone. So we're out here really, I think, trying to manage ourselves. Wouldn't that be the right word, John? How do we manage ourselves? And if we get comfortable, then you may get something going. I think that would best describe it.

JOHN SMOLTZ: For me, it's difficult because of my schedule. Even though it's the off-season, I work every other week. So I just have to manage the physical aspect of it. I wish I could beat a bunch of balls on the range, but I can't. So I kind of come into the tournament with anticipation of work a few things out, get confidence in a couple clubs. I probably had 21 clubs I brought down if that tells you -- 27, my caddie said. And I whittle it down to 14, and I get comfortable with those, but I've always got clubs on the sideline ready to rescue if I can't get it done.

JACK WAGNER: John has an earpiece with a psychiatrist also. It's like he's in Atlanta, but we're all good with it.

Q. How many putters do you have?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I always bring an extra putter just in case, but last year the only reason I won the tournament was because of my putter, so that putter's going to keep in the bag. That putter stole a lot of attention for what it can do, the Bloodline putter, so hopefully it has a lot of the same magic this year.

Q. I have to ask. I'm just curious as a sports fan. Your thoughts on the Astros and the cheating scandal, and the punishments that have come down. Did you think they're fair?
JOHN SMOLTZ: As a baseball player, it's unfortunate that this stuff comes to the surface, but as it comes to the surface, you hope it never happens again. It's not the only team, but it's going to be the team that's been made an example of because they have the most evidence of what was happening. It's irrefutable. It's not like speculation. I think everybody on their own cooperated.

The punishments -- I don't think anticipated what the perfect punishment is, but I can tell you this, in sports or in life, if the risk is worth the reward, then people are going to still do the things they think to gain an edge. I don't think the risk is worth the reward anymore, so maybe this deters anybody from trying to be part of something that isn't legit from competing.

What makes golf unique is that it's up to the integrity of each person to determine whether they want to apply the rules as they're meant, and that's why golf has always been known as the gentleman's game. But it's frowned upon, and we all know enough people and play with enough people at our clubs that just can't help themselves by getting an advantage and an edge because they want to compete and they want to be successful. That bothers me, but it's not immune from anywhere.

So from baseball standards, that's one big, huge cloud that hopefully will be passing, and we won't deal with it anymore.

Q. John, just a follow-up on that. What's your sense on how prevalent stealing signs is in baseball?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, stealing signs is not a problem that anybody has with baseball. It's how you're going about stealing the signs. And on the field, if I'm tipping my pitches, that's on me. If they're getting it from my catcher, that's on us. And I think, when you start dedicating technology to gain an advantage, which is what obviously happened here, you're then separating yourself from what really is within the rules of engagement versus, okay, this is an extra effort to really give yourself a decided advantage.

Unfortunately -- I don't think there's ever a fortunately -- they win the championship. So it stains it. It frowns upon what they were able to accomplish. They were a great team, and they probably could have won the world championship without it. So all it does is add an element that nobody wants if you're part of that. You're going to deal with that for the rest of your life. I think that's why baseball had to take such a stance to not allow its championships to ever be viewed like this ever again.

From a broadcaster, from a former baseball player, again, I can assure you I don't think this is the only team or two that has done this, but with technology the way it is, they're going to have to ironically find a way for technology to help this never happen again by giving a way to give signs to a catcher and pitcher, which is vital to our sport, so that nobody else can decode them.

It also slows the game down way too much. So there's some extracurricular problems that this has caused where a batter takes too much time in the box because he's processing information. The pitcher's trying to do the same thing. They're all trying to hide their signs, which slows the game down, and if they can use technology to speed it up, it's a win.

Q. Another baseball question. Looking to the Hall of Fame vote, what players have your vote this year?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Well, we don't vote as Hall of Famers.

Q. You don't?
JOHN SMOLTZ: No. It's kind of a misconception that everyone thinks.

Q. Let me rephrase the question then. Who do you think should get in this year?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I think the people that are going to get in based on the whole criteria of what goes on, obviously, Derek Jeter is just going to barely make it in, just by the skin of his teeth, but he'll get in. Then you've got Larry Walker and Curt Schilling as front runners of making the Hall of Fame.

It's interesting because I won't be doing the Hall of Fame show this year for the MLB Network, so I literally haven't been paying attention to it, from the social media standards of where the numbers are, but I can tell you this -- and I'm not shy about it -- I know my former teammate's been overlooked for a long time in Fred McGriff, and it's a shame for me that he doesn't get more credit for being one of the bona fide best players in the game.

Q. Just one last thing, what about Clemens and Bonds? Yes or no?
JOHN SMOLTZ: I think they're getting closer based on the trends, but, again, that's up to the criteria of how people have been voting and the changes that -- this is what I can tell you -- right, wrong, or indifferent -- I'm not a social network guy. I have no forms of social media whatsoever, but I know that ever since the reporters have been able to use their voices on social media and you know how they're voting, that pressure has, in my opinion, has caused people to change their minds in ways that they may not if it wasn't public.

So I think you're seeing all those guys' numbers being increased. Whether or not it gets to a point where they get in, I think that's two more years to figure it out.

Q. The cultures of golf and baseball are so different, but you mentioned about human nature, and there was a question in golf with Patrick Reed, about what he was doing in that waste area. For you as someone in both sports, could you just talk about maybe the differences and maybe your being in baseball where certain honest cheating is okay, just if that makes you more appreciative of what golf protects?
JOHN SMOLTZ: Yeah, I think golf goes a little too far in some areas. I think we all agree that it's a little overboard in some places. But from the integrity of the game, it really is up to you. Now, technology in golf has come into play to where now you could basically have a rule infraction based on technology, and I think when you see something live, it's a lot different than slow framing everything. So from the Patrick Reed situation, the slow motion makes it look really egregious. The live is up more for interpretation.

But between the two sports, there's a team aspect of where you're relying on your teammates to get information to you, whether it's giving signs back and forth or on the field, taking advantage of what another player is giving. In other words, the way they set up. You're constantly reading things. Golf is all about whether or not you play by the rules that were set out before you. Baseball has a little bit more of a way to govern itself inside the game 20 years ago. That doesn't happen as much anymore.

In other words, if Jack was at the plate and he was peeking, and he was peeking at the catcher, it's within his right to peek at the catcher to see what signs are, but then it's within my right to give him a bruise on his derriere with a baseball. That's what would happen 25 years ago. That doesn't happen so much anymore.

JACK WAGNER: Just don't hit the face. Not the face, please.

JOHN SMOLTZ: Stay below the shoulders.

JACK WAGNER: Thanks, John.

JOHN SMOLTZ: Absolutely.

THE MODERATOR: Jack, you're the only nonprofessional athlete who has won one of the celebrity events. What are your chances this week?

JACK WAGNER: My chances -- I just turned 60. My chances are as good as my putter will allow them to be. So I don't hit the ball very well. I never have. John can attest to that.

JOHN SMOLTZ: Straight.

JACK WAGNER: I have to get up and down a lot, and if I make a couple putts, I think I have as good a chance as anybody. Thank you for asking, Phil.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Good luck.

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