Rick Rhoden always was a good hitter. Of baseballs, that is. A 16-year major-league veteran, he won 151 games in his career, and is one...

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SNOQUALMIE — Rick Rhoden always was a good hitter.


Of baseballs, that is.


A 16-year major-league veteran, he won 151 games in his career, and is one of the best-hitting pitchers of all time. He hit .238 in his career, but hit .375 in 1980 (40 at-bats) and .333 in 1984 (84 at-bats).


In 1983, Rhoden became the first pitcher to start a game as a designated hitter.


These days, he spends his time hitting golf balls, and is the king of the Celebrity Players Tour, winning 28 times. And that doesn’t count the 21 celebrity events he won before the Celebrity Players Tour was formed. He has won the king of celebrity events, the American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe, six times.


Rhoden, who retired from baseball after the 1989 season, is playing this week in the Boeing Greater Seattle Classic on a sponsor’s exemption.


“I sent a letter requesting a sponsor’s exemption and I got one,” Rhoden said. “It’s the first one I have received this year.”


Rhoden, 52, has tried qualifying for the Champions Tour three times but has failed. He said he plans to try again.


Rhoden is confident he can compete on the Champions Tour. In his first regular Tour event in 2003, the Allianz Championship, he finished fifth. It could have been better.


“I was leading through 12 holes, but then I three-putted three times,” he said.


Will all of Rhoden’s victories in celebrity events help him if he is contending this week?


“I would like to find out,” he said. “With these guys, if you have a lead, they can catch up. In celebrity events, they usually don’t catch up unless I screw up.”


His goal this week is to win.


“You have to aim high,” he said. “When you pitch, your goal is to throw a shutout, but if you give up a run, your goal then is to give up one run. Your goals are always changing, but if I play well and shoot in the 60s, I will be fine no matter who I am playing against.”


Amateur hours


It is standard fare on the Champions Tour: a two-day pro-am in which players are required to play one day with four local amateurs.


John Jacobs, who has won five times on the Tour, including the 2003 Senior PGA Championship, said the experience is useful.


“I know a lot of the guys don’t like doing it, but I find I learn a lot,” he said. “I get to see four more putts and what they do from different angles. … Plus, you get to see the places you don’t want to be.”


Don Pooley, on the other hand, said he enjoys the pro-ams and meeting the amateurs, but the 2002 U.S. Senior Open winner said, “Let’s put it this way: They aren’t giving me any lessons out there.”


Dave Stockton said he thinks the pro-am is the most important event each week.


“I want to go out there and help the amateurs with their game,” said Stockton, who has won a combined 24 times on the PGA and Champions tours, including the 1970 and 1976 PGA Championships. “That is one of the reasons I have a real good caddie. If I have a shot I really need to pay attention to, my caddie can work with the amateurs.”


Added two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw: “The goal is to help the amateurs and make sure they have a good time, but you are also learning. Each time you play the course you learn new things about it.”


Notes


• Crenshaw, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1984 and 1995 Masters. He has not duplicated that success on the Champions Tour. His best finish since joining the 50-and-older circuit in 2002 is a tie for fourth in 2003. His best finish this year is a tie for 14th.


• One player who is very happy the Champions Tour has an event here is lifelong Corvallis, Ore., resident Bob Gilder. “It’s nice being able to drive to the tournament,” he said. “It sure beats having to fly.”


• The tour media coordinator this week is Dave Senko, who was sports information director at the University of Washington from 1989 to 1992.


• Today is the last day fans can bring cameras onto the course. They are banned during the tournament.


Seattle Times reporter Craig Smith contributed to this report.