One of the most popular events during the golf season, the American Century Championships at Lake Tahoe is a celebrity-filled event with actors, recording artists, sportscasters and athletes (active and retired) who have a passion for golf. Considering that over 80 celebrities were registered for the 2014 edition of the event, its popularity continues to grow. Of note, the event utilizes the Stableford Scoring System (a system of points used for a Birdie, Eagle, Ace, Bogey).
Contested at Edgewood Tahoe South from July 15-20, one of the unique aspects was the fact that three women of sport participated. Lisa Cornwell, a popular broadcaster with the Golf Channel, LPGA living legend Annika Sorenstam and Hilary Knight, a two-time silver medalist in women’s hockey at the Winter Games were competing against a male-dominated field. As a side note, all three were participating in this event for the first time.
While Sorenstam has played against men before, there is no question that her superior golf skills made her a contender to win the tournament. The local sports book reported that most monies had been placed on Sorenstam to win the event. As a side note, Sorenstam came out of retirement in order to compete in this event for the first time. Taking into account that Sorenstam has a residence at Squaw Valley’s Incline Village, she holds a familiarity for the Lake Tahoe-area courses.
A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, she is the proud owner of 89 event championships, including 10 majors on the LPGA tour. Although this was her first time competing, she has attended as a fan for several years. This year, iconic race car driver Danica Patrick was in attendance as a fan, gracious with fans and posing for photos.
Lisa Cornwell would finish the tournament tied for 53rd with legendary National Hockey League goaltender Martin Brodeur. Under the Stableford System, Cornwell shot a 5 on Friday and Saturday. On the final day of competition, she would finish with a -3 as inclement weather caused a delay. A former Arkansas Female Athlete of the Year, she also played collegiate golf at Southern Methodist University and the University of Arkansas.
Throughout her career, she is not a stranger to golfing with some notable individuals. At the tender age of 8 years old, she met Lou Holtz, who gave her a high-five after making her first birdie. On the junior golf circuit, she partnered with Tiger Woods, and in her adult life, enjoyed playing with her cousin, former United States President Bill Clinton.
Hilary Knight, one of the most popular (and talented) women’s hockey players in the world has quickly emerged as the face of USA Hockey. She was joined by six others that have competed in ice hockey at the Winter Games. Of note, three had experience with USA Hockey, including Mike Eruzione, a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Eruzione was joined by Jeremy Roenick, a silver medalist at the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games and T.J. Oshie, who competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Gold medalists Martin Brodeur and Joe Sakic were part of Hockey Canada when they graced the ice.
Despite the hockey connection, there were several other unique sporting connections for Knight. Other US Olympians at the event included Mardy Fish, a silver medalist in tennis, Dan Jansen, who earned gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games and Bode Miller, one of the most accomplished skiers in US history. Taking into account that Knight played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin, the other connection involved three past and current members of the Green Bay Packers football club; Aaron Rodgers, Jim McMahon and Sterling Sharpe.
Charles Barkley, a member of the 1992 United States Basketball Dream Team (competing in his 19th year) was the only player who finished ahead of Knight on the first day. Shooting a 34-over total of 106, he was two strokes better than Knight, who was a golf novice. On the day of competition on Saturday July 20, Knight would show great patience on the course, as she struggled on the 15th hole. Her drive went to the right from the tee and landed far into the woods. Eventually finding the bunker to the left of the green, multiple putts resulted in a difficult hole.
Although she acknowledged that many aspects of her game need improvement, she was all smiles throughout the weekend, making herself accessible to fans, and gaining some new ones. Golfing with famous sitcom dad Alan Thicke, he would state on social media that he just became a big fan of Knight. Thicke would finish 82nd in the standings, while Knight would manage to finish 85th, five strokes better than Barkley. Throughout the three days, Knight showed improvement. She would log -36 points (Friday), -30 points (Saturday) and -27 points (Sunday).
Sorenstam was definitely the most talked about player of the event. With the event covered on NBC Sports, the announce team of Bob Papa and Roger Maltbie acknowledged she was a competitor throughout the event. On the final day, she was partnered with former Super Bowl champion Trent Dilfer and long-time celebrity golfer, Jack Wagner. While she never had control of the lead, she did finish tied for second with Roenick, both registering a total score of 65.
On the final day, Sorenstam shot a 23, placing herself within reach of the title. Throughout the back nine, former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien would dominate, shooting an astounding 33 on the day, beating Sorenstam and Roenick by 11 points. The two would each earn $57,500 for their second place tie. Already invited to return next year, Sorenstam is indecisive.