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Mikita enjoys the ride at Medinah exhibition

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Stan Mikita tees off at the Ryder Cup Celebrity Shootout (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images North America).

Stan Mikita, the Blackhawks’ Hall of Famer, participated in the first-ever celebrity shootout before the Ryder Cup last week at Medinah Country Club, where he has been a member since 1974. He told he was nervous, but so was Michael Phelps.

Usually, the Ryder Cup can stand alone. But that exhibition on Tuesday before the start of the matches between the United States and Europe was a big hit.

I thought it went well, and I appreciate being asked. I played in a scramble with Lee Trevino. The other twosome in our group was Corey Pavin and Robbie Gould of the Bears. He filled in for Ernie Banks, who said he doesn’t play much anymore. But you saw him, walking down the first fairway with us, carrying a baseball bat.

That’s pretty fast company. Trevino is also a Hall of Famer.

I’ve known him a long time, and he’s still the same. Chirping and telling stories between swings. I’ve heard a few of them 20 times, but it was great to be with him. He can still hit the ball, and so can Corey, a good guy. And Robbie Gould, he smashes it.

In other groups, there was Bill Murray, George Lopez, Justin Timberlake and Michael Phelps, along with former Ryder Cup captains.

Yes, it was quite a gathering. And to have celebrities and athletes from other sports, that’s healthy for golf. Michael Phelps, who is all arms, was like a kid. Here’s a guy who’s won 22 Olympic swimming medals and he said he was more nervous on the first tee than he’s ever been standing on the edge of a pool. For him to say that a 10-hole exhibition is one of the highlights of his life, that tells you something about how people get hooked on golf.

How did you get hooked?

I was 17 or so, playing junior hockey in St. Catharines, Ontario, dreaming about making the National Hockey League and the Blackhawks. Some of the players on our team picked me up on a Saturday morning and said, “We’re going golfing.” I didn’t know what golf was. Heck, when I went to Canada from Czechoslovakia, I barely knew what hockey was. Anyway, when I see them putting a ball on a tee, I thought that was cheating. That’s how smart I was. My first swing, I hit it maybe 20 yards. Next one, I got it up in the air and it went about 200. That was it. Now, a hundred years later, I’m still playing and still love it.

When you retired from the Blackhawks, you entered the golf business, correct?

I did. I worked at Kemper Lakes, up north, under Bob Spence, a terrific guy. I followed him around like a puppy. I took the written tests and all that, to become pro. Not a playing pro, but teaching and so forth. I did that for six years, and it was very rewarding. At that time, when you retired from hockey, you needed another job. You even might have worked during the summers. Guys now don’t need the money.

Why are hockey players such good golfers?

Well, you do have summers to relax, for the most part. Also, it’s very much the same motion as, say, taking a slap shot. You transfer your weight to the front foot as you hit the ball, or the puck, from behind, with basically the same follow-through.

Were there many guys playing golf when you played with the Blackhawks?

A few. Jimmy Pappin was one. He would whisper into the ear of our great coach, Billy Reay, and when it came time for Christmas, our gift from management might be a set of clubs. That was nice.

At one time, you were a scratch handicap.

I was able to play pretty well, yes. My best score on Medinah No. 3, where they held the Ryder Cup, is 71, which was par at the time. I don’t play like that anymore. I went to Mario Lemieux’s tournament a few years ago and Grant Fuhr, the former goalie with Edmonton, might have outdriven me by 150 yards.

You got a lot of love at Medinah last week.

“That was nice. Like I’ve said before, it’s good to be remembered. I just wanted to get some wood on the ball off the first tee. Or metal. Just hit it straight. I managed to hit it and go find it. Lee and I did OK. We had a lot of laughs, I can tell you that.

Your family has also embraced golf, right?

My wife, Jill, plays. Our daughter Jane has won the women’s championship at Medinah six times, I think. And one she won when she was seven or eight months pregnant. Her three children were out there to watch the old man play last week. They’re into it now, too.

What were your impressions of the Ryder Cup?

It was fabulous. One of the greatest sporting events I have ever witnessed, right up there with the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. What the Europeans did was amazing. They had a rookie, Nicolas Colsaerts, who had eight birdies and an eagle in one round. And all the putts they made Sunday. That’s the thing about golf. There’s no defense for that. And you can’t take out your frustrations like you can in hockey, by skating fast or putting a good hit on somebody. You just hit the ball, find it, hit it again, and try not to go crazy.

You had a big-league caddie, didn’t you?

Yeah, Scott Gneiser, Jane’s husband. He’s a regular at the United Center during the winter. A big Blackhawks fan. His real job is as a caddie for David Toms, a veteran on the PGA Tour and a real good player. What those guys do, the real golfers like we saw at the Ryder Cup, it’s unbelievable.

Did Scott have any tips for you?

Yeah, he asked me if I would think about going bowling more often.

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