In February, Mark Mulder retired.
His situation could be considered a forced retirement, though it did afford the Scottsdale, Ariz., resident more time to play golf. After all, isn’t that what a lot of retirees yearn for?
If I play four out of five days, I get golfed out. I have to put the clubs away, he said.
Mulder is a scratch player, so certainly he must spend hours practicing, honing the craft, right?
No, just the 30 or 40 balls I hit before a round, he said. I have never had a lesson in my life, so if I went to practice, I don’t know what I would be looking for to fix.
So let’s get this straight: Mulder gets tired of golf, plays to a near-pro handicap and almost never practices.
That combination does not appear conducive for winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship, which begins Sept. 25 at Atlantic Golf Club near the very tip of Long Island, N.Y. Rest assured, though, Mulder has every intention of winning.
Once I tee it up on that first hole, my main focus for that week will be to win, Mulder said. It’s the competitor in me.
Mulder, 33, played major-league baseball from 2000-2008, splitting his career between the Oakland A’s and the St. Louis Cardinals. For the Athletics, Mulder, a left-hander, recorded 72 of his 103 career victories, led the American League in wins (21 in 2001) and was a two-time All-Star selection (2003-04). In St. Louis, Mulder earned a World Series ring in 2006.
A rotator-cuff injury suffered in 2005 precipitated Mulder’s slow exit from the game. After starting 182 games in his first seven years, Mulder made just 23 more starts. How would the competitive void be filled, Mulder began to wonder.
When I was playing baseball, golf was my outlet, he said. We’d go on road trips and, depending on how the [pitching] rotation was set, I might get to play once or twice. For four or five hours golf allowed me to get away from everything.
As a kid, Mulder tagged along with his father or joined his buddies down at the local municipal course, River Oaks Golf Club (Calumet City, Ill.), which was all of 5,800 yards from the tips.
We bought a $20 resident course card, and I remember my buddies and I would be dropped off in the morning, he said. I went with $5 — $3 to play, $1.50 for something to eat at the turn and then two quarters to call home to have someone pick us up.
Mulder played throughout high school, even competing in some junior tournaments, but nothing rivaled the passion he had for baseball. His dad taught him the quirky intricacies of throwing a Wiffle ball, and he and his friends would go yard over a neighbor’s house with a tennis ball.
Baseball carried him on to Michigan State University, from where Oakland made him the second overall pick of the 1998 major league draft.
On April 18, 2000, Mulder made his major-league debut at age 22. In an 8-5 win over the Cleveland Indians, his line read 6 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 6 K. He earned his first career victory.
During the season, the golf clubs would come out occasionally, on road trips, on off days, maybe a round or two during home stands. Never, though, the day before or the day of a start.
Once the season was over in October, living in Scottsdale, I’d play right through the winter, Mulder said. My game would really improve. Spring training would start and we would maybe play after our morning practice. Then the season began and the cycle would start over again.
On July 9, 2008, Mulder made the last start of his career, against the Philadelphia Phillies in the second game of a six-game road trip. Mulder faced just three batters — striking out one, walking two — before leaving the game with yet another shoulder injury. He was immediately sent back to St. Louis for medical examinations.
That was a bummer, said Mulder, at this point referring more to golf than the demise of his pitching career. Tee times had been scheduled at Pine Valley Golf Club and Merion Golf Club while in Philly and at Oakmont Country Club while in Pittsburgh.
Mulder contemplated another comeback attempt earlier this year, but became frustrated with the results and by February knew it was time to move on. I haven’t picked up a baseball since, he said.
Filling his days would be easy, as he helps wife Lindsey raise their son Xander, 3, and daughter Tatym, 1. There was that void, though.
I literally sat down in front of a computer and started Googling ‘Arizona amateur tournaments’ to see what was in the area, Mulder said. The Golf Channel Amateur Tour proved to be the ideal outlet. He won seven of the 11 tournaments he entered.
In an abstract way, Mulder was able to keep in touch with baseball through golf.
I think pitching and golf are as close in similarity as there is in all of sport, he said. You’re starting with a stationary ball and nothing can happen until I put the ball in play. When I was pitching I controlled the tempo. I determined what pitch was going to be thrown. I was a groundball pitcher, so I liked to pitch fast and get the infielders back into the dugout so they could score some runs.
Golf is the same way. You control the tempo, the pace of play and the type of shot that’s going to be played. In golf and baseball, you don’t want to over-think the game, just try and go with your gut instinct because that’s generally your best. And it’s one shot, one pitch at a time. Stay in the moment.
Mulder was unsuccessful, however, in attempts to qualify for the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. As a result, his expectations were not high when he and a friend flew to Park City, Utah, to play in the 18-hole U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifier at Promontory Club’s Dye Course. Mulder shot 72 to finish second and secure a spot in the national championship.
I was pumped because it really was something I did not expect to do, he said. It was a good trip. It was really windy — and I like to play in the wind — and I had one really good day. And I think that was what made qualifying for the Mid-Am so appealing; you just need to have that one really good day. [Qualifying for the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur consists of 36 holes.]
I really don’t know what to expect, said Mulder, who is a right-handed golfer. I just know there are going to be a lot of really good golfers, and I will have an appreciation for what they’re doing. I bet if you go back, a lot of these guys were stud high school and college golfers. And, for whatever reason, they didn’t turn professional. Their life plans were different.
Mulder said that – while he is going to enjoy himself – he has every intention of lifting the Robert T. Jones Memorial Mid-Amateur Trophy on Sept. 30. If he were to do so, Mulder would likely receive an invitation to the Masters in April — a thought that had not crossed his mind.
I would probably throw up all over myself, joked Mulder, who played Augusta National during his baseball days. I’m not going to start thinking that far.
Regardless of the outcome on Long Island, Mulder says he has no intention of pursuing a professional golf career. He put his time and effort into baseball.
I think I have a different appreciation for just how good the guys on the PGA Tour are because I understand the preparation and time it takes to become the best in your field. I laugh when people critique professional players, saying they can’t believe a player hit this or that shot.
They have no idea what it takes to pull off a shot under the pressure and scrutiny that players are in, and in front of all of those people — just no idea. They’re gifted, no doubt, but they also have put in hours and hours of practice.
I’ve gone out to my club and seen a tour pro on the putting green, probably since before I got there. But he was there when I teed off and when I made the turn. It’s that kind of dedication it takes. I don’t have the time for that.
Even if he is retired.
Stuart Hall is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA championship Web sites.