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Original Issue


As I enter my first season as manager of the Houston Astros,
I've been talking to my pitchers about the similarities between
golf and pitching because I believe that golf can help a pitcher
improve his performance on the mound.

I have been playing golf since I was 15, although I've never
gotten better than a 10 handicap. When I was growing up in
California, another kid on my block also liked to play golf and,
more important, had a car so he could drive us to the course. I
played often during my 14 years in the major leagues, but I
never suspected that the game was helping my pitching. Later, as
a radio announcer for the Astros, I noticed that many successful
pitchers, like Jim Palmer and Tommy John, also played a lot of
golf during the season. These days the key members of the best
rotation in baseball, the Atlanta Braves' Tom Glavine, Greg
Maddux and John Smoltz, play together almost every week during
the season.

Golf's greatest value for pitchers is that it helps them stay
sharp mentally. I tell my guys to play the game for fun, but to
take their score and their opponents seriously. I want them to
think their way around the course, to try to shave strokes off
their scores and win whatever bets they've made with their
partners. Like a golfer, a pitcher has to concentrate without
pause for as long as several hours. And a pitcher has to keep
his wits about him during bad innings, just as a golfer must
maintain his focus after a double bogey or a bad drive.

Playing golf has some physical benefits for pitchers too. Just
as a golfer needs to groove his swing in order to achieve
distance and control, a pitcher must learn to repeat the same
motion to throw with pinpoint accuracy. I also think that
learning to change gears in golf--to shift from the power used
on the tee to the touch needed around the green--is analogous to
adjustments a pitcher makes between fastballs and off-speed

Of course, there's one other reason why golf is terrific for
pitchers: Most of them don't mind devoting an extra three or
four hours to this kind of practice.

Dierker had a 139-123 career mark with the Astros and Cardinals.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Golf has always been a hit with Dierker. [Larry Dierker playing golf in baseball uniform]