|Negreanu wouldn't mind seeing TV cover the PGA Tour with more personality, like with poker. (Courtesy High Stakes Entertainment)|
Professional poker player Daniel Negreanu has always wanted to be a real athlete. Now, with the launch of the High Stakes Golf Tour on ESPN, he and other top gamblers can show off their chops in high stakes competition on a Las Vegas golf course.
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - It's no secret professional poker player Daniel Negreanu wants to be a "real" athlete.
He's commonly seen on TV at poker tables wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey - and he launched his own gambling Web site: FullContactPoker.com. But nobody is going to mistake the scrawny Negreanu for a bruising, NHL right wing.
And that - according to him and plenty other poker players, is why poker has garnered status on ESPN and other networks as a kind of "quasi sport" that scores high TV ratings and has college-aged kids crowding poker tables in Las Vegas and online.
"Normal-looking" people winning absurd amounts of cash at the tables is now being moved to the golf course at the new High Stakes Golf Tour, and the inaugural event will be televised this October on ESPN.
Negreanu's chipper, likeable personality at the table makes him a hot commodity for televised tables all over the world. To date, he has won three World Series of Poker titles and two World Poker Tour events, with live event earnings totaling over $11 million.
But that doesn't mean top poker players like Negreanu can't enjoy the athlete's world once in awhile. This is why nearly 20 of poker's biggest stars were on hand for the inaugural High Stakes Golf Tour event at Bali Hai Golf Club, just off the Las Vegas Strip - an idea spawned from poker legends Doyle Brunson and Dewey Tomko.
Though a double-digit handicapper, Negreanu, like most of the gamblers betting high stakes, emit a confidence level of a streaking tour pro. He's easily the most animated of all the gamblers during competition. He also gets to tee off from the forward tees - a way of leveling the playing field among these high stakes golfers.
BadGolfer.com caught up to Negreanu during taping of the High Stakes Golf Tour, set to air on ESPN Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.
BadGolfer.com: Most of poker's top names didn't hesitate to play in this event. Why is that?
Daniel Negreanu: Frankly, most poker players who became professional secretly wanted to be pro athletes and be on ESPN playing basketball or hockey or something like that. This is an opportunity for us to flip the script. A lot of athletes and actors and actresses play our game so this is our chance. I couldn't resist. I love golf. I'm addicted.
BadGolfer.com: Why put $1 million of your own cash on the line when you're not exactly a scratch golfer?
Negreanu: Because it's way more fun that way (laughs). Poker is easy. It's like going to the office. I don't have the same adrenaline rush as with golf. When you're putting for the money, it's an added, intense pressure. I love that. I'm much better under pressure than I am when I'm not. That's true in poker and it's true in golf.
BadGolfer.com: Where do the nerves show up for you, in driving or putting?
Negreanu: I didn't have any trouble today, but scramble is not the best format for me. I prefer playing my own ball. And my teammates didn't play well at all today (laughs).
BadGolfer.com: On the poker table, it's just you, so is it tough relying on teammates when there are high stakes?
Negreanu: You have to have a good relationship the people you're playing with, or you can get annoyed or angry with them. But we're all buddies, and I wouldn't want to play with guys who aren't my friends. Then you get looks like, "what's this guy doing!?"
BadGolfer.com: Who has the better lifestyle, PGA Tour pros or poker pros?
Negreanu: They're so similar. Poker players have more freedom. To be good at golf you have to practice every day - all the time. Poker players don't have to.
BadGolfer.com: Who has more nerves?
Negreanu: The golfer. There are so many things that can creep into your mind on the golf course that can affect you. In poker, as long as you take your time, you'll make the right decisions.
BadGolfer.com: Who has more personality?
Negreanu: The way poker is televised, definitely poker players. It's the closest thing to a reality TV show. You see their personalities. In golf, you don't see their personalities. They're not miked on the course. You only hear the polished interview after the round, which is always like, 'well, I putted really well, if I would have hit more fairways ...' It's the same thing. With poker, everyone just says what's on their mind.
BadGolfer.com: Who parties more?
Negreanu: Poker players party more. They're not in as good of shape, don't have to be up early.
BadGolfer.com: What do you think about gambling becoming as mainstream and as accepted on TV as it has?
Negreanu: As long as it's responsible, and they're not gambling over their head I'm all for it. As long as there is no shadiness, no hustle, it's all out in the open, and everyone knows how good everyone at the table is, I'm fine. I'm not a fan of the lie, cheat, hustle.
BadGolfer.com: Any hustling going on out there today with Doyle Brunson and Dewey Tomko?
A: There's always hustling (laughs). When it's in your blood, it's in your blood. If you've been like that for 40 years you're not going to change.
The High Stakes Golf Tour will debut on ESPN on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 3 p.m. EST, with the second day, 10-team best ball the following Saturday, Oct. 28 again at 3 p.m. Re-air dates will be announced later.
October 12, 2007
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours.
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