MLB Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith speaks at a news conference to honor Smith as the 100th PGA Championship Host City Champion on Aug. 8, 2018, at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis.

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Liguori: Ozzie Smith Honored For Bringing PGA Championship To St. Louis, Golf To Inner-City Kids

Ann Liguori
August 09, 2018 - 1:42 pm

ST. LOUIS -- The PGA of America gathered quite the star power in sports Wednesday to celebrate legendary St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith for his work in bringing the 100th PGA Championship to St. Louis and serving as president of Gateway PGA Reach. The foundation helps at-risk youth stay in school and brings PGA professional instruction to veterans.

Football Hall of Famers Marcus Allen and Aeneas Williams; baseball Hall of Famer Whitey Herzog; original St. Louis Blues member Bob Plager; NHL superstar Vladimir Tarasenko; legendary broadcaster Jay Randolph; and track-and-field icon Jackie Joyner-Kercee were among the legends who turned up at Bellerive Country Club to honor the "The Wizard," who was named Host City Champion.

Smith, who played shortstop for the Cardinals from 1982-96 and was with the San Diego Padres for a few years before that, accumulated over 2,400 hits in the majors, was a 15-time All-Star, 13 consecutive Gold Glove recipient and a member of the Cardinals' 1982 world championship team. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Smith has been a passionate golfer for some time now and has been using his influence in the community to help underprivileged youth.

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“Getting involved, I realized that it was a great way for me to introduce kids in the inner-city to something that I was not introduced to when I was a kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles," Smith said. "And I was never exposed to the game of golf, and I didn’t start playing golf until I retired in 1996. And I realized that it was a great way for kids to learn discipline, self-confidence – all of those things that make you a better citizen.

“So it was my goal to allow kids in the inner-city to get this at an early age. Now, we talk about golf and we use golf as the hook, but it’s really about educating kids, and we felt that kids get in trouble because they have so much idle time. Golf is very time-consuming. So we thought that if we could combine golf and get kids interested in it, then we could keep them in the classroom a little longer and hopefully build better citizens.”

Smith said, after retiring from baseball, he would receive lots of invitations to play in golf tournaments and he wanted to be a decent player.

"So, to be decent at the game,” he said, “you have to commit yourself to it, and I committed myself to it in ’96. ... We know that we’ll never perfect it, but we want to get ourselves to a point to where we’re respectable. I continue to work hard at it.”

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Herzog, the manager for the Cardinals from 1980-90, was asked about his policy when it came to letting his players bring golf clubs on road trips.

“Anybody that wanted to take their golf clubs on the road, I never said anything about it," he said. "But you know, when I played ball, they wouldn’t let you swim. They wouldn’t let you play golf. They wouldn’t let you do any of those things.

"Starting pitchers are the best golfers in the world outside of the hockey players. They’re much better athletes at playing golf.”

Herzog added praise for Smith.

“The greatest thing I ever did was get on that airplane on Dec. 26, 1981, fly out to San Diego and try to talk him into coming to St. Louis," Herzog said. "And when he did, that put the icing on the cake because he was the glue that put the club together, and we had a great time.”

When I asked Joyner-Kercee, who grew up in East St. Louis, about her connection to golf and Gateway PGA Reach, she pointed to Smith.

“What Ozzie has been doing, to ask me to come here today, that I am truly honored and blessed," the three-time Olympic gold medalist said.

Joyner-Kercee said it's important that Gateway PGA Reach is teaching young people character development and leadership, which can impact the rest of their lives.

She got a laugh from those gathered when she said she’s not a golfer but she can “outrun the ball” and that “Ozzie is going to teach me a few tricks."

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