Mark Mulder is feeling some pressure.
The three-time defending champion at the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament hears the "chirping" on the driving range at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. He has received taunting texts from his peers in the lead up to the 29th annual event that officially starts Friday and runs through Sunday. He gets involved in friendly wagers and side bets during the tournament, because, "hey gambling is legal there," he said.
Two-time celebrity golf champion and former NFL Super Bowl MVP quarterback Mark Rypien has seen the friendly ribbing first-hand.
"Mulder was on the range one day and Larry the Cable Guy comes up and goes, 'I'm coming after you today, Mulder,'" Rypien said during a media conference call. The comedian's comment was all the more humorous with his odds in the stratosphere.
MLB Hall of Famer John Smoltz is another favorite to win the event. But he's not one to boast that he is going to be the one to finally take Mulder's crown. Smoltz downplays his game in similar to how former legendary Notre Dame head football coach Lou Holtz downplayed his team against the competition every week before winning the national championship.
Smoltz is coming off a US Senior Open appearance where he had a rough first day and ended up missing the cut.
"Smoltzy's always talking," Mulder said. "I've been texting with Smoltz a few times: 'How is your game? Are you getting ready?' Smoltz is constantly the guy, 'Ahh, it's terrible.' He's always just downplaying it, like, 'I haven't been playing.' He loves using the TV, 'I'm doing too much TV,' as an excuse. And meanwhile, I know he's out there doing MLB Network and he's golfing every single morning. So he can only use it for so long. But either way, I love the guy. And we have such a good friendship. I love competing against him."
But Mulder loves all the teasing and the atmosphere at the ACC. He says he thrives on it. That's all part of the clubhouse culture the former Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher has missed since giving up the game in 2015.
Where he's feeling the most pressure is from his family, namely his three kids, two sons and a daughter.
"My kids think going to Tahoe for the American Century Championship is the place where 'we get to run out on the green at the end,'" Mulder said. "We were on a chipping green at a course a couple of weeks ago. I chipped one in and my oldest son said, 'Why don't you ever do that in Tahoe, dad?' Trust me. They know about it. They talk about it. They're excited about it."
Mulder, 40, is the overwhelming favorite, with 5-to-2 odds to win an unprecedented fourth straight title, according to Dave Cudney from the Harrah's and Harvey's Race and Sports Book. He hasn't finished out of the top 10 in five years.
Mulder compares the celebrity tournament to the Super Bowl. And he appreciates being able to compete at a high level after a career of battling against elite athletes.
"It's a thrill and no matter who you're paired with, I just love it," Mulder said. "I love the competition. I love watching people go about their business, trying to put the ball in the hole, it's a lot of fun."
And if Mulder is in contention on Sunday, don't bet against him. Over the last three years he has played his best round on the final day.
"I love that feeling of being under the gun," Mulder said. "I love that feeling of knowing you have to find a way to get the ball in the hole. I love that grind. And the final day there's just that little bit of extra focus. I like to compare it to pitching in the playoffs, I always wished I could have taken that focus into every regular season start, because I felt like I would have been that much better. And there's something about that last day where you've just got to take it up another notch and you gotta be a little bit more locked in and be ready."
While Mulder is on the South Shore, he will be all about the golf, especially on the weekend. But he and his family, including his parents, have changed things up this year. He plans to stay in Tahoe for a few days after the tournament so he doesn't feel rushed to enjoy time on the lake with his family and make it back for the pro-am and other tournament demands.
"There are a lot of functions at night we go to, whether it's the concerts, whatever it might be," Mulder said. "So we attend all the events. And it makes for a great time."