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Michael Phelps has eye on golf, not gold

Fri., Feb. 22, 2013

Michael Phelps, right, and Hank Haney visit Orioles’ Buck Showalter, left, Thursday. (Associated Press)
Michael Phelps, right, and Hank Haney visit Orioles’ Buck Showalter, left, Thursday. (Associated Press)

SARASOTA, Fla. – Michael Phelps still hops into the pool occasionally, but only so the most decorated Olympian of all-time can get a little peace and quiet.

“Whenever I’m in the pool I don’t have to answer questions, I don’t have to say ‘Hi!’ ” Phelps said. “It’s my time. That’s something that I don’t get often. It’s a good little getaway for me.”

And that’s it.

Six months into retirement, the man with more gold medals than any Olympic athlete insists he’s content with the direction of his life. Sure he still finds himself keeping track of what’s going on in the swimming world, but there are zero urges to call coach Bob Bowman and tell him it’s time to dust off his stopwatch.

Asked if there’s any scenario where he envisions himself giving it one more shot, Phelps says “no” three times and shakes his head. He’s getting used to the question. He just hopes people will start getting used to the answer.

“A lot of great athletes have come out of retirement,” he said. “I just don’t see myself doing it.”

Besides, he’s too busy living out the normal life – well, normal life for a guy with 22 Olympic medals stashed away somewhere – to have time to think about the 2016 Games.

Phelps is finishing up filming of the Golf Channel reality series “The Haney Project.” Phelps and golf coach Hank Haney have spent the last few months trying to tune up the 27-year-old’s game.

The eight-part series will debut next week, and Haney – who counts Tiger Woods among his former students – has come away impressed with how his new pupil has been able to reign in his competitive fire.

Of course, Phelps wants to walk out there and shoot 68. He just understands it’s not going to happen anytime soon.

“One of the things he always says is ‘just baby steps, baby steps. Nothing wrong with taking baby steps,”’ Haney said. “He’s big on having a plan. He’s big on just making progress even if it’s just little bitty things.”

“I can hit it far, I just don’t know where it’s going to go sometimes,” Phelps said of his golf game.

Turns out, that’s a pretty good way to describe Phelps’ performance in the batting cage. He and Haney spent 30 minutes taking some swings at Ed Smith Stadium on Thursday, the spring training home of the Baltimore Orioles, Phelps’ hometown team.

At one point Orioles third-base coach Bobby Dickerson worked Phelps inside. Phelps jerked out of the way and couldn’t help but laugh as a handful of players and Baltimore manager Buck Showalter struggled to suppress a giggle.

Still, there were signs of the old competitiveness that made Phelps so unbeatable for so long. During his final turn he dug in and sent a steady stream of well-struck balls into the outfield.

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