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Phelps eyes golf, not gold

Caption
(Charlie Neibergall (STF))
Former Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps hits in the batting cage Thursday during a Baltimore Orioles spring training workout in Sarasota, Fla. Phelps, a native of Baltimore who was in the area filming his Golf Channel show "The Haney Project," took batting practice with the team.

SARASOTA, Fla. – Michael Phelps still hops in 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 other 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 filming of the Golf Channel reality series “The Haney Project.” Phelps and golf coach Hank Haney have spent the past 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 rein 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.”

In that way Phelps considers golf and swimming alike.

“I want to be a good golfer, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Phelps said. “Swimming didn’t happen overnight. I had to put years and years and years into it. Obviously, I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

How hard? Before filming started Haney and Phelps played six rounds to get a gauge for what they were getting into. Phelps’ scores were typically in the three-figure range.

Neither will say where Phelps is at with his game now – that’d kind of ruin the journey of the show – but he acknowledged he had the “round of his life” while playing a Gary Player-designed course Wednesday in Sarasota.

Phelps says there wasn’t much culture shock going from Bowman to Haney as a coach, though there is one slight difference.

Haney makes it a habit to say “good shot” after every shot, regardless of its outcome. Bowman wasn’t quite so forgiving when a workout didn’t go as planned.

“They both share the same passion and love of their sport and they want to be the best,” Phelps said.

So does Phelps, who typically plays from the black tees depending on the course.

“I can hit it far, I just don’t know where it’s going to go sometimes,” he said.

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.

Wearing a jersey with the No. 18 on it to match his gold-medal haul, the 6-foot-4 Phelps looked pretty comfortable with a bat in his hands for the first time since he played Little League as a kid.

Well, most of the time anyway. 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.

Not bad for a retiree. A permanent one at that.

“I’m enjoying myself,” Phelps said. “I get to travel the world. I get to play a different golf course pretty much almost every day. It’s been a pretty cool retirement.”

Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

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