Thirty years after his U.S. Open victory at Winged Foot, Fuzzy Zoeller reflects on what it takes to win a major

Fuzzy Zoeller
Bettmann/CORBIS
Fuzzy Zoeller celebrates his 68-foot birdie putt on the 2nd hole during the 1984 U.S. Open playoff.

It's been 30 years since your U.S. Open win at Winged Foot. What's the key to playing well on the toughest course setup of the year?

Your patience level has to be very high, because the ball is going to take some stupid bounces. At Winged Foot, the great thing for me was that I stayed away from the big numbers. The big numbers in an Open are the ones that kill you. You're not going to make a lot of birdies, but you can rebound from bogeys, and par is the number.

Greg Norman made a great save for par on the 18th hole of the final round, but you initially thought it was abirdie. You famously waved your white towel in mock surrender. Did you actually feel beaten?

[Norman] made a putt that, even if he stood there for two or three days in a row and tried, he probably couldn't make again. It was a big swinger, left to right, and it was fast. But great players do great things. I felt beaten because you really couldn't get close to that pin unless it was a freak shot. They had it set around a little ridge, and the best you could do was get it to 20, 25 feet, and at the speed of those greens, you don't make many putts like that. So I gave myself an opportunity from about 25 feet, but my putt had eight or nine feet of break in it. You don't make many of those.

Your par on No. 18 got you into an 18-hole playoff with Norman. You pulled a phone out of your bag and offered him a "last call" on the first tee. Was that an attempt at gamesmanship?

You have to understand, Greg and I were friends. You have two friends battling for a major championship, you might as well have a little fun with it. And I was playing very well. But I had a contract with AT&T, so that's the reason I carried the phone in my bag. It wasn't connected to anything. It looked like it, because I had a wire connected in the golf bag. But I said to Greg, "Would you like to make a last call, before we go out here and do this?"

It's hard to imagine today's players doing something like that.

Oh, they wouldn't do it. It's a little different today. Back then, we had more of a family-type atmosphere out here. Now it's more individual.

Norman was a contemporary of yours. Why didn't the win more than two majors, in your view?

He had plenty of opportunities, I mean, lots of opportunities. But that's golf. It wasn't because he wasn't trying. Trust me, he was trying with every shot, every swing. But there was always that one high push right. Every player sees a shot he wants to hit, and sometimes you pull it off. Greg pulled off a lot of shots. But when he got in the heat of the majors, there was always that dreaded one shot that people remember, the high righter. Still, a great guy and a great golfer. I had a lot of fun with him.

You won the U.S. Open five years after your first major win, the Masters, in 1979. Was it harder to win the first or the second?

Just getting yourself in the position to have the opportunity [to win one], you find out what kind of man you really are. Are you man enough, gutsy enough to hit these shots that you really have to hit? I mean, you have to do it in the majors. It was a good feeling, knowing I wasn't scared, that I wasn't going to back down.

You're famous for being loose and laughing. But what does major pressure feel like to you?

I've been blessed with a talent for not getting too fired up or too upset. My idea of pressure is: Are you afraid to screw up? And I've never been afraid of screwing up. Some guys are afraid. And those are the guys who always finish third, fourth, fifth.

How do you react to a bad shot?

I react inside. When the heat really gets bad, I whistle to let some steam off. Most people say you should breathe in and out rapidly, but hell, your heart's pounding hard enough! Whistling takes care of a lot of that for me.

You have another successful venture, Fuzzy Vodka. How do you drink it?

Usually with tonic water, because I have to drink quite a bit in the evenings -- you know, entertaining and all that. But my favorite is a slightly dirty martini. Awfully good. But not too many of them!

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