No. 1 Smooth Swinger: Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm
Mark Seliger
Jon Hamm, 39, won a Golden Globe for portraying Don Draper on Mad Men. He co-stars in the film The Town, opening September 10.

How'd you get into golf?
My grandfather served in the Navy during WWII. He was a total "Greatest Generation" guy, and when he got back from the Pacific, a bunch of his buddies got together and basically built a golf course. So I learned to play on this little 9-hole quote-unquote "country club" in the lovely Southern Missouri summertime, complete with 95 degree weather and 100% humidity.

How young were you?
I was pretty young, 10, 11-years old.

What were the most important things you learned from playing with your grandfather? One, I learned to just pick the damn ball up if you're slowing everybody down—which is still a very valuable lesson that not enough people learn. And two, I learned a lot of bad habits, unfortunately.

When was your golfing peak?
When I moved to California after college, I played a ton and I started to get kind of good. I learned how to work the ball a little bit and my short game got a lot better. Unfortunately, by the time I got about as good as I got—which was about an 11-12 handicap—it was right around that time I started working a lot as an actor...

The ultimate tragedy!
I know, employment really takes the edge off your game [laughs]. I haven't been able to play as much as I've wanted to. It's one of those things where I'll just go "Par, par, 8, 7, par, bogey, birdie, 8." It's the wild inconsistency that's so hard for me to get my head around at this point.

I've heard you used to play with fellow St. Louis native Joe Buck, who we just talked to. How is he?
I have played with Joe quite a few times actually, back in St. Louis and down in Cabo. Joe's gotten very, very good in the last couple years. He's worked incredibly hard on his game. He made that quantum leap. When he makes mistakes, they aren't round killers.

Do you enjoy playing with guys who have their game together?
Honestly, I do, I like playing with people that are better than me, because it makes me focus and try not to seem like a total hack. And that's also the reason I like playing on nice golf courses, too, because you feel terrible if you go out and chunk it up.

What's the best course you've ever played?
There are quite a few. I was watching the [U.S.] Open this weekend and I sort of flashed back to my one time at Pebble, when I shot a god-awful 96. But I did birdie 18, which was for me the preverbal "shot that keeps you coming back." That was probably my favorite course.

Was that the hardest course you've played?
I got a chance to play Bethpage Black...that course kicked my ass as well. That was right before the U.S. Open, too—me and my buddy stayed up all night and played, and I had the low round with a 90-something.

It sounds like you've gotten beat up on some amazing courses. Have you ever played well at a great course?
The only time that I ever broke 80, I shot a 76 at Hillcrest, which is a very beautiful, very tight old golf course in L.A. And my game is not an "accurate" game, so tight courses are usually the kiss of death for me. But I had a great caddie who was giving me reads and I was hitting shots.

If accuracy isn't the name of your game, what is?
I can hit it a long way off the tee. And I'm not a timid golfer. I'm not afraid to go for shots. I'm a pretty solid 15 handicap and that's because I'm a good scramble golfer. I can hit good shots...I just tend not to hit them in a row.

When you step up to the tee, where's the most dangerous place a person could stand?
About 280 yards out on the right hand side. That would be terrible, because I'm right-handed and I've got a pretty bad tendency to swing outside-in and get that banana ball going.

Who would fill out your fantasy foursome?
I'd want a mix of good golfers and really funny people. Unfortunately sometimes it's "never the twain shall meet" on those. I'd love to play with Lee Trevino, because he seems like a real fun guy who's got a lot of great stories. Also Ray Romano, because nobody gets down on himself quite like Ray about how bad he's playing so that makes you feel better about your game. Tiger, I would love to play with that guy, I've seen him swing the club and I am utterly fascinated by how that guy hits a golf ball. That would be a pretty fun foursome, right? I could shoot 120 and I wouldn't feel bad. Ray would somehow manage to make me feel better, [doing a dead-on Ray Romano impression] "Hey, what's going on, why is this happening to me?"

So a good time is as important as good game for you on the course?
That's part of why it's such a great game, because it's a game that requires concentration, but it's a game you can still play when you're half in the bag. I've played in foursomes where a lot of money has changed hands, I've played in foursomes where people were so drunk they swung at their tee shot, missed and fell over.

Speaking of which, obviously Don Draper is known for his love of a good drink. Do you partake?
Well I've been known to have a couple beers on the course, but golf and drinking is the same as playing pool or darts and drinking. There's a certain threshold that, once you cross it, the looseness goes away and the sloppiness enters into the fray.

Did you learn that line early in your playing days or more recently?
I actually learned it pretty early on. And there are those guys who don't have that line—the more they drink the better they get. I've played with a couple of those guys too, where it's like 'How are you even standing up?' and then you realize that's their game. They get you so drunk that you can't hit the ball and they're fine.

Have you ever embarrassed yourself on the golf course?
I have not. First of all, I'm pretty hard to embarrass, but secondly I'm relatively in control. I've certainly seen bad behavior on the golf course: I've had people run at me with golf clubs and I've had people drive golf carts into sand traps. But that's not me.

What is the best golf tip you've ever gotten? Slow down and swing nice and easy. And I was watching the [U.S.] Open and Johnny Miller was talking about [Graeme McDowell] and how you watch these guys who have never been in big spots before and you see how fast they get, and their time over the ball just keeps shrinking and shrinking. And the guys who win year after year never change. It's all tempo—which is a great piece of advice in a lot of things, but especially golf.

Jon Hamm, 39, won a Golden Globe for portraying Don Draper on Mad Men. He co-stars in the film The Town, opening September 10.

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