"A par 9, movie star," Beer Gut tells him.
"OK," he says, grinding over the putt. "Then this is for eagle." He misses. Walking off the green, he looks up and he notices an unmistakable white-and-orange storefront sign in the distant hills, a sight you'd only see on a public course. "Hey, anybody want anything from Home Depot? A circular saw? Power drill? It's on Golf Magazine."
The group erupts in laughter. Once again, Ferrell is playing to the guys who years earlier, in the Delta house, gave him the confidence to perform. Had he not joined, Ferrell may not have grown the stones to try stand-up, which led to the Groundlings improvisation troupe in Los Angeles, which led to New York and Saturday Night Live, in 1995. (Entertainment Weekly called the new cast member "intolerably annoying.")
"It all started with me doing stunts for these guys, just to crack them up," he says. "It was my stage, the first phase of my career." There's the time he suggested the frat "go gay" to save on pricey coed mixers. And the time he donned a wide-open robe, stumbled into the first row at the homecoming game while swigging from a tequila bottle (actually apple juice) and shouted "GO TROJANS! RUUUUUN! RUUUUUN!"
"It was a safe area where he could work on characters and stunts," says Emil Wohl, 39, the fraternity's then-president. "There were a lot of Delts in an English Lit class. The professor was lecturing on Leaves of Grass one day when we hear a knock at the door. Will bursts in wearing a janitor's uniform, welding goggles, a hard hat, big rubber gloves, a cigarette dangling from his lip and holding a bucket. He says, 'Someone puking in here? I got a call someone puked!' Then he walks seat to seat, holding this bucket. But the professor liked it! To me, that sums up his appeal. He's funny and subversive, but he's never mean-spirited. There's a sweetness underneath."
Ferrell showed impeccable timing even when he wasn't going for a laugh, Pollard recalls. "I was going through chemo," he says. "I was bald, but nobody in the house knew how to deal or how to talk about it. It was tense. One Monday night we wore coats and ties. Will walks up to me with one of those rainbow-colored wigs you'd see at sporting events, and he just plops this crazy thing on my head. And everybody laughed. It broke the tension. He's still that same guy."
"I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal." Ron Burgundy, Anchorman
While he's a big deal, Ferrell, unlike his scotch-swilling alter ego, doesn't feel like one. He won't cop to any movie-star behavior. C'mon... You don't make your assistant separate your M&Ms by color? No drug-fueled bacchanalias? "Well, my socks are made of hemp. I can light them on fire, if you like." He laughs. "I feel really lucky to be where I am." Then he actually seems to mean it when he says, "I stop and wonder, 'What am I gonna do when this ends? What's my next job gonna be?' It's like I'm at a Hollywood party and everyone is dressed up in tuxedoes, but instead of a tuxedo, I'm wearing a tuxedo T-shirt and was invited by accident. One day it will end. Until then I'm enjoying every minute."
By the time the eightsome reaches the course's water-lined 18th, no one's paying much attention to the skins tally; they're swapping stories, taking pictures, draining their last beers. Turns out, Ferrell has only one skin, despite several dubious "drops" in the rough that are actually tosses closer to the hole. ("Who we kiddin', right? It's all for charity.") Pollard is the big winner, having sunk a putt on the 16th for $2,200 in the name of Cancer for College. "Not bad," Ferrell says. "Think how good you'd be if you had your feet!"