LUTZ, Fla. (AP) — Jim Thorpe paid for not paying.
The 62-year-old golfer recently completed a one-year prison term for failure to pay $1.6 million in taxes between 2002 and 2004 and spent 10 months in an Alabama prison camp before transferring to a halfway house and home detention.
Thorpe was released Jan. 17 and is back on the Champions Tour for the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, which opened Friday at TPC Tampa Bay. It’s his first tournament since 2009.
“I did what I had to do there, and, no, you don’t want to be there,” Thorpe said. “I had to make it work, and you’d be surprised what you can do when you have to do something. I don’t want to see any of you guys go there, but I had to accept it.
“I apologize to everyone for the mistakes that I made, and I blame no one else but myself. I did the things I had do to and just want to move forward.”
Thorpe, who had three PGA Tour wins in the 1980s, joined the Champions Tour in 1998 and is making his 12th appearance at Outback, where his best finish was a tie for fourth in 2003. Thorpe was last on tour two years ago, appearing in 22 events and posting three top-10 finishes, including eighth at the Outback.
During his time in prison, Thorpe said he rarely worried about his golf game.
“With the situation I was in, I didn’t think about golf that much,” he said. “I watched a lot of golf while I was up there and I missed the guys, the competition more than anything else. I think that, in my case, being away 10 months, was good for me, because it let me look at the golf game and then get my life right.”
Thorpe says he’s returned, not only in shape, but also smarter. He created what he calls Team Thorpe – financial advisers to make sure what happened in the past doesn’t happen again.
The week leading up to the 54-hole Outback tournament was gratifying for Thorpe, who said he received lots of hugs from people glad to see him back on the tour.
He also mentioned letters from certain players, such as two-time Outback champ Tom Watson, who withdrew from the field Wednesday due to a death in the family, helped him get through the past year.
“Tom sent me some letters (in prison), which were unexpected, and he gave me some putting tips, and when I saw him (Wednesday), I said, ‘I could’ve used those tips 30 years ago,'” Thorpe said with a laugh. “Certain people all realize we all make mistakes and those don’t hold it against you. Life is a game of mistakes, but I feel it’s behind me, that I did what I had to do, that I paid for my mistakes and my life is on the right track with the right people in my corner.”
Thorpe said he slowly got back into golf after his release, only chipping and putting the first week, then after a week hit longs shots and “it started to feel like I hadn’t missed a beat.”