The 1979 Masters champ, 64, opens up about how he knew golf suited him, his most cherished win and his actor doppelgänger.
What moment in your career did you realize you could make it as a professional golfer?
I’ll be honest with you: when I was about seven or eight. There was something about it. I had the eye–hand coordination to play the game. And I loved the game at a young age. So that was my dream. My dream was to get out here and play with the best in the world. So you’re lookin’ at a guy who’s fulfilled his dreams.
What happened when you were seven or eight that caused the light bulb to go on?
I think it was the challenge of the game, you know? I played all sports. I did ’em all: football, baseball, basketball. But there was something about golf and between the ears—I’m still searching for the between-the-ears part. But there’s something about the game that just got in my craw, and I just couldn’t get rid of it. I was out on the course every day. My mother and dad never had to worry about finding me. They just didn’t know what hole I was on.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Being patient. Learning patience in golf is critical. The guys who are very impatient are the ones who blow out early and don’t have a very good week. If you can control your emotions and have the patience to wait on the game…yeah, that’s probably the hardest part.
Did you have a mentor when you were a young Tour pro?
You gotta remember I’m of the old school. We didn’t really have what we call teachers. We had a mom and dad, which a lot of kids don’t have this day and age. Some have moms. Some have dads. But my mother and dad kind of preached to me. Taught me the etiquette of the game. And I’ve taken it from there.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
I’m not sure I’ve reached it yet. It’s funny, golfers’ careers, you can always say we’re judged by what we do in major tournaments. Now I’ve been fortunate enough to win two of them, the U.S. Open [in 1984] and, of course, the [’79] Masters. But the one that sticks out in my mind is the ’85 Bay Hill Classic. I had just come back after six months off, ’cause I had a major back surgery, had to teach myself how to walk again and then from walking, waiting for the doctor to give you that call saying, ‘”O.K., you can go try it.” And it took six months to do that. And then proving to myself that I could go out and get at the level that I was before I had the injury. That really meant a lot to me.
If the life of Fuzzy Zoeller were made into a movie, which actor plays you?
Oh, that’s Robert Mitchum, I think. He would’ve been close.
When I was growing up, a lot of people said that he [and I] had the same facial features. And he was a very talented actor. And I know I’m going back in time. But that’s the one that kind of sticks in my head.
And what would we name the movie, based on your life?
“Oh, S—!”. I hit a few of those on the golf course. Folks, I’m not gonna lie to ya— this is a body, it ain’t a machine. It does mess up every once in awhile.