T Bone Burnett Q&A: The legendary musician describes what it was like to watch Ben Hogan

April 7, 2019

This interview was first published in the April 2019 issue of GOLF Magazine.

He’s toured with Bob Dylan, produced Elvis Costello and won 13 Grammys and an Oscar. And yet, the one thing T Bone Burnett, 71, can’t do is tell you how he got his indelible nickname. It’s a Fort Worth thing.

In his Texas hometown, an eight-year-old Burnett watched local legend Ben Hogan practice, igniting a passion for the sport that’s a close second to his love of music. Burnett’s first album in 11 years, The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space (Verve), comes out this month.

What was it like to watch Hogan play?

He used to send a shag boy out maybe 175 yards, and he had a 5-iron and he’d start hitting toward the kid’s bag. And two or three times a session, he’d slam-dunk one right into it. He was the alpha male in Fort Worth. We all wanted to play golf because of him.

As a musician, can you describe the sound of the ball coming off his club?

We’d watch him play at Colonial, which had these beautiful pecan trees. So it was this extraordinarily beautiful sound of a persimmon wood hitting a ball through pecan trees.

Did your father teach you to play?

No, he was a baseball star. He got offered a contract by the Brooklyn Dodgers, but my grandfather wouldn’t let him become a professional athlete. It wasn’t a fitting profession for a young man.

Like the music business …
[Laughs] If my grandfather knew what I’d later get into, he would have disowned me.

How low has your handicap gone?

I retired from show business in my late thirties for about eight years, and I moved back down to Fort Worth. I played golf all day, every day. I think I got it down to 1-point-something.

Any particularly vivid rounds that you recall?

I once had a memorable day at Pebble Beach with Sam Shepard.

Tell me about that.

It was one of those beautiful, clear, windless days where we both played well. Sam was a good golfer, you know.

Who’s a famous musician you’ve played with that might surprise us?

Well, I don’t know what might surprise you, but I’ve played with Dylan. I don’t think he thinks of himself as a golfer, but he likes to get out there.

Have you ever come up with a tune on the course?

Of course! I’ve written things on the back of a scorecard many times.

Ever made an ace?

One. Mira Vista, on No. 5. But that’s in about eight million rounds of golf!

Ever hit a shot that rivaled the feeling of winning an Oscar?

No. Winning one of those things, especially when it’s on television, is psychedelic. You can barely remember it. Although, I suppose, every good golf shot is an out-of-body experience.

Chris Nashawaty is Entertainment Weekly’s film critic and the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.