19 Questions for Peter Jacobsen

19 Questions for Peter Jacobsen

He listens to rap with his 19-year-old son, sings in the car and, as the voice of the wildly popular arcade game Golden Tee, shouts, "He's on the dance floor!" in half the bars in America. His management company runs three Champions and PGA Tour events, and he is the better-known half of one of the more respected course-design firms in golf. He hosts the variety show "Plugged In" on The Golf Channel. At 49, he sometimes needs his back professionally tenderized, but he still tackles life the way he famously flattened a streaker at the 1985 British Open: head-on.

Peter Jacobsen will be eligible for the Champions Tour in March, but he may be overqualified. He won the Greater Hartford Open last summer — his seventh career victory and biggest paycheck ever. His three kids with wife Jan (he calls her "pretty hot for a 48-year-old," and he's right) are in college, which gives him maybe a minute a week to reflect on his career. He sat down, feet-up, during November's Chrysler Championship and spoke candidly on topics ranging from Augusta National's Gary McCord problem to golf's gender-blenders.

Who's the funniest person in golf?
Bob Hope was. I played with Bob four or five times, admired the way he handled the crowd. It's a lost art. The funniest golfer? A toss-up between Chi Chi Rodriguez and Fuzzy Zoeller.

What's been your favorite celebrity moment?
I was playing with Jack Lemmon at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in the early '90s. Jack had worn rain gear all day but knew the cameras had just come on, so after hitting his tee ball he took off his rain gear and was beautifully outfitted in peach: peach pants; peach shirt; peach sweater; peach hat; patent-leather, peach-and-white shoes. Like that Caddyshack line that Jack used to quote: "That's a peach, hon!" Well, he had a 7-iron to the green and hit it dead fat — splashed mud all over his beautiful outfit.

You started the band Jake Trout and the Flounders with Mark Lye and the late Payne Stewart. Got a favorite Stewart story?
Payne, Mark and I were filming the "I Love to Play" video in Los Angeles, driving up and down the street with a video crew, when a Japanese gas-station owner runs out with a picture he had on his wall of him and Payne taken in Japan years earlier. He wanted more pictures and autographs. The guy called his wife back at the house, she drove out, and they all three took a picture together. Payne was in his typical extravagant colors and the knickers. It was very weird. If you're ever in a gas station in Culver City, you might see that picture up on the wall.

You appeared in Tin Cup with Gary McCord. Has he suffered enough for his infamous bikini-wax line? Should he be let back on Masters telecasts?
Oh, that's the silliest thing — in fact I wrote a song about it: "I want to hear Gary McCord/Whenever he's on I'm never bored/I like Gary McCord/Masters officials, we're begging you please/We wish you wouldn't take yourselves so seriously/Bring back Gary McCord." The bridge is, "We want him back/Let's send him a fax/No more bikini wax/Or body bags/This whole thing's been such a drag."

Gary McCord said something he shouldn't have. The best thing would be to tell him, "Let's not do that anymore." I mean, look at The Masters. They wrote a letter to the over-65 guys and said, "We don't want you playing anymore." Then they reversed that decision. So why not give Gary a break?

There have been many women in men's events — most recently Se Ri Pak, who finished 10th in Korea. Have these cameos gotten out of hand?
What happened last year was fantastic: Annika Sorenstam bringing attention to how great a player she is, Suzy Whaley qualifying through the PGA of America. But Michelle Wie on the Nationwide Tour was maybe premature for her, and Jan Stephenson in the Champions Tour event might have gone unnoticed had she not made those comments about Asian players. The real story is Se Ri Pak. What she did in Korea was fabulous — very, very impressive.

The next step is for a woman to go to the PGA Tour Qualifying School and get her card. Annika said that if she could choose 30 tournaments on the men's tour to play, she could make the top 100. I don't have any evidence to support or refute that statement. All I'd say to Annika is, "Bring it on." The way to be able to choose 30 events is to get your Tour card. If she did that, everybody on Tour would support her. It would be huge. I don't know if Annika or Se Ri could get through Tour school, but I would love to see it.

Would you play in an LPGA event?
No. A man playing in a women's event is not the same thing. Everybody knows men have a power advantage. A woman playing from the back tees — she's trying to show what she's got.

What's the best shot you ever hit?
At the '76 Q-School in Brownsville, Texas, I needed to make a par on the last hole to get my card. Back then there were no mini tours to play, so if I didn't make it I was going to have to get a job. It was raining and cold, and I hit my drive on 18 in a fairway bunker. I wasn't sure if I could get it up and over the lip, but I hit a 4-iron that cleared it, flew about 200 yards over water and some bunkers on the other side, and landed on the green. It was the most consequential shot of my career.

Greatest shot you ever saw?
I was paired with Jerry Pate at the AT&T when he became the only pro to ace the 16th hole at Cypress Point — playing an orange ball. The wind was blowing about 30 mph right to left and he hit a .1-iron, started the ball way out over the water before it came back to the green and rolled in the cup. People don't realize how good Jerry Pate was in his prime.

Give us your take on golf's big stars.
Tiger Woods continues to impress me with his game, with his power, with his ability to play and live gracefully under a lot of pressure.

Vijay Singh is misunderstood. He's a great guy, but Tour pros, or any athletes, have to understand that the only way the fans get to know you is through the media. Whether you get a fair shake from the media is not for you to judge. You just have to tell your story and get the information out. Vijay should cut the media some slack.

Of all the superstars, Ernie Els is probably the most comfortable with himself. Great wife, great kids, family support. He really understands who he is. In the '95 British Open I got paired with Ernie and Tiger. I looked at Fluff Cowan, who was still caddying for me, and said, "Something tells me this is the future of the game."

Phil Mickelson? That's a tough one. I just had lunch with him. He's probably the most talented player on Tour. John Daly is up there, too, but Phil is the most physically gifted golfer I've ever played with.

And David Duval has the best swing in the game. He'll get back on track.

As an architect, do you split design duties with your partner, Jim Hardy?
Each course is a blend of our talents, and I think we're doing the best work in the business today. He's a former Tour player; I'm a current Tour player. We question each other and play devil's advocate. That's why our courses have been so well received. Redstone, where the Shell Houston Open was played, got rave reviews from the players. One of the most unique courses we've done is Moorpark, just north of L.A. A very tough piece of property, incredibly hilly, with a lot of drop-offs and canyons. And that contrasts with a new course we're doing in Naples, Florida, called Hammock Bay, which is dead flat, where we created a dunesy effect.

Who are golf's best talking heads?
I like Johnny Miller because he calls it the way it is. People get offended, but Johnny's pretty spot-on. At the Bob Hope in 1990, on the last hole, I had to hit a 3-iron into the green; then I could two-putt for birdie and the win [which Jacobsen did]. It was Johnny's first event as an announcer, and before I hit he said, "Boy, this is the toughest shot — you can really choke on this." People thought he was saying I was going to choke. But I saw the replay and it didn't offend me. I also love David Feherty's humor, which we need more of.

Your younger brother, Paul, who was gay, died of an AIDS-related illness in 1988. What would happen if a player came out on the PGA Tour?
I don't think it would be that big a deal. I would like to think we have all become a little bit more educated and a little further along in our understanding about our fellow human beings. Homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice. It is a part of you from birth. I think it's like if you're born with a birth defect. Casey Martin was born with a birth defect in his leg, which has caused problems in his golf career. Nothing you can do about that. My brother Paul, that's just the way he was. It's OK with me. I'm sorry he died.

It's hard to go from there back to Tour issues, but on we go. One of your peers, John Maginnes, says your work ethic rivals Vijay's. That might be golf's best-kept secret. Is that how you won at 49 — pretending to joke around, but actually outworking the kids?
Yeah, I work hard on my game. I just look like I'm having more fun than Vijay. And I've had business opportunities, but I haven't gone and started dry-cleaners or travel agencies. Greg Norman is an incredibly successful businessman, with a yacht-building company, a sod farm, a winery — my hat is off to him. But I don't think I'd be as successful with that stuff. For me, whether it's managing tournaments, creating tournaments, building courses, it's all about golf.

What's been the unfunniest moment in your career?
Hitting it over the 18th green at the Western Open in 1988, and making a double-bogey to lose by one. I got hung up on the fact that the guy I was playing with, Bill Britton — a good friend of mine — was taking too much time. Britton got trashed on the air by Ken Venturi for playing so slowly. But it taught me a lesson: Don't worry about what the other guy is doing. I applied that coming down the stretch at Hartford last year. Chris Riley eagled 15 to pull within two shots, and I thought, "Look, don't worry about him." Sure enough, I birdied 17, hitting a shot real close with a wedge.

You'd be in a hall of fame for having fun. Which other golfers would be?
I don't know if I'd make it. Don't put that in my mouth. Put it this way: If there were a hall of fame for trying to have fun, I'd be there, because the entertainment aspect of our Tour is extremely important. We have to let people know we're enjoying ourselves. This is entertainment; we are selling tickets, like a downtown-theater show of Cats. Or the AMC 24 selling tickets to The School of Rock, which I've seen three times. My Fun Hall of Fame? Chi Chi, Fuzzy, Lee Trevino and Craig Stadler — I love playing with Stadler.

You make sure to shake the hand of every rookie on Tour. Why?
I remember when I first got out on Tour, and I was really scared. I knew my contemporaries from college golf, but nobody else. I was shocked there weren't more players who bothered to greet you, because we are a family, even though we're trying to beat each other. The more Tour players understand that, the better off we'll be.

Who are the best young golfers?
Charles Howell III is a fabulous player; Aaron Baddeley is going to be. Chad Campbell will win major championships and so will Adam Scott. I look for a combination of ability and integrity, plus style — the way a guy carries himself. I can't say enough about Tiger and how he handles himself under the scrutiny of the world.

What do younger pros say to distinguished veterans like you?
During the pro-am today, I was walking all the way back to the tournament tee at one hole and Vijay goes, "Hey, old man, where are you going? Your senior tees are up here." Yeah, yeah, keep smiling there, funny boy.

Are you getting rich off Golden Tee?
I did a deal where I get paid every year, and, yes, it's based on how successful the game is.

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