Handshake Agreement

When I turned pro back in 1976, I think it’s fair to say that I had no need for an agent, unless he also happened to be a part-time psychiatrist accustomed to working with those suffering from delusions of grandeur. As a five-handicapper, the only way I could have commanded a fee from an equipment company was if I had promised not to play their clubs. But by a bizarre series of events, I actually got quite good after a while. I don’t really know how to explain it, it’s just that every time Mr. Fate felt quirky, he happened to bump into me. The stranger thing is, it’s still happening.

Wouldn’t you know it, I digress. In 1980, I was offered a chance to go to the United States to play the mini-tours and prepare for the PGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament, better known as Q-School. I, genius that I still am, signed a contract that guaranteed all my expenses would be paid and all my prize money would go to my newest best friend, my first agent.

This less-than-profitable arrangement lasted about two years, until I got fed up with playing poorly and not getting paid for it, so back to Europe I went, in search of an agent who could make me some money for playing like a sick chicken. Again, I was lucky enough to find one. A friend of mine, Gordon Brand Jr., introduced me to his agent, Chris Mitchell, a former English amateur who had played on the same international teams as Nick Faldo, Mark James, and Sandy Lyle.

The man was an obvious idiot, so naturally we got along famously. His partner at the time was Allan Callan, the former road manager for Led Zeppelin, and he was given the task of weaseling me out of my first contract. He did so by threatening to nail my previous agent’s right foot to the floor, thus rendering him incapable of walking in anything but a circle for the rest of his life. Mission accomplished.

Chris and I shook hands, and that was the only contract we needed in the 14 years he looked after my affairs. In an industry where agents are often despised, he was universally adored because of his immense likability and the fact that obviously he was not in the game to make a fortune.

I was always marketed as one of the boys, largely because Chris knew I didn’t know how to act any other way. He made me a lot of money, all of which got spent one way or another, but holy mackerel, one way or another, it was fun. He and I would be at some swank cocktail party before a big tournament, and he would shin up the tent pole and pull the trigger on a fire extinguisher just to loosen up the proceedings.

Once, in the Old Course Hotel at St. Andrews during the Dunhill Cup, I was with the Irish team in the lobby bar celebrating the fact that we had just been beaten by Kuwait or somewhere or something. There were about 60 or 70 people with us, singing and drinking, obviously under the impression that we had won, and Mitchell had been suspiciously absent for about 20 minutes. I knew he was up to evil deeds.

Facing the area in which we were sitting, the elevator doors were opening and closing, swallowing and regurgitating hotel guests. Every time the bell rang everyone waited for the door to open and tried to coerce the occupants to join us. Suddenly the doors slid open to reveal Chris, standing stark naked but for a pair of black calf-length socks, holding a large potted plant in front of his wedding tackle. A small potted plant would have sufficed.

A hundred jaws also hung slack as he peered out from behind the foliage. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, “I must have the wrong floor,” as an elderly couple got in with him, and the doors closed.

Later that night — in fact about three in the morning — we decided it would be a brilliant idea (as one does) to play the 18th hole of the famous Old Course in the dark. Chris, who thankfully was almost fully clothed at this stage, shanked a 5-iron into Rusack’s Marine Hotel, and then fell head first into the Swilken Burn. Lord, how I miss him. But strangely enough, and I think I must attract these people, I now have another bona fide born-again buffoon looking after me.

Barry Terjesen, who works for Eddie Elias Enterprises, has clients who include Peter Kostis and Gary McCord, and I know, I know, I know, enough already. I know this should have been a dead giveaway. But all he wanted was a handshake, so I was sold. It might have been against the odds, but it has been one of the smartest things I have ever done.

Barry is of Norwegian decent, and for those of you who don’t know, the Scandinavians tell Norwegian jokes the same way everyone else tells Irish jokes. Barry says a Norwegian extrovert will stare at your shoes when he is talking to you.

I rely on Barry for everything I do off the golf course, although when the two of us get into a motor vehicle together with the intention of actually moving the aforementioned mode of transport to another location, I think the best we’ve ever done is two U-turns. It always turns into an Irish-Norwegian Laurel and Hardy scene. You know, Olaf and Mick?

Earlier this year, he picked me up at the West Palm Beach airport to take me to the Medalist for an infomercial I was to make with Greg Norman. After about 10 minutes in the car, I, sharp as a bar of soap, noticed that the Atlantic was on the left. I said, “Terjesen, you’re an idiot. We’re supposed to be heading in exactly the opposite direction.” He looked at me and uttered the immortal phrase, “I know, but we’re making great time.”

He once rented a car with a global positioning satellite system, parked it, and met me at the gate as I got off a flight at DIA (Denver’s Idiotic Airport). Then, naturally, he couldn’t remember where he’d parked the car. At The Masters this year, he called to pick me up at the house I was sharing with Kostis and Sean McDonough to take me to a speaking engagement. There were a few cars in the driveway when we came out of the house and Barry said, “Whose is the blue one?” When I told him that I didn’t know he headed back indoors to find the owner in order to have it moved so we could leave. About 20 seconds passed and he emerged looking sheepish. “Actually,” he said, “that’s my car.” List that one under things that Mark McCormack has never done.

In a business where agents frequently speak with lizard lips, forked tongue, and shed their skins every now and then, Barry Terjesen is an anachronism. He started his career as a prosecuting attorney, valiantly taking on the task of ridding Ohio’s Amish country of a highly sophisticated cartel of pig and chicken thieves, and now ironically he finds himself representing a group of thieving pigs and chickens, such as McCord and myself.

Like Chris Mitchell, the secret of Barry’s success lies in the fact that he is honest, kind, hardworking, and sincere. Also, just like Chris, he should never be put in charge of a ride on a lawn mower. People really like him, and whenever I go to a corporate outing or a speech that he has set up, the person in charge will invariably tell me what a pleasure it was for them to be charged too much for my services by him. List that under things that Mark McCormack’s clients have never heard.

Obviously, none of these people have ever been in an automobile with Barry, but to give him a break, I recently had the pleasure of the company of the Editor-in-Chief of this fine publication, His Imperial Wonderfulness, the Right Honorable Rear Admiral Sir George Peper, who picked me up in a $4-a-day rental car to take me to the ESPN Zone restaurant in Chicago, where I was to speak to a bunch of GOLF Magazine types.

He handed me a map, and after about 20 minutes of driving around downtown Chicago in ever decreasing circles, it became apparent that if we didn’t stop and ask for directions, the car was going to disappear up its own tailpipe. George simply could not understand why I couldn’t find Ohio Street on the map.

In fact, all I could find was Michigan Street and a big-ass lake on the right. Of course, it turned out I was looking at a map of Milwaukee, and in my own defense, Chicago also has a Michigan Street (all right, Avenue, smart-ass) and the same big-ass lake on the right. So maybe it’s not all Barry’s fault.

Having said that, I did get a call from McCord the other day, just as he and Barry were making a U-turn in a wheat field in the middle of Amish country, and upon that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.