A Long, Strange Trip for John Jacobs

A Long, Strange Trip for John Jacobs

For John Jacobs, there was always something more interesting to do than beating balls. He had the talent to win majors yet earned just enough on Tour–$119,776 from 1968-1989–to cover tips and cab fare. Though he was a golfer gone wild in his youth, an older, wiser Jacobs has won five times on the Champions Tour, including the 2003 Senior PGA Championship. At 60, he has no regrets, but plenty of stories.

Jacobs qualified for the 1960 National Junior in Detroit, at 15. While other kids dropped water balloons from hotel windows, he got a fake I.D., checked into a suite, rented a Cadillac, bought a bottle of scotch and picked up a 20-year-old girl.

In 1963, when he was 18, Jacobs enlisted in the army and was eventually shipped off to Vietnam. “I didn’t pay attention to current events, unless you count the eighth race at Santa Anita,” Jacobs says. “I looked up information that said, ‘Saigon: Paris of the Orient,’ and I thought, ‘Sweet! I’ll pick up a tux.'”

After the war, his carefree demeanor made him a fearsome money player. “He was always at his best when he was flat broke,” says Jacobs’s older brother, Tommy, a four-time Tour winner. A lot of marquee pros who played him for money went home with their pockets turned inside out.”

“I was a footloose bachelor looking for a good time,” Jacobs says. “As for the women, I don’t remember most of them. It’s all a blur now. If I’d been going for a record, hell, I would have hired Wilt Chamberlain to be my accountant.”

But Jacobs didn’t always score. “I remember Robinson, Illinois–population: 6,000. I swear, Errol Flynn could not get laid in Robinson, Illinois, with a two-million-dollar bill.”

“I drank malt Scotch back then,” Jacobs says. “A lot. I always thought that if I went home, I’d miss something. So some nights I didn’t go home. I always showed up for my tee times, but sometimes I’d be handing my sports coat to my caddie on the first tee.”

Jacobs crossed paths with some golf-crazed wise guys. He describes a cross-country flight in the 1970s with some reputed mobsters. Amonmg the passengers: Teamsters boss Frank Fitzsimmons, who took over the union after Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance. “I was reading the sports section. And I could hear them talking about people they wanted dead, like [Vegas mob enforcer] Tony Spilotro. I kept that newspaper in front of my face the entire trip.” Spilotro was eventually found buried in an Indiana cornfield. He’d been beaten to death.

Spilotro should have been so lucky. “I take care of myself, compared to before,” says Jacobs. “I quit cigarettes. And I don’t drink hard liquor anymore–only red wine. Of course, I drink a hell of a lot of it.”

Once, near Fort Worth, Jacobs was doing 90 in his Corvette when his passenger, a fellow pro, spotted flashing lights in the rearview. “Some caddie had driven my car and left a marijuana stub in the ashtray,” Jacobs saya. “In Texas, it was a mandatory year for possession.” The pro panicked. “Relax. I’ll handle this,” said Jacobs, who carried an honorary California Highway Patrol badge. He told the trooper, “We’re chasing this drug dealer, and if we lose him now, we’ll never find him!” “No problem, officer,” barked the cop. “Follow me.” He then provided a high-speed escort to the city limits. Jacobs turned to his friend and said, “When you ever had so much fun?”

In 1984, Jacobs returned from the Asian Tour with two wins and $180,000. He got sloshed one night and, when he woke up, couldn’t find the cash. “I figured I’d got robbed.” Dejected, he opened the freezer to get some ice, and there it was, stuffed in an old gym bag and frozen like popsicles. “My buddy and I were so pumped that we threw a lost-and-found party.”

What advice would he offer the 25-year-old John Jacobs? “I’d say, ‘Have fun, do the things you want, but in moderation.'” Jacobs laughs. “He’d probably say, ‘Go f–k yourself.'”

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