Peter Jacobsen on Bill Murray, Tiger Woods and an old neighbor who’s back in the news
I should have called Peter Jacobsen a couple of weeks ago, when I was writing about the intersection of golf and music. The former Ryder Cupper was, after all, one of the founders of the band Jake Trout & The Flounders, alongside the former Tour player Mark Lye and the harmonica player (and World Golf Hall of Fame member) Payne Stewart.
My oversight came back to me some time after reading a Jan. 20 White House press release that noted that President Trump had granted clemency to 73 people, including the legendary sports bettor (and golf-course owner) Billy Walters. The White House statement said that the commutation “is supported by … numerous professional golfers including Butch Harmon, David Feherty, Peter Jacobsen and Phil Mickelson.”
Mickelson’s name, one of Mickelson’s lawyers told ESPN recently, should not have been on the list. (There’s a whole thing there.) That got me wondering about the others. The other day, I sent an email to Jake, asking about Walters, and this is what he wrote back:
“I definitely supported Billy. He’s been a friend for about 35 years. My brother-in-law worked for him as his director of instruction for Walters Golf in Las Vegas. He was also my next-door neighbor in Naples for a few years. He’s one the most generous people I know.”
On Monday, Peter and I spoke. He noted how active Walters was as a pro-am participant. Walters was one-half of the winning team, with the Swedish pro Freddie Jacobson, in the pro-am portion of the 2008 Pebble Beach tournament. Before long, we had moved on from Walters to one of the things that is the lifeblood of the PGA Tour: the pro-am. PGA Tour pro-ams have been sporadic since this pandemic washed over the world.
Jacobsen was a famously amicable pro-am partner. He played with the actor Jack Lemmon 17 times at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But when the event is played next month, there will be no amateurs. You will not see Don Colleran on the links this year. (The CEO of FedEx, who won the pro-am last year with Paul Casey.) No Ray Romano. No Bill Murray. For Murray, famously devoted to the Cubs, the wait for next year has begun.
Jacobsen told me how he got Murray into the pro-am business in the first place. He said Murray had played once in the Pebble Beach tournament, didn’t like it and had no plans to come back. Then Jacobsen convinced him to play in a six-team shootout that preceded the Western Open, in Chicago. This was in 1988, at Butler National. Five holes. One team knocked out per hole. Last hole came down to the team of Murray and Jacobsen versus Michael Jordan and D.A. Weibring. Guess who won?
Murray gave his portion of the winnings, the quaint sum of $10,000, to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Chicago. Jacobsen set up Murray to play with Scott Simpson at Pebble Beach. A golf star was born.
Jake is 66. He had a beautiful backswing. He won the 1996 U.S. Open — in the movie Tin Cup. Nobody’s done more with a seven-career win. In 1995, at the Open at St. Andrews, he was paired with Ernie Els, already a U.S. Open winner, and Tiger Woods, amateur golfer. Mike “Fluff” Cowan was Jacobsen’s caddie then.
“I made the cut,” Peter said. “On Saturday, I’m on the range there. Tiger comes up to me and says, ‘What do you think? What do I need to work on?’ I saw Ernie and told him what Tiger had said. Ernie said, ‘He said the same thing to me.’ In my career, that’s the only time that’s happened.”
Jake was overwhelmed by Tiger’s excellence, in every aspect of the game. The only thing he thought he needed was the ability to play lower shots into the wind. Fluff once told me that Tiger was just a little better than everybody else — in every aspect of the game, including how he thought about a course and a tournament and what to do with the next shot. That added up to a 12-shot win in his first major as a pro, the 1997 Masters. Fluff was his caddie.
When Tiger turned pro in 1996, Jacobsen, who turned pro in 1976, was on the tail end of his career but was also one of the game’s insiders. He was wearing Nike duds. He knew Phil Knight. He played some with Michael Jordan. He ran a tournament that Arnold Palmer played in. Peter and Tiger had the same agent, Hughes Norton at IMG. Peter knew Tiger’s teacher, Butch Harmon. Harmon asked Fluff if he would be interested in caddying for Tiger for some late-season events in 1996, after turning pro, events that Peter was not planning to play.
“Four weeks turned into close to two years,” Jacobsen said. “Mike didn’t want to make the move unless I was OK with it. Jan (Jacobsen’s wife) got on the phone and said, ‘Mike, you’re fired.’”
In time, we got to the intersection of music and golf. There is likely nobody on Tour who was more devoted to the Grateful Dead than Cowan. Once, in Providence, R.I., Jacobsen joined him at a show.
“The musicians I liked, had songs that actually started and ended,” Jacobsen said. He cited some of his favorite artists: Elton John, the Beatles, Huey Lewis, Led Zeppelin, Boston, Kansas.
“I said, ‘Mike, what’s with these songs — they never stop.’” (There’s a whole thing there, too.) “Or we’d be in a car, Mike driving, and he had the world’s most extensive collection of bootlegged Dead cassettes. And the songs don’t end, they just blend. And Mike’s like, ‘Yeah.’”
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@golf.com.