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Following Fuzzy Zoeller

Golf's funny man to be fan favorite
at Senior PGA Championship at Valhalla

By Don Ward
Editor

(May 2004) – When you say “The Fuz” around Louisville or Southern Indiana, locals here know it has nothing to do with police.
“The Fuz” is, of course, Fuzzy Zoeller, their beloved hometown touring pro who first made a name for himself 25 years ago by winning the PGA Tour’s Masters golf championship in his first try. No first-time player has won that tournament since, further adding to the magic of that golfing feat.

Fuzzy Zoeller-2003

Photo courtesy PGA of America

Fuzzy Zoeller pitches out of the sand during
the 2003 Senior PGA Championship.

In all, Zoeller captured 10 total PGA Tour events through 1986. He has made three U.S. Ryder Cup appearances and shares the tour record for most consecutive birdies, at eight.
As a former Masters winner and now in his third year on the Champions Tour (formerly the Senior Tour) for players 50 and older, Zoeller revisited golf’s hallowed grounds at Augusta National in April but played poorly, missing the cut by 12 strokes.
But don’t think for a minute the 52-year-old golfer from Floyds Knobs, Ind., is washed up by any means. On the contrary, he was just having a bad week “in this crazy old game,” as he calls it. In fact, Zoeller is coming off a strong start in 2004, having won the Champions Tour opening event, the MasterCard Championship in January in Hawaii and following with a third-place finish in February’s Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am in Tampa, Fla.
Zoeller will no doubt be the hometown favorite May 29-30 at Jack Nicklaus-designed Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville when the Champions Tour arrives to stage its PGA Senior Championship. The major championship, with a purse of $2 million, will be televised on NBC and feature such golfing legends as Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Gary Player, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite and many others.
Zoeller “crossed over that great divide” from the PGA to the Champions Tour in 2002 and hasn’t regretted it one bit. In his first year, Zoeller broke a 16-year winless streak by capturing the 2002 Senior PGA Championship. He finished the year 20th on the tour’s money list. Last year, he finished 26th.

Fuzzy  Zoeller-Mastercard

Photo courtesy PGA of America

Fuzzy Zoeller reacts upon winning the 2004 Mastercard.

He appeared at last month’s Masters as a past winner. He has no plans to compete in other PGA Tour events this year. “I’m committed to the Champions Tour and to help promote it to be bigger and better than what it is,” Zoeller said during a mid-April telephone interview from his office at Covered Bridge Golf Course in Sellersburg, Ind.
Zoeller and golf course architect Clyde Johnston built Covered Bridge Golf Club in 1994. They teamed again in 1999 to build Timbergate Golf Club in Edinburgh, Ind., near Seymour. Both are public courses with residential developments. It is at Covered Bridge that Zoeller plans to host several of his Champions Tour friends when they arrive in May for the tour’s major championship.
Zoeller, using his own popularity as a drawing card, is even working on bringing a Champions Tour tournament to Covered Bridge. The last Champions Tour event to be held in the region took place in Lexington, Ky., but it ended in 1997.
“I’m sure we will be full around here with golfers and friends during tournament week,” Zoeller said. “It will be quite a party.”
Indeed, Zoeller likes to have fun on the golf course, whether he’s playing for dough or just practicing.
But don’t misunderstand: Despite the jokes, pranks and frequent interactions with the gallery, Fuzzy Zoeller still wants to win. And when his game is off, as it has been in recent weeks, he tells people that “just having the opportunity to play the game he loves as a profession makes me a winner every day.” Over the years, he has become one of the most beloved and enjoyable professionals on tour, and not just here in Southern Indiana and Louisville.
Zoeller says the on-course antics and jokes for which he is known are par for the course on the Champions Tour. He says fans at the upcoming Senior PGA Championship may even be surprised at how much fun the Champions golfers have while competing. “We’re not nearly as serious as the PGA Tour; we like to have fun,” he said.
Don’t be surprised if Zoeller drops his cigarette in the fairway and walks over the gallery to hold court while waiting to play; or if you hear him wisecracking after a fellow golfers chunks one into the drink. Although it’s not quite the hysterics of Tim Conway’s “Dorf on Golf” videos, you’ll find that “Zoeller Golf” comes with a few laughs.
“People all over the country love to watch Fuzzy because he’s so entertaining,” said Dave Lobeck, 40, a former investment broker from Washington, Ind., who heads Fuzzy Zoeller Productions Inc.

Fuzzy Zoeller

Photo courtesy PGA of America

Fuzzy Zoeller will be the
fan favorite in Louisville.

A 7-handicapper himself, Lobeck was selling stock for Edward Jones Investments when in 1996 he came up with the idea of creating a sports marketing company to manage Zoeller’s charity golf tournament, the “Kraft Wolf Challenge.” Proceeds from the event benefit Zoeller’s Charity Inc. for Kids. Held each year in August at Covered Bridge, it features golf pros, non-pros and non-golf celebrities in a day of fun at the course. Money is raised from fans’ tickets sales and from a dinner and charity auction. This year’s Kraft Wolf Challenge is Aug. 15-16.
Years ago, Zoeller was a regular at the annual Foster Brooks charity pro-am golf tournament in Louisville. When that ended in the mid-90s, Zoeller wanted an event over which he could control and attach his name, Lobeck said. Lobeck had worked the tournament and eventually talked Zoeller into hiring him to manage the event.
The Wolf Challenge was conceived similar to the PGA Tour’s “Skins Game,” where players tease each other while wearing microphones so the crowd can listen to the banter. The event was televised in 1999 on Fox Sports Net, and Lobeck is trying to land a TV contract for future events.
The venture, Fuzzy Zoeller Productions Inc., soon grew into more than that.
Today, Lobeck manages Zoeller’s appearance schedule, endorsements, golf course design activity and markets his new putter aid products, The Putting Peg and The Putting Pod, which the company introduced last fall. Shaped like an oversized tee, the device is planted in the green, and when the ball hits the tee, a computer sound chip emits the sound of a ball dropping in the cup. The Putting Pod is an indoor version.
“Fuzzy said he was always using a tee to practice with, but he often became bored because when he hit the tee, nothing happened,” Lobeck explained. They searched the world for a company to provide the sound device and build it.
These days, Zoeller makes about 25 public appearances a year “as a way of promoting himself and the Champions Tour,” Lobeck said. These include pro-ams and charity events all over the country.

Frank Urban Zoeller, Jr.

Born: Nov. 11, 1951 (age 52), New Albany, Ind.
Residence: Floyds Knobs, Ind.
Family: Wife, Diane; Children: Sunny Noel (5/5/79); Heidi Leigh (8/23/81);  Gretchen Marie (3/27/84); Miles Remington (6/1/89).
College: Edison Junior College, Ft. Myers, Fla., and the University of Houston.
Hobbies: All sports, golf course design, hunting, fishing.
Turned Pro: 1973
PGA Qualifying School: 1974
PGA Tour Career Earnings: 
$5.8 million (92nd).
PGA Tour Victories (10): 1979 Wickes-Andy Williams San Diego Open; 1979 Masters; 1981 Colonial NIT; 1983 Sea Pines Heritage; 1983 Las Vegas Pro-Celebrity; 1984 U.S. Open; 1985 Hertz Bay Hill Classic; 1986 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am; 1986 Sea Pines Heritage; 1986 Anheuser-Busch Classic.
International Victories: (1) 2002 Senior Slam.
Champions Tour Earnings (1/1/02 - 4/18/04): $2.1 million (84th).
Champions Tour Victories (since 2002): (2) 2002 Senior PGA Championship; 2004 MasterCard Championship.
Champions Tour 2004 Money List (as of 4/24/04): $477,540 (3rd).
Personal website: www.fuz.com
Source: PGATour.com

Lobeck accompanies Zoeller on many of his golf trips. On April 2, Lobeck joined Zoeller in a political fund raiser for President George W. Bush in Greensboro, Ga., as a favor to fellow golfer Ben Crenshaw. Lobeck and Zoeller met President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney there.
Lobeck also attended the Masters a week later. Joining them for the second year was Bob Kevoian, a well-known radio personality and co-host with Tom Griswold of the “Bob & Tom Show,” which airs on 140 stations nationwide from its Indianapolis studio.
For the second year during a practice round at Augusta National, Zoeller pulled Kevoian from the gallery at the No. 12 tee and had him hit an iron shot to the par-3 green, placing a $100 bet that he could not land the ball on the green. Last year, Kevoian won the bet; this year, the ball landed on the green but rolled back into the water. The crowd roared its approval, anyway. Lobeck videotaped the shot this year and it can be viewed at www.bobandtom.com.
Kevoian said hanging with “The Fuz” is “absolutely a pleasure.” He adds that “what you see on the golf course is what you get in person; he’s always got a smile on his face,” Kevoian said by telephone following his April 12 radio show.
Kevoian met Zoeller eight years ago after having been invited to play in Zoeller’s Wolf Challenge. Kevoian, a 12-handicapper, has played the event every year since.
Even for a professional comedian, Kevoian says Zoeller is a master at entertaining the crowds. “It’s a tough challenge to keep up with Fuzzy. He’s delightfully funny and a real joy to be around,” he said.
When he’s not on the road, Zoeller spends much of his time enjoying his second favorite passion, fishing. In fact, on the few days a year that he’s at home, he’d rather be out on a lake with fishing rod in hand than sneaking in a few practice rounds at nearby Valhalla Golf Club in preparation for the Senior PGA Championship.
Zoeller said he will arrive at Valhalla in late May no more prepared than the other competitors. Because of his travel schedule, he only plays there “once or twice a year. It’s a wonderful course, and I think the guys (on the Champions Tour) will find it to be a difficult one.”
Valhalla Golf Club pro Keith Reese said having Zoeller in the tournament field “is great because he’s such a fan favorite and a fine ambassador of the game, anyway. He’s the one guy who always looks like he’s having fun out there, and I think the fans appreciate that.”
The tournament’s sponsoring organization, the PGA of America, owns the Louisville course, which was built in 1996 and designed by Jack Nicklaus. The course played host to the PGA Championship in 1996 and 2000, and the national Club Pro Championship in 2002.
“It’s great having all these golfing legends in Louisville because guys like Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus won’t be playing for much longer, and this is probably the last time we’ll see them here,” Reese said.
In the three weeks leading up to the event, Zoeller will have traveled to the Florida Panhandle, Savannah, Ga., and Austin, Texas, to compete in Champions Tour tournaments. He’ll get in a couple of practice rounds the week of the Senior PGA Championship, just like all the rest of the players.
But when he arrives at the course, he will likely get a hometown welcome unlike the rest of the players. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, you can be sure of that,” he said.
Whether it’s Louisville or Augusta, “The Fuz” wouldn’t have it any other way.

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