By Dave Shedloski
If past is prologue, then Frank Urban "Fuzzy" Zoeller hasn't begun to touch his potential on the Champions Tour. Zoeller won the 1979 Masters in his rookie year on the PGA Tour. Last year, his first on the formerly named Senior PGA Tour, his breakthrough victory also came in a major championship, the prestigious Senior PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
The green jacket and an honorary membership to Augusta National Golf Club became Zoeller's when he survived a playoff against Ed Sneed and Tom Watson, thus becoming just one of three men to win the Masters in his debut. The affable professional from New Albany, Ind., would go on to win eight times on the PGA Tour, and capture his second major, the 1984 U.S. Open, in a playoff, over Greg Norman.
At Firestone's storied South Course last June, Zoeller fired a final-round, 2-under-par 68 and emerged from a taut battle with Hale Irwin, Bobby Wadkins, Larry Nelson and others to claim the title in senior golf 's oldest tournament. His 2-under 278 was the only total under par.
The congruency of these flashpoints in a career he has wanted since childhood had escaped Zoeller until mentioned by an observer. He couldn't deny he liked the omen.
"If I can repeat the same kind of success, then I would have to say it sounds pretty good," Zoeller says with a laugh that comes as easily to him as a bird does to breadcrumbs. "I certainly have the desire to win more golf tournaments. That's what we're all out here to do. But, you know, I want to enjoy myself along the way, too."
That's never really been a problem for the native Hoosier, who hasn't just stopped to smell the roses, but has also picked a few bouquets on his journey through time.
Zoeller, 51, has had a sparkling career in professional golf, but he enjoys an undeniable popularity with the public that transcends birdies and bogeys. He is a gallery favorite because he is one of the most approachable players in the game, a man of the people. Personable, unpretentious, easy-going, Zoeller is quick with a quip and still whistles while he works. (Inside information: there is no particular tune he whistles, he just thinks of a tune to match the rhythm he would like to maintain with his signature swing.)
Peers and golf fans received his eligibility for senior golf warmly. The Champions Tour is packaged and marketed as a sports franchise offering nostalgia, entertainment and exhibitions of skill and shot-making. Zoeller is a walking billboard for such attributes, a player good enough to win two majors, but also not afraid to feign planting a kiss on Jack Nicklaus during a Skins Game.
It's no surprise that Zoeller is a featured personality in promotional commercials for the Champions Tour. At every stop he is among the first players approached to give a clinic or a lesson or an extra 10 minutes to today's fans who have come to expect the brush-off from athletes in other sports.
|ZOELLER'S PGA TOUR VICTORIES|
|1979||Andy Williams-San Diego Open Invitational|
|1981||Colonial National Invitation Tournament|
Sea Pines Heritage Classic
Panasonic Las Vegas Pro Celebrity Classic
|1985||Hertz Bay Hill Classic|
|1986||AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AM
Sea Pines Heritage Classic
Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic
|1984||U.S. Open Championship|
"Fuzzy is a complete package," says Gary McCord, another entertainer in senior golf. a professional golfer. Bus Schultz, the PGA Professional at Valley View Golf Club in New Albany, introduced him to the game, and by the time he was seven, Fuzzy had decided golf would be his vocation after watching in awe the talent and charisma of Arnold Palmer.
Palmer was not the only player who had a tremendous influence on Zoeller. Gay Brewer took the youngster under his wing when he first arrived on the tour and even helped him understand how he could improve his game with equipment better fitted to his flat, draw-oriented swing.
"People respond to him and he responds to them, but he doesn't break stride as a player."
"People are great and I try to acknowledge them a little when I play," says Zoeller, a father of four, who despite all his successes has lived all his life in and around New Albany. "They're the ones who make things happen so we can do what we do for a living. Without their support, we're just playing golf in front of trees and squirrels."
Zoeller would be comfortable no matter the choice of spectators. He is an avid outdoorsman who started playing golf at the age of three and who has known practically all his life that he wanted to be a professional golfer. Bus Schultz, the PGA Professional at Valley View Golf Club in New Albany, introduced him to the game, and by the time he was seven, Fuzzy had decided golf would be his vocation after watching in awe the talent and charisma of Arnold Palmer. Palmer was not the only player who had a tremendous influence on Zoeller. Gay Brewer took the youngster under his wing when he first arrived on the tour and even helped him understand how he could improve his game with equipment better fitted to his flat, draw-oriented swing.
Zoeller possesses one of the most idiosyncratic setups in the game, one where he pushed the club away from his body before initiating the backswing. The hosel of the golf club actually is lined up with the ball before he pulls the trigger.
|DEFENDING CHAMPION FUZZY ZOELLER|
|Full name:||Frank Urban Zoeller|
|Past Senior PGA Championship appearances:||Won in 2002|
|Birth date:||Nov. 11, 1951|
|Birthplace:||New Albany, Ind.|
|Residences:||New Albany, Ind.; Naples. Fla.|
|Family:||Wife,Diane; Children, Sunnye (24); Heide (21); Gretchen (19);Miles (13)|
|Colleges:||Edison Junior College (Ft.Myers, Fla.), University of Houston|
It's a trick he learned from a Louisville PGA Professional friend when he was 19 years old.
"When I was younger, I hooked the ball a lot," he explains. "It was nothing to hook a sand wedge 30-40 yards. My friend thought I was swinging too much from the top, which gives you an over-the-top motion and hook spin. He told me that when I get to the top of my backswing, the first move down needs to feel like I'm pulling the heel of the club through the downswing. By lining up the hosel with the ball, it's just a mental reminder to do that."
Until Zoeller won the Senior PGA Championship, he had not triumphed in a sanctioned tournament since the 1986 Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic. Though 16 years had elapsed, Zoeller says, "It feels like it happened yesterday." During an amazing but confounding 1994 campaign, he finished second five times on the PGA Tour (and a sixth time in Japan) and pocketed a career-high $1,016,804.
There is no telling how many more titles the former Indiana amateur champion might have won if he had been healthy over the years, but a chronic back ailment — which required two major surgeries — prevented him from playing more often and hindered his practice routine.
Zoeller, however, isn't one to dwell on what might have been. He's missing two discs in his lower back, but not perspective.
"I never look back. I always look forward," he says. "If every day was rosy, I don't think we'd appreciate living very much."
He is enjoying increasingly better health these days thanks to pharmaceutical advances. A new pill, Conquer 3, developed at the University of Kentucky, has eased his lowerback malady.
He also is enjoying ancillary pursuits. He has become increasingly interested in golf course design and he is the owner and architect of Covered Bridge Golf Club, a public facility near his home in Sellersburg, Ind. He recently began marketing a teaching tool called the Putting Peg.
|ZOELLER'S 2002 SENIOR MAJORS|
|The Countrywide Tradition||T19th|
|Senior PGA Championship||1st|
|U.S. Senior Open||T41st|
|Ford Senior Players Championship||T10th|
But other than his wife, Diane, and their four children, nothing elicits more excitement than golf. Zoeller's plan is to pursue the Champions Tour in earnest for five years and evaluate his career at 55. He says that senior golf is the perfect blend of competition and camaraderie — and he enjoys it in that order.
"Putting your name in the history book, that's really what keeps me going," he says.
Nevertheless, there is more to his life and livelihood than ruminations of posterity. Golf is gold to Zoeller. It's a treasure, and the pursuit of it is to be treasured. It's a major part of his identity and how he identifies prosperity.
"I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I'm happy with who I am," he says. "I don't know how many people are lucky enough to say those two things together, but I can say it. This crazy old game, I never get tired of it."
Dave Shedloski is a free-lance golf writer from Alexandria, Ohio, and a frequent contributor to PGA Magazine. Zoeller's 2002 Senior PGA Championship victory last spring at Firestone Country Club was his first in a sanctioned tournament since 1986.