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Golf Digest Interview: Justin Timberlake

Bringing his A game from onstage with Madonna to the 13th at Augusta

November 2008

The dark mahogany door swings open, and into the virtually empty locker room at Sherwood Country Club strides singer-songwriter-golfer Justin Timberlake. He's here for a casual, early-morning round at his home course, but his attire (perfectly pressed gray slacks, white polo and stylish black sweater vest) conveys something a little more formal. At 27 and admittedly a workaholic, Timberlake has spent much of the past few weeks writing and producing music. In between, he took a few days to write, rehearse and host ESPN's annual awards show, The ESPYs. A few weeks before that, he was promoting "The Love Guru," a film in which he co-starred with Mike Myers and Jessica Alba.

"I'm so ready for this," he says, conceding that today's round would be played on only four hours of sleep. "I'm definitely not getting to play as much golf these days as I'd like. Too much on my plate."

Timberlake's passion for golf took hold about six years ago, heightened by his first exposure to the game's highest level as a celebrity player in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Now as a 6-handicapper (T-15 on Golf Digest's Music Ranking), he has a PGA Tour event: the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, debuting in October in Las Vegas.

There's no questioning Timberlake's love and respect for the game. Most of all, he's a smart guy and a kind-hearted person, a credit to his mom (Lynn Harless) and dad (stepfather Paul Harless). Timberlake says golf for him is mostly about playing with his dad, who introduced him to the game at Big Creek near Memphis. When the course was in danger of being turned into a housing development a year ago, Timberlake and his parents stepped in and bought it (Read, "Giving Back In Memphis").

Timberlake's career began as a runner-up on "Star Search" in 1992. From there came a stint on "The Mickey Mouse Club" with future girlfriend Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and others. And then came the mega boy band 'N Sync that sold more than 11 million copies of its first album. Today Timberlake is a six-time Grammy-winning solo artist with six No. 1 songs.

During multiple interviews with Golf Digest, Timberlake talked about playing the world's greatest courses, and with some of film's best-known actresses, including girlfriend Jessica Biel. And he also told us about connecting with America's top teacher, Butch Harmon, for what JT described as his "first real golf lesson" earlier this year. In April, Harmon arranged for Timberlake and his dad to play Augusta National, and a few days prior to the U.S. Open, Harmon caddied for his pupil in the first Golf Digest U.S. Open Challenge at Torrey Pines.

"The toughest and coolest thing I've ever been a part of," says Timberlake, who shot 98 on the same setup Tiger Woods conquered a week later. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Golf Digest: There's an interesting story about how you told your dad that the two of you were going to be playing Augusta National together this past spring.
Justin Timberlake: We were backstage at Roseland in New York City, and I was about to go onstage with Madonna. I had found out earlier that day that Butch Harmon had arranged for my dad and me to play Augusta with one of Butch's friends, and I told my mom about it but said not to tell Dad because I wanted to surprise him. At first I was thinking I'd send a plane the day before we were supposed to play and just surprise him, tell him the plane was taking him to Augusta. The more I thought about it, I knew that if he knew he was going to get to play Augusta, he'd want to have a couple of weeks to prepare. So we're standing backstage, and my mom says, "Why don't you go ahead and tell him now?"

I get the room all quiet, and I say, "Hey, Dad, I've got something to tell you: In two weeks, I'm going to pick you up in Memphis, and we're going to go play Augusta National."
He was completely silent for a minute; couldn't believe it. Literally five minutes later, I was on the stage with Madonna. Pretty cool.

Two weeks later, it's really cool: You're playing Augusta with your dad. What was that like?
Golf heaven. Every hole. My dad parred the front nine, and I was going along playing pretty well and really looking forward to Amen Corner.

Butch said to make sure to ask about the 13th hole.
[Laughs.] Oh, wow. I pulled my drive a little bit and ended up sort of behind the limbs of a tree on the left side, so I bumped a 6-iron down about 130 to 135 yards out. The pin was on the top right, and there were only about 10 to 12 paces behind the hole, so my caddie said the safe play was to hit a little wedge up there and leave me an uphill putt.

The wind had been gusting all day, and it seemed like every time I hit a shot a gust of wind would knock it down. They call it A-gust-a for a reason, I guess. A pitching wedge didn't seem like enough.

So you hit a 9-iron?
Yeah, and I hit the perfect shot. It was in the air, and my caddie said, "That's all over it." My dad said, "Man, that looks good." It landed about a yard from the back of the green, and we saw it start rolling back toward the hole. It was like slow motion. There was a group teeing off on the 14th hole that saw the whole thing. So it rolls all the way back into the cup for an eagle. Amazing.

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