Cover Story

"Jimmy The Golfer"

How the new king of late-night television finds time for everything — including the sport he played in high school

June 2014

It's 7 p.m., and you'd never know from the bounce in his step and enthusiasm in his voice that Jimmy Fallon is 13 hours into a perfectly normal Wednesday. Gliding down the hallways outside Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center, where "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" is recorded Monday through Friday at 5 p.m., the comedian and late-night ratings leader since taking over for Jay Leno on Feb. 17 insists he's excited to talk golf.

"This will be easy for me," he promises. "I'm loving golf right now."

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Saugerties, N.Y., 100 miles north of New York City, Fallon is every bit as energetic and likable at the end of the day as he was at our 7 a.m. photo shoot the day before.

Fallon began today with a morning golf lesson and workout at Golf & Body NYC, the private game-improvement and fitness center a mile from his co-op in Gramercy Park.

"How do I find time for golf with a wife, an 8-month-old daughter and hosting 'The Tonight Show'?" Fallon says. "I make time for it."

Would you call Jimmy Fallon a golfer or a guy who plays golf?
Jimmy Fallon is trying to be a golfer, but right now he's a guy who plays golf. I'm trying my hardest, and I love to play, but if I'm in front of a crowd, I just want to make them laugh.

You've used golf for laughs during your five years on late-night TV.
We do this thing called "Hallway Golf," and people love it. Played with Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Rock, Will Arnett. Had a chipping contest with Dennis Quaid. I sank an amazing shot to beat Shaquille O'Neal. The bet was whoever loses has to walk a block wearing bikini underwear with the other person's name on his butt. And I won! You should've seen Shaq walking a block with pink underwear and "Jimmy" on his butt. A man of his word.

You beat Tiger, too.
I beat him at his own Wii golf game in Times Square. That dude does not like to lose or be told what to do. On the second hole he hit the ball, and I said, "Tiger, you know if you just shake the thing and move it forward you can put spin on the ball." He looks at me and says, "Don't tell me how to play my game."

His first late-night TV appearance post-scandal was with you.
When his agent told me before the show that they didn't want me to bring up any stuff, I told him, "I'm a comedian, and I've been telling jokes about this guy for months. Everyone has. I have to bring it up." So Tiger comes out, sits down, and I say, "I know it must have been a painful situation you went through, but from a comedian's standpoint, my monologue writers thank you. We laughed at your pain, and it kind of wrote itself." Then I just listed words: balls, shaft, holes, foursomes, stuff like that. And he cracked up laughing, I broke him. I think it was a pivotal moment for his career. It was like he could finally say to himself, I sat there and took it. Now I can move on.

Did they complain afterward?
Tiger was a really good sport about it. He could have asked us to remove it before it aired, but he didn't want us to cut it.

Jimmy Fallon

Rory McIlroy was on your show after winning the PGA Championship in 2012.
I think he was a little intimidated by me. He saw how I beat Tiger in Times Square, so he knew not to mess with me.

What about President Obama?
How many rounds of golf has he played as president, 160-something? That's been great for me and my writers. Anytime the president does something people don't approve of, I'm always there. That's my job.

Have you played golf with Justin Bieber?
Does he play golf? ... Mini-golf? ... Putt-putt? Does it involve a windmill? No way that guy plays golf.

If you could choose any golfer to be on your show, who would you want to interview?
Bob Hope. I'd love to have been able to have him on. He was a genius. I'd love to pick his brain and learn from him. I look back at these great comedians who had golf tournaments, like Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. They'd goof off, have fun and make some good memories. I'd love to do that. Maybe we can start something here on the East Coast, whether it be in the Hamptons or just outside the city. We need one of those back here.

You played once in the Hope Classic, back in 2008.
Let me tell you something, that was a workout. There are a bunch of beautiful homes along the courses in Palm Springs, and I dropped by a bunch of them while we played. I'd say hi, have the drink of the house and move on to the next shot. I was wasted by the sixth hole! But I kept doing it for 18. And that was Day One.

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