My Shot: Evel Knievel
I'd make a jump on a motorcycle before I'd jump with a golf cart again. In the mid-'70s I played a lot of golf at Rivermont in Alpharetta, Ga. The 17th hole there is a par 3 that's steeply downhill. The path has a series of hairpin turns, and if you ignore them you'll just keep going over a huge ledge. The guys I hung out with down there pointed out that if you gathered enough speed you could go over the cliff and land where the path resumes farther down the hill. For days they dared me to make the jump, and when I came to the hole in a foul mood one afternoon—I wasn't playing well—I just went for it. Halfway down the hill I realized I'd made a mistake. You have no idea how unstable a three-wheel golf cart is when it becomes airborne. By the grace of God I made a perfect three-point landing, but the tires were like basketballs, and the cart bounced like an SOB. When I got the thing stopped down near the green, I immediately got a royal chewing out from my wife. I couldn't blame her. She'd been in the passenger seat the whole time.
Carts are unstable on the ground, too. Some years ago my son Kelly had just finished playing the front nine with friends at a course in San Diego. The starter asked if a single, a guy from Japan, could join them. Kelly said sure, and the guy strapped his bag on the cart and jumped in. It was the last thing that poor guy ever did. As Kelly was rounding a curve, the guy fell out as he was reaching for a pack of cigarettes, hitting his head. He was killed instantly. It was a traumatic thing for Kelly. He's a good boy, a plus-1 handicapper and winner of the Las Vegas city amateur championship. But he was grilled for two days before the police let him go. He very nearly quit playing golf because of it. He still plays, but he's awfully nervous about driving the cart.
My grandpa got me a set of Wilson clubs, Sam Snead models, when I was 12. Many years later, when I'd become well known, I got to know Sam, and we played a lot of golf together. He'd give me two shots a side, jump in his cart with that big dog of his, and off we'd go. I never did beat Sam. We tied a few times, and I took pride in outdriving him, but you could forget about taking money from that man. Then he'd rub it in. When I wrote the check, he insisted that I write "Golf lessons" in the memo section, so he could write it off.
I learned one thing from jumping motorcycles that was of great value on the golf course, the putting green especially: Whatever you do, don't come up short.
You'd think a guy who has broken 35 bones in his body would have a high pain threshold, but mine is pretty low. I got hit in the shin with a golf ball once, and it almost brought tears to my eyes. I've had broken bones that didn't hurt as bad.
I was playing 21 at the Aladdin in Las Vegas, betting $10,000 a hand. Arnold Palmer and Winnie are standing right behind me, watching. And I'm losing. The dealer is pulling 20 every time, and although I'm pulling my share of 20s, too, I can't win a hand, and I'm losing a lot of money. And I'm getting really angry. The next hand he deals me a 20, and he's got a face card showing. I'm certain he has 20, and I just can't bear tying again. So I ask for a hit. The dealer freaks out, shuts the table down and screams for Ash Resnick, who runs the casino. Ash comes along and is told I want to hit 20. He looks at me for a long time and then says, "Give the kid a hit." The dealer gives me an ace, and when I turn around, Arnold's eyes are this big, and Winnie looks like she's going to be sick. "I know what pressure is," Arnold said, "but you're too much."
Arnold gave me a great lesson once. We were at Bay Hill, and I suggested that we play for some cash. He put his arm around me and said, "Evel, I've got a lot of money, and I don't need any of yours. On the other hand, I don't want you to have any of mine." That taught me something about gambling with friends: Keep it friendly.
I was making a jump in Dallas one year and hooked up with Amarillo Slim. Now there's a man who knows how to gamble. Slim bet me that I couldn't break 80 at Preston Trail the next day. I was a good 6-handicapper and had played the course, so I knew I had a good shot, and I bet him $10,000 I could do it. When I woke up the next morning, there was three inches of snow on the ground. There was no getting out of the bet; Slim had been careful to stipulate "tomorrow," with no questions asked. I paid up, and had no problem with it whatsoever. If you're going to be a sucker, be a quiet one. Nothing's worse than a guy who loses fair and square and then whines about it.
One of Slim's favorite tricks was to bet that two of any 25 people chosen at random would have the same birthday. He always won that bet—the math was huge in his favor.
We were playing a big-money game at Las Vegas Country Club. My partner was Jay Sarno, the fellow who built Caesars Palace. One of the guys we were playing against was a terrible cheater, so I knew we had to keep an eye on him. One of our side bets was that nobody could reach a certain par 5 in two. After we hit our drives on this par 5, I had my back turned to him when he hit his second shot. He hit the green and started yelling that he'd won the bet. What he didn't know was, I had a Zebra putter, the kind with the shiny steel plate on the sole. I'd watched him through the soleplate, which was like a mirror. I went straight over and gave the guy a push. Under his foot was a tee. Well, I pulled a .44 magnum from my bag and chased that guy around the course until I cornered him between some condos. He was on his knees begging me not to kill him. To this day I don't know what stopped me from shooting him. The sheriff was called out, and he let me go, because he knew the kind of man this guy was. The sheriff told me I'd be best off not playing golf for money in Las Vegas, because that town has the worst cheaters in the world.