July 2, 2008

My Shot: Thomas (Boo) Weekley

Your atypical tour pro on combat with opponents, orangutans and alligators.

Boo Weekley, photographed on Sept. 25, 2007, in Madison, Miss.

Boo Weekley, photographed on Sept. 25, 2007, in Madison, Miss.

__ Age 34,

Jay, Florida __

I played the mini-tours for a lot of years, and man, you see some weird things out there. There are a lot of desperate people, strange personalities and marginal players, and with that you're going to see some cheating. I was playing one time with one guy who had a reputation for being a talented cheater. He hooked it into some trees, and before I walked over to my ball in the fairway I saw his ball in some small roots. As he walked around sizing up his shot, he knocked the glove out of his back pocket, and it landed in the vicinity of his ball. When he hit the shot, a big cloud of dirt flew up, which was impossible because his ball had been sitting in all this wood.

When his ball hit the green, I said, "Whoa, hold on. We're going back to that spot to have a little look at your divot." Sure enough, the divot was well behind the roots. "You're out of here, buddy," I said, and next thing I know, he shoves me.

"You touch me again, and I will knock you out," I told him, and called for some officials. They took him off the course right there.

The mini-tours were so unpredictable. On the last day of a tournament in Alabama, me and another guy are tied for the lead when he hooks it left toward some water. "Get down!" I said. "Sit! Land soft!" His ball goes in the water anyway. He growls at me, "Don't ever talk to my golf ball."

"Hey," I said, "I was just trying to be nice."

He said, "I think I'm going to kick your ass," and the next thing you know, we're on the ground, rolling around, throwing punches. Two things happened within the next 30 minutes: I got back on my feet before he did, and I won the tournament.

One Friday night when I was 16, a bunch of us went to the county fair. A truck pulled in there, sort of away from the midway, and we watched a guy get out and put together a big cage he had in the bed of the truck. After he got the cage together, he put up a little table. Then he went to the cab of the truck and brings out an orangutan. He starts yelling: "Five to win fifty! Who can beat the orangutan? Pay $5 to try and get $50 if you can whip him!"

We'd never seen anything like that before. We decided that one of us had to try, and I drew the short straw. Five of us put up a buck each, and I gave the guy with the truck $5. Before helping me into the boxing gloves and headgear, he made me sign a waiver. Looking back, that was a bad sign.

I got in the ring. The orangutan didn't look like much. He came up about to my chest, though his arms were as long as he was tall. When the match started, he didn't lift his arms. He kept them down at his side and used them to pivot and follow me as I circled him like Muhammad Ali. I just didn't see how I could miss. My strategy was to fake with my right hand, and when the orangutan tried to block the punch, I'd throw my left.

My buddies were going wild. "Get him, Boo! Kick his butt!" They really wanted that $50. I moved in close and faked with my right, and that's the last thing I remember. I woke up bleeding in the back of a friend's pickup. The orangutan had knocked me cold with one punch, which I didn't even see coming. My friends thought it was hilarious. They said I had a glass jaw and called me "Glassy" the rest of the night.

After I came to, we watched this orangutan knock out guy after guy. Not one guy could lay a glove on him. He had reflexes like a cat, and later I learned that an orangutan can tear a guy's arm off.

I've always half-denied this story -- even though I was a kid and it happened almost 20 years ago, I can see the animal-rights people protesting. I don't think orangutan fighting goes on anymore, which is a good thing. It probably wasn't fair for the orangutan, and it sure as heck wasn't good for me. The only winner was the guy driving the truck.

The tour life is real tough on a marriage. To the young guy who is just getting his PGA Tour card and is in a serious relationship, my advice is to wait three years before getting married. You need a spell to find out if the relationship can stand up to the travel, moving, the being gone from home and so on. If it can, great—you can ease right into the marriage. If not, there's no harm done.

The gossip mill on tour is always turning. I have to be a little careful about what I tell guys who I don't consider close friends, because even though they might not spread it to other players, they'll usually tell their wives. And once the wives get it, it's gone.

The first time I made it to the PGA Tour, in 2002, I had a dollar number in mind: $8 million. Through prize money, investments and whatever else, that's how much I figured I needed to have in the bank before I could make sure my mom and dad, my wife, my son, my sister and my two nieces are taken care of, and to take care of things like a cousin calling and saying he's in jail and needs help. Well, I had a bad year in 2002 and lost my card. I didn't get it back until 2007. Today the number is still $8 million, and I finally put a real dent in it because I won over $2.5 million before taxes. Five more years like this one, and you won't see much more of me. I haven't been out here all that long, but I'm getting worn out.

My son, Parker, is 6. When I'm home, he's right on my hip wherever I go. We're a team. Lately he's taken to telling complete strangers, "Hey, did you know my daddy won a million dollars playing golf last week? He's famous." I just say, "Shush, boy."

There was no cable where I grew up, and we usually got only four channels. Yogi Bear came on at 6 a.m., and starting at age 3 I never missed it. I ate lots of jelly sandwiches because of that show. My dad would imitate Yogi Bear; he'd come in while I was watching and say, "Hey, Boo Boo," and I'd giggle. He thought that was cute, I guess, so he just started calling me Boo.

My dad was awfully big on manners and discipline. Still is. If you walked into my old man's house wearing a hat, he'd give you a minute or two to take it off. Then he'd say, "Is it raining in here? I didn't think so. Take your hat off." I've heard him say that to some pretty important people. He insisted on our saying grace before dinner, and I was taught to address every adult by "Sir" -- you notice I still do that. All that discipline probably kept me out of jail when I got older. Half the guys I ran with wound up fine with good jobs, but the others wound up behind bars, and I have to think the difference was all that discipline.

There are some good teachers out there, but the only one who is a genius at diagnosing my swing is my mom. She took up golf late, when she was 39, but in her younger days she was an amazing athlete. She never read an instruction book or took lessons, but she has a remarkable eye for motion. If I can find a way to keep Mom sharp, I'll make us both a lot of money.

I can't say I've read many books. I have SLD, which stands for Slow Learning Disability, and some ADD, too. I can learn as quickly as anybody when I hear something or see it on TV, but reading is extremely difficult because it takes forever for me to process the information. So school was discouraging.

I gave college a try; couldn't handle it. From 1994 to '97, just before I turned pro, I was a hydroblaster in a chemical plant. There were these huge tanks, and the walls inside them would get caked with an ammonia residue that had hardened. To get it off, we'd spray it with a hose that fired water so fast you wouldn't believe it. A nozzle in a car wash shoots water at about 80 psi [pounds per square inch]; this thing cranked a jet of water anywhere between 10,000 and 25,000 psi. You could cut a big board in half with that water as easy as if you had a chain saw, and of course it could easily cut off a man's leg or arm. We wore big boots, Kevlar vests and helmets to protect ourselves. It was hell hot down there, about 130 degrees. Two guys would go down in the tank at a time, and we wore harnesses attached to a rope. The guys up top yanked on the rope every minute or so, to make sure a guy hadn't passed out from the ammonia. You'd work one hour on and two hours off. I made good money hydroblasting; when I turned pro I had $5,000 in the bank.

I wrote down the wrong hole score for Sergio Garcia at the PGA, and he signed for it and was disqualified. He was madder that he played bad than he was at me. Then I did it to Sergio twice more at the Deutsche Bank, only those times it was caught. It happens a lot more often than you'd think, probably 15 times every week. I don't understand why they have us scoring for each other anyway. For one thing, they have scorers walking with us. For another, expecting a player to keep track of how many times another player has hit the ball when there's so much at stake and you're trying to concentrate on your own game, is a little unreasonable. If they changed the way we did that, it wouldn't break too many hearts.

When I've got a big shot to play, I always tell myself the same thing: This shot is not life-threatening. I learned to do that by being around my caddie, Joe Pyland, who did two tours with the Army in Iraq. I look over at Joe, who knows what real pressure is, and realize that the worst thing that can happen to me is to get stung by a bee or bitten by an ant. No matter what happens with the shot, I'm not going to get hurt. Somehow that really calms me down.

The local guys I went up against around Milton [Fla.] when I was a teenager knew how to bet, how to talk and how to play. Most of them were 10 years older than me, and it wasn't easy holding my own against them. I learned the hard way. I ended up owing one guy $600. I gave him my paycheck for three straight weeks to pay him off. In that environment I had to improve to survive, and I did get better. It was like paying tuition.

When we got tired of playing the same old nassau, we played "lefty-righty." After everybody tees off, you see which two balls are the farthest to the left, and those two guys play against the pair who are the farthest to the right. You start all over on the next hole -- every hole's a new match. You play for a fixed amount on every hole and keep a running total of how each guy stands. It's real interesting, a team and individual game rolled into one.

City people are terrified of alligators. I don't think they're a big deal; I've helped catch them on dry land and even caught a couple of small ones with my rod and reel. They're amazing, though. I watched an alligator chase down a 150-pound calf over 40 yards once. The calf was caught alone and was too young to know better. The big mama cow, they usually know better. When they take their calves down to the river to drink, they'll leave the calves back a ways and go out in the river first. They stomp circles out in the water to scare off any alligators that are out there. When you grow up around nature, you learn that all animals are smart. You have to respect them. Orangutans especially.

My Shot: The Very Best Interviews from Golf Digest Magazine, a compilation of more than 30 My Shot articles by Guy Yocom (208 pages, $29.95, Stewart, Tabori & Chang), is available in bookstores and online.