JUMBO IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS
A fan’s experience tripping on mushrooms at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock
We were somewhere around the edge of the 10th tee at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I have to stop giggling so that we can watch Norman drive.”
In the third round of the 1995 U.S. Open, Greg Norman was about to start the back nine. He was fighting the wind and his swing, desperately clinging to his second-round lead. Given the stakes, I couldn’t understand why he had just turned into a Komodo dragon. My companion turned to me and whispered, “Relax. Everything’s fine.” I tried to believe that, but then Norman’s golf bag burst into flames.
That’s when it occurred to me—maybe I shouldn’t have tried psychedelic mushrooms for the first time in the middle of the U.S. Open.
The short, strange trip we were on began several years earlier when I read an interview with George Harrison. My favorite Beatle said the first time he took LSD, he saw God in every blade of grass. I didn’t know what that meant, but I sure as hell wanted to find out.
Soon after, I fell hard for the works of Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O’Rourke, who made experiencing the world in an altered state sound like a whole lot of fun. The history of artists using drugs to reach peak creativity runs long and deep, but I was a sports junkie, more fascinated by the combination of mood altering substances and athletic pursuits.
In my high school baseball days, my friends and I were obsessed with Dock Ellis, the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who pulled off one of the most notorious feats in baseball history when he threw a no hitter on acid. To a bunch of 1980s kids growing up in the shadow of the drug war and “Just Say No,” Ellis’ legendary performance was a case study in outlaw cool.
Years later, a co-worker told me about an epic round he played in college. Aided by a dose of LSD, he beat par on a tough Ohio course. The guy was a shaky putter, but that day the cup was the size of a manhole cover. We all dream of finding proof that God exists, but I’d settle for a round with no three putts.
Drugs were never my thing. My family has a dark history with illegal substances, and I’m a cautious nerd. I knew I didn’t have a mighty constitution like Thompson or O’Rourke. The one time I had three beers on a golf course, I almost drove my cart into a lake.
My curiosity about psychedelic drugs and human performance wouldn’t go away, so in the summer of 1995, I came up with an ideal compromise.
I was living in New York City, and Shinnecock Hills was hosting the U.S. Open. The plan was to spend a June weekend on Long Island and take in a major I had never attended at one of the most storied clubs in America. Nick Price was No. 1 in the world. Phil Mickelson was on the rise. Norman was in his prime. What could be better than that? Only one thing: watching it all while tripping on shrooms.
Once I hatched the plan, tournament tickets and mushrooms were easily scored. A place to stay was not. Every room on eastern Long Island had been booked for a year. Then fate intervened and handed me the kind of gift that makes you think, Maybe this isn’t the dumbest idea I ever had.
At a wedding on Memorial Day weekend, I met the woman who would become my next serious girlfriend. Rachel was brilliant, beautiful and hilarious. Even better, she had a summer share in the Hamptons. Two weeks later—and five days after the 25th anniversary of Ellis’ renegade no-no—I walked through the gates of Shinnecock Hills with Rachel and a baggie of mushrooms.
From the start, it felt like one of those special days you remember the rest of your life. The sky was a stunning electric blue, and the famous Stanford White clubhouse sparkled in the early summer sun: perfection.
After watching a bit of golf, we sat in the stands at the ninth green and ate lunch. The mushrooms we slapped on the concession-stand burger weren’t bad. The meat tasted like one of John Daly’s old FootJoys. As we walked to the course to wait for the fun to start, my stomach was tight with anticipation. A world of possibilities spread out before me. Would my consciousness be forever altered? Would I finally comprehend the meaning of life? Would I spend the next 12 hours weeping in a porta potty?
Our plan was to follow the leaders on the back nine, so we soaked up the atmosphere and waited for them to arrive. A few minutes later, someone near me pointed to a press photographer’s massive telephoto lens and said, “See that camera? It’s disposable.” At the time, it was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. The ride had begun.
My first psychedelic experience started well. The summer afternoon light bathed the course in a saintly orange glow. Trees swaying in the wind became one and danced with rhythmic grace. I saw a cloud that looked like my sixth-grade math teacher. Then, I had a vision.
From today’s perspective, it’s hard to appreciate Greg Norman’s role in the game before Tiger Woods arrived and changed everything. Tall, charismatic and bursting with testosterone, the Great White Shark was a strutting embodiment of that rarest star commodity—the leading man who men want to be and women want to sleep with.
This was all before the most famous collapse in golf and Norman’s eager embrace of a murderous regime. When the Shark burst on the scene, he was the first person since Arnie who made the world think that maybe, just maybe, golf could be cool. Boy, did he look the part.
Rachel wasn’t a golf fan and had never heard of the chiseled Aussie. As Norman approached the 10th tee, she saw him for the first time. Her jaw literally dropped. In an instant, I was three inches tall, and it had nothing to do with the drugs. But I was too at one with the universe to feel jealous.
Then I turned and saw something even more majestic and impossible. Norman’s playing partner, Jumbo Ozaki, was the reigning king of Japanese golf. There he was, striding like a monarch in purple pants, a purple visor and a striped purple shirt. It was a gift from the golf gods—Ozaki’s sartorial choices lined up perfectly with our pharmaceutical ones. Was the sunburst on Ozaki’s chest a cheesy company logo or the birth of a new solar system? It didn’t matter. When the man stepped up to hit, he shimmered with glowing energy. I could tell Rachel was seeing it, too—her pupils looked like hockey pucks.
For the next few holes, the world was in harmony. I was hypnotized by Shinnecock’s wonders, and Rachel was happily imagining a life Down Under with Greg Norman and a fleet of Ferraris. There was no sign of God in the waisthigh fescue, but watching Jumbo Ozaki float above the lush green fairways made us feel like we were in heaven— until things suddenly turned dark.
The course was a monster that day, hard and fast. As Norman fought the elements, I had my own struggles. I became convinced the gorgeous hawk circling overhead was trying to steal my soul. Two holes later, a local rowdy started yelling at Norman. In a case of eerie foreshadowing, the Shark had recently voiced support for a series of international golf tournaments that would challenge the PGA Tour. “What about the world tour, Greg?” the heckler shouted. “What about the world tour?”
I was appalled—what kind of jackass acts like that at a golf tournament? I spent the next five minutes staring at a trash can. The heckler disappeared, but the interruption had broken my reverie. I was consumed with the real fear that Norman—a man known for fighting his own demons—would suddenly morph into one and eat the heckler’s face.
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Then something even more horrific happened—Rachel saw her boss in the crowd. He was a founding partner at her accounting firm and one of her father’s oldest friends, and he was on to us. The patrician executive was staring directly at Rachel, disgusted with the degenerate druggie sullying his firm’s reputation— or so she imagined.
In truth, the boss was casually talking to another golf fan and didn’t even see Rachel. It didn’t matter—seeing him was the ultimate buzzkill. Now Rachel was convinced she was about to be fired, blacklisted and disowned. Just like that, all the promise of the day melted away— for Rachel, anyway. I was busy trying to decide if the mustard stain on my shirt was actually a treasure map.
WAS THE SUNBURST ON OZAKI’S CHEST A CHEESY LOGO OR THE BIRTH OF A NEW SOLAR SYSTEM?
Eventually Rachel got my attention. She was in tears, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and absolutely, without a doubt, don’t-even-fucking-argue- with-me had to leave the tournament right away. Then something extraordinary happened.
Most pundits agree that Tiger’s 40-30 in the first round of the 1997 Masters is the greatest on-course adjustment in golf history. Impressive stuff, but he can’t touch what Rachel pulled off that day. Using nothing but a cup of coffee and sheer willpower, she somehow forced herself down from the trip. Five minutes later, her visions were gone, and she was back on Earth. It’s by far the most awe-inspiring thing I’ve ever seen on a golf course.
After Rachel rallied, I did, too. The late afternoon light grew more spectacular, and my sense of warmth and wonder returned. Over the last four holes, I was one with Shinnecock’s sublime landscape. If there’s a higher plane of existence, I had found it.
I wish I could say the same for the pros. The conditions grew increasingly brutal, and the Shark limped home with a 74. Ozaki’s back nine 44 left him with a round of 80. Even my Purple God couldn’t play Shinnecock Hills in that wind. As the last putt dropped, the party came crashing to an end when we discovered a fatal flaw in our strategy: We had no way home. The train station was packed, and I was still flying. No way I could navigate that mass of pulsing humanity. Now it was my turn to panic.
We wandered the parking lot hoping for a miracle, and finally a stranger in a beat-up brown station wagon took pity and off ered us a ride. At this point, the golf gods just wanted me to leave.
The ride home was uneventful until a Long Island trooper pulled us over and motioned for us to get out of the car. Sure that we were busted, I tried to jump out of the car, confess everything and beg for mercy. Luckily the driver stopped me—the trooper was actually a traffic cop waving our car through the intersection. As we passed by, I told the officer I loved him.
Back at Rachel’s house, I hadn’t quite landed yet. In the cool Southampton evening, I sat on the lawn with a friend and played catch with a tennis ball, laughing about everything that happened that day and nothing at all.
Between giggles, I made ridiculous behind-the-back grabs I never could have pulled off unmedicated. For a few minutes, I finally saw the world through Dock Ellis’ eyes. At this point in the story, Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O’Rourke would have jumped back in the punchbowl and sailed off on a three-day bender, but I could feel the ride was over and was fine with that. Somehow I knew that trying to prolong the ecstasy would have been a colossal mistake.
The next day, Rachel and I watched Corey Pavin win the tournament on TV, stone cold sober. In time, our relationship faded, but I still think fondly of her. I wish I could say the same for Norman.
I never tried psychedelics again, and in retrospect, shrooming at the U.S. Open was a really stupid thing to do. At least that’s what I’ll tell my kids when they finally hear this story.
The fact is, that was one of the great days of my life, a magical journey that gave me memories I can never erase. I fully expect the last image I’ll see as I leave this Earth will be a fiery purple Jumbo Ozaki silhouetted against that mesmerizing Long Island summer sky.
I haven’t been back to Shinnecock since that glorious day, but the Open will return there in 2026.