Forty years ago, Fuzzy Zoeller became just the third man to win the Masters in his debut. In 2009, he chose the 30-year anniversary of that victory to end his run as a competitor. But he still attends the tournament without fail, and there he was again this past April in his green jacket with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, ready with a quip.
He even played in the Par-3 Contest.
Zoeller is only 67, so strolling around the short course at Augusta National Golf Club wouldn’t seem like a monumental proposition. But it was. The avuncular Indiana native breathed a word to no one that it could be his last go-around.
The previous December, Zoeller learned that he needed open-heart surgery, but he put it off until after he returned to Indiana from his winter home in Naples, Fla. He insists the operation wasn’t that risky and it was no big deal to delay it.
“They said it wasn’t going to kill me, so I said, ‘Well, if it isn’t going to kill me, I’ll see you all at the end of May,’ ” Zoeller said with a laugh.
“Hell, it wasn’t that much [of a procedure],” he added.
No, not much. Ahem.
Doctors performed a triple bypass on the two-time major winner on June 17, which kind of sounds like a big deal. The timing of the procedure explains why Zoeller, the 1984 U.S. Open winner, was one of the few absentees for the champions' reunion at Pebble Beach Golf Links before the 119th U.S. Open.
“It worked out pretty good,” Zoeller said by phone from his home in New Albany, Ind., still downplaying the procedure that included replacing one of his valves, the very operation that his hero, Arnold Palmer, was waiting to have when he passed away in 2016. “Yeah, they did the triple Lindy on me. Threw in a double-toe loop. But it’s all good now.”
Zoeller noticed no symptoms or signs of trouble when he underwent a physical in December that included a nuclear stress test. “I flunked it. Badly, I guess,” he said.
Recovery has been a different story. Just six weeks after the surgery, doctors gave him the OK to do whatever he wants. Except smoke. He quit on the day he walked into the hospital. He still enjoys his eponymous brand of vodka—Fuzzy’s Ultimate Premium Vodka.
“I was drinking that three weeks after the operation,” he said. “You can’t keep a good man down.
“I’m lucky,” he added, turning serious for a moment. “I heal quickly, and I had good doctors.”
There has been one post-operative problem to arise: He has no desire to play golf. Zoeller said he played frequently through May, but he hasn’t picked up a club since and isn’t sure when he might get around to doing so.
“People are always asking me, ‘Don’t you miss it?’ And I say, “Hell, no, I don’t miss it.’ I really don’t care if I ever pick up a club again. I’ve picked up enough of them,” said Zoeller, who won 10 PGA Tour titles and two more on the PGA Tour Champions. “I retired at the right time.”
His last official event was the 2017 Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines, Iowa, where he finished 76th.
Zoeller isn't done, however. He will start swinging again. He wants to be somewhat prepared for the Par-3 Contest at Augusta next April.
“I’ll always play the Par-3 Contest,” he conceded, warming up for one more quip. “That’s the only place that has par 4s that I can reach.”