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A golf nut like no other

Joel ZuckermanBy Joel Zuckerman,

Bob Fagan isn't a bad golfer, far from it. But he is a badly obsessed golfer, and the virus he caught some 40 years ago is as virulent as any ever uncovered. The California resident, a 50-something 2.5 handicap, is the reigning Golf Nut of the Year, a somewhat debatable honor bestowed by the Golf Nuts Society of America. Here are some highlights from a golf resume that can only be described as surrealistic:

* He has played more than 1,600 golf courses in the United States. In doing so, he may have played with more different people on more different courses than anyone alive.

* He has played more of the top-ranked courses in America than anyone else. At last count, he has played 710 of 1,300 courses currently on Golfweek's "America's Best" ballot, and 190 of the 200 courses comprising the "America's Best" list of top 100 classic and modern courses.

* At the age of 48, he played six different 18-hole courses in 114 degree heat in Palm Springs in July in a single day, while walking and carrying his bag in three of the rounds. And on the sixth and final course, Tamarisk CC, he had no drinking water and the clubhouse was closed. "It was like the Burma Death March," said Bob.

* He played in 65 mph winds and rain on the morning of his wedding. His was the only group on the course, and their umbrellas were destroyed.

* He played in 85 mph winds (gusts exceeding 100 mph) and had trouble keeping his bag on his shoulder, breathing, and dodging falling branches and walking, but he still was able to get nine holes in.

* In 2000 and 2001, he spent more money on caddies, carts, and green fees than he realized in total household income.

* He took a six-figure pay decrease to gain an entry-level job with an airline so he could get travel privileges to play more courses outside his driving area. As a result, in 10 months in 2002 he jetted away on 29 different golf trips.

* After graduating first in his MBA class with the most lucrative starting job offer of the entire class, he took a job as an assistant apprentice golf professional at a prestigious private club in Philadelphia at minimum wage.

* He drove 2,300 miles solo from Williams, Arizona non-stop without sleep to Philadelphia to Pine Valley Golf Club, considered the world's greatest golf course.

* He played 18 holes in 35 degree below zero wind-chill temperatures (-4 degrees F.) winning more than $800 in bets while breaking par.

* After playing Yale University Golf Club in the morning, he got caught in a massive traffic jam, missing the ferry to get to Fishers Island, so he chartered a plane ride for the 1.5 mile distance to the Island and made his tee time.

* Driving between courses, he has played 18-hole rounds in Palm Springs and Lake Tahoe in the same day.

* Driving between courses, he has played 18-hole rounds in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the same day.

* Woke up early in Toronto, Canada, drove and played Oak Hill's East Course in Rochester, New York. Was still on the 16th tee 60 minutes prior to his flight's departure, but finished the round, packed the car, thanked the professional, returned his rental car and still caught his flight to Long Island at which point he drove to and played both Piping Rock in a downpour and The Creek Club -- all in the SAME DAY.

* Played one of the courses at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin in the morning, drove to Chicago and played Cog Hill No. 4 in the afternoon, got in the car and drove through the night, reaching Camargo in Cincinnati and was on the tee at 7 a.m. Watched a Reds baseball game that afternoon, and was home in California that evening and at work at 7 a.m. the next morning.

* Played 26 top-ranked courses in Michigan in a five-and-a-half-day period, while setting four course records, and driving more than 1,300 miles. One of his best golf weeks ever.

* Impersonated a tour player to get into the Players' Locker at the Florida Citrus Open and then found himself at the urinal between Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf.

* Not having credentials or a ticket, he once talked his way onto the grounds during the second round of the 1997 Masters.

* Has a library of more than 2,820 golf books and has read nearly all of them (many several times).

* Has kept a written record of every 18-hole round that he's ever played.

* Has an alphabetized collection of more than 4,500 scorecards.

Q--Have you ever been institutionalized?

A--Not that I can remember. I've often thought of committing myself after a bad round, but don't take things that seriously anymore.

Q--How many marriages have you gone through?

A--I've only gone through one marriage--of my own.

Q--Do you know the names of your children?

A--Yes, just in case I forget, I keep them written on the back cover of my USGA rules book in my golf bag along with my home phone number.

Q--On a serious note, you are an unusual, and unusually motivated man.

A--Reading my golf accomplishments in bullet form does make it seem outlandish, I know. But in the last 10 or 12 years I've made a concerted effort to compress my golf time into intense bursts, so as not to take time away from my family or business interests. When I get a chance to play golf these days I try and make the most of it.

Q--To say the least. What exactly is your profession?

A--It's not easy to describe. I've been in general management the past 25 years turning around troubled operations, and I'm now a management consultant specializing in mergers & acquisitions, and strategic planning.

Q--Some of your golf feats are almost hard to believe. What did you shoot after you drove non-stop from Arizona to play Pine Valley?

A--Sad to say, I didn't get to play that day. It fell through. I have played it four times overall though, and shot rounds in the 90s, 80s, 70s and 60s, so I've had the good, the bad and the ugly.

Q--You're obviously an accomplished player. What's the best score you ever recorded?

A--I once shot 57 on a par-70 course. I missed a couple of 10-footers early on, and then everything started falling in. I've had some hot rounds in my life and at one point could really run the table when I had it going, but I'm not that good a player in the overall scheme of things.

Q--How on Earth did you talk your way into The Masters without a ticket or credential?

A--(Laughing) It was a lot of pleading. At the time I was the Executive Director of the Northern California chapter of the PGA. I thought that would gain me access to the tournament, but you actually have to be a class 'A' pro to get in. They took pity on me, and let me in that one day.

Q--How many course records have you set?

A--About 76 at last count. Of course, I've played many courses that were only a few weeks old. If you play early enough and beat the guys in your foursome, you might get a course record!

Q--You've played all over the U.S., but what about internationally?

A--Not too much at all. I've been to St. Andrew's and Carnoustie in Scotland. I've never been to Ireland, or the Sand Belt in Australia, and they are both on my "to do" list. I have played in about 43 states though. I'm missing the Dakotas, Alaska, Iowa, Montana, Louisiana and Arkansas. My passion is playing as many different courses as I can. I'll play anywhere once, and 2003 was a good example. I played 78 rounds, but I played on 77 different courses. Typically I play between 105 and 120 annual rounds, and only four or five of those rounds will come at courses I've played previously.

Q--I guess that means you never have a home-course advantage. You describe yourself as a "doer" and not a "watcher." This extends beyond your incredible golf accomplishments, but into other areas of life as well. You decided to learn more about homelessness, for example, by actually going onto the streets yourself for three days and nights. Explain your philosophy.

A--I used to watch lots of sports on TV. In essence, you're watching others pursue and fulfill their dreams. These are folks who dreamed of being athletes, actors or announcers, and they accomplished their goals. Why should I sit on a couch eating pizza, when I can follow my own dreams, create my own agenda and make my own memories? I have friends who are very content to sit on the couch and watch one football game after another. Why not do it yourself? You only get one chance at life, and I think the older we get the more we realize the value of time. This isn't a dress rehearsal, but the real thing.

Q--I admire and concur with your life philosophy. Now expound just a bit on the golf obsession.

A--Golf is a microcosm of life. The game allows you to meet so many interesting people, and learn so much about them during a round. It might be social, business or competitive, it doesn't matter. In a manner of speaking, everyone's naked on a golf course. You learn about someone's sense of honor, sense of humor, whether they're plodding or aggressive, how they handle adversity. Add in the beautiful canvas, the fact that it's cerebral, physical, psychological, and a great test of character besides. There are so many aspects of the game I enjoy.

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • WV Media Trip

    Dave Finn wrote on: Apr 25, 2013

    I truly look forward to meeting both Joel and Bob next month in West Virginia. This will be fun!