Here's the story of the hat: After a sweltering summer day on a Kansas golf course in 1957, 16-year-old Jim Colbert almost collapsed from sunstroke. Hey, moron, said his doctor (we're paraphrasing), from now on wear a hat on the links.
The hat Jim adopted is known variously as a fishing hat, a rain hat, a bucket hat—the kind favored by McLean Stevenson in M*A*S*H. As a journeyman on the PGA Tour in the 1960s and '70s, Colbert became known for that chapeau, whose practicality was not limited to its function as a sun guard: It also concealed one of the less-convincing hairpieces on the circuit.
"I'll be the first to admit that it's pretty ugly," says Colbert, speaking of his hat, not his rug. "In 19701 wore a baseball cap for six months, but that bothered people. They'd say, 'We didn't recognize you in that thing. Where's your hat? Trevino has his sombrero, Nicklaus has the bear. I have my hat."
While golf fans laughed with Trevino and admired Nicklaus, they empathized with Colbert, the short guy with the bad hair and bad back who struggled every week just to "make a check." Throughout his career on what he now puckishly calls "the junior tour," Colbert's unglamorous lid was an apt symbol for a workaday pro whose eight Tour wins and $1.6 million in earnings were spread out over 22 years.
How incongruous, then, to see the hat painted on the tail of the tan, $1.4 million Sabreliner 80 jet in which Colbert hopscotches the country. He bought the jet in 1994 and uses it to commute to Senior PGA Tour events and his business holdings from homes in Las Vegas and Palm Desert, Calif. Since joining the Senior circuit in '91, following three years as a golf analyst for ESPN, Colbert has won 10 tournaments and amassed $3,736,671 in prize money. This year he leads the Senior money list with $238,150. His Senior winnings dwarf what he made on the PGA Tour, but both in turn are dwarfed by the fortune he has amassed "outside the ropes," in the design, management and ownership of golf courses.
"I've always been on the side of the average Joe," Colbert was saying last week, a few hours before jetting off to play in the FHP Health Care Classic at the Ojai (Calif.) Country Club. Bruce Devlin would win the 36-hole, rain-shortened event, while Colbert would earn $19,000 for a six-under-par tie for eighth. That finish would have been a champagne occasion for Colbert the worker ant, but it didn't do much to excite Colbert the Senior. For perspective: Colbert needed more than three years on the PGA Tour to win his first $40,000; he now spends halt that amount annually to send his pilot and copilot to flight school.
Due to his farsighted decision in the early '80s to cater to the public-course-playing public, Colbert can now afford memberships in such excruciatingly private establishments as the Bighorn Golf Club, whose 9th hole runs behind the Palm Desert house that he and his wife, Marcia, just built.
"We're still waiting for a lot of art," says Marcia, as Jim treats a visitor to a tour of the place. He points out his workout area, complete with treadmill, gleaming weight machines, whirlpool and cold plunge. The mattress in the master bedroom is also a point of interest. In it are 350 magnets, which Colbert says help increase circulation in the lumbar region of his back. "I know it sounds like voodoo," he says, "but it works for me."
He betrays not a trace of self-pity while discussing the back pain that cut into his playing schedule and forced him to retire from the Tour in 1987. Perhaps that's because fiscally, if not physically, that bad back turned out to be a good thing.
Long ago, when he was a sophomore at Bishop Miege High in Roeland Park, Kans., Colbert would sit behind Marcia in class and whisper to her, "I'm going to marry you and take you places."