Peter Jacobsen could do his George Bush for you, with a smooth necktie of a voice, or he could do his Greg Norman, with lips pursed in a baby-man expression, or he could do his flight attendant, explaining with a pair of bugged-out drill-sergeant eyes how to use a seat cushion as a flotation device. But these days the person Jacobsen does best is himself. The impressions of others are strictly optional now, something to liven up the Monday outings and entertain the wealthy cigar-chompers so he doesn't have to keep saying, "Boy, you got all of that one, Ray. Outdrive me again and I'm going back to the clubhouse." Jacobsen doesn't have to be funny anymore. He can just be good.
You want to see an imitation? Jacobsen is doing an excellent impression of the No. 2 low scorer and the leading money winner on the PGA Tour. Going into last weekend's Colonial, Jacobsen had won two tournaments and $870,321, with back-to-back titles in February at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the Buick Invitational of California. He has also finished second twice and third once. He is among the top-10 players in seven of the Tour's 10 statistical categories, and with a scoring average of 69.61 he has a chance at every award from the Vardon Trophy to PGA Tour Player of the Year.
This is a sudden and profound about-face for the 41-year-old Jacobsen, who has been better known as a Tour jester than as a top player. A hilariously accurate mimic, Jacobsen has endeared himself to players and fans alike with his imitations of Arnold Palmer's lurching swing and Craig Stadler's sagging belly. But one luxury of Jacobsen's success is that he no longer has to be so relentlessly good-humored. Recently a TV reporter provoked him in an interview by asking where all of this winning sprang from. "You're not this good," the reporter said. "When are you going to wake up?" Jacobsen treated the question lightheartedly, but it ate at him. A day later he confronted the reporter and chewed him out so vehemently that even the famously intemperate Curtis Strange, standing nearby, was taken aback. "You know what?" Jacobsen says, proudly relating the incident. "I am this good."
Still, it's valid to ask not why Jacobsen is suddenly winning but why he hadn't won more before now. Up to this season he had scattered four Tour victories over 18 years, a meager number according to some estimations of his talent. He suffered a winless stretch from 1984 to '90, and another one from '90 until this season. His career paled next to that of his old friend Strange, a two-time U.S. Open champion. "As far as winning, Peter's been an underachiever," Strange says. "And that's not a knock, it's a fact."
Mike (Fluff) Cowan has caddied for Jacobsen for 17 years—one of the longest caddie-player relationships on the Tour—and not solely because he likes Jacobsen. Cowan is a near-scratch golfer and a respected analyst whom other players seek out for swing checks. "I've known all along this was going to happen," Cowan says. "If I didn't think he was as good as he is, I would have gone on to another bag a long time ago."
Sitting in his house in the hills above Portland, near a window that looks out on a backyard putting green complete with bunkers, Jacobsen can only guess as to why he has come into his own after all these years. "I've been asking myself that," he says.
Well, for one thing, he has acquired some composure. That much is evident as he sits peacefully in a sea of noise and confusion. The Jacobsens are remodeling their four-bedroom brick-and-glass house. (They began the project before his recent spate of success. "Would you please win something?" said Peter's wife, Jan, at the start of the year. "This is getting expensive.") Jacobsen decides to add to the tumult around him by strumming on his guitar, a gift from his new best friends, Hootie and the Blowfish, the latest princes of the Top 40 and avid golf fans. As Jacobsen strums, a refrigerator is being delivered, and Jan discovers that the cat has thrown up on the dining-room table.
The backyard is the site of another recent crisis. A rabbit hutch is empty because Flopsy, the former tenant, died of a heart attack in Jan's arms. That trauma occurred the morning of the third round of the Houston Open, on April 29, and was partly responsible for one of Peter's few poor scores this year, a 78.
So today in all its chaos is just another day in the Jacobsen household. Throwing on a pair of moccasins, no socks, Peter climbs into his four-wheel-drive to visit his office at Peter Jacobsen Productions, his sports promotions and management company, a sprawling suite with 22 employees that is one of his four businesses. En route he punches in a CD and chatters about everything from golf to alternative rock to his children. The Jacobsen progeny are a trio of striking redheads as quirky and energetic as their dad. Amy, 14, is musically inclined; Kristen, 13, is a brain; and Mickey, 10, is a constant mimic. All are eerily precocious. "My kids," Jacobsen says with pride, "are odd. They're expressive."
Jacobsen has CDs in the glove compartment, stuck in the door sleeves and tucked under the visors. But he never plays a song to its end. He hums one refrain and then punches fast-forward. He skims over several possible explanations for his newly marvelous golf. He say£ he rededicated himself to the game after he spent 1993 in the ABC announcing booth and discovered that his love of show business didn't extend to on-camera work with producers screaming in his ear. He stabilized his putting stance after observing from the TV booth that too many players move their heads with their strokes. He is finding it easier to concentrate, perhaps because of maturity or because his children don't require as much attention as they did when they were small. Finally, and most important, his character has been strengthened by coping with the losses of his younger brother in 1988 and his father in 1992 to terrible diseases.