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Last One In Is The U.S. Open Champ!
Barry McDermott
August 06, 1984
Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, a down-home boy from Indiana, made a big splash by not throwing in the towel in the U.S. Open
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August 06, 1984

Last One In Is The U.s. Open Champ!

Golfer Fuzzy Zoeller, a down-home boy from Indiana, made a big splash by not throwing in the towel in the U.S. Open

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Look at all those beautiful faces. That's what winning the Open is all about.
—THE BIG CHEESE, on Fuzzy Zoeller Day, June 27, 1984

It's not a bad deal. O.K.? The Fuzz Ball is sitting by the swimming pool at his house on the small mountain outside New Albany, Ind. The cash is in the bank, the fish are biting in the pond nearby, the kids are growing up as blonde and beautiful as the wife, and the next time the phone rings it might be the White House. Plus he has the "beauties," his collection of zany friends—"Aren't they beauties?" people say about them. From where he sits, Zoeller can gaze upon a broad vista that encompasses the folks and the land, plain and simple, where he was born, raised and stayed. In the background are the spires of downtown Louisville, Ky. As Zoeller sips a beer, just about the only thing on his mind this June day is whether he should wear sandals or sneakers. No, it's not a bad deal.

Zoeller's spectacular new home is a monument to a smooth putting stroke and a golf game that travels well. About a dozen years ago, when he was just another long knocker struggling to make the tour, he taped a penny to a wall at his family's veneer plant in New Albany. He told his buddies at the plant, "I'll take this down when I make a million dollars." What a card Fuzzy was.

Though he's now an ace on the tour, Fuzzy is still a card. He calls most people Pards or Big Cheese and says "It's not a bad deal" about once every minute, because, after all, it really isn't such a bad deal. Childhood is a state that reality slowly cuts to pieces, but reality hasn't put a glove on Zoeller, who's still filled with the enthusiasm of a kid because he doesn't sweat the small stuff. "Why worry?" he says blithely. "Why drive yourself batty? Things don't ever faze me."

Just a few weeks earlier it had looked as if Zoeller was in trouble. His bad back was acting up and he needed an operation. But instead of going in for surgery, he came out of the bushes to win the U.S. Open golf championship on June 18 at Winged Foot outside New York City, where the crowd went wild for him. The fans cheered him on—"Yeah, Fuzzy!! All right!!"—and drove his Saturday and Sunday playing partner, Hale Irwin, bonkers in the process. Then, when their man whammed Greg Norman in the 18-hole Monday playoff for the title and Zoeller was walking up to the final hole, whistling, loose as ever—like some guy playing in a nine-hole industrial league after an eight-hour day of bolting sheet metal on Fords—they went crazy. "Fuzz-ee! Fuzz-ee! Fuzz-ee!" they chanted. The Fuzz Ball said that the cheers sent chills up and down his spine.

The previous day Zoeller had made history and raised goose bumps with one of the most memorable gestures in sports, something comparable 'to Babe Ruth's pointing at the fence and then knocking the ball over it. Pete Dye, the 58-year-old golf course architect who has spent most of his life around the game, says, "No one, not any of those other guys, even remotely would've thought to do what Fuzzy did. I mean none of them." Zoeller's act took place after Norman had come out of the rough and out of the trees for two miraculous pars on 16 and 17 and then sank a 40-footer at the last hole. No sooner had Norman's putt dropped in than there was ol' Fuzzy back in the 18th fairway waving a white towel as if to say. "Pards, I surrender. But you're a hell of a guy." And then Zoeller nailed a six-iron from 170 yards, burned it right in there, two-putted and walked away whistling, as if to say, "No big deal. We'll have a playoff tomorrow."

The next day, while a taciturn Norman warmed up, Zoeller did a radio interview. Spotting a photographer who had donned a garbage bag to protect himself from the rain, he quipped, "If Michael Jackson sees that, he'll be wearing it next." On the first tee Zoeller pulled a telephone out of his golf bag and asked Norman if he wanted to make his last call. Then the real fun began. Zoeller birdied the first two holes, the second on a 68-foot putt, and from there whistled his way to an eight-stroke win.

During the awards ceremony, USGA president Jim Hand, trying for levity, suggested that Zoeller would have to tell his real name so the USGA wouldn't have to put FUZZY on the trophy. The crowd booed. Zoeller took the microphone. "Jim," he said, "let's go with Fuzzy, O.K.? It'll be the only one on there."

Zoeller may seem the class clown, but underneath there's substance. He beat Tom Watson and Ed Sneed in sudden death to win the 1979 Masters; he has been on two Ryder Cup teams; he won the tour's biggest check, for $135,000, at the Las Vegas Pro Celebrity Classic last year, where he shot a 63 and a 64; and now he has won the U.S. Open. His career earnings are now $1,389,972. But that penny remains taped to the veneer plant wall.

Though he addresses the ball as if he were playing for a shank—with the heel of the club about three inches on the far side of the ball—and though his back is often so bad he has to wire it up every day, relaxing the muscles with the electrical stimulation of his "zap machine." Zoeller can play. Says pro Bill Kratzert, a friend since Zoeller's junior golf days in Indiana, "Glamour doesn't appeal to Fuzzy, but he's definitely a superstar. He just handles it differently, which I like."

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