Joker Jacobsen set for last laugh

Tim Glover reports from Augusta on a golfer who could finally fulfil his potential at this week's US Masters.
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The Independent Online
Peter Jacobsen does a very funny impersonation of Arnold Palmer. Basically he acts deaf and dumb and brings the house down. He also does the rotund Craig Stadler, with the assistance of two dozen golf balls inside his shirt, and Lanny Wadkins.

Jacobsen will have to be careful with Wadkins for they will probably be in harness for the United States in the Ryder Cup against Europe in Rochester in September. When Wadkins was appointed captain it is fair to assume that he did not expect Jacobsen to make the team. Neither did Jacobsen.

As the travelling clown on the US Tour Jacobsen was good for a laugh but as a major contender he was not taken seriously. Then something very funny happened to Jacobsen. He started winning. If he was a racehorse he would be dope-tested. "It's unbelievable the way Peter's playing," Fred Couples said. "The talent has always been there. Now he's using it"

At the age of 41 the natural born kidder has won more than $700,000 (£450,000) in three months and going into this week's Masters is the most successful American golfer this season. Jacobsen does not just impersonate other golfers' mannerisms but their swings and the act has been so successful people wondered whether he had a game of his own.

"The way he's playing he must have thought `gee, I could have done all this a long time ago if I'd worked harder'," Mark O'Meara said. "But then he wouldn't have been Peter." Jacobsen has found the key to the treasure chest and the statistics tell the story. Last year he was 73rd in the putting category. Now he's No 1. He's also No 1 in hitting greens in regulation and No 1 in the scoring averages with a mark of 69.4.

"I'm kind of excited about it," Jacobsen said. "My driving is straight and my iron play is good. The key though has been the improvement in my short game." Enter Dave Pelz. A former NASA scientist, Pelz runs a state of the art "Short Game School" in California and it is perpetually sold out. If David Leadbetter is the man to equip Nick Faldo with a technically sound swing, Pelz has his finger on the pulse of the putter.

This is his brief: "Your success in putting is determined by how you aim and how you stroke. Believe it or not you're doing them both all wrong. You are misreading greens by a huge margin. As a result you are making a bad stroke on almost every putt. This combination means you miss most putts with a break and many straight ones as well." Then Pelz gets all technical and starts talking about closing the gap between the subconscious and conscious minds. "Peter Jacobsen," he said, "has learned the amazing truth about putting and his results speak for themselves."

Americans, of course, are suckers for any evangelist flogging panaceas in a bottle marked "tonic" but there is no doubt that Jacobsen has found something even if it is not the "amazing truth." For 12 years he played in the AT and T Pro-Am at Pebble Beach as Jack Lemmon's partner in the golf equivalent of the odd couple. A slice from Lemmon would be matched by a wisecrack from Jacobsen. Not this year.

Jacobsen shot 67, 73, 66 and 65 to win $252,000 with an aggregate of 17 under par. It was his first victory for five years. The following week he shot 68, 65, 68 and 68 to win the Buick Invitational and $216,000 at 19 under par. He followed that by finishing runner-up to Faldo in the Doral Ryder Open and was then third in the Nestl Invitational at Bay Hill. In eight tournaments he is 65 under par.

He prefaces many of his sentences with:"Wouldn't it be fun if . . ." "Wouldn't it be fun," he said, "if we all played with the same ball and the same equipment. Then you'd know who the best player is." Few people would maintain that Jacobsen is the best player in America or that he has a favourite's chance of winning the Masters this week. In 10 appearances at Augusta National he has never finished better than 11th and he is 35 over par. But that was pre-Pelz.

"My swing is the same," Jacobsen said, "and the only difference is that I've worked real hard with Pelz. He's a genius with the short game. I've known him for 10 years but this is the first time I've worked with him." Pelz says: "I told him not to waste his time or mine unless he was serious. Pete is one of the most talented people in the world but he's also the most easily distracted. That's one reason why he hasn't practised as much as he should. He loves people and people love him. When he's on the practice green people come up to him and talk. Therefore he doesn't practise."

Jacobsen says he's the same person whether he shoots 65 or 75. He lost a brother, Paul, to Aids a few years ago and the death has played a part in shaping his philosophy. "We should never forget that we are role models. As professional athletes we should conduct ourselves like gentlemen at all times. Twenty-four hours a day."

Jacobsen, who was born and lives in Portland, Oregon, is a big fund-raiser for charities. He owns a television production company, and has written a book on the US Tour called Buried Lies. "I'm happy to raise money for people who can't raise it for themselves," he said.

His new-found success has not gone to his head. He's still the lead singer in a band called Jake Trout and the Flounders. Another flounder member is Payne Stewart (harmonica) and hit records include "Slow Play" to ZZ Top's "Cocaine" and "Hitting on the Back of the Range" to Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay." Wouldn't it be fun if Peter Jacobsen won the Masters.