Judd Nelson by Jack Sheehan ... VegasGolfer March 2003
PLAYING GOLF WITH JUDD NELSON is like being 9 years old again and having four hours of recess. You laugh until your sides hurt, and you run around getting sweaty, and you say things you hope a responsible adult would never in a million years hear you say, and then the damn bell rings, and you gave to go back to the real world.
But once there you get a demerit in deportment because you're still laughing at the fun you just had.
Recently, I played two days in a row with Judd at Bear's Best, the beautiful and immaculately conditioned Jack Nicklaus design on the far West edge of town, and by the time we'd finished, everyone on the friendly Bear's Best staff, particularly the female help, felt his presence on the property. That's because Nelson went out of his way to thank everyone for their hospitality, and he made sure that anybody within earshot was included in the joking around.
The actor, famous for playing intense, conflicted, and at times, obnoxious characters (think The Breakfast Club or New Jack City), is more like a cross between Harry Gilmore and Lee Trevino, once the peg goes in the ground. There's lots of jabber, the occasional rant at the gods of golf and even a Happy-man slapshot, a hilarious running start on his drive on the 18th hole - which our caddie Andy said was the only ball he'd ever seen cross Flamingo Road.
For the record, Judd's first round score was 87, which he shot with the benefit of zero hours of pillow and a full night of gambling and revelry that took full advantage of the diverse offerings of our 24 hour town. When I confessed to him that I'd be even money to break 90 with his training habits, he said, "Hell, I've had lots of practise."
It also should be reported that our first round was played on greens slicker than KY Jelly on a doorknob, and a 25-mph breeze that made every iron shot a club selection challenge.
The Juddly thought process goes something like this: Andy: "You've got 163 yards to the pin and 147 to the front."
Judd: "Let's see, I usually hit 7-iron 165, but my fade will cost me five yards ... and I need to add a club for that hurtin' wind ... but the greens are a little firm so I can't fly it to the hole ... so I need about 150 in the air, which means an 8-iron cuz I can't back off the 7 or I'll decelerate the son of a bitch and lay a bowl of chili over it.
"Whaddaya think, Jack?"
Me: "Hit the snot outta the eight iron."
So Judd takes two deliberate waggles and smokes the 8 with a slight pull. Suddenly, the hurtin' wind becomes a helper and blows the ball 15 yards over the green, where it bounces off a cart path and down a gulch into another zip code.
The ensuing expletives create such visually grotesque mental imagery that Andy and I are still laughing minutes later when we find Judd's ball in a yucca plant. He lifts the ball from the ground like a man extricating a diamond from a cow-pie, drops it back on civilized turf, and hits a soft-handed lob wedge within three feet.
"Another routine par," he mutters, "with just a little cheating."
Considering that Judd has been playing golf for only three years and has world-class instruction available to him through friends like Tommy Armour III, Pat Perez and other Tour pros he's paired with in big-time pro-ams, I can see the day not far from now when he is regularly shooting in the high 70s and low 80s. His goal is to be a single digit handicap within another year. The only question is whether he'll have the patience to stay with it when that inevitable time comes when he quits improving and hits a slump.
"I know I will," he says. "Believe it or not I actually took up the game because I thought it would help me with my patience issues. And it has, but it still drives me ballistic when a round takes over four hours. I can deal with almost anything on the course but slow play. Waiting over shots makes me want to destroy something."
Judd gave up tennis, his first love, because he couldn't stand waiting for his opponent to serve. "I learned in tennis that if you punch someone in the face, you lose. And as a teenager, I did that a couple of times.
"Golf is different," he says, "because it's just me. I'm fascinated that on the surface golf seems so easy - it's just a stationary target - but in execution it's nearly impossible."
On Friday night, between our first and second rounds, my wife Carol and I join Judd and his date, a beautiful blonde friend of ours named Mitzi, who bravely accepted the blind date for dinner at Blackstone's Steak House at the Monte Carlo. When he orders the entree, he asks our waiter, "What's the absolute worst thing on the menu?" when the reply is reluctantly offered, Judd orders it, and proclaims it delicious.
After dinner we enjoy an evening of hilarity in the Lance Burton Showroom with comedian George Wallace, who does 90 minutes of unscripted one-liners that leave us in tears. Judd and George recently wrapped a movie, Santa Jr., where they star as cops in pursuit of a conman pretending to the Santa Claus' son.
Although the next day's game is tentative, I'm somewhat surprised when Judd calls at 9 a.m, proclaiming himself rested and ready to go again. "I've had a good five hours sleep," he says. "Let's chase that damned thing."
This time we are joined by the Bear's Best head pro Pat Mastrandea, who's heard about our fun the previous day and wants to get a taste of it. After a couple holes of remarkable decorum, Judd leans over to me and says, "This guy seems pretty cool. D'ya think I can be myself?"
"He'd be disappointed if you weren't," I say, and for the rest of the round the smooth-swinging professional is subjected to some of the most twisted dialogue he's heard in his young life, not all of it supplied by the actor. Let's just say that if his playing partners were miked, even the Spice Channel would have to call in the censors. At the end of the round it wasn't clear whether Pat's cheeks were red from laughing, or whether he was totally embarrassed to be with us.
I do know that the next time I'm asked to fill out a questionnaire about my dream foursome, Judd Nelson will be on it.