There was a time when Peter Jacobsen could not stand over a putt for more than 2 seconds.
The green would start swimming, and he would lean on the shoulder of his caddie, Mike Cowan.
“I thought it was an inner-ear infection,” he said, “and I had sinus surgery, and I had CAT scans, and I had MRIs, and I had everything. I finally went to a homeopathic doctor, Noel Peterson. He did some blood work and said, no problem, all you have is an allergy to dairy products. Boom! That was it. I used to love ice cream. I haven’t had any since 1992.”
Jacobsen caught himself for a second.
“There goes the endorsement from the Dairy Farmers Association,” he said.
Not necessarily. After all, he’s the cream of the crop.
He won his second consecutive tour event Sunday, shooting 68 to win the Buick Invitational by four strokes, going 19 under for the tournament. He did the same thing last week at Pebble Beach. Two victories and $468,000 in two weeks. His head is spinning again.
“Every time it looked like he was going to open the door for us, he shut it real quick,” said Hal Sutton, one of the four runners-up. “He wasn’t flawless out there. He just managed everything very well, and he didn’t get too excited.”
If winning golf tournaments was this easy, more people would do it.
Before Peter’s wife, Jan, flew down from Oregon, she told their 10-year-son Mickey, “I’m going down to see Dad win again.”
“Sure,” Mickey said with a shrug.
The crowd wanted Jacobsen to win with as little suspense as possible, because he leads the tour in most heartfelt smiles per round. He talks to everyone, signs every autograph possible. Who else would willingly play with Jack Lemmon every year at Pebble? And during other pro-ams, he will sometimes imitate Craig Stadler and Tom Kite, the best he can.
“Stuff everybody else does in the locker room, I’ve done in public,” Jacobsen said. “But I’m not an entertainer. I want to be remembered as a golfer.”
What the Jacobsens - both Oregonians and no strangers to the rain - will remember is the mountain of sorrow, injury and confusion Peter has climbed to get back to us.
Last year he was mainly known as an ABC commentator. He picked up some tips - not to rush to the ball when you’re behind a slow player, as Jacobsen did before hitting the bad shots that cost him the ‘88 Western Open - but he hadn’t won a tournament since 1990. He was 40 and almost forgotten.
Two New Year’s Eves ago, he and Jan and the three kids were heading to the beach house in Lincoln City, Ore. They stopped for groceries, and the shopping cart went down a slope, and Jacobsen fell on his knuckles. He came back and drove, but then advised Jan, “You know, I should probably get to the hospital. I can see my tendons.” Jacobsen had surgery, then pulled a rib muscle.
There was the back surgery in 1987.
Most of all, there was the ordeal of his father’s cancer and death. Erling Jacobsen had surgery in 1984 and wrote “You go” to Peter, because he couldn’t talk. Peter dutifully went to Fort Worth and won the Colonial. Erling died a couple of years ago, just as Peter was struggling with swing changes.
“Peter did lose some of his desire,” Jan said, “but he also lost the person he depended on, in golf and a lot of things. And his brother David was also teaching him, so they both had to deal with it. But Jim Hardy has always taught him as well, and he’s helped him so much. We called Jim’s house last week when Peter won, and they already had it on their message machine: `Great win, Peter.”’
And despite Jacobsen’s four victories and $3.5 million in the bank and a family that, according to Peter, “seemingly is normal - one daughter dyed her hair, but there are no tattoos yet” …
There was the nagging feeling that Jacobsen had not gotten the trophies his ability deserved.
“Maybe I was intimidated,” Jacobsen said. “I still am in awe of Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. But I was from Oregon and I didn’t play much amateur golf because I didn’t have the money. I even had a job in the summer. Not many good young players did. I worked at an industrial plumbing supply warehouse. My boss told me I could work three weeks and then play a tournament the next week, and he’d pay me for that fourth week if I won. I never won. I guess he knew that.”
The rest of the players move on to the Bob Hope Desert Classic, where some of them will set personal hypocrisy records by pretending they’re glad to see President Clinton, whom they despise.
Jacobsen knows nobody has won three in a row since Gary Player in 1978. But he has a prior commitment.
He and friends will celebrate Jan’s 40th birthday Thursday at the Columbia Gorge Hotel, east of Portland, in a place where The Lord used all His paintbrushes.
“We were there last year,” Jan said, “and the hotel had these twinkling lights for Valentine’s Day, and it was just absolutely beautiful. Peter asked them, `If we come back, will you keep those lights out, for two more days?’ They said sure.”
Now Jan’s father is battling the aftereffects of three strokes. His son-in-law, on NBC, dedicated this victory to him.
Maybe milk and Peter Jacobsen should get together anyway. With both, the product is smoother than the process.