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Q&A: Comedian Bill Engvall takes golf seriously

In premiere of ‘From the Froghair with David Wood,’ Engvall shows host David Wood that he’s a stand-up guy

Editor’s note: This is the first of a new interview series in which Buffalo Groupe’s David Wood, a former stand-up comic, talks with other humorists about a topic that can be equal parts laughter and sorrow for just about all of us, often from one swing to the next: golf.

Comedian Bill Engvall (alongside Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White) was part of the enormously successful Blue Collar Comedy Tour. Engvall’s first album, “Here’s Your Sign” (1996), was certified platinum while holding the No. 1 position on the Billboard Comedy Chart for 15 straight weeks. He starred in and was the executive producer of “The Bill Engvall Show” on TBS. I met Engvall in the early 1980s while both of us were performing at a comedy club in Dallas. I recently caught up on the telephone with him at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to talk about our mutual love of golf.

When did you first start playing golf?
I started playing in Arizona around 11 or 12 years old, when growing up in Winslow. I was left-handed but started playing with my dad’s right-handed clubs, just trying to somehow hit the ball. There weren’t golf camps and things like that there in the 1960s, so I developed a huge set of bad problems with my swing early.

When did you start getting more serious about the game?
I started taking the game more seriously in the mid- to late-1980s. Because of Blue Collar, I started to get the opportunity to play some fabulous courses like TPC Sawgrass, so I really got into golf and decided to try and get better. Plus, I was getting invited to celebrity golf events, so I started really working on my game as I didn’t want to be the guy they show on television only because his swing is so bad. I didn’t want to be the Charles Barkley of stand-up comic golfers. 

Bill Engvall

Bill Engvall

Although you appear anything but nervous when doing stand-up, do you get nervous playing golf in front of people?
Probably the most nervous I’ve ever been was playing in the American Century (an annual celebrity golf championship in Lake Tahoe). People were lined up around the tee box and down the fairway because they’re there to see big names like [Green Bay Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers and celebrities like him. My first thought was, Don’t kill anyone! I used a 3-wood off the tee, to just try and get it in the fairway and away from the crowds.

One time I was playing in the event with the Rascal Flatts guys. All of a sudden, I saw all these people on our hole and said, “Guys, we have 200 people watching us!” Then I realized that Aaron Rodgers had hit his ball into our fairway, and they were following him.

What do you enjoy most about the game?
What I love about golf is that one day the stars align and you’ll be playing out of your gourd, then the next day or maybe even midround your brain goes, I’m out! We’re going on vacation for a bit! The beauty of golf for me is walking and just being outdoors. I love to play late in the afternoons, when the shadows are coming out onto the fairways.


What’s the best part of your game?
My short game is what saves me. I really enjoy chipping and putting. I’m fairly good around the greens.

What’s the worst part of your game?
Probably the worst part of my game is from the tee box. I had this terrible banana slice but became better at the game and even got down to an 8-handicap. Then I thought I could maybe get down to a 5-handicap. I started taking lessons, which screwed me up. I shot up to a 15. My stupid brain, which probably got me far in comedy, sometimes just thinks too much for golf. I would get paralyzed with my swing. Now, I’m back to about a 9-handicap. I hit enough good shots that the bad shots still frustrate me.

What are your favorite places to play?
Well, luckily, I got to play at Augusta. It was me and Ozzie Smith from the St. Louis Cardinals, the Hall of Fame shortstop. It was two weeks after the Masters, so the signage was still up. It was awesome. We were playing from the members’ tees. I’m probably playing bogey golf. We get to the 12th. My caddie gives me a 6-iron and I hit it. Right after the ball left the club my caddie says, “That’s tracking!” I’m watching the shot and I’m thinking, Oh, my god, it’s going right for the pin! The ball hits the green, takes one bounce, hits the pin and rolls 45 feet off the green and down into Rae’s Creek. If I would have made a hole-in-one on the 12th at Augusta, I would have quit golf.

I also really dig European links golf a lot. I have a photo of me on my desk teeing off on the Old Course in St. Andrews, and I look like a golfer. Now my wife, Gail, and I play when we travel. We found a little course in Idaho we love called Whitetail. It’s one of the most beautiful courses I’ve seen in my life. We must have looked like rednecks pulling up to the clubhouse in our RV.  

While on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, did you guys play golf together?
Ron White is really into golf. Dan Whitney (Larry the Cable Guy) is a golf addict and will play 36 holes a day. Most of the time on the tour we would just fly in, do the show, and fly out. But if we got the chance to play, we would. When Jeff Foxworthy and I would perform at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, our managers and agents would fly in and we’d all play there.

What would be your dream foursome?
I’d have to put Tiger Woods in there, especially now that he seems to have lightened up a bit. I’d love to play golf with Peter Jacobsen. Peter’s funny. I’d have David Feherty in there also. I’d also love to play golf with Huey Lewis sometime. I enjoy playing golf with fun people. Have laughs and cut up. That’s what golf is about to me.

What’s the best single bit of advice you’ve ever received on playing the crazy game of golf?
I was playing in a pro-am event in Orlando where it was just you and a professional golfer as a team. I was playing with Colt Knost, whom I grew to love. I knew I couldn’t hit with the professionals, so I was just easy swinging. I birdie the first hole. Birdied the second. I’m thinking, Oh, my god! I’m 2 under! And then my game went to hell. We were walking down the fairway and Colt, in that great Texas drawl of his, said, “Bill, you need to play golf like you don’t give a damn. When you don’t think, you play pretty damn good golf. When you start thinking, you suck.” That’s the best advice for me: just let it go.

David Wood is a former stand-up comedian with several David Letterman Show appearances. He’s the author of “Around the World in 80 Rounds” and host of “Have Clubs Will Travel” on The Morning Read. Follow David on Instagram and Twitter: @authordavidwood

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