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You Talkin' to Me? Those who say that Bill Glasson is the scariest guy on the Tour are making a glaring error

March 23, 1998
March 23, 1998

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March 23, 1998

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You Talkin' to Me? Those who say that Bill Glasson is the scariest guy on the Tour are making a glaring error

Those eyes. Bill Glasson glares at his blackened-chicken
sandwich, and you expect the thing to sprout legs and run off
clucking. He stares absently across the mezzanine of Eskimo
Joe's, a popular hangout in Stillwater, Okla., and you worry
that a fight will break out. He gazes at his blonde six-year-old
daughter, Dakota, who is drawing clown faces on white paper. She
giggles and says, "Daddy, you're silly."

This is an article from the March 23, 1998 issue

That look. A writer is having an intense discussion with PGA
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem when the commissioner freezes him
with his own notably stern gaze. "Don't look at me like that,"
the writer protests. "You're as bad as Bill Glasson."

Finchem snorts. "Nobody," he says, "is as bad as Bill Glasson."

That T-shirt. Glasson is lifting weights at the Wellness Center,
a strength and rehab facility at Oklahoma State. "He's strong,"
says physical therapist John Carey, spotting the golfer as he
squats with a 355-pound barbell on his shoulders. "And he's
about as strong on the 12th rep as he is on the first." Your
eyes catch the logo on Glasson's shirt: BAD BOY CLUB.

That hair. When he joined the Tour in 1984, two years out of
Oral Roberts, Glasson looked like a Scandinavian hit man. His
long blond hair turned white in certain light, causing the
literary-minded to reread Herman Melville on the relationship
between white and evil. These days the Glasson hair approaches
civilized norms, but the Glasson visage is just as fierce. "Now
he has that scraggly goatee," California real estate agent
Rosemary Rabe told a reporter last fall. "Who am I to complain?
I'm just his mother."

That bewildered smile. "When I was in college, the whole dorm
was afraid of me," says Glasson, seated in the great room of his
new house on the outskirts of Stillwater, "and we had some big
guys." Why were they afraid of Glasson, a 5'11", 165-pound,
Bible-reading golfer? He laughs, shakes his head and says, "I
don't know!"

If a man is presumed to be more than the sum of his parts, Bill
Glasson is the anomaly: a man whose parts add up to somebody
else entirely.

When he tees it up at the Players Championship next week--or
rather, if he tees it up; he is, after all, coming back from
tendon-reattachment surgery on his left forearm--Glasson will
resume his role as the Tour's least-understood personality. "I
don't think anybody knows him very well," says former PGA
champion Paul Azinger. Another touring pro agrees: "I don't know
of anyone who dislikes him. On the other hand not many know him."

Not know him? Glasson has played 14 seasons on the Tour, winning
seven tournaments and finishing as high as 17th on the money
list. With $4.2 million in career earnings, he outranks players
such as John Daly, Steve Jones, Andrew Magee and Kenny Perry. In
January, Glasson was named the PGA Tour Comeback Player of the
Year for his 1997 season, which included a victory in the Las
Vegas Invitational only 17 months after major surgery on his
right forearm.

But by his own admission, Glasson plays 75% of his practice
rounds by himself. "With Bill, it's just a matter of getting to
know him," says Loren Roberts, one of Glasson's few good friends
on the Tour. "There's not a mean bone in his body. People think
there might be because he has that stare when he's in the hunt."
You mean that focused-on-a-single-blade-of-grass look? That
possessed-by-aliens glower? "He's just intense," says Roberts.
"He's really a very likable guy."

Glasson's reputation as an opaque character was sealed in Miami
in 1989 when he won the Doral-Ryder Open. Tormented by a sinus
infection all week, he edged Fred Couples by a stroke on Sunday
and then acted cranky with reporters in the press room. Didn't
deserve to win, he said. Played awful. "We couldn't tell if he
was serious or not," recalls a reporter. "He's strange."

You might call it a bifurcated personality. When he isn't
competing, Glasson is a personable, wry fellow who delights in
wordplay. ("When we met in San Diego, I don't think Courtney
knew what golf was," he says, recalling how he met his wife in
1983. "Of course, the way I played back then, I didn't know what
golf was either.") He is given to self-parody, as proven by the
times he has announced he will no longer talk to the
media--because, he says now with a laugh, it is the only way to
get some press. "I've always considered myself a closet
comedian, but I'm sort of a loner," he says. "I don't go out of
my way to talk to people."

There is no school for the aloof. Glasson began putting up
barriers as a youngster in Fresno, where he lived with his mom,
who worked for a few years for the state welfare department.
("I'm not sure what my father did," he says, "or if he ever did
anything.") Glasson blew out his left knee playing basketball in
junior high, so he turned to golf, having begun to learn the
game at age 10 while doing small jobs at a muni. His game didn't
take off, though, until a few years later, when he started
working at Fresno's Fort Washington Golf & Country Club. There
he studied the swings of better players and putted smooth greens
for the first time.

"His swing wasn't conventional at all," says Bill Brogden, who
coached at Oral Roberts from 1977 to '86 and is now doing the
same at Tulsa. "He certainly wasn't a great ball striker."
Brogden tells how Glasson played Southern Hills during the 1994
PGA Championship and said afterward, "I don't remember the
course being this wide open." To which his old coach quipped,
"Your duck hook in college made it tighter."

Glasson was competitive, and pure cussedness may have earned him
honorable mention and third-team All-America honors in 1980 and
'82, respectively. He also won his share of fistfights. "It was
part that look of his and part the upbringing. He didn't want
people to get too close to him," Brogden says. "Once we got
through the hardness of him, we found a good player and a
wonderful person."

Now he's 37 and no longer a shy kid, but Glasson thinks his game
face--"that glazed look I get?"--is still born of insecurity.
"Maybe it's a fear I have that if I don't do well, there are a
thousand other guys ready to take my place," he says. Another
explanation for the look may be his self-punishing
perfectionism. One of the Tour's most consistent players from
tee to green, Glasson expects to hit greens and frets when he
doesn't, even if he scores well. "Eventually," he says, "I want
to hit 19 greens a round."

That he can hit greens at all is surprising to those who have
read his medical history. Last year Glasson flew directly from
the season-ending Tour championship in Houston to Los Angeles,
where he went under the knife of orthopedic surgeon Frank Jobe.
Glasson has had four knee surgeries, four sinus operations, lip
surgery and tendons reattached in both arms, as well as
crippling back pain that cost him much of the 1991 season and
almost caused him to file for permanent disability. To
compensate for these afflictions, he has learned to strike a
golf ball using techniques no swing guru would endorse. For
instance, he played for years with his weight over his right
foot at impact, yet somehow kept up with the Tour's long
hitters. "My movements may not be textbook, but they're
dynamic," he says. "I'm real quick from the top down."

Not surprising, Glasson has an opinion on Casey Martin, the
disabled Nike tour player who is riding a cart in competition
after suing the PGA Tour. "I take exception with those who say
walking is not taxing," Glasson says. "It is a struggle for me
or for Freddie Couples, the guys with bad backs. We all have
limitations. I play less than I would like, and I play on flat
courses. I can't walk Westchester or Castle Pines."

In short, Glasson supports the Tour's contention that a cart may
give Martin an edge in some tournaments, but he adds, "I'm
learning what it's like to be a politician. You have this core
belief that the Tour is to be walked. Then you have public
opinion that says 95 percent of the people support Casey Martin.
Those are the people I depend on to come to tournaments and
support the Tour. You have to be a politician to walk that line."

Actually Glasson is something of an expert in compassionate
transport. He's a licensed pilot and a few years ago helped
airlift children in need of medical care to treatment sites for
Children's Flight of Hope, a nonprofit program based in Durham,
N.C. Last winter the beneficiary of his love of flying was the
women's basketball team at Oklahoma State. Lucky members of the
team flew Air Glasson to five conference games.

Currently, though, he's without wings, grounded by a legal and
financial fracas that causes him more pain than his brittle body
parts. Three years ago he traded in the twin-engine Cessna he
flew to Tour stops for a Beechcraft King Air, in what he
understood to be an endorsement deal with the Kansas-based
airplane manufacturer. The company upgraded him to a Starship
turboprop, and he thought he was building equity in a plane
through his promotional work. "As it turned out," he says
ruefully, "I was on the hook for $3 1/2 million."

Not a trifling misunderstanding, to be sure. Glasson wound up
with no airplane under the terms of a recent settlement with
Beechcraft. Furthermore, he has sued his former management
company, International Sports Management of Indianapolis, which
has filed a counterclaim. Both sides have agreed to arbitration.
"I don't think I'm going to be bankrupt," he says, "but
everything I worked for was threatened."

Given the pressure he was under, Glasson's '97 season was
remarkable: a win, two seconds, six top-10 finishes and almost
$1 million in earnings in only 19 tournaments. Despite his arm
troubles, he finished third in driving distance (behind Daly and
Tiger Woods, with a 287.5-yard average), fourth in greens in
regulation, second in birdies and a surprising first in the
all-around statistical category. His explanation: "The only
peace I get is when I'm playing golf."

That's not quite right. At home the Glasson family presents a
picture of domestic tranquillity. Their nearly completed house
is full of Courtney's whimsical touches--plum walls, faux
leopard-skin carpeting, sofas in the kitchen--and almost devoid
of trophies and golf memorabilia. From the big terrace windows,
Bill can look down on the rye-grass baseball field that he built
for his nine-year-old son, Max, and his teammates to practice
on. "It's 220 feet down the leftfield line, 200 down right,"
Glasson says, "so we can go till he's about 14 before we have to
put up a Green Monster."

A field of dreams? "Or nightmares," he says. "I'm the
groundskeeper."

Glasson's eyes look as if they could bore a hole through sheet
metal, but there's that smile again. No doubt about it. He's
somebody you would like to know.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHIP SIMONS STARE MASTER Glasson's wry sense of humor, charity work and devotion to his family and faith all belie his hard look. [Bill Glasson]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY CHIP SIMONS Homies Max (left) and Dakota have room to romp in Stillwater. [Courtney Glasson and Bill Glasson watching acrobatics of Max Glasson and Dakota Glasson]
"There's not a mean bone in his body," says Roberts. "He's just
intense."