Huey Lewis, 1980s pop-rock star, describes himself as a small businessman, happily playing what are, by now, oldies at countless charity golf events, sing-alongs for aging boomers who know all the words to “If This is It” and “I Want a New Drug.”
“I’m in show business,” Lewis, who is playing in this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, says with a laugh. “I’ll do anything for attention and money, usually in that order.
“Golf people are great people. Golf is a great game.”
Lewis loves golf as much as music. He’s not alone. Plenty of rock-‘n’-rollers tear it up at night, then tee it up in the morning.
“In the old days a lot of things came with a night of rock 'n’ roll,” says Tico Torres, the longtime drummer for Bon Jovi. “But the older you get the more sensible you get. Golf’s probably the only reason I would get up early in the morning after I go to sleep at 3 [a.m.]. You know, I would definitely get up at 7:30 to go play a round. It’s a special place that’s comfortable for us where there are no crowds. It’s just us.”
What happened? Rock 'n’ roll used to be anti-establishment. Golf is ultimate establishment. When did it become “Hip to be Square”?
“We dropped back in after the '60s, because the '60s were too scary,” Lewis explained. “I love the game and I don’t care if it’s cool or not.”
One of the first rock legends to unabashedly declare his love for the sport was Alice Cooper. His drinking had gotten out of control. Golf provided a healthier release. He claims the game saved his life.
Nicko McBrain, the drummer for the English metal band Iron Maiden, plays regularly, as do Ed Roland from Collective Soul and Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains.
“I think it’s a musician’s friend,” says Torres. “It gives you a little bit of sanity.”
Torres is known as the Hit Man, with albums like “Crush,” “Bounce,” “Keep the Faith,” “Lost Highway,” and hit songs including “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Miracle” and “Never Say Die,” each one a perfect metaphor for golf.
He grew up in New York City, the son of Cuban immigrants. His introduction to golf came while having lunch at Willie Nelson’s house, to which I replied, “When I think of lunch with Willie Nelson, you’ll forgive me, but I think greens were on the menu.” Tico laughed. “Yeah, we had a few greens. I’ll tell you I’ve met more interesting people through golf than my career as a musician.”
A solid 12 handicap who once shot 72, Tico estimates that he’s played with tour pros 60 times, including with Ernie Els at the Dunhill Links, where he learned that Ernie’s capable of busting more than golf balls. “After 16 holes,” remembers Torres, “he turned to me and said, ‘You know, Tico, for a drummer you have the worst timing in the world.’”
King Curtis’ sax player, a cat by the name of Willie Bridges, once gave Tico some musical advice that he finally applied to his golf game. “You ain’t the most technical drummer in the world, but you got good feel; so don’t try, just play.”
And so he does, from the heart, by feel, like his favorite golfer ever, Seve Ballesteros. Tico’s also an artist who’s cast the hands of golfers in bronze and not surprisingly he says the best set of mitts he’s ever seen belonged to the Spaniard.
If Seve was a musician, what instrument would he have played? “Violin,” says Tico. “Without a doubt, he’s a virtuoso.”
As low as a 6 handicap at one time, Lewis is an inveterate golf junkie. He wrote an album called “Fore,” and he’s glued to Golf Channel.
“We’re on the road a lot on the bus,” he explains. “We get satellite television. Brandel’s great. Brandel [Chamblee] says what he thinks. Sometimes I want to come in there and argue with him. You guys just fill air with like, who’s going to win and we all know it’s golf and nobody knows who’s going to win. But you’re going to try and tell us.”
Good shot, Huey, who’s also played plenty with the pros. His first AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am came in the mid-’80s after he watched Jack Lemmon on television. “Lemm was playing 18 on Saturday,” recalls Lewis. “And they showed every shot, all 12 of them. And I thought to myself, I’m so glad that’s not me. I’m so glad I didn’t do it. And the very next year, there I was on 18 striping it into the gallery.”
Lewis has learned to take it easy on the course. “You have to swing smooth,” he says. “And the same thing with hitting high notes.”
It can be unnerving when they’re out of their element, but rockers and golfers relate. They both perform before crowds. Both are measured by numbers, a score on a card or album sales.
“You know, it’s funny,” says Torres with a smile. “It’s like we want to be pro golfers when we play with them, but they want to be musicians. And it’s like, well, I’ll trade with you. They do pick your brains, stuff like how do you relax in front of 100,000 people?”
Even with the inevitable nerves that come with playing alongside the best in the world, Lewis will never get beaten in a game of who loves golf more, saying, “It’s a great game. It’s as competitive as you want it to be. It’s a great test of your character. It’s a sport of integrity. And it’s a great social sport. There are a million reasons to love golf.
“Golf absolutely fascinates me, because you have to surrender to the game.”