By Angie Fenton | Photography by Tony Bennett
“My god, how many people did you bring?” Fuzzy Zoeller asked as he walked into his Sellersburg office to see five members of the Extol Team waiting for him.
We needed the manpower to set up a mini studio, which was situated near a 6-feet-1 stuffed black bear he killed in Winnipeg with a bow. “It was a good hunt. That was my first hunt with a bow,” Fuzzy said, before changing gears. “What do you want me to do? You want to take my picture? Let’s do it.”
For the next few minutes, Extol’s Chief Photographer Tony Bennett snapped photographs of Fuzzy while he talked with Advertising Director Jason Applegate, who has known the Zoeller family since he was a child. The two swapped tales about mutual friends and a recent trip in a conversation that wasn’t for publication. “What happens on the road, stays on the road,” Fuzzy laughed.
Google the legendary golfer, who first picked up a club at the age of three, and you’ll find out all sorts of information about his professional career, which produced 10 PGA Tour victories, including his 1979 Masters win as a rookie and the 1984 U.S. Open. After joining The Champions Tour, Fuzzy won the 2002 Senior PGA Championship and the Senior Slam Championship the same year. He also won the 2003 Tylenol Shoot Out Championship, the 2004 MasterCard Championship and the 2007 Senior Skins Game with playing partner Peter Jacobsen.
But we’re not here to talk about golf, at least not yet. Instead, I’m hoping to find out why a man who is known around the world for his success on the course and philanthropic outreach chose to make Southern Indiana his permanent residence.
“I could move anywhere else I wanted to,” Fuzzy said, as he sat back in his chair at a massive wood table he uses for a desk, marks from a Sharpie visible proof of the thousands of autographs he so willingly gives. “This is where my family is from. This is where my wife’s family is from. It’s just a great little area. What’s nice about this area is I am not a standout. They know what I do for a living, but they’ve known me all my life, so I’m just a person, which is nice. If I moved anywhere else I’d be like some kingpin and put up on some pedestal, and I never wanted that. It’s amazing, when I go on the road I look at people and I’m just one of the guys – I just play a crazy game of golf for a living. That was my deal. But here at home … I’m just one of them.”
Still, there’s no denying Fuzzy is something special and incredibly, well, spirited, which he has been his whole life. He played his first competitive tournament – the Junior Falls Cities championship – when he was five. “I got beat by a 14-year-old and cried all the way home. Trophy hunter, that’s what I called him. Damn trophy hunter, he shouldn’t have been in my flight,” Fuzzy chuckled. “What the hell? I was five years old. But what a great lesson. You look back and Mom and Dad gave me a great opportunity. Plus, we lived right on old Valley View…so they didn’t have to worry about Fuzzy. They knew where Fuzzy was, it just depended on what hole he was on.”
The memory is clearly a good one, and Fuzzy appears to enjoy telling it, but he stops smiling when this writer asked how he got the nickname “Fuzzy.”
“You’ll be the only one that I know who doesn’t know the answer,” he said with a hint of seriousness before chuckling. “Did you look it up? Did you figure it out?” he asked, grinning, apparently amused at my ignorance. “Do you have blonde roots and I didn’t know it? No, I’m just kidding. My initials are F.U.Z. I was named after my dad.”
Fuzzy’s full name is Frank Urban Zoeller Jr. “I took over the Fuzzy, and he took over Frank. But you know what’s funny, I had a sister (nun) in the first grade, because I went to Holy Family, I kept bringing these papers home every Friday thinking I was doing good because I was in class all the time, and she kept slapping me and my dad would be yelling at me because he thought I wasn’t paying attention, and I said, ‘But this woman never calls on me.’ Well hell, I never knew my name was Frank. I was always called Fuzzy. She kept calling me Frank. … She was wicked to me. I won’t tell you her name, but I had a hard time with her.”
Life is easier now for Fuzzy, who vacations in Naples, Fla., with his wife, Diane Thornton Zoeller two to three months out of the year and travels around the world on hunting trips and across the country for golf tournaments. “My golf game going on 64 years old is sick,” he said. “But you know what?” I don’t have to do it any more for a living. I was pretty good there for a while. I had a nice little run. You know, 42 years old, it was time to shut it down and enjoy some of the hard work.”
He relishes spending time with his children Sunnye Zoeller-Stumler, Heidi Zoeller Hubler, Gretcehn Zoeller, Miles Zoeller and his grandchildren. And although he has a solid team that manages Covered Bridge Golf Club in Sellersburg and Champions Pointe Golf Club in Memphis, Ind., it’s not unusual to find him at either place if he’s in town. People often ask Fuzzy what his favorite golf course is and always expect him to name some of the ritzy, iconic courses he played on in the PGA. So when he names the Southern Indiana courses, they look at him dumbfounded. “I say, look boys, I own them, and when you own them, you love them.”
Fuzzy also owns a line of vodka – Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka (“Just be warned it can give you a minor speech impediment,” he laughed.) – and is a racing fan. The company served as the official vodka of the Indy 500 and is one of the sponsors of the CFH Racing team.
But his heart-passion is kids.
Fuzzy’s Charity for Kids has raised more than $2.5 million for numerous nonprofits serving children in Kentuckiana. “That’s where I live,” Fuzzy said, “why wouldn’t I support the charities around here? … I’ve always wanted to help people. … My dad kind of taught me that. ‘You’ve got to give back, son. You’ve been rewarded very, very well, so you must give back.”
Is that what he wants to be his legacy? “Oh, I don’t know, I’m too young for that right now,” he said. “If I was Arnold Palmer’s age, I might think about stuff like that. … I’m still busy living, but it’s just a different game. I’m trying to slow my life down… but I’m too young for that (legacy talk).”
We’ve exhausted all of my questions and conducted a photo shoot inside of 35 minutes. So, I thank Fuzzy for giving us his time and the team jumps in to help pack up and put Fuzzy’s office back to normal.
“That’s it? I’m done? I’m off the clock?” he asked, incredulous. “So what do I get (in Extol Magazine)? One page in this goddamn thing? You’d better come up with some bull s—t.”