The Warrior Within
Turning his back on mistakes of the past, a man who got his share of triples on life's front nine, as he puts it, approaches his seventies with nothing but birdies in sight
THE BIG MAN COMES RIDING OVER THE HILL , squinting into the bright western sun. He pulls up suddenly, and dust flies into the air, blowing onto three grizzled hombres nearby. Clint Eastwood looks at the men with that gaze of his and says . . .
There are several things wrong with this picture. Eastwood's not riding a big stallion but a golf cart called E-Z-Go. He's not wearing a sombrero and bloodstained oilcloth coat but neat slacks and a corduroy-cotton golf shirt. He is not shod by Justin but by Foot-Joy. The weapons he's packing are not a Remington rifle and a Colt six-shooter but a bubble-headed driver and an assortment of oversize irons. Most disorienting, there's no sign of the hallmark snarl, but instead, a sheepish, little-boy's smile. And finally, being Clint Eastwood means, if it means nothing else, never having to say you're sorry.
Yet Clint the man--as opposed to Clint the cowboy or Clint the cop or even Clint Eastwood the icon--apologizes all day, every day. "Sorry I'm late." "Sorry, I've got to go." "Sorry, I can't remember." "Uhhh, sorry, I think I stepped in your line." He is an unfailingly polite, gracious, charming man. When people who have spent a day with Eastwood compare notes over nightcaps, their critiques include "a real sweetie" and "what a doll" and "he's so nice." These are comments from paid assassins instinctively quick on the trigger with "typical Hollywood jerk."
"Uhhh, sorry guys," Eastwood repeats as tres hombres brush grit from their clothes.
"It's okay, Mr. Eastwood," says one.
"Hey, Mr. Eastwood," says another, "congratulations on the hole in one."
"Thanks," Eastwood says as he dismounts E-Z-Go. "That was a real one. I had one before on a short course, but that was the first real one of my life. It was over at Carmel Valley Ranch."
"I'll set the pins next time."
Everyone laughs. The boys are clearly respectful of Eastwood but know they can kid him, even though he's their boss. They're part of a construction crew that's been working for him up here, high in the beautiful Carmel Valley. They are molding a lovely thousand-acre meadow into a spectacular golf course, with equestrian center, clubhouse and three dozen luxury homes attendant. The course will be called Tehãma, but that's a technicality. Already, even though only fourteen holes are finished, it's known as "Clint's course." A more accurate phrase would be Clint's Club, for membership will be restricted to three hundred, each of them having received a personal invitation from Mr. Eastwood. There will be no tee times at Clint's Club. If you're in, you're in like Flynn: You show up and you'll be served. "It'll be a nice place," says Eastwood. "We'll have some fun up here."
Fun. Think about fun for a moment. When you were a little kid, you played in the backyard , right? One day it was cowboys and Indians, next day you built a clubhouse, next day you laid out a raggedy golf course. It was fun. This is Clint Eastwood's backyard--he has owned most of this meadow for years--and, at sixty-eight, with a lifetime of cowboys and Indians behind him, he is still the biggest little kid in the world. "He's having fun with this," says Bob Hickam, who will be the pro at Tehãma, after having held that post at Spyglass and Spanish Bay. "Mr. Eastwood just goes whistlin' through life."
His tune has never been sweeter. There are only a few things that matter greatly to him, Eastwood says: family and career, then lesser passions like music and golf. Never previously have the stars in all galaxies been so favorably aligned. Married for two years now to Dina Ruiz, a Salinas newscaster, Eastwood became, last year, a father for the seventh time. He says he has "never enjoyed doing the father thing more." He participates in "cleaning up the goop" and is absolutely smitten with his wife, who is around thirty-five years his junior. "She's a great girl," he says. "She's off taking a lesson today. She swings the club almost every day now. She's a good athlete and is going to be good at golf." He says he can't wait for that because then they can play together all the time, out here in the backyard.
EASTWOOD STEPS INTO THE FIRST TEE BOX on this course, ready to play a few holes--the ones that are finished--and talk about the abundance of good fortune that besets him right now. He hits a pretty fair opening drive, sailing from this elevated tee down to the welcoming fairway of the 544-yard first. "That's about where you'd like to be," he says. "That'll be okay."
As he E-Z-Goes to the ball, Eastwood begins chatting amiably about how he made his way down the coast from the Bay Area to Carmel, which is about where he'd like to be just about all the time. Traits inherited from each parent allowed him to make the big, improbable leap. His father was a stockbroker brought down by the Depression who went to work in and around Oakland as a gas pumper/ salesman/pipe fitter/you name it. From his dad, young Eastwood got his work ethic. His mother, who still lives nearby, was the artistic one. She loves jazz and encouraged the boy as he learned to play piano and flügelhorn. Teenaged Clint fancied himself a black kid trapped in a white kid's body, and this conceit was solidified when he saw Charlie Parker play in Oakland in 1946. Eastwood has been a backroom jazzman ever since--right through the hard-labor years as a lumberjack; through the hard-bitten years in the army; through the dicey years as an aspirant actor, before landing a role on Rawhide; through the breakout years of spaghetti westerns and Dirty Harry movies; into the whatever-you-want-Mr.-Eastwood-sir years of superstardom. In this last chapter, Eastwood can indulge himself by making a biopic of Parker, for instance, or by filling film scores with his own jazz compositions or with favorite songs by others.
Neither of Eastwood's parents had anything to do with his discovering golf. "When I was in the army, a couple of us would go play at Pacific Grove," he says as he drives the cart to the second tee, having made birdie at number one. "Fifty cents, you could play all day. I was no good, didn't know anything about the game. That was fifty years ago." He used to play with his buddies for half a buck, all the holes they could chew up. Now he's a walking golf empire. Every bit as much a fixture at the Pebble Pro-Am as Jack Lemmon or Bill Murray, he has been chummy with Tour players for years. "I really like Ray Floyd, I've had a lot of fun with Raymond," Eastwood says, preparing to drive at the 415-yard second. "He's a great guy." (There are a lot of "great guys" and "great gals" in Eastwood's world.) He has never left the sport in a half century as a golfer, but it was only an occasional pursuit until his mature years, when an occupational hazard turned out to be great for his game. "I was doing a picture, Pale Rider, and the horse and I were riding through some rocks and he decided to roll over. It was one of those things. I broke my shoulder. I had been playing a lot of tennis, but when I started rehabbing I couldn't serve, so I said, 'I'll play more golf.' By the time the shoulder healed, tennis had lost out--I was crazy about golf."
His involvement was purely recreational until two years ago, when he started a line of golfwear. His is the antithesis of Tiger's Nike gear: His is classical, even retro, and extremely clean; it's like what you see Arnie wearing in those terrific black-and-white photos from the late fifties. It is man's-man clothing, and like the new course, it is branded tehãma. This Indian word refers to a county that lies across the northern partof California's Central Valley--a land of milk, honey, sheep, olives, grain, tall trees and the site of one of Eastwood's many properties. It also refers to an extinct Native American tribe that lived thereabouts. That's a playful irony for you: The man who has extincted more Indians, fictive or not, than anyone since John Wayne pays tribute with golf garb and a greensward.
Eastwood has a marvelous sense of humor. Almost everything he says has a touch of fun about it, a bit of teasing--teasing of his guests or of himself. (His reply to the often asked question about whether he is bothered by the age difference in his marriage: "If she dies, she dies.") On the golf course, the banter is light--seldom hilarious but always engaging. "This is one of my favorite holes," he says as he watches his approach to the second green fall short. "I guess 'cause I birdied it last time." His speech has a two-beat rhythm to it; he talks in semicolons. He says a thing, then the famous voice drops subtly--one-sixth of an octave--and he adds a little joke or a bit of provocation.
"TIME FOR THE CHIPMASTER TO GO TO WORK," he says on the fringe at number two, then he pauses. "If the chipmaster can." It's like an extra waggle in his thinking.
On number three: "When we started building the course, the Sierra Club and their friends were up here protesting, dancing around in the meadow"--pause--"I think they had a pretty nice time."
On number four: "The land pretty much looked like this before, with the native grasses and all"--pause--"we're basically watering the meadow."
On number five: "I've never had so much fun with the father thing, never enjoyed doing the father thing more"--pause--"and I've done it a few times."
You look at him as he stands over a 160-yard approach to the green, having waggled, having dropped that I-know-that-you-know line about his kids or about the tree huggers. You're sure you see a half smile on his lips. Then again, he seems to wear a perpetual half smile. It belongs to his face like the scowl belongs to Harry Callahan's.
As for the voice, it is a tenor, you are surprised to realize (though never has a tenor so possessed the gravitas of a baritone). It was said of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald that their voices blended perfectly, like Jack Daniels and champagne. Eastwood's speaking voice stands at the intersection of Louis and Ella--it's got sand in it, and bubbles, too. It's friendlier than Harry's.
And as for the squint, well, that's the one trademark item that is as indelible to the real Eastwood as it is to his movie characters. All day long, his eyes never open; you wonder he doesn't plow E-Z-Go into a tree. In lining up a putt, every golfer in the world squints like Clint Eastwood. But let it here be recorded: In lining up his putts, Clint Eastwood really squints l ike Clint Eastwood.
"I like everything about the game," he says as he briefly surveys the uphill par-three sixth. He takes his whack and flies the green. "I love playing around here, we have so many great courses. I love playing in Scotland." Eastwood may make a golf movie there one day, as he owns the rights to Golf in the Kingdom. "I think I've got the mystical stuff figured out," he says. "But it'd be a real easy film to do badly."
As he drives the cart up a winding path through the trees, he says, "The one thing I don't like is slow play. I didn't even play the Pro-Am last year, and I'm on the tournament board. The pro game has gotten so slow. I just can't stand it, taking six hours to play a round of golf."
There will be no problem with slow play up here at Tehãma, it is suggested. "That's true," Eastwood says. "But we will have mulligans on this course."
He's a good golfer, plays to about a dozen, even if he's dismissive about his talent. He'll say "I do that all the time" whenever a playing partner dips or duffs, but in fact he doesn't do the bad things much. He's got a smooth swing that he forces himself to contain. "Stay within it," Hickam urges all afternoon. "Too fast," Eastwood says to himself when he hooks an approach. He adds constant commentary: "a real worm burner" after a line drive, or "I've patented that shot" after shanking one. "Okay, chipmaster's going to be put to the test here," he says as he prepares for his comeback on number six.
"He had a great day chipping two days ago," Hickam says. "How many did you hole, Mr. Eastwood?"
"Oh, a couple," the chipmaster admits. He waggles, then pops up short. "No chipmaster today."
Eastwood has always been one of the more remote stars in the firmament. "Well," he says, "I live here, not L.A. I'm there a lot, but this is home. When I was in the service, I came down to Carmel if I had half a day off, and I said, 'Boy, that's a place I'd like to live.' When I could, I did." He's been here for three decades and has employed the same philosophy--"When I could, I did"--over and over. "Back in 1951 I used to go to the bar down at Mission Ranch, and it was nice, just a dive with music and a dance floor. And then eventually it fell into disrepair, and so . . ." And so in 1987 Eastwood bought the expansive ranch that overlooks Point Lobos and threw a vault of money at it. These days at Mission Ranch, you turn on the flame in your suite's fireplace with a light switch, and Eastwood admits with a smile that "the rooms don't cost five dollars anymore." Importantly, the bar they call the Small Barn "is just the same as what it was in fifty-one." There's music nightly,and Eastwood sometimes hangs out there with friends, a Tehãma golf cap affording him scant disguise. Eastwood hardly cares if he's recognized. He's in his clubhouse with his buddies, so he's happy.
HE WAS CARMEL'S MAYOR IN 1986 AND '87. He says of his tenure, "I phoned it in." Everyone else says this is nonsense. Eastwood simply won't buy into a compliment; he wasn't raised that way. If you say that Play Misty for Me or Unforgiven or his putt on the seventh green was terrific, he answers, "Turned out okay, I guess." He prides himself on being a thoroughly professional moviemaker, bringing his films in on time and under budget, and taking direction agreeably when he's acting. He talks of his "career," never of his artistry. "I take my career seriously, yeah," he says on the eighth tee, sizing up a 417-yard dogleg right with a Sahara of sand, left.
Didn't you just wrap a project?
"Yeah," he says, squinting more tightly than normal. "It's done. I may look at it again. It'll be out in the spring. I could've hurried it and got it out for Christmas, but I don't really like to hurry anymore with the career. I don't have to." The movie, True Crime, starring his occasional golfing buddy James Woods and himself, marks the seventeenth time Eastwood has played both offense and defense, acting and directing. Along with his "best picture" Oscar came one for directing, not acting (Unforgiven, in 1992). His wherewithal to build Clint's Club, though, derives from the acting, which by now includes lead roles in fifty pictures that have grossed more than a billion-and-a-half simoleons. Leo DiCaprio is a very nice boy, but there is no bigger star--as in star--than Clint Eastwood.
His tee shot floats toward the traps and selects the middle one. "Well," Eastwood says, "I need the practice." He has a good lie in the bunker and hits a seven-wood that nestles just before the green. "I'll take it," he says.
Did he mean to imply, just earlier, that the career means less to him than it used to?
"Oh, no," he says as he rakes the sand. Only in exiting the traps does he seem anywhere near seventy years old; he climbs out stiffly. "I'm just not hurrying things anymore. And as I mentioned, there are other things I'm enjoying."
Where does music fit in, and golf?
"They fit in," he says as he pilots the cart. "I'd call them passions. They're fun. They're relaxing. I enjoy playing piano and composing, and I play golf maybe three times a week. I love it, but I don't have to play golf." In the winter, he skis. He flies his own helicopter over to Tahoe--"I love it up there in the clouds"--while aides drive a chase car laden with skis and clubs. "It's good to have recreations," he says. "I don't overanalyze them." He jogs, he lifts. He has practiced transcendental meditation for three decades. He has never smoked, not even as No Name did he inhale, and he gorges on vitamins. There are a lot of surprises with Clint Eastwood, but he won't help you get all metaphysical about them. "I don't necessarily see similarities in the things I choose to do," he says. "Maybe rhythm. Golf, music--they have rhythm in common."
He likes a smooth rhythm. He seeks it in his swing. He might have made a movie about bop idol Parker, but his piano playing owes more to Errol Garner than it does to Bud Powell, and if you get him going on the very smooth singer Johnny Hartman, whose music Eastwood boosted in The Bridges of Madison County, you'll find the eighth hole behind you before the subject changes.
It is suggested that a lot of the rhythms in his life are flowing smoothly these days. "That's true," he allows. He is reminded that he used a nifty metaphor with Steve Kroft in a 60 Minutes interview. He told Kroft that he was on the back nine of life and was playing a lot better, maybe under par on the home holes, after a rugged front nine with a lot of triple bogeys.
Had he figured that out before being interviewed?
"I don't think I thought about it beforehand," he says, and smacks another good seven-wood out of the rough, around the dogleg of the tough, uphill ninth. "But you never know what you might've thought about before, really."
The chipmaster goes to work, and the puttmaster saves par by canning a downhill fifteen-footer.
The front nine of Tehãma has been completed. The back nine is still under construction. Eastwood spots Jay Morrish, the course architect, at the turn and drives over to visit. He makes certain to introduce everyone to everyone.
After a bit of conversation about the course, Morrish says, "Heard about your hole in one yesterday."
"My first real one," says Eastwood. He pauses. "We played late, and the bar was empty, so I didn't have to buy."
"You done for the day?"
"We're having fun," Eastwood says. "I think we'll play the par threes." These are numbers twelve and seventeen, on part of the course that is ready for action. Eastwood has honors, and misses, right, on twelve. "Guess there'll be no aces today," he says, squinting tightly. You think he is at the semicolon, but this time the bald statement is all there is. He chips on, then sinks a putt that he thought he'd misread. This pleases him more than any well-struck roller finding all cup. It's more fun this way.
As he rides toward the day's last hole, he says, "We came up here the other night, just Dina and me." This is in answer to no question, as questions have run out. "The little one was with us, sacked out in the car. The moon was full. It was so light out, you could've played golf. There wasn't a soul around, just Dina and me and a lot of little nocturnal things--possums, skunk, deer. The ocean. It was quite a night." Out in their backyard. On the home hole.