By Peter Yoon
Jim Hill’s foray into golf began with a dare.
While playing with the San Diego Chargers in the early 1970’s, he was a guest at a golf fundraiser at Riverwalk Golf Course and one of the participants asked Hill, then a Chargers defensive back, if he played golf. Hill said no, which brought on the dare.
“He said ‘I dare you,’” Hill said. “That was the key phrase. And after that, I was pretty much hooked.”
Hill played eight seasons in the NFL with the Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns. He’s since made a name for himself as Sports Director and lead sports anchor for KCBS in Los Angeles.
Now a member at Riviera CC, Hill discusses his love of golf, the effect it’s had on his life, and a secret tape he has from his first interview with Tiger Woods.
A lot of football players seem to be taking up golf these days. Why so many?
It’s not just football players, it’s all athletes. When you retire, you need something to feed your competitive urges, and golf is a good way to do that. I have friends from across the athletic spectrum that play. Oscar de la Hoya, James Worthy, Ahmad Rashad — most of these guys just love to compete and golf lets you do that for a lifetime. I’m not a betting man, but I’d be willing to bet you that you’ll be hooked on golf if you have any kind of competitive juices.
Why don’t you see golfers gravitating toward other sports?
They do, they just don’t play them. Tiger is a huge sports fan. Freddie Couples is another. One time I was in the Lakers locker room doing interviews after a game and all of a sudden I hear someone say, “Aren’t you going to talk to me?” I turned around and it’s Fred Couples; we started cracking up. Golf is fun because you meet people and you stay friends. It’s the sport that brings all the sports together.
It’s probably a good way to get to know people you plan to interview for stories.
One of the great things about golf in my career is that you find out a lot about a person when you spend four hours with them on the golf course. You find out if they have a sense of humor, if they’re honest and if they are good people to be around. You can’t get that from 15 minutes with someone in the locker room.
Any of those course interviews stand out?
One of my all-time favorite interviews was the first one I did with Tiger. I go and there is this little 5- or 6-year-old cute kid running around playing golf. We go out and play and after we finish I’m going to do an interview with him. He’s sitting in his father’s lap and I ask him, “Tiger, why do you like golf so much?” He kind of sighed. And I said, “Tiger, Tiger, my career is in your hands right now. Why do you like playing golf so much?” Then he sighed again and says, “I gotta go poo poo.”
So, I have that tape. It’s one of my favorite interviews. And when I see Tiger we laugh about it from time to time. I’ll see him and say, “Listen, if you don’t want to interview with me today, I’ll just use the poo poo tape.”
What kind of golfer are you?
On a good day I’m about a 15 [handicap]. On a great day, well, there haven’t been many of those so let’s just leave it at a good day. I shot 79 at Riviera once. I walked in the clubhouse and nobody believed me. After that, Ray Leonard would go out and put in scores for me. I was walking by the board one time, looked up and saw my handicap was down to 9. I’m saying, “What is going on here?” And then I found out that Ray Leonard, the Olympic gold medalist, the darling of the boxers, went out there forging my scores all because I shot 79 one time.
You show a lot of golf in your telecasts, more than other stations. Why?
Golf can be such a positive influence on society. It promotes such good ideals: Camaraderie, honesty, hard work. It teaches you so much about yourself and about life. It can keep kids off the streets. It has the charity element. It’s one of the few sports that hasn’t had big scandals yet with steroids, drugs, guns, whatever, other than isolated incidents like John Daly. It encompasses so many elements that help us in our lives. It’s made a big difference in my life and I do anything I can to help others get started, too.
Where does the Jim Hill Celebrity Golf Classic fit in to that?
It benefits the Los Angeles Urban League and the celebrities love to come out and play. We had Barry Bonds and Marcus Allen. Through the years we’ve had all the big names down the list. The kids love it. We have a kids clinic and at one of the first ones, this kid came running through the fairway, the practice area and ran through the bunker toward me. I said, “What in the world are you doing?” He looked at me and said, “Jim, I’ve never seen anything like this.”
I had to pull my cap down over my eyes. It was a very emotional thing for me. It just goes to show you never know the impact you have on young people.
How often do you play?
Not enough. I’m probably Riviera’s favorite member because I pay my dues, but I hardly ever use the club. But I keep my bag in my trunk just in case. Sometimes I stop by Griffith Park. I’ll play wherever they’ll let me.
Do you wish you’d started playing at a younger age?
Well, I was a football player. After I was traded to Green Bay, there wasn’t much of a choice. Not too many courses are open there in November and December. But yes, if I could go back, I’d start earlier. I would still play football, there’s no doubt about that, but I would have started earlier. I would have encouraged young people to get involved earlier and I would have gotten involved with charity events earlier. Now that I know what I know about golf, I would have done everything earlier.