Chi Chi Rodriguez won $300,000 in the inaugural Senior Skins Game in 1988. It worked out to about a third of his career earnings on the PGA Tour.
During his senior career, Rodriguez won another $8.6 million and bought a house on Maui — on the hillside where the 24th Kaanapali Champions Skins Game will be played Saturday and Sunday.
The sponsors this year, along with the resort, are Administaff, Time Warner Cable and Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka. That’s Fuzzy as in Zoeller, who won here in 2008 (with Peter Jacobsen) and 2009 (with Ben Crenshaw). He is back with Crenshaw this year, to face off against defending champions Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, Mark O’Meara and Bernhard Langer, and Nick Price and Fred Couples.
Zoeller is also here to launch vodka sales in Hawaii, the 26th state where it will be distributed.
"It all started about five years ago," he said. "I was sitting in my office in southern Indiana. A lot of people had come to me to ask me to do wines. That wine business is so competitive, so many players have their own. I had to do something a little different because I’m a different type person."
A friend suggested vodka, and Frank Urban Zoeller, who now calls his drink of choice a Fuzzy and Tonic, jumped.
2011 KAANAPALI CHAMPIONS SKINS GAME
» Who: teams of Jack Nicklaus-Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw-Fuzzy Zoeller, Bernhard Langer-Mark O’Meara and Fred Couples-Nick Price
» When: starting at 2 p.m. Saturday (first nine holes) and Sunday (last nine holes)
» Where: Royal Kaanapali Golf Course, Maui (Par 71, 6,760 yards)
» Purse: $770,000 — $30,000 each for hole Nos. 1-6, $40,000 each for hole Nos. 7-12, $50,000 each for hole Nos. 13-17, $100,000 for the 18th. Money carries over if no team wins hole outright.
» Defending champions: Nicklaus and Watson (10 skins, $350,000)
» Format: two-man team, alternate shot
» Pro-am: 9 a.m. tomorrow
» Admission: free, parking at Whalers Village
» TV: Live on Golf Channel
» Information: 808-661-3691 or kaanapaligolfcourses.com
He found an American distillery that would make a private label and spent four years creating the taste he wanted. He did blind tastings at his club, which confirmed his belief.
Then he went about creating a unique bottle targeted at golfers, coming up with "3D-like" artwork of a golf hole with a lake in the front and hills in the background. "I wanted something very peaceful and refreshing," Zoeller said.
The vodka was introduced in 2009, and at last year’s Indianapolis 500, Ed Carpenter drove the "Fuzzy’s Vodka" race car to a 17th-place finish. This tournament is now another part of his marketing, which includes this sentence at the foot of his fuzzyvodka.net website: "Please Trust Your Caddie and Drink Responsibly."
He and Crenshaw won 13 skins two years ago, the most since the format changed to teams in 2006. Zoeller usually thrives in this format, insisting what he likes best is "the opportunity to have a chance to choke."
"But who cares if you do?" he adds. "The feeling you get when you have to make a putt for a lot of money. … It’s hard to explain. You practice for years on the putting green, put in a lot, lot of years of hard work. To have that opportunity to make a putt for a lot of money is an amazing feeling."
O’Meara is the only rookie this year, but he won the regular tour’s version twice.
Nicklaus is playing his 21st. For that reason and one other — he is considered by many to be the greatest golfer ever — he holds most every senior skins record.
Nicklaus, 71, has won 111 skins in this event. The 73 he has captured on the front nine are more than any other participant’s total. He has collected $2,605,000, minus the percentage contributed to charity.
Watson is playing his eighth senior skins, and has won every three years since 2004. Last week, the 61-year-old finished third at the Champions’ season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai.
Price and Couples were the rookies last year, and finished third behind Zoeller and Crenshaw. Langer, the senior player of the year the last three seasons, is playing in his second senior skins. He and Gary Player were third in 2009.