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Just Off the Fairway

Jimmy Hanlin Talks About His Cavalier Experiences Out on the Course
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Just Off the Fairway

Jimmy Hanlin Talks About His Cavalier Experiences Out on the Course

Some of you readers might’ve irritably clicked on this article thinking: ‘Hey, what’s all this golf stuff about?! Cavs Training Camp is less than two weeks away, and I’m ready for some basketball!’

And to those readers I say: ‘Keep your damn pants on!’ Sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with an individual who knows a ton about all three: basketball, golf AND pants.

The man of which I speak is Jimmy Hanlin – among other things, the current host four different shows -- "18 Holes" which airs nationwide and regionally on FOX Sports Ohio and SportsTime Ohio, "Swing Clinic" -- also a nationwide show which airs regionally on FOX Sports Ohio and SportsTime Ohio, "Links to the Game" –- on FSO and STO -- and "Pin Shot which he co-hosts with Tony Rizzo on FSO and STO.

You might have never watched either show, but you know who he is.

If you’re a golfer at any level whose looking to pick up tips on your game or even find out about some of the most exciting golf destinations in the country, there isn’t a better teacher on the tube. His depth of knowledge, accessible style and easy demeanor have endeared him to literally millions of viewers across the country.

But if you’re not, there’s the aforementioned pants.

At some point, you’ve been home or in a bar after the Indians game and following the postgame show you looked up and saw a guy with vivid orange or incandescent green or brilliant red pants and found yourself momentarily transfixed. It’s happened to almost all of us at one time or another.

Here’s a confession: I hate golf! I stink! I’m as bad now as when I started. But here’s another confession: I love Mr. Cavalier, Austin Carr. And when an opening came available in the Austin Carr Celebrity Invitational this summer, I grabbed it. (Wouldn’t you?) And the celebrity we were paired with is the subject of today’s piece.

Jimmy Hanlin grew up in small town outside Steubenville, Ohio – the son of a steel mill worker and nurse, neither of whom played golf. His father was also one of the town’s deputy sheriffs. And the sheriff also happened to own the golf course. He told Mr. Hanlin his kids could get on any time they wanted. Six-year-old Jimmy was out the very next day – and every day after that.

But golf was just one of Hanlin’s athletic interests. He played quarterback until his sophomore season in high school and was actually hoping to play college baseball. Instead, he chose college hoops – playing four years at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He gave up trying to play both hoops and golf after one semester, eschewing the links for the hardwood.

After college, he went pro and banged around on the circuit for a while before returning to Ohio. While working at Little Mountain Country Club, Hanlin was asked to do a radio appearance and his on-air popularity exploded from there.

After winning two Emmys alongside Jim Donovan, Hanlin's star continued to rise and his current shows are being broadcast in 17 regions aside from Northeast Ohio and broadcasted in 80 million homes nationwide.

With Training Camp (and the cool weather) rapidly approaching, it’s time to get in just a little more golf before the things get serious. So we sat down with Jimmy Hanlin to talk about Cavaliers he’s played with and against, the changing attitude about the game and, yes … the crazy pants.

Hanlin has had some unique experiences on the links with both former Cavs coach Byron Scott and a young Tristan Thompson.
Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Who are some of the Cavaliers – players and coaches – that you’ve golfed with over the years?

Jimmy Hanlin: Well, he's not a huge Cavs name, but my favorite that I've played golf with is Jason Kapono. Jason just walked in the pro shop one day randomly, I think it was his rookie year. We kind of just struck up a conversation, we went out and played nine holes and we really just had a great relationship while he was here in Cleveland.

He loved golf and there really weren't a lot of guys on the team at that time who played much golf. He just had that West Coast theory on life -- he just took everything in stride. It was cool.

And probably one of my closest friends through the Cavs was Sidney Lowe, dating back to when he was an assistant coach. Same thing: we kind of met randomly through an event or something like that and Sidney and I still stay in touch to this day. He's back in the NBA now, had coached at NC State. Sidney was just a really good guy.

Both of those guys really wanted to get better at golf; they didn't just play to play.

And I almost forget about A.C. because he's just been there forever. But I've been giving AC golf lessons for literally 20 years. He'll text me in the middle of a round with: 'I can't stop hooking the ball! What should I do?'

But A.C. and I play a lot of golf and we share great stories outside of golf because he's such an interesting guy, and one of my favorite people in the world. And he's about as crazy about golf as any human being I've ever met. He wants it all to be perfect. He does NOT like to hit a bad shot.

If you’ve golfed with A.C., that means you’ve golfed with his partner, Fred McLeod …

Hanlin: I have played with Fred, and I've given him a lot of golf lessons. Fred can sometimes overthink it. Number one -- Fred is good. He doesn't think he is as good as he is, and that's his number one problem. Put it this way, if JR Smith didn't think he was a good three-point shooter, how do you think he'd do?

It's the same thing with Fred. He just doesn't believe that he's as good as he is. And he always thinks he needs to make a change. But sometimes he just needs to go out there and -- in basketball terms -- play streetball and just get the ball in the hole and not always worry about being perfect.

With pro ballplayers, how much of a factor is their height?

Hanlin: It’s definitely a factor. You can't really make a club long enough for some guys – it'd be like spaghetti. For guys like Zydrunas Ilgauskas – who I’ve played with a lot – it's really important to get into a good posture, which is big in golf.

It's hard if you're 6-2, 6-3, but when you get above 6-6, 6-7, it's really tough to stay in that posture. So, I think that's what's hard for him.

In golf, the club goes in this big circle. And with Zydrunas, that circle gets a LOT bigger and there's a lot of time for things to go wrong.

Big Z's been interested in golf for a lot of years, but now he's actually taking it more seriously than I've ever seen. He's taking golf lessons over at Stonewater and he's excited about it. He looks at me and he gets a big smile when he sees me now because he knows he's working a little harder and is probably going to have some success.

During his playing days, I think he just wanted to play good enough to not embarrass himself. Now I think he wants to get good at the game, which is kind of cool.

Do any guys actually get competitive during a round?

Hanlin: Well, Byron Scott is very competitive. We'd be out there knocking around for nine holes and he wanted to shoot the best nine holes he could shoot. And on top of that, he wanted to beat me – which was never going to happen. (laughs)

When I was growing up, you know, the Lakers were "Showtime." So, just to meet Byron Scott was a really big deal to me. And then just to play golf with him was like: 'Wow! How is THIS happening?'

We got to be good friends and it was all through golf. But you know, he didn't really ask me for a lot of instructions; he just wanted to beat me. He was very serious. Byron just wanted the ball in the hole.

He wanted his to swing to be good and all – but, really, he just he knew that three beats four and he wanted to win. That was his whole mentality.

What about any of the current Cavs?

Hanlin: We were at the Cavs' golf outing at Firestone one year and Tristan was still a rookie; nobody really knew who he was back then. They knew his name but it's nothing like now. The Cavs were kind of moving him around group to group.

So, we were on the green and he walked over and I handed him a putter and said: ‘Come on over and putt with us.’ He had no idea who I was.

He held the club wrong, his hands were completely in the wrong position. And he said this was the first time he'd ever held a golf club in his hands.

How was the putt?

Hanlin: I don't remember it being very good.

"They're competitive once they get going. And the guys that want to get good, get good really fast."

Hanlin on former players trying their hand at golf

What’s been your experience with pro basketball players compared to guys in other sports?

Hanlin: I think with a lot of the basketball players, I haven't met many of them who picked up the game early in life – so it's a little more difficult. I feel like if they did pick it up, it happened in college. I think even Byron said he picked it up in college or even when he was with the Lakers.

But a lot of these guys picked it up later in life. And the game is pretty frustrating, especially when you're older, because it's a little more embarrassing. When you're young, your ball goes wherever, you don't care. When you get a little older, it’s embarrassing.

So I would say that out of the four sports, basketball guys probably struggle a little bit more because a lot of guys haven't really played it when they were younger kids.

But they're competitive once they get going. And the guys that want to get good, get good really fast.

Who’s the best golfer?

Hanlin: The best is probably A.C. He's pretty good. Byron was pretty good too, and those guys were about neck-and-neck.

But A.C.'s probably the best.

What’s it like for you playing in outings with other pro athletes?

Hanlin: So when I go to, let's say, a Cavs event or any professional sports team's event, I walk in and it's really cool to see like Tristan or JR (Smith) or any of these guys!

But, for example, I went to the Columbus Blue Jackets outing (last week) and I'm not really a big hockey guy. But they came up to me, because they want to talk golf. They want to tell me how they're hooking it or slicing it.

So that's a funny thing for me: I'm not the headliner or celebrity, but usually the headliners or celebrities will come to me because they want to either tell me a story how they're getting better or what they're doing wrong and how to fix it.

Are there any current Cavaliers that you’d like to play with but haven’t (yet)?

Hanlin: Well, I think the guy that I haven't met and would love to play with is JR.

And what draws me to JR is his love of the game. He's passionate about it. Number one, he’s gotten very good very quickly.

And he's probably met more tour players than I have, and I've been in the game for years. So, he's really attached himself to the game, which is really cool.

I've yet to play with him, but I have a feeling like we'd get along really well.

I've heard that Kyle Korver is a good player, too. I haven't met Kyle or played with Kyle either. But usually when you get a couple guys on a team like those two that love the game that much, it starts to spread to the other players. It may not have spread as much because LeBron just didn't like it.

But I think once they start playing they realize that golf isn’t about being the best. Really, it's more of a getaway -- especially for these guys. Get out on the golf course and you can still be competitive and athletic, and once you get off that first tee, it's you and three buddies.

And I think that some of these guys probably start playing for that reason.

Has the perception of the game changed from where it used to be considered just a stuffy, country club sport?

Hanlin: Well, when I drive around Little Mountain, I would say 40 to 50 percent of people have music on. And that would have never happened 15 years ago.

So the perception of what happens on a golf course has definitely changed.

Tiger Woods made golf cool. Tiger changed the perception of golf as a stuffy, country club sport. Suddenly, it was a cool thing to do. Then what happened was that kids, 13, 14, 15 years old who were great athletes, now they're like: 'OK, I'm gonna to play golf. Number one, these guys make a lot of money. Number two, it's pretty cool.’

Tiger made the way golfers dress cooler, the game looked better on television. Everything got better when Tiger came on the scene.

And I think a guy like JR takes it to the next level. JR's not a guy who grew up in a country club, but he's out there making it look good. And JR – the dude can dress! I mean, he really looks good on a golf course.

So guys like that make the game cool.

What a perfect segue! How did the pants thing get started?

Hanlin: (laughs) I wish I could pinpoint a time where I thought: 'I'm just gonna wear crazy pants!' There wasn't a time that it ‘happened.’ I grew up in the late-70s and 80s where people dressed however they wanted to dress.

And it's not for TV. It happened way before TV, for sure. But I also don't ever remember people saying 'Man, you wear wild colors!' when I was in college or anything.

So it's like I think it's just a mix of A. I just like to wear it, and B. people started recognizing me by it.

Like, if I went down to the Indians game and wore a pair of jeans, maybe 10 people would come up to me and say 'Hi, I love the show.' But if I go down there wearing a pair of red or green pants, EVERYONE there will say something or make a comment to me.

So, it became the thing that was recognizable about me. And the funny thing is, they're disappointed when I don't wear them!

That's probably one of the biggest things is, I guess I just don't want to disappoint people. I've even tried to tone it down a little bit. I said: ‘OK, I'm going to wear bright colors but I'm going to get away from the designs.’

But I don't think people like it! They want the craziest thing that I have.

But it was just an organic thing that started happening. I've always worn the crazy colors. In college, I had a pair of bright red pants and this shirt with, like, paint stripes all over it. And I loved it!

So maybe it was always in my blood. I just could never could afford to wear that stuff every day. But I can afford it now.


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