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Actor Jeff Daniels Escapes to the Golf Course
By John Wukovits


Most golfers relish the thought of tossing the clubs in the car trunk, heading out to a crowded golf course with a few buddies, and playing 18 holes on a sunny afternoon. They know that lively chatter and jokes will fill the empty moments, and if they pull off a handful of decent shots in the process, well, all the better.

If you are Jeff Daniels, the actor from Chelsea, however, the sport holds a much different meaning. Though he is used to huge crowds--after all, that is how he earns a living--he hopes to avoid gatherings on the golf course. For him, the sport offers peace and quiet. "It's a complete escape," Daniels said. "It gets me away from the rest of my life, which is so artistic. The constant use of the imagination can just wear you out mentally. But in golf, like on the practice range, I can just go out there and beat balls. There's something therapeutic about that."

Daniels explains that other golfers normally give him his privacy. "I'm left alone, too. I put up the vibe‚ and go down to the end of the practice range and they leave me alone."

Daniels started golfing in grade school with his father at a little 9-hole course near Chelsea. Daniels continued throughout high school, but he did not become serious about the game until he left for New York to pursue an acting career. "I got caught up in it when I was in New York," he said. "I was living in Manhattan where there is nothing green except Central Park, so I'd take my clubs, get on the subway and head down to the ferry, take the Staten Island Ferry over to Staten Island, take the bus to the Silver Lake Public Golf Course on Staten Island, and hack around on that little beauty."

Daniels slowly improved until he consistently shot in the 80s. He cannot now play as often as he would like, because the heavy demands of the film industry take him away for long stretches of time, but he walks the fairways two or three times a week, in between projects. Making films like Gettysburg, Dumb & Dumber, and Purple Rose of Cairo ensured his reputation as a stellar actor, but at the cost of his golf game. Daniels is also fascinated by the mental aspect of the game. He considers it a challenge to play tough courses, because it pits him against the designer. "It's like chess on grass," he said. "Once you start to play well, then you're out there playing Pete Dye or Jack Nicklaus.

I consciously think of that. When I've got my top game, then I'm standing on the first tee going, ‘All right, me versus the designer.' And then I slice it or whatever, but I really enjoy that part of it."

Daniels especially loves playing some of the northern Michigan courses, where he tries to determine where the designer wants him to shoot the ball. "Where is he daring me to shoot it, where is the safe play--all that stuff goes through my mind."

When in Hollywood, Daniels remains true to his love for golfing solitude by shunning the popular courses and by not playing with other actors. "Near Los Angeles, I always play Ojai Valley. It's an escape. It's kind of like a small California town, but it reminds me of escaping to Chelsea. You get out of L.A. It's like a place I go to chill out. The back nine is especially pretty. You play it when the sun's going down and no one else is out there and it's serenity time."

Daniels uses Henry Griffiths golf clubs and Titleist golf balls. He shoots 78 to 85 at his home course near Chelsea, the demanding Polo Fields, and carries a seven or eight handicap. Other courses he enjoys playing are Treetops and Bay Harbor, where he can employ what he considers the strength of his game. "I used to be pretty long, and then I fell in love with how long I was," he commented. "Then I was long and wild." He adds that the weaknesses of his game come from the acting profession. "Being an actor, our toolboxes are our emotions and all the emotions we can pull up in a moment's notice. Actors learn how to have rage, anger, frustration just under the skin. That doesn't make for good course management. There was a period when I got a lot of hang time with my 9-irons.

"In golf you want the calm serenity that seems to exist inside Tom Watson, that kind of emotional stability. He doesn't get too high or low, but when I step in front of a camera the director needs me to be either high or low on demand."

Despite the challenges, Daniels relishes his moments on a golf course. The peacefulness recharges his creative and emotional batteries and restores balance to his life. "That's what golf can do if you drop the quest for par. To go out there and live on the course until the sun goes down. Nobody else out there. There's a peace and tranquillity about it. That's my favorite part of golf--when the sun goes down."

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