In this excerpt from his new book, My Life In And Out Of The Rough, the PGA's favorite punch line dishes on his larger-than-life appetite for sex, booze and the slots-and even talks a little golf.
Hollywood Henderson warned me. I met him in January 1993, my first time in rehab. After I got to know him a bit, he told me, "John, you're going to find something that you're going to love to do as much as you loved to drink, and it's going to fulfill that part of your body that says, Okay, I'm doing something.' And you've got to be very, very careful what that is."
The people around me-my agents, my closest friends-were hoping, of course, that that "something" would be practicing golf.
No such luck.
What I found was gambling.
Gambling is the only thing that gets my juices flowing like golf does-or whiskey used to. Playing slot machines for me is like being completely alone, on my own, like on a cross-country drive. All the noise in a casino? I don't hear it. I'm in a zone. I'll check my watch and maybe 10, 15 hours have gone by. It's scary how far away I get.
It's sort of like the way I felt when I was a teenager and I'd be out on the golf course on a summer afternoon, when it wouldn't get dark until late. Everybody else had gone home, but I'd be there, all by myself, in this peaceful zone. I'd be totally locked in, working on my game, not thinking about anything or anybody else.
Out there on the golf course, with everything still and the day fading away, I was the only person in the world, and I felt good.
That's the feeling I get when I gamble.
And here's where that feeling got me in the 18 months after I left rehab: When I got to St. Andrews for the 1995 British Open, I owed almost $4 million to casinos.
The only way I'd been able to keep my head above water was to turn all my quarterly endorsement income over to the casinos, and then run myself ragged by playing all over the world for appearance fees and doing too many corporate outings, all because I needed the money to feed the beast.
The British Open saved me. Not because of the winner's purse-it was only 125,000 pounds, which was, like, $200,000 back then. But when you throw in the bonuses from all my sponsors, I took a $1 million-plus haul away from the Old Course. All that went to the casinos.
The rest of the summer and fall I spent collecting appearance fees at tournaments all over the world. By the end of 1995, when my quarterly sponsorship payments came in, I was able to pay off the casinos. Then, in 1996, the whole cycle began again: up and down, back and forth, waiting for my quarterly checks to pay off the casinos, hustling appearance fees, running myself ragged doing corporate outings instead of spending time with my family and working on my game.
That's the way it's been for the past 10 years.
It worries me. A lot.
My wife, Sherrie, has been very supportive. She tells me that the kids don't do without-and she's right. They go to great private schools. They have everything they need. They're set up just fine.
The problem is, if I don't get a grip on this thing now, what's going to happen as I get older and my earning power decreases? I'll give you a perfect example of how destructive my gambling gets at times. Last fall, after getting beat by Tiger in a playoff at the WGC-AmEx Championship in San Francisco, I made $750,000 for finishing second, and generally felt pretty good. I was real disappointed I hadn't won, but at least I'd had a really nice payday.
But instead of going home and closing the 2005 PGA Tour on a high note, I went straight to Vegas. My first stop was the new Wynn Las Vegas casino, where they have this $5,000 slot machine. Within an hour and a half, I was down $600,000. There went all that hard work against Tiger.
Next I went over to Bally's. Got a $600,000 line. Won $175,000 and took it back over to that $5,000 machine. It owed me big-time. But I didn't hit s- on it. Got another $600,000 line from Wynn. Lost it in two hours on that $5,000 slot.
Back to Bally's, where I won another $80,000, then tried dialing down to the $100 slots, looking for a little streak so I could pay down some of what I owed.
No dice: In less than five hours, I lost $1.65 million.
So much for finishing the 2005 PGA Tour season on a high note.
And here's how my sick mind analyzed the situation: My sponsorship money would be coming through in January, so I'd be able to pay everything off by the beginning of the new year.
Hell yes, there's a problema. If I don't get control of my gambling, it's going to flat-out ruin me.
What burns me most, looking back, is that in the 12 years I've been gambling heavily, if I'd left after the first hour and a half every time I was in a casino, I'd be up, way up. Instead, I'm down $50 to $60 million.
The fact is, 95% of the time I go to a casino, the first 90 minutes I'm there I hit the biggest jackpots more often than anybody. I'm the luckiest guy on
a slot machine you've ever seenin the first hour and a half.
My agents have busted their butts trying to throw a rope around me, but I don't listen. And until I listen, well … all I can say is, I'm just going to have to start listening soon, real soon.
Look, in balance, I've taken a lot more control of my life in the past five or six years. I'm off those damned medications. I don't drink JD anymore. I don't beat up on hotel rooms and cars as much.
But gambling remains a problem.
So here's my plan. Every time I go to the casino, I start with the $25 slots. Plus, I set a loss number, and once I hit that number, I walk out. If I make a little bit, then maybe I move up to the $100 slots or the $500s or maybe I take it to a blackjack table. Why not try to double it? And if I make a lot …
Well, that's my plan. It's a start. I know, I know-I'm still a long way from quitting gambling.
What would I do if I did?
That's not an option, at least in terms of whiskey. If I start drinking whiskey again, it'll kill me, plain and simple. I know that. The only real option is to get control of my gambling.