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Golf Life: Fidelity's Golfing CEO

Bill Foley wears many hats. He's chairman and CEO of Fidelity National Financial, the largest title-insurance and real-estate services company in the country; he's chairman of CKE, the parent of fast-food chains Carl's Jr. and Hardee's; and he's the managing director of Foley Estates Vineyard and Winery. Amidst all that, he remains a single-digit handicapper with a terrific short game.

You run two major corporations and a booming winery and still maintain an impressive handicap. How is all that possible?
Don't forget the restaurant I just opened in Whitefish, Montana. It's called the Corner House Grille.

So we might say you've added even more to your plate?
I've been that way since I was at West Point. The academy taught me about organization and delegating and still paying attention to detail. After the service, I got a law degree, practiced full-time for eight or nine years, and then started dabbling in business investing. I had an opportunity in 1984 to buy a small title-insurance company, which was Fidelity National. I put together a group of guys and we did a leveraged buyout. We watched every dollar. Ten years later I put together a group to buy controlling interest in Carl's Jr. and then Hardee's. The winery was just something on the side, but it's become a success. We just released our first estate-bottled wines.

Do you sample your products?
When I got involved with Carl's Jr. I gained so much weight eating the Super Star. That's two hamburger patties, two pieces of cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and onions. Add in the fried zucchini and I was eating about eleven hundred calories at lunch. I went from 170 pounds to 200 pounds. I've been trying to take it off since. As for the wine, I love chardonnays and pinot noirs. But I have to be careful not to drink the inventory. It's a business, you know.

Were you surprised when your decision to move Fidelity from Santa Barbara to Jacksonville, Florida, became a topic for debate in the California gubernatorial election last year?
I was glad someone noticed we left. When we were going through the process of considering a relocation, we called Governor Gray Davis's office to ask about incentives, and this fellow came down and told us how the state could put us in an enterprise zone in Fresno. Fresno?So we decided on Jacksonville, where it's beautiful, the golf is great and the local community wants its businesses to succeed.

What has the move meant for your golf game?
My golf game is a problem. Let's say that speed is not my friend. I am very focused on being on the tee and swinging smooth. I was just out on the practice tee, and Leonard Thompson was hitting balls. He's up there with the smoothest swing and the ball is going so far. Why can't I do that?Some days I can.

How often are you actually able to get out and play?
I try to play twice a week. I probably have thirty drivers at home. It's pathetic. I was serious as a kid when I could play every day. Then I was focused on my career and didn't get serious again until seven years ago. I began working with Todd Sones in Indian Wells, who was great. But he left, and I started taking lessons up in Montana at Iron Horse with Matt Swarts, who was the best. Now he's leaving, so I don't know what I'll do.

You're part of the group of investors that owns Pebble Beach. Does that mean you play for free?
There is no such thing as a free ride with Peter Ueberroth.

But you play in the AT&T Pro-Am.
I made the cut once in five years but had a blast every time. Teeing off on number one in front of all those people is a terrifying experience. My best shot was hitting it an inch from the hole on seventeen. I cleared the trap and then I heard all these people going crazy. I started thinking I was a celebrity. That's easy to do. Then I remembered that I'm not.

Scorecard BILL FOLEY
AGE 59
HANDICAP 6
BEST SCORE 67 at Pinetop Country Club, Arizona
MEMBERSHIPS The Valley Club of Montecito, Santa Barbara, CA; Vintage Club, Indian Wells, CA; Pablo Creek Club, Jacksonville, FL
EQUIPMENT Callaway Steelhead X-16 Irons; Callaway War Bird series 3-wood, 5-wood and Heaven Wood; TaylorMade R510 driver; Titleist Vokey wedges; TearDrop putter

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