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The Quaid Trap

Money flies around in Quaid's recreational matches, but seldom in as large denominations as during a series of early morning matches he played in Miami during the filming of Any Given Sunday in 1998. Production never started before early afternoon, so Quaid, James Woods and former all-pro footballers Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown teed off every morning as the first group on Doral Golf Resort's Blue Monster. "You talk about vicious," Quaid said. "It was press, press, press. Plus birdies, bullies, sandies, barkies, whatever you want. Every day. They got me at a time when my swing was in a tailspin, so I got my ass kicked for about a month." Taylor's style in particular left a rich impression on Quaid: "He showed up one morning wearing shorts, a T-shirt and flip-flops—which he played in. And he was hot. He can hit the ball, man. On the front he shot three-under, with two in the water."

Quaid is quick to point out how weird, fortunate and wonderful it is for him to be able to play so much golf, and has a theory about why golf is popular among so many actors and retired athletes. "Most normal people work at their jobs, what, fifty weeks a year, which is a lot, but men like to work. They wrap their identities and self-esteem around what they do—men more than women, I think. For people like us who aren't working all the time, golf becomes something like work. It gives you a sense of accomplishment because you feel like you're working at something. It gives you another reason to live, outside of family, of course, and your regular job." He said that it's common among Hollywood types to tease each other about "warped priorities" when they stay away from the course too long: "They joke about that, but there's a lot of truth to it, really. Because for a lot of guys, that's where the heart is."

Quaid himself drifted away from golf a bit in the mid- to late-nineties. His addictions seemed well under control, his son was young, his marriage with Ryan was stable and he was working hard (he appeared in seventeen movies from 1993 to 2001). But then, triggering what might be called Phase II of Quaid's golf saga, he and Ryan split. Who knows what the true back story of a Hollywood divorce is, but the main plotline in the press had Ryan linked with Russell Crowe, and by all accounts it was a horrible experience for Quaid. By Hollywood standards, Quaid and Ryan had never been a public couple, but now helicopters were flying over their house and the tabloid media was freely spreading every kind of rumor. According to friends, Quaid came close to losing his battle against addiction. He may have resumed drinking, at least temporarily. But in the end he was able not only to stay off drugs but to re-establish a genial relationship with Ryan as they split responsibilities for their son. And once again, golf was part of his salvation. He resumed playing full force in 2001: the lessons with Butch Harmon, the practice mania, the total devotion, just like before. Golf seems to have become an honest anchor for Quaid.

And, whatever role golf may have played, Quaid's life and career are back on track. He has a young, predictably pretty girlfriend and growing clout in Hollywood. Last year's The Rookie was a box-office hit, he received a Golden Globe nomination and two film-critics awards playing a repressed homosexual husband in Far From Heaven, and will star in two upcoming potential blockbusters: a remake of The Alamo, opening in December, and next spring's The Day After Tomorrow, in which he plays a climatologist trying to save the world from encroaching ecological disaster.

On the final morning of his charity event in June, Quaid showed up promptly for our photo shoot. He said he was hungover, although in exactly what sense he meant this I was afraid to ask. He was grouchy and exhausted. At one point, with stylists and dressers coming at him from several directions, he literally growled: a deep, unmediated rumble of warning. Peter Jason, a participant in the tournament, told me later that in thirty years of friendship with Quaid, he had never seen him "run out of gas"—until this day. Yet Quaid did what he had to do. He posed professionally in the hot sun and signed autographs for the crew and for passing golf fans, whom he earnestly thanked for coming.

He also responded honestly when I observed that he looked tired. "Yes," he grumbled. "Tired of being Dennis Quaid." I took this to mean tired of being the public Dennis Quaid, not the private one. Luckily, the tournament was his last official public duty before an extended period of R&R at his Montana ranch, and I imagined him doing little more than napping, hitting a few golf balls, playing catch with his son and staring stupefyingly at all that Big Sky they have up there.

But a couple of weeks later, I caught the broadcast of the American Century Celebrity Golf Classic at Lake Tahoe, Nevada, an event most notable for the on-course hijinks of participants such as Dennis Miller and Charles Barkley. Quaid was competing, too. He didn't do especially well, shooting rounds in the mid-eighties and finishing forty-eighth among the celebrities—but not because he wasn't trying. On the contrary, he was plugging away with every bit as much obsession as he'd displayed in Austin.

"This guy's intense, isn't he?" said one of the NBC announcers.

"Ohhh, yeah. This isn't life and death, this is way more serious than that," said the other, having fun.

They watched Quaid plumb-bob a putt from three sides. "You ever heard of somebody called a grinder?This is it. This man is grinding."

"Let's just say it: Quaid is the biggest grinder in the history of this championship." And on and on the announcers went.

It was funny, because clearly Quaid just couldn't help himself. Earlier I'd found it painful to watch Quaid play, but now I didn't. You've got to love a guy who keeps on trying that hard at something as difficult as golf, especially with all the world watching.

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