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The Life of a Golfing Clown

The fancy private clubs, of course, have locker rooms—plush, spacious quarters where a man can put on makeup undisturbed. But Ironwood Golf Club in Fishers, Indiana, is a public track, short on posh and privacy. It has a modest pro shop and a small snack shop, but no place for a clown to change in peace.

It's mid-morning on a Tuesday and Divot the Clown—the funnyman in question—stands before the mirror in a basement bathroom that's barely big enough to swing a sand wedge. His outfit is a sort of post-modern Duffy Waldorf: blue shirt, red pants, polka-dot bow tie, mismatched psychedelic socks. He wears a carrot-top shock wig. His checkered shoes are a spikeless size twenty-two. As he peers at his reflection, penciling in a circle above his cheekbone, three golfers squeeze into the room and stare. One man looks curious, another confused. The third chuckles, straddling the urinal, and says over his shoulder, "Class clown, huh. How'd you draw that straw?"

Divot's painted-on smile quivers slightly. It isn't his habit to speak in public, but he looks at the guy in the mirror and mutters softly, "Class clown?Wait until you see my show."

That show begins in twenty minutes on the driving range across the parking lot. What the man will see, if he bothers, is an offbeat brand of entertainment that melds traditional circus antics with unconventional golf skills.

On his web site and in his promotional videos, Divot bills himself as the "world's greatest golfing clown," a claim that's hard to either verify or dispute. What can be confirmed is that since 1984, when he came into creation, Divot has carried out thousands of trick-shot exhibitions in forty-six states and five countries. He's teed it up with Tiger and hammed it up with Arnie. His audiences have ranged from Sikhs in India to stiff-lipped CEOs at California's swankiest country clubs. He's spat balls from his mouth and slapped them off mats at run-down ranges in one-horse towns, and he's swatted balls off his toe with a driver as a prelude to prestigious PGA Tour events.

Divot has clubs and will travel. His funnyman routine has taken him to Chile, Calcutta, and the Dominican Republic, among other locales. In between he's traveled all over the country, from Dallas to Denver to Minneapolis and onward, working the red-eye circuit hauling an eighty-pound bag stuffed with goofy clubs.

Today's Ironwood gig is a small fund-raiser at a furry-greened course in suburban Indiana. (Even the world's greatest golfing clown doesn't thumb his red nose at many gigs.)

His makeup job complete, Divot straightens his tie and slap-steps upstairs into the pro shop, where a man behind the counter wants to chat. He's a cheery retiree, that common breed of golfer who trades his free time for free rounds.

"Tell me something," he says to Divot. "You can hit all these amazing shots—how come you're not out on Tour?"

It's a simple question with no single answer, and it's too long a story for a silent clown.

Halfway across the country, on a muggy Wednesday morning, teaching pro Kevin Compare, 45, stands before a group of golfers on the practice range of the PGA Learning Center in Port St. Lucie, Florida. It's ten o'clock, and the temperature has already broken ninety—which is more than most of Compare's students can say.

Compare (pronounced "com-PARE") grabs a club to illustrate a fundamental. He's lean and athletic, with thick black hair, dark sunglasses and a tidy mustache—think Chip Beck crossed with Erik Estrada. He's been teaching since daybreak, and he'll continue till close to nightfall, just like yesterday and the day before. Compare is the lead instructor at the Learning Center. He works six days a week and plays an average of five rounds a year.

Not that he's complaining. Or not exactly. Golf was what he always wanted since he was thirteen, a young kid in Connecticut with a caddy job at a local country club. At eighteen, out of high school and ideas, he moved to Florida with the goal of getting into the golf industry. He had distant dreams, of course, of the PGA Tour, but he knew that golf was cruel. So many people love it, but the game loves only a select few back.

Over the next five years, Compare sold auto parts and health-club memberships. His only golf earnings were whatever he won off friends.

But in 1981, with a well-timed phone call, Compare, then twenty-three, finally landed his first golf job, as an assistant at a nearby semiprivate course. The hours were ridiculous, the pay absurd. He could not have been happier. "Golf pros love the game so much," says Compare, "they're willing to work practically for free."

Compare could play, so friends pooled money to sponsor him on the local minitour. Swell idea, except for a tiny putting problem. Compare didn't get the yips; he got the stops. When he tried to pull the putter back, it froze.

He could have worked more on the problem but found himself caught in a conundrum endemic to his sport: He was so busy giving lessons he had no time to take one. "If you want to be a professional golfer," he says, "you should not become a golf professional."

So Compare gave up competing altogether and got into building his résumé, which began to read like something out of Rand McNally: New York, North Carolina, Indiana, Florida. He worked nine jobs in thirteen years.

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