Costner on par with fans

Published March 2, 2005

For Kevin Costner, last Friday (2/25) was supposed to be like Tin Cup . It ended up more like Waterworld.

Costner was in Lutz for the Champions Tour's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am at the TPC of Tampa Bay. A handful of celebrities participated, including Carson Daly, Emmitt Smith and Kevin "Hercules" Sorbo, but Costner's foursome drew the biggest crowds of the tournament.

Unfortunately, rain on Friday suspended play before Costner could finish. Nonetheless, we tagged along to see what it's like to play golf with Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy. Here's how Costner's round unfolded:

8:15 a.m.: Costner emerges from the clubhouse, flanked by two cops and a swarm of autograph hounds, wearing khakis, a green polo shirt and what appears to be an alligator belt. He's taller than you'd think and is in great shape for a 50-year-old.

After signing a few photos, baseballs and DVDs, he makes his way to the practice tee to meet his playing partners, pros Fuzzy Zoeller and Craig Stadler and Outback founder and CEO Chris Sullivan, a friend of Costner's.

He warms up at the end of the driving range, about 5 feet from a gaggle of (mostly male) fans. He banters with the crowd, which laughs at everything, including this exchange:

Costner: "How far is the ocean from here?"

Fan: "Uh ... the gulf?"

10th hole: At 8:52, Costner tees off. It's a long, powerful drive ... that splashes in the water. Ouch. Where's Cheech Marin when you need him?

11th: Costner chats with fans about the weather and poses for photos. When he putts out, he tosses his ball to a female fan. It's a Titleist bearing his signature; he apparently signed it before play began. It may be the only time someone has played with a ball autographed by Kevin Costner.

12th: Costner launches a drive into a tree and a crowd. He walks over to his ball, parts the crowd and examines his options. "I might just play this fairway for a while," he says, pointing at the adjacent 16th fairway. The crowd laughs. "I'm serious," he says. He smacks it down the 16th, out of bounds.

13th: A moment of glory. Costner drains a 12-foot putt and does a little celebratory skip, completing his best-played hole of the day. Minutes later, Zoeller misses a nearly identical putt. The crowd loves it, and Costner signs a few autographs.

15th: Costner has a habit of carrying his tee down the fairway after his drive, which landed, on this hole, in the rough near the crowd.

"Still haven't hit it in the fairway," he says, toeing the spongy turf. "It's like angel food cake in here."

18th: Overheard at the green, as Costner lines up a putt:

Fan No. 1: "He looks just like himself."

Fan No. 2: "He does, doesn't he?"

Second hole: Before teeing off, Costner signed a fan's Message in a Bottle DVD. In the background, thunder rolls. He plays the hole well, but just as he lines up his putt, an air horn sounds, signaling a lightning-induced suspension of play. Doesn't rattle Costner.

"Better to know that it's coming than to discover that it's here," he says. The foursome loads into a minivan and heads to the clubhouse.

Fans are told play might resume in about an hour, but the rain continues to pour. After a 41/2-hour delay tournament honchos call it a day.

But fans saw about 11 holes of golf by an accessible, friendly A-lister. Not bad for a $25 day pass.

- Jay Cridlin, cridlin@tampabay.com