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Eddie Van Halen

::. Eddie's Links

"18 With...Eddie Van Halen" (Page 1)
By: Ron Del Barrio with Andy Meisler

Maximum Golf (August 2001)

In a Maximum Golf exclusive the legendary rocker tees it up and tees it off on his band's new record, his new feud with David Lee Roth--and his greatest personal battle, the fight to beat cancer.

"WHO THE F-- IS JIM LAMPLEY??!!!" yells Eddie Van Halen. It's 1994. My client is dragging his golf bag onto the driving range at the Studio City Golf & Tennis Club--where I once taught and spent most of my semi-waking hours--the day after playing in the Bob Hope Desert Classic. I'm Eddie's golf instructor. Jim Lampley is a sportscaster. Eddie tells me Lampley was mocking him ("cartooning me," as Eddie puts it) throughout the broadcast, going to town on his orange knickers and leopard shoes and sniping that "maybe Mr. Van Halen should spend less time in the studio and more time on the driving range."

During the tourney Eddie also hit a spectator with a wild bunker shot. The guy was unhurt (and actually ecstatic after discovering it was his rock idol that had nearly brained him), but one of Eddie's playing partners, Payne Stewart, wasn't too thrilled with Eddie's performance.

Eddie is embarrassed. And mad.

"Let's get to work!" he says.

And he does. For months, Eddie is my most serious show-business client. We work two or three times a week for two or three hours at a stretch. Eddie builds a driving net on top of his recording studio. He joins the famous Lakeside Golf Club in Burbank, California. He gets better. He looks better.

Time passes.

"Awright," he says one day. "We're doing the Hope again. I play, you caddie. Meet me at AvJet at Burbank Airport tomorrow morning at 7:30."

I don't like flying, not even on a 747, but I have too little self-esteem to tell Eddie that I'm terrified. They close the tiny side door, start the engines, and deliver a famous guitarist and a basket case to Palm Springs. We're just in time to check into the hotel, visit PGA Tour millionaire John Cook at his house, try out his piano, and have some laughs. I figure that since I'm with Eddie Van Halen we'll be out "discussing strategy" until at least 8 A.M.

After dinner Eddie says, "Early tee time tomorrow. Let's go to bed."

We're in our hotel rooms by 8:30. At 8:45 the next morning, Eddie and I hit the practice tee. While he's warming up, he introduces me as his friend and guru to half of the PGA Tour's top players. My stomach begins to twitch. And here comes our playing partner, Tom Kite, who played a practice round with Eddie the year before.

"Hi, Mr. Van Halen," says Mr. Kite. "Let's do it again."

"Hey Tom, how's the cheese? Hopefully I won't do any brain damage to the peanut gallery this year." I don't get the cheese thing--but I hope Eddie is right about not beaning someone again.

We walk to the first tee--maybe 10,000 people are watching--and I'm nervous as hell. I send Eddie a telepathic swing thought: Don't shank it and kill someone!

Eddie pulls out his driver and hits it 240 yards down the middle, with a draw. He plays absolutely out of his mind the first 11 holes. Tom is playing the back tees and Eddie is hitting from the whites. On the 12th hole, Tom hits his drive 270 down the middle. Eddie hits his 250 down the middle. Tom hits a 4-iron about 12 feet from the pin. Eddie looks at me. Eddie looks nervous. The are an awful lot of spectators around the green. The pin is 180 yards away. So figuring my guy is pumped up, I hand him a 5-iron instead of a 3.

He knocks the ball three feet from the hole. The gallery goes nuts. Eddie and I look for Lampley. He's not around.

"Maybe they fired his ass," I say.

Then Eddie misses his putt.

"Now that's a tragedy man," says Eddie, grinning.

Flash forward to 2001. I'm standing at the back of the tee box at the par-5 second hole at Lakeside Golf Club. Getting ready to hit is my prize pupil and mentor, one Edward Van Halen. Capturing all of the non-action is a photographer named Blake and a sunburned scirbbler I'll call the Ghost. Mr. Van Halen steps up to the tee waggles his driver, and looks with up a wicked smile. "Hey Reynaldo," he says. "If this article has anything to do with how good a teacher you are, you're screwed!"

"Yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaah, right," I say.

The only distinguished Lakeside GC member currently wearing pink custom-made golf shorts winds up and hits a lame hook maybe 75 yards. He drops another ball, swings again, and produces a robust shank. Ball three: a topspin dribbler to the first sprinkler head. Granted he isn't in top form. After his hip replacement in 1999, he didn't pick up a club until the end of 2000. Then there was the little matter of his cancer diagnosis in January 2000. Oh, and lest I forget, Eddie has spent a fair amount of time in the studio laying down tracks for the new Van Halen album (which is in limbo--more on that later). Basically, he's been too busy with life to play much golf.

But still, Eddie is angry. Not at me--at himself. He grips the club by the neck, gives it a nice therapeutic choking, and laughs like the maniac he is.

Forget all those journalistic traditions like objectivity and ironicism, because I do love Eddie Van Halen. Not because he's the founder and leader of Van Halen, one of the greatest bands in history--with hit singles like "Jump" and "Panama" and albums like Women and Children First, Diver Down, and Balance--and the most inventive rock guitarist in the known universe. No. For the past year, Eddie has been my friend, confidant, adviser, motivator, and sponsor.

No need to wear out the L-word. But consider this: Mr. Pink Pants and I are on this little golf outing in the middle of May, just a few days after he announced via his fan-club Web Site that he's battling cancer. He says he's winning, that his chemo treatments appear to be working. Unfortunately, most of the press repsonds to his polite request for privacy--and his desire to tell his cancer story when he's ready--by hounding him until he's practically six feet under.

Meanwhile, Eddie, and his brother Alex Van Halen (drummer),

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Interview © 2001 Maximum Golf Magazine

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