From comedy to drama and thriller to theater, there’s hardly a genre or medium Joe Mantegna hasn’t handled in his 40 years of acting. The Chicago native has been a golf fan even longer, and his interest in the sport is complemented with a desire raise funds and help others. In June, he hosted a tournament at MountainGate Country Club in Los Angeles for H.O.M.E., which benefits disabled persons and their families.
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How did you get involved in the game?
I got involved as a kid because my dad really loved the game. I would play with him and some friends of mine growing up, but my dad passed away when I was fairly young, and then I kind of lost interest in it. I really didn’t play for almost 25 years, and I literally got back into it when my friend Tom Dreesen asked me if I wanted to play in the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Golf Tournament back in 1993. The opportunity to see Sinatra sing was just too irresistible. Being there for that whole weekend and experiecing the camaraderie and just playing the game — I just fell in love again and haven’t looked back since.
So you’re a serious player?
I basically play a lot of “Monday golf.” I play a lot of charity golf. I don’t play on weekends. I’m not obsessed to the point where I’m a member of any club because I get enough opportunities to play these charity tournaments. I just know that if I join a club I may start to lose some of the joy for it because I’ll want to spend more time on it than I really have and get frustrated. This way, I play at my own pace and when I have the time, and I enjoy it.
What’s your handicap?
My handicap really hasn’t changed much. I’m probably a 25, but I play to a 23. Some days I can play much better than that, and some days you’d think I never picked up a golf club in my life. I can go months without playing because of my schedule.
What do you enjoy most about the game?
For me, it’s the whole thing. You know you can never master it. You’re in these beautiful surroundings. You’re just playing to conquer the environment regardless of what anyone else is doing around you. And when you hit that one great shot, it’s like hitting the slots in Vegas.
I’m also an avid watcher of golf. My dad used to spend countless hours on the weekends watching it on TV when I was a kid. I’d think to myself, “What is he doing? This is like watching grass grow.” And now, I get the same reaction from my wife and kids. I grew up during the Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus era, and those who stuck in my mind were guys like “Champagne” Tony Lima and Chi Chi Rodriguez — guys that had a little bit of character about them. Nowadays, I love to watch Tiger Woods play because it’s always great to watch the best. I have a soft spot for Fred Couples because I’ve met him and he’s half-Italian. I like the young guys, like Sergio Garcia and Camilo Villegas. It’s no mystery that Tiger has raised the bar, which has caused a lot of these young guys to come up, like Anthony Kim, too. He went to Campbell Hall School (in North Hollywood) for a little bit, and that’s where my daughter went, so I have a soft spot for him.
What’s your best round ever?
I’m so bad at even keeping score because I’m usually playing in charity tournaments where it’s a team effort. I’m aware of when I play well, obviously. I had a pretty good round at Lakeside Golf Club a few weeks ago in one tournament, and I remember one good round I had at Riviera Country Club. Those two rounds stick in my mind so much because I love both of those courses. I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of the better courses around here, which is one of the perks of this business.
What’s your funniest golf memory?
I’ve got a lot of them. One year I hosted the Los Angeles Police Department tournament at Rancho Park Golf Course. I was playing one of the par-3s, and I made a hole-in-one — but it was for the temporary green! The temporary green was to the right next of the real green, and the ball landed and then disappeared. For some reason, they hadn’t plugged the hole back up. I was able to get relief for my next shot because it was in a man-made obstacle.
Have any of your characters played golf?
The closest I came was when I did “The Rat Pack” and I played Dean Martin, who was a pretty good golfer. There was one scene where we’re at Frank Sinatra’s house in the desert and I hit a golf shot just fooling around on the property. I remember telling the director, “Look, I don’t care if we’re here all afternoon, but I want this to look good!” Not because it was me, but because I was playing Dean Martin. We shot the scene in the Hollywood hills in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t hit a real ball because it could have landed in somebody’s house or car. So I used a regular ball. But I remember on the first take I made a really good swing and thinking that it was OK. And on an episode of “Joan of Arcadia,” there’s a scene where I’m at a golf course with my son (played by Jason Ritter) who was in a wheelchair, and I’m doing a little wheelchair golf with him. I’m supposed to duff a shot because then guest star Annie Potts comes up and hits a great shot and I’m supposed to be embarrassed. But on the first shot, I nailed it about 240 yards down the center. Of course, I went and screwed up the next shot on purpose — it wasn’t all that difficult.
Talk about your involvement in the H.O.M.E. golf tournament.
I’ve been playing in that golf tournament quite a while, and this year I actually sponsored it. I like playing charity golf because somebody benefits from it. H.O.M.E. stands for “Home ownership made easy,” and they provide housing for people with disabilities and their families. There are a lot of charities out there trying to get cures for children’s diseases, which is wonderful, but a lot of times other people get neglected who are now grown up and not children anymore. You’re only a kid for so long — what happens when these people become adults? H.O.M.E. got my attention especially because I have an adult daughter with autism. Luckily I’m in a position to help with that, but a lot of people aren’t.
Do you have a motto on the course?
The motto I go by is the same I like to live by. It was a quote that Lance Armstrong adopted: “Every day is a good day, and some days are great.” I’m in an occupation that many people aspire to, and I play on a lot of great golf courses. It’s a joke, it’s like I hit the jackpot. I’m very grateful for that.
Including yourself, who would make up your ultimate foursome?
Of course, I’d want to play with Tiger. My dad, just because it would please him to know that I’m finally back playing the game. And my Uncle Willie Novelli, who is a bit of a father figure to me. He’s still a marshal at Fresh Meadow Golf Course outside Chicago at 86 years old. He’d get a kick out of playing with us.
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