You would not believe the looks on some of the faces. Three
players will be waiting for the fairway to clear, waiting to hit
their first drives of the day at the public Rancho Park Golf
Course in Los Angeles, when the starter will crackle over the
public-address system, "Sending a single to join you." And the
threesome will turn to greet the stranger, only to find that he
is O.J. Simpson, wearing a single black glove. "You get some
pretty funny reactions," Simpson said during a one-hour
interview at Rancho Park on March 19. "But nobody's walked away
yet. Not once."
Of course, even Simpson, acquitted of double-murder charges but
still guilty in the minds of countless Americans, including the
12 members of a civil jury that found him liable for the deaths,
knows that given the choice between playing and not playing,
golfers would tee it up with Mussolini if they had to.
So this is how Simpson will play out his life. Effectively
banished from the posh Riviera Country Club (his status is
"inactive"), where he has been a member for almost a decade, and
not exactly somebody you'd like to sponsor at any club anywhere
else in the world--You want us to consider whom?--the 1968
Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Fame running back is
confined to a world of shaggy greens, divot-ravaged tee boxes
and $1.95 fried-egg sandwiches: a minimum-security facility
known as public golf. He has no choice. He's a golf addict.
"Some days my mom and my sister [who live with him, along with
his two youngest kids and his brother-in-law] notice how tense I
am, and they say, 'Why don't you go play golf?' and I'll say, 'I
played this morning!'" says Simpson, who also talked with me for
30 minutes by telephone last week. "For five hours a day golf
takes all my concentration, and nobody bugs me. People are good
about it. It's like a golf course is kind of sacred. If I didn't
have golf, I'd be in Bellevue."
A lot of the regulars at Rancho Park, where Simpson plays two to
three times a week--"two to three times a week too many,"
grumbles assistant pro Paul Hopps--wish he were in Bellevue or
Leavenworth or anywhere else. He is a kind of human unplayable
lie. "If he ever gets in my group," says two-time Rancho Park
club champion Nicolas Beauvy, "I'll walk away. Just having him
around here makes my skin crawl."
Simpson gets no preferential treatment at Rancho Park. Just to
get a weekend tee time, he must call the computerized
reservation line at 5 a.m. a week before and hold for at least
an hour, until the system starts assigning times. Failing that,
he shows up on the day he wants to play and puts his name on the
Simpson on a golf course is like having a wolf on the loose.
Most people will look, but they won't get close. There are few
autograph requests after he putts out on 18 and passes the
golfers who are practicing at Rancho's dusty two-tiered driving
range. There's whispering, there's pointing, but when he looks
toward the range, there are suddenly a lot of heads snapping
back to check foot alignment. And when he and his three playing
partners that day take a table in the dim and bare Rancho bar to
play the 19th hole, you can't help but notice that they are soon
isolated from other groups. Not that it's anything new. You'd be
amazed how many half-empty restaurants Simpson walks into that
have an hour wait. "Hey, I'm not naive," he says in the Rancho
bar. "I know that, looking around in this room, a lot of people
think I'm an a------. I mean, it's easy to be anti-me. But
nobody can say I wasn't nice to them and polite and cordial to
them through this whole thing [his criminal and civil trials]."
One twentysomething Rancho regular, who begged anonymity, says
Simpson flirts with her, adding, "He asked me one day, 'Do you
believe in love at seventh sight?' And I said, 'O.J., if I went
out with you, my parents would kill me. And my girlfriend would
kill me. And then you'd kill me. Then where would I be?'"
Simpson actually laughed at that one. He even has a favorite
O.J. joke. "O.K.," he says. "O.J. and A.C. [Al Cowlings] are in
the Bronco. And O.J. is pissed. He goes, 'I said Costa Rica,
mother------! Not Costa Mesa!'"
It is a curious situation. A guy who used to frolic at country
clubs with movie stars while the valets washed his car now hits
striped balls off sickly green driving-range mats while waiting
for his turn on one of the most-played courses in America. "He
gets the freeze out here," says Beauvy. Of course, some freezes
thaw quicker than others. One night Simpson finished his second
Heineken and left. The barmaid, who had cold-shouldered him,
watched him go and then rushed to his table. She grabbed his
signed scorecard and tucked it in the pocket of her apron. "A
signed O.J. card?" she shrieked. "That's 300 bucks!"
"I don't feel unwelcome," Simpson says. "Usually when I come out
alone, I'll be on the putting green, and people will yell over,
'Juice, you need a game? Play with us.' I get that all the time."
A lot of his golfmates are people he has met since he was
acquitted of the criminal charges, like ad salesman Ken Smitley.
They met in the bar after a round at Woodley Lakes Golf Course
in Van Nuys. "He's one of the kindest, warmest, gentlest people
I've played golf with in 30 years," says Smitley. "And
absolutely the most etiquette-minded player I've ever been
around." And what does Smitley's wife think of his new golf
buddy? "Well," Smitley says after a long pause, "let's put it
this way: Your wife isn't going to like every friend you have."
And does he think Simpson committed the murders? "No. No way.
From what I've seen of him, I don't think he could take the
mother of his children."
If you invite Simpson to join your group, you will be surprised
at his size and presence. He will be 49 in July, but his face is
smooth. His hair is speckled with gray, but his eyes are young
and his demeanor is nervy and loose and lively. His chest is
still barreled, and his arms and hands are as thick and as
gnarled as those of a mason. His waist is trim. He walks like
anybody else, though maybe slower, and his left knee is turned
Simpson's handicap is about a 10, and he plays out of a huge
black tour bag. ("Ito kept my Big Bertha oversize [irons]," he
says.) He swings like a mover of pianos--powerfully and
awkwardly and all upper body--but he has the touch of a Van
Cliburn. On March 19 he says he toured Rancho's front nine in
even par and the back in five over, for a 76. (Note to
civil-suit plaintiffs' attorneys John Kelly and Daniel
Petrocelli: He won about $20.) "Acchh," says a ponytailed man
named Robert sitting at Rancho's bar. "I played behind him all
day. No way the guy shoots 76. He cheats!"
In Simpson you get a talker without speed bumps, a conversation
dominator, the kind of guy who is always finishing the stories
of his friends. He is twice as animated on the course, yelping
and moaning and exulting at nearly every shot. On the day he
shot the 76, I joined his group as an uninvited observer at the
11th hole, whereupon he rope-pulled one into the trees. He spun
on his spikes, pointed his Big Bertha driver at me and roared,
"You did this to me!" My heart arrested until he broke into a
cackle. On the 17th he smashed his drive into a palm tree. "Oh,
I killed that one!" he bellowed. Nobody smirked.
He doesn't have much else to do with his time. He can't get a
job. Can't get endorsements. Can't get a book deal. He would
like to do some public speaking but offers aren't exactly
vibrating the beeper off his belt. "I have no net worth," he
says. "I make just enough to play relatively new golf balls. My
relatives give them to me." He does not miss a day. On Feb. 10
he had just finished a round and was heading into the clubhouse
bar when the announcement was made that the civil jury had found
him liable for $25 million in punitive damages. "I'm standing
there [watching the live television report]," he says, "and they
go to this reporter who is standing outside my house. And he's
going, 'O.J. has been holed up inside here all day. He came out
for just a short time, looking confused, saw the cameras and
went back in.' And I'm standing in the bar watching!"
Having a man who most Americans think murdered his wife, Nicole,
and Ron Goldman, an acquaintance of Nicole's who worked as a
waiter, mixing among wives and waiters has been a little sticky.
Lately it's worked out to about an incident a week. At Balboa
Encino Golf Course in Burbank, an Inside Edition cameraman said
Simpson attacked him. (Simpson says he never touched the guy.)
At the Camarillo Springs Golf Course in Cheviot Hills, a group
of women said Simpson's foursome delayed the start of a women's
tournament by 40 minutes because the foursome wanted to play at
the last minute. (A course spokesman said Simpson was not to
blame; a seniors tournament that went off earlier in the day
caused the holdup.) And news reports said that when a
twin-engine plane crashed at Rancho Park, Simpson was on the
next fairway and refused to help those onboard. (Witnesses and
Rancho officials said he was in the bar at the time.) "Hell, I
figure I'm going to get blamed for everything," Simpson says.
And what does it feel like to be the most unwelcome man in
America? "I can take people's shots," he says. "The Bible says
I'm going to get it back seven times. The deeper they get into
me, the more I get back down the line."
That's funny, because some of his golfing brethren think just
the opposite. A rugged man in a big straw hat who identified
himself only as Naylor watched Simpson leave the Rancho bar one
evening and said, "I'd never play a hole with him. There are 400
other people out here I can play with who don't happen to be
murderers." Of the handful of Rancho players I talked to who
hadn't played with Simpson, only one said he would. "I'd get in
his group," the man said, "and then I'd mess with his mind."
Does Simpson ever worry about his safety? "When God wants me,"
he says, "he'll take me."
You wonder how long Simpson can last out here, rubbing wedges
with a public that sees him so emotionally, one way or the
other. "We try to give him the hint," says Hopps. "He's not
welcome here. But he keeps showing up."
Simpson would like to move to Florida, where, he says, "I
believe you can't have your home attached in judgments." But, of
course, he is about as welcome in most neighborhoods as
termites. Whenever a report of Simpson's moving to a city
surfaces, the townspeople trot out the biggest unwelcome wagon
they can find. Some folks in Vero Beach, Fla., who mistakenly
thought he was ready to buy a $2.2 million place there, buried
the town council in protests. Meanwhile, a mortgage company
started foreclosure procedures on Simpson's house in Brentwood
last week, so the house will probably be sold to satisfy that
loan and to start paying for a) his appeal of the $33.5 million
judgment and/or b) the judgment itself. He's stuck between a
Rockingham and no place.
Yet where most notorious figures might squirrel themselves away
in some Swiss hamlet, Simpson will spend his days among a lot of
plumbers with loops in their backswings and Pabst Blue Ribbons
in their golf bags, where anybody can get an eyeful of the most
infamous American murder suspect since Bruno Hauptmann, free of
"It's my life now," he says. A pause. "Could be worse."
From the pro shop, Hopps watches Simpson swing away and mutters,
"Gonna find a helluva lot of clues out there. Yessir."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER At Rancho Park, where Simpson plays often, a scorecard signed by O.J. is a valuable souvenir. [O.J. Simpson playing golf]
B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER [See caption above--golf scorecard signed by O.J. Simpson]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER [O.J. Simpson near golf cart]
"We try to give him the hint. He's not welcome here. But he
keeps showing up."