After Tiger and Fluff, Cheeseburger and I might be the oddest
couple in golf. I'm from a blue-collar family in the tiny town
of Boyd, Texas. Jeff (Cheeseburger) Fortunato is a rich kid who
has been on scholarship since he was born. That we've become
best friends and a player-caddie team on the celebrity golf
circuit is a testament to the forces that bring different types
of people together on a golf course.
I met Cheese in 1990 at the Glen Ridge (N.J.) Country Club,
where I was playing in an NFL charity outing. I was 24 and a
quarterback for the San Diego Chargers. Cheese was a pudgy
15-year-old caddying in the event for Washington Redskins kicker
Chip Lohmiller. Cheese offered to show us around his hometown. I
got a kick out of the kid. He was a wiseacre who liked to yuk it
up. When I came back to New Jersey for the Senior tour's NFL
Golf Classic the next year, Cheese caddied for me. One day we
went to his house, and I met his folks. His dad, Buddy, was a
New Jersey state senator for 12 years. Marion, his mother, is a
tough cookie. "You take care of my baby," she told me. When
Marion tells you to do something, you do it.
Every summer since, Cheese and I have been traveling the
celebrity tour together. Last week in the Isuzu Celebrity
Championship in Lake Tahoe, Nev., we finished 17th, 16 shots
behind the winner, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Rick Rhoden.
Cheese has become one of the guys out here. The kid is so
popular, in fact, that I couldn't dump him if I wanted to--and
at times I have wanted to. He'll throw in the towel if I bogey a
couple of holes early. That's because he knows he won't get on
TV. When the cameras are on, Cheese is the fastest 260-pounder
in the world. Last year, when I won the Isuzu, he practically
ran down the fairways.
Cheese got his nickname a few years ago at Michael Jordan's
charity golf tournament. One day at the turn, I sent him to get
us some food. He came back with eight cheeseburgers. I downed
two burgers. He had six.
As you go through life, if you're lucky, you'll meet a few
people whom you can call true friends, people you can depend on.
Cheese and I have that sort of relationship. A few years ago, I
saw someone messing with Cheese. I ran over and got a little
rough breaking things up. I was just trying to protect Cheese.
Besides, I didn't want to have to answer to Marion.
Billy Joe Tolliver, a six-year NFL veteran, plays for Atlanta.
COLOR PHOTO: TIM PARSONS Tolliver (below) teams with Fortunato. [Jeff Fortunato and Billy Joe Tolliver]