Do you vant to spank me?" Irina the Russian Playmate asks as she
rises from the dinner table, her voice devoid of emotion or
irony. Several men look up from their steaks, mouths agape, as
Irina, who lives in Hugh Hefner's mansion but insists she hasn't
slept with him, saunters off to the rest room while another $80
bottle of cabernet arrives. Then the actors, record executives,
models and professional schmoozers at the restaurant table
revert to their conversations until the man who has gathered
them--a pro golfer, of all things--intones for the fourth time
in 90 minutes, "Let's go have a smoke."
Sixty seconds later Tommy Armour III pulls a silver Zippo from
his Versace overcoat, torches a Winston Ultra and exhales into
the West Hollywood night. Sitting in a sort of urbanized opium
den overlooking the pool of the Grafton Hotel, Armour, the bon
vivant of the PGA Tour, regales several guests with his wry wit
and effortless charm. Set up perfectly by his younger brother,
swing coach, perpetual copilot and sometimes caddie Sandy, Tommy
refers to O.J. Simpson (pre-1994, they played golf together and
saw each other in New York City) and Mark Cuban (the Dallas
Mavericks' owner was the doorman at Armour's Christmas party last
year) in a single cigarette break without coming off like a
"Is there anyone you don't know?" asks Tour rookie Pat Perez, the
latest addition to the TA3 entourage.
"I don't know," Armour says, deadpan, after a long pause,
kicking his Prada loafers halfway off his feet. He gets laughs
from everyone--Cindy the former supermodel; Michael the TV actor
who's complaining about the $18 valet-parking tab ("Michael, let
it go!" Armour advises); Laura the waitress-actress; Monique
who's staying at Dennis Hopper's house; and David who ... well,
no one really knows exactly what it is that David does, but his
brother co-owns the hotel's restaurant (the ultrafly Balboa
Prime) and his date is Irina, whose most obvious gifts, word has
it, are as real as the Hollywood hills.
"This is what we do," says the 41-year-old Sandy, throwing out
his arms in his brother's direction. A 20-year Tour veteran with
an ever-humming social motor, Tommy, 42, lives his life like a
man hell-bent on proving that not all pro golfers are tedious
Three days from now Armour, a Dallas resident, will tee off in
Los Angeles's Nissan Open for the 12th time and run with the
leaders at Riviera Country Club for the first two rounds before
leveling off on the weekend and finishing 29th, 10 shots behind
winner Len Mattiace. As always Armour will eclipse his peers in
arcane statistical categories such as BIG (Babes in Gallery), DLD
(Designer Labels Displayed) and CIR (Carcinogens in Respiration).
"Tommy doesn't want to be a normal Tour player like the rest of
these jerks," says Andrew Magee, a friend and fellow pro. "He has
his own sense of style, and he wants to maintain that style more
than anything else. So many guys out here fall victim to all the
crap that goes with being on the PGA Tour, but he's never
succumbed to any Tour stuff about the way you're supposed to act.
He's Tommy, and that's the way it's going to be."
Born to an esteemed golfing heritage and raised just off the 3rd
green of the Desert Inn Country Club in Las Vegas, Armour has
never approached the success--victories in the U.S. Open, the PGA
and the British Open--attained by his grandfather and namesake,
who died when Tommy was eight. But if he can't always play like
the Silver Scot, Tommy can at least honor the forebear's legacy.
From his expensive wardrobe to his golf bag, inside which reside
handcrafted MacGregor blades with genuine leather grips and woods
sheathed in hand-knit head covers, this is an athlete who carries
himself with a regal air. Before his practice round at Riviera on
the Tuesday morning of tournament week, as Armour left guest
passes at the will-call booth for onetime James Bond George
Lazenby (Armour and Lazenby had been introduced the previous day
at nearby Brentwood Country Club), the connection seemed obvious:
There's plenty of 007 in TA3. "I don't think Tommy knows this,
but we call him Mr. Fabulous," says six-time world surfing
champion Kelly Slater. "He likes his nice clothes and his fancy
watches and his fine food and his fast cars, and he always hangs
with an in crowd. There's a serious air about him, but he's not
so consumed by himself that it bums you out."
Nor is Armour overly obsessed with the fame of some of his
friends, many of whom rank low enough on the celebrity food
chain that they can roam the streets without being hounded by
pesky paparazzi. For every relatively recognizable name in
Armour's universe, like Slater, Charles Barkley or Stephen
Stills, there are lesser stars like former NFL safety Chuck
Cecil, now a Tennessee Titans assistant coach; actress Molly
Culver, who costars in the syndicated series V.I.P.; and veteran
TV actor Jack Wagner. At various times during last Saturday's
third round at Riviera, Cecil, Culver and Wagner were part of
Armour's Army--and one of the army's foxy female foot soldiers
attracted the attention of Armour's fellow pros. That's how it
is with Armour; most of his colleagues not only tolerate his
excesses but also get a sort of vicarious pleasure from his
lifestyle. "Tommy's a kick-in-the-ass to hang around with,
though I don't do it that much," says Fred Couples.
"Opportunities like that don't come around too often, so if you
get the call, you'd better take it. Look, the guy's got it tough
out here [on Tour], having to live up to that heritage, but he's
a battler, and he's stayed a long, long time."
Last year Armour slipped to 161st on the money list and had to
go to Q school, where he tied for eighth to earn back his exempt
status. It wasn't an unprecedented path for a player whose best
season, 1990, ended with him 35th on the money list. That was
also the year of his lone Tour victory, at the Phoenix Open, a
triumph that at least insured he would never be Kournikova-ized
by his peers.
That doesn't mean he isn't the object of the occasional derisive
whisper. At 6'2" and nearly 200 pounds, Armour is a big,
multiskilled player whose dedication hasn't always been as
impeccable as his appearance. He admits there have been
tournament rounds played after sleepless, tequila-drenched
nights, though "not in the last eight years," he says, and he
concedes that those who believe he has squandered his talent have
a point. "I would say there have been times when I've done that,
but not now," Armour says. "There are times when I probably
should have gone home earlier than I did. But I didn't, and
you've got to let it go and move on. A lot of guys probably
wouldn't want to live the lifestyle I live. Well, I wouldn't want
to live the lifestyle they live."
One other thing about Armour's lifestyle: It's pricey.
Abundantly generous and reluctant to settle for anything less
than the best, Armour, a habitual houseguest, saves money only
on lodging. (In L.A. he stayed at movie producer Jerry
Weintraub's place.) "Whatever Tommy's career earnings are [$3.5
million], he has spent four times that much," says CBS golf
analyst and former pro David Feherty. "It's a hell of a talent."
With two ex-wives and child-support payments for a 12-year-old
son, Tommy Armour IV--Dad calls him Eye-Vee--cash flow is a
constant issue for TA3. "Most of these players are loaded and
don't need the money, but every stroke is important to Tommy,"
says Armour's friend Michael Ross, a record-company president.
"For one thing, he has to go to the Versace store after the
If there's one story that crystallizes Armour's career, it's the
saga of his abrupt breakup with the iconoclastic Mac O'Grady, his
swing coach during the second half of the 1990s. In October 1999,
Armour threw himself a 40th birthday party in the exclusive House
of Blues Foundation Room on the top floor of the Mandalay Bay
casino in Vegas, cavorting well into the wee hours of the
morning. Two days later, in the second round of the Las Vegas
Invitational, Armour shot a 60--the lowest score on Tour by a
player over 40. Apparently upset by, among other things, Armour's
behavior at the birthday party and his approach to practicing,
O'Grady walked the entire round but disappeared immediately after
Armour drained a 15-foot eagle putt on the final hole and didn't
speak to him for five months. Says Armour, "Mac is a fanatic
about golf, and everything he does revolves around it. He thinks
that if you don't dedicate yourself the exact same way that he
does, you're loafing. Oh, well."
Lately Armour has done some mentoring of his own. After meeting
the fiery 25-year-old Perez during the Q school final in
December, Armour initiated a friendship with him, which the
younger man leaned on after a club-throwing, F-bomb-laced
collapse down the stretch at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am earlier this
month. Since then Armour, who says he likes Perez's spunk, has
advised the kid on everything from where to eat to what clubs to
use on short par-4s. "He has kind of taken to me, which is
surprising because he didn't really seem too open," Perez says.
"Last year I was clueless. I'd drive around before tournaments
and stop when I saw a hotel and book a room. Now, with Tommy's
connections, it's become a hell of a lot more fun."
Armour has never wanted for young, female friends, the latest of
whom, Marlena Scherer, describes herself as a concert
violinist--albeit one who blends with most Tour girlfriends and
wives like wasabi does with American cheese. "I bet I'm the only
one who wears hot-pink Versace pants and has a Cleopatra
haircut," she says.
It's all part of the gig for Mr. Fabulous, whose Y2K New Year's
Eve date was actress Joan Severance. His most charming quality is
not taking his successes or failures--or himself--too seriously.
After all, this is a man who readily admits to having emerged
with a mullet following more than one trip to the barber.
At the conclusion of last Saturday's disappointing round, during
which he missed a four-foot par putt on 18 to finish two over for
the day, Armour spent a half-hour at the driving range before
Cecil, Culver and some other friends spat his own signature
platitude--"Let it go!"--back at him.
"You're right," said Tommy, packing up his driver and handing his
bag to Sandy, who loaded the clubs into the back of Tommy's BMW
X5 SUV. Soon the gang was headed east up Sunset Boulevard through
Brentwood, passing its luxuriant, shaded streets (Anita ... Medio
... Carmelina) with a jazz/club music mix on the CD player and
American Classic Ultralights burning freely. Tommy and his
entourage ended up at a pizzeria, chowing on fresh salads and
staring at walls decorated with row after row of signed publicity
photos. There were a few big stars up there, but most of the
celebs pictured were so B-minus-list or utterly passe that even
the usually forgiving Armour winced.
Then, suddenly, buried in a morass of Judge Reinhold and
Christopher Cross and Conrad Bain and JoAnn Pflug, a familiar
face caught Armour's eye. He squinted through his blue-tinted
Gucci shades to spot Wagner, his golf-loving buddy of soap-opera
and pop-singing fame, posing in an '80s rockabilly getup next to
a shiny black guitar. Armour read Wagner's inscription--"You fill
me with Italian joy. Love ya, Jack"--and let out a hearty laugh.
"Is that just perfect?" Sandy asked rhetorically.
"Yeah, absolutely," Tommy answered. "Perfect."
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ART STREIBER/MONTAGE Scene stealer Armour was right at home at the Nissan Open in L.A., where he could go Hollywood.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: DARREN CARROLL (2) MAN OF ACTION Armour, who hung with the leaders for the first two rounds of the Nissan, is dating concert violinist Scherer.
COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL Tree spirit Armour's friends at Riviera reminded him of his mantra--"Let it go!"--after he shot a disappointing 73 in the third round.
"Tommy's a kick-in-the-ass to hang around with," says Couples,
"so if you get the call, you'd better take it."
Says Magee, "Tommy doesn't want to be a normal Tour player like
the rest of these jerks. He's Tommy, and that's the way it's
going to be."