By Ted Johnson
He may be one of Hollywood’s most respected actors, but on this day he was just another golfer who had spent about six hours in a car, Santa Monica to Pebble Beach.
It was the Tuesday before the AT&T National Pro-Am, and a rain squall sent other golfers — pros and amateurs alike — running for cover. But not SCGA member Don Cheadle and cousin Mark Cheadle — they pulled their clubs out of the trunk and went straight to the first tee.
Don Cheadle has more than 60 motion picture and television appearances to his credit, including serving as co-producer for the Academy Award-winning movie Crash. He has become synonymous with quality productions, including this year’s Brooklyn’s Finest and Iron Man 2. His schedule is full through 2012.
Outside of his work, he is the father of two girls with long-time partner Brigid Coulter in Santa Monica. He is a member at MountainGate Country Club, where he gets to play about a round a week. In that vein, that’s one reason for their play on this cold, blustery day. It would be Cheadle’s third turn in the AT&T, and he plays in the “A” rotation. He wanted to get ready for Saturday’s appearance on national TV.
Mark worked as Don’s caddie during the tournament, but during this practice round they were friendly opponents. Cheadle and Cheadle, with their caddies, played in just under four hours, and over the last three holes came this conversation with Don.
When did you know the game was going to be with you?
I took up the game late. I was in my 30s. It was in St. Kitts, with my dad. I didn’t want to suck at it, so I took some lessons. I sucked anyway, but it was worth it.
Was it that your dad is pretty good?
It’s not about that so much anymore. It’s more about getting together and playing with him, or my cousin here, Mark, and his dad, my uncle Thurman.
You seem pretty competitive — does the idea of mastering a difficult game appeal to your nature?
Early on, every once in a while I’d hit good shots, and they captivated me. Even the bad shots did; the bad shots have their appeal. You think, “How did that happen?” It can’t happen, but it does and it shouldn’t.
When you were young, what sports did you play?
I didn’t really play. I played some soccer as a kid. And then later, I loved basketball. I played it all the time. Every day. Of course, I don’t have a knee right now.
So the desire to learn the game came out of togetherness rather than competitiveness, such as beating your dad?
You can’t let your dad beat you (laughs). You never lose to your dad. You do what you have to do — change the lie, foot wedge. You never give your dad an edge. He already has an edge.
In today’s Hollywood, what part does politics play, and what part talent? In other words, do you have to play political games to be successful?
It’s a roll of the dice. If you’re in a movie that makes a gajillion dollars and you’re perceived to be the reason why it makes money, then you’re it. But why it happens to some projects and not others, who knows? It’s kismet.
Do you get to play much during a shoot or when you travel?
Sometimes. I was just in Ireland and played Connemara and K Club. I played in Michael Jordan’s tournament at The Ocean Club in the Bahamas.
Where’s your favorite place to play?
You’re standing on it.
Do you play here often?
Only when I play in the AT&T. And it’s hard to beat this — the views and the crowds.
You play in the “A” group with the big-name celebrities. That means you play Pebble Beach on Saturday. The 18th hole can have 20,000 people on it, and there’s national television. Are you nervous?
By then, I’m so over it. I usually have blown so many shots that I’m just me. The last time I played here, I made par on No. 18. My pro was all over the place. It was raining and windy, and I went boom-boom-bing-bing and in. Done. It’s like all the bad shots are out of you and you don’t care, and then the natural talent takes over.
Are there other places you love to play?
I have played Cypress Point. That was awesome. So is Shadow Creek north of Las Vegas. We played that a lot when we shot Ocean’s 13.
You, Clooney and who else in those groups?
Matt Damon plays quite a bit. But George used to play more before he hurt his back.
Did those games get a little competitive?
No. It was all love. We played for nothing stakes. Unlike poker.
Poker games were where the money changed hands?
Oh, yeah. More than the golf course.
Did you come away with most of it?
Or Matt. He plays a lot.
So when you play at MountainGate, you’re just Don?
Yes. I’m just another guy. It’s a regular pot game on Saturday mornings. Small stakes. It’s the type of place where when you’re playing against someone, you help him read his putts, and then cuss him out when he makes it. That’s how competitive it gets.
Do you like being just another golfer instead of a celebrity?
Yeah, it’s just me. I get away from things a little, and it may sound counterintuitive for some in the business, but I just want to be with the others and treated the same. And I’m trying to play a little more, and it’s been about once a week. But when I’m in down time, I tend to stay home with my two girls.
I have two girls, too. I find I just follow orders.
You better. Don’t fight it. I tried to fight it, and now I realize it’s better to just do what they want.
With that, Cheadle’s round ended as the rain shower lightened a little, and a large rainbow could be seen in the south, apparently ending in the middle of Carmel Bay. Three fans, two of them young women, waited by the 18th green. Cheadle gave them his autograph, and as we all walked up toward the front of the Pebble Beach Lodge, more raindrops fell. And Cheadle held his umbrella over their heads to keep them from getting too wet.