A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called The Back Nine. The film focused on Jon Fitzgerald, a man that wanted to play competitive golf. Jon, when he turned 40, decided to give it a shot. He was just an average golfer at the time, but wanted to get better and to play competitive golf. Having never done anything like this before, he needed help. He knew he needed help, and wasn’t afraid to admit that. Help is what he got. He enlisted in several professionals from swing coaches to fitness experts and managed to shave a ton of strokes off his game in a short amount of time. He worked with some of the best technology available, and was extremely dedicated to his goal of playing competitive golf. He was hitting the ball better than ever. He even won the first event he played in! Next week, in preparation for THE PLAYERS Championship, I will be hosting a public screening of this film at Golf 365 on Indy’s north side. Head PGA professional Sam Foley will actually be giving a free clinic that night focused on what it takes to reach your goals in life.
I wanted to learn more about Job before the screening, so I reached out to him on Facebook. Before too long we were emailing each other back and forth and scheduled a time to sit down for an exclusive artist interview. In case you were wondering, yes… I consider him an artist. His story was incredible, and anyone that has the courage to do what he did… it takes an artist to do that. If you want to see the film, it’s currently streaming on Netflix (for a limited time). You can also click here to buy The Back Nine on DVD. Hang out with Jon and I as we talk about his dedication to the game of golf. A story like this makes me think… if not now, when?
There are so many things I want to ask you… let’s just start at the beginning… what’s your first memory of the game of golf?
I was about 12, visiting grandparents in Delray Beach, Florida. They lived on a golf course and had a few old clubs in the closet. I remember pulling out a 7 iron and walking out to the tee box, a par three that was a few yards from their screen door. I put a ball on a wooden tee and whacked it onto the green. Was a great feeling. My first swing! We were all shocked.
You waited until you were 40 years old to make a run at competitive golf. Why did you so long?
I have had a pretty intense career in film, working a lot, and a great deal of travel. Whenever I could, I would play, but couldn’t ever get a consistent routine going. Then one day I was playing in Palm Springs, sliding into 40, and starting thinking wouldn’t it be fun to see if it was possible, if I made a 10 year commitment, to qualify for the Champions Tour. I was going to walk into a pro’s office and say, “Okay, you got 10 years… can we do this?” The idea to film it came afterwards. After practicing hard for over a year, I joined the Golf Channel’s Amateur Tour. That’s really when I got a taste for competitive golf – and I loved it!
The Back Nine… why did you decide to call it that?
I liked the idea that it was a goal that started on the “back nine” of my life.
You are currently the CEO of BackNine studios. Did BackNine Studios come before or after the documentary?
BackNine Studios was created as a result of the film. One of the investors for The Back Nine was interested in developing a production company, and we both saw an opportunity to create socially relevant, inspirational films.
BackNine studios has also worked on projects like Dance of Liberation and The Highest Pass. You also have some projects in production as well. What is your daily role on these projects?
Everything from writing the treatments, to producing and directing. We have to set the budgets, hire the crew, supervise the editorial and then bring them to market.
You seem to have found a niche in the entertainment business. What is it that draws you to video and video production?
I see film as a culmination of all of the arts. You have writing, photography, design, etc. There is so much opportunity for creative expression, and every day is different. And in terms of our role as filmmakers, I see film as a great venue to create awareness, a form of mass communication.
On The Back Nine project you worked with a lot of different people. For instance, you had PGA instructor Tim Suzor from the Kinetic Golf Academy and golf yoga instructor Katherine Roberts on your side. In the film you said that it was critical to have these people surrounding you. Tell me about that experience, how you picked which people you wanted to work with, and what it was like working with them all.
Well, I knew I had to put together the team to help me on this quest. Fortunately, my wife found Katherine Roberts, searching for a birthday present. She was too far to come as a present, but Cindy told her about the project and shortly after I connected with her and she came aboard. And Katherine recommended Tim, who worked not far from her in Scottsdale. I read Zen Golf and just reached out to Dr. Joe. I was very fortunate that they all responded to the project and jumped on board. They all made a huge difference.
You have hit a lot of golf shots in your day… what’s the most memorable shot you have ever hit?
That’s a tough one. Never had a hole in one, so I guess it would be a shot I hit in a pro-am a couple years back. I was playing in a group with Tom Purtzer and was about 70 yards from the green – in a bunker. Has to be one of the toughest shots in golf. Fortunately, we had a caddy, who helped suggested how to play the shot. I hit it less than a foot from the hole for a tap in birdie for the team. That was fun.
You have been to the home of golf… tell me about your trip to St Andrews.
Hard to put this one into words. You really feel the energy and the history there, especially walking over the bridge. The day on the old course was beautiful, and my most memorable shot there (in the movie) was on 18. I was in the valley of sin, must have been 70 feet from the back pin. I left my put 8-10 feet short, but I made the putt to part the 18th. Fun.
How important is fitness when it comes to being a competitive player?
More important than people think, especially if you get to a level where you are playing tournaments where you have to walk, and over period of days. It’s important to be fit, and eat/drink well over course of round.
Through all of this, what was the most challenging thing you experienced?
Finding enough time to practice well. With two kids and a lot of film work, it was tough to play everyday.
What does being a film festival consultant entail?
Helping new festivals establish the right program and foundation to build on, setting up their operation. For more established events, some just need some help bringing in some sponsors or big films.
Who is your favorite player on the PGA Tour?
My favorite player is still Freddy Couples, but I think Rickie Fowler is fun to watch.
Was your wife supportive through this journey? I can’t imagine she had a choice with you working on your game and working to pay the bills.
She was very supportive, and it was hard on her. A real trooper.
What’s in your bag? From your driver to your putter, what clubs are you playing?
Titlelist irons, Cleveland wedges, Calloway Driver, Titlelist 3-wood and hybrid. Scotty Cameron putter.
So do you consider The Back Nine a success?
I do, in that I get emails weekly from people who say it has really inspired them to chase a dream. For many, it seems to make a difference in their lives. Financially, it will be some point later this year before I break even, but it was never about the money.
So what happened at PGA West? That seems to be the point where your game started to go downhill a little bit. What do you think caused it?
I didn’t have much time to practice. It’s all about how much time you put in.
How has social media helped you spread the word about your film?
It has helped. I had a number of folks find me on Facebook, and a number of bloggers have written stories on the film.
The first event you entered… you won. How in the world does that feel?
Was crazy. So unexpected. It just happened to be a very windy day. Scores were not very good. Mine just happened to be the best score. A very pleasant surprise. Certainly gave hope for project.
Wait a second; you know Bob Grissett and the Golf Academy of LA? I am good friends with Bob and I have done a TON of work on his website. How did you meet Bob?
Through a mutual friend. He is the best. I started working with him after the first film was completed. We were making great strides, then I got buried again and have not played much the past 6 months.
You have played golf courses all over the world. Is it possible to pick a favorite track?
Probably the new Castle Course at St Andrews. Was unbelievably scenic, with great holes and in great shape so that was my favorite in terms of travel. But I have to say Sandpiper in Santa Barbara is the most special.
I am sure there are a lot of people that thought you were crazy. How did you get past all that adversity?
Most people were very supportive, whether or not they thought I could pull it off. They liked the idea.
Who is in our perfect foursome?
Freddy Couples, George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen and I.
You are good at golf… put are you good at putt-putt?
Above average. It helped having the putting green put in backyard.
What’s the lowest round you have ever shot? What about the highest?
74. I’m sure I had rounds over 100 in high school.
You did a lot of work with Cool Clubs and some other indoor training facilities. I am actually doing a lot of work with another indoor facility here on Indy’s north side called Golf 365. How important are training facilities like this?
Very important. You really get the feedback and can see your body positions, flight of the ball, etc.
Tell me a little bit more about playing on The Golf Channel Amateur Tour.
A great opportunity to learn how it feels to compete. It’s not for everyone. For some, competing takes the fun out of it. I actually thrive on that pressure, and enjoyed playing different courses, playing practice rounds, the whole package. I miss it.
Where do you see yourself in five years? With your golf game… and everything else.
I hope to be better than scratch, playing in amateur events, playing with my kids, and running a successful film business.
What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?
If you’re talking about The Back Nine project, I just hope more folks can see it and be inspired to chase a dream. In terms of my life, I want to have made a difference in the world, and my next venture CineCause will. We will be at the intersection of socially relevant films, causes and celebrities, raising millions for charity and bringing interesting movies to audiences around the world.
I interview a lot of bands and DJs and I always let them get the last word. You’re an artist to me… go.
I hope more people, in an ever changing world, can find their unique combination of (1) a creative outlet and (2) finding a career doing what they do best. Only then can they be truly fulfilled. More often than not, it takes a leap of faith.