It's been a rough year for Jim Thorpe. He spent most of the last year in federal prison for tax evasion, having failed to file returns between 2002 and 2004. But now, the PGA Tour and Champions Tour veteran is back on the course, playing in this week's Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am.
"Tuesday morning when I drove in, I've never been that nervous on the golf [course] in my whole life," he said Thursday. "I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how the pros were going to receive me, what they were going to say; and it turns out that I got a lot of hugs, a lot of 'good to have you back,' a lot of 'we missed you.' And that's pretty much the ball game, guys."
Unless "Oz" and "The Shawshank Redemption" have lied to me all these years, prison is not known as a place to keep your golf game honed. And Thorpe conceded that he needed some time to knock the rust off.
"When I first came back, basically what I did for about a week, I just chipped and putted, just chipped and putted because I knew I was out of shape," he said. "I'd gained a couple of pounds, and then about after a week I started hitting long shots, and it was almost like I didn't miss a beat, you know."
Thorpe won three times on the PGA Tour, and has won 13 times on the Champions Tour, most recently the 2007 Charles Schwab Club Championship. He concedes that it'll be a rough go getting back into the groove of tournament play, but is looking forward to the challenge.
"I think in my case that 10 or 11 months was good because it gave me a chance to really do some soul searching," he said. "I could clean out the closet a little bit and get rid of some people in my life. I know now with the team I have I can focus on golf and they're going to take care of things."
Thorpe tees off bright and early on Friday morning.