Taylor Hicks is a Birmingham native who won the fifth season of American Idol in 2006 after judge Simon Cowell predicted he would never make it to the final round. His energetic stage performances and musical influences earned him a following of devout fans, who have been dubbed the "Soul Patrol." Last year, Hicks opened ORE Drink and Dine restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama's Crestline Park.
He also performed at Bama Rising: A Benefit Concert For Alabama Tornado Recovery at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Center. The Bama Rising benefit concert raised an estimated $2.2 million for Alabama tornado relief efforts. Hicks bought his first harmonica when he was 16, for $2 at a flea market and taught himself to play. He also taught himself to play electric guitar when he was 19. Champions Tour Director of Communications Mark Williams, spent a few minutes with Hicks before he teed off with Champions Tour professional John Cook in the Regions Tradition pro-am at Shoal Creek.
Champions Tour: Thanks for making the time to join me Taylor. How long have you played golf and when did you start? How did you get involved?
Taylor Hicks: My pleasure. I started when I was about nine. As a matter of fact, I grew up on a course that Charlie Boswell (blind international golf champion) grew up on, Grayson Valley Country Club in Birmingham, Alabama. My grandfather taught me how to play. One of the last living memories I have of my grandfather was when he was on the 13th green with me here at Shoal Creek during the 1984 PGA Championship. He had about 18 beers that day (laughing).
Champions Tour: You play guitar. What other instruments do you play?
Taylor Hicks: Harmonica. You know what's great about pro-ams for me? I get to play the harmonica all the time on the golf course. Alice Cooper taught me something. He said to 'let it all hang out'. If you need to use the restroom, go into somebody's house, if you need to play the harmonica, play it all over the course.
Champions Tour: What's the strongest part of your golf game?
Taylor Hicks: I think my woods game. I haven't been able to drive the ball straight, so I'm great out of the woods (laughing). If I could drive the ball straight, there'd be no telling what I could shoot.
Champions Tour: Best golf tip you ever got and from whom?
Taylor Hicks: Justin Leonard told me to slow down.
Champions Tour: You've obviously played with Justin. Who else have you played with?
Taylor Hicks: Mike Weir. Jesper Parnevik was great. Corey Pavin, Jay Haas. You know, when you win American Idol, and you play golf, the first thing I did coming out of the gates after winning was ask folks to set me up with the best pro-ams and the best golfers because I love this sport so much. That's one of the best perks of winning for me.
Champions Tour: Speaking of American Idol, do you still stay in touch with the contestants from 2006 when you won?
Taylor Hicks: I keep up with everybody. There are only 11 winners in the series. The longer the show runs, the more important the winners become. That's the strength of winning a show like that. Yes, I keep up with a lot of the winners. I feel very blessed to have won it, especially that season.
Champions Tour: You made an appearance at the most recent American Idol. Did you see many of your fans, or as they have become known, the "Soul Patrol", there?
Taylor Hicks: Oh yeah. They'll be here too at Shoal Creek. Whenever I do anything in Alabama, they make it a spectacle. Obviously being a member here at Shoal Creek for about four or five years, it's just a really pleasant place to come back to.
Champions Tour: Dan Hicks is a television golf announcer and Justin Hicks plays professionally. Are you related to them?
Taylor Hicks: Probably (laughing). I just haven't had any of my family give me the lineage book to find out if any of us are related.
Champions Tour: What's your favorite memory from Idol? Anything in particular that stands out?
Taylor Hicks: Probably, just like some of these professional golfers had the opportunity to love their sport so much, if you love music as much as I do, being able to meet and work with some of the legendary artists that I grew up studying. It can be applied to golf. Being able to grow up and be successful and be closer to their heroes. That's probably how I feel about that.
Champions Tour: What do you think you'd be doing if you didn't win Idol?
Taylor Hicks: I would probably be playing one of the local bars right outside the gates here where all the fans visit after the tournament. Wherever it is, I'd still be playing, still performing.
Champions Tour: You're pretty active on Twitter (@TaylorHicks). How many followers do you have?
Taylor Hicks: I'm pushing 20,000 right now. It's funny. People tell me if Twitter was around when I'd won American Idol I'd have 36.5 million followers now (laughing). You have to be very aware of the social media aspect. The game of golf and the interaction I have with my fans through golf and music makes a difference.
Champions Tour: Do you ever get mistaken for anyone else?
Taylor Hicks: Freddy Couples and George Clooney.....and I'll take both of them. I need Clooney's money and Couples' golf game.
Champions Tour: What's a favorite smell that sparks a good memory for you?
Taylor Hicks: Freshly cut grass. Kind of appropriate since we are here at Shoal Creek early in the morning. There's nothing like it in the world. My granddad always got me up early in the mornings and we would hit persimmon woods on the range. Luckily they've changed to metal woods now so I can hit the ball just a little bit further.
Champions Tour: Are you associated with any specific charities?
Taylor Hicks: Habitat for Humanity is one. Obviously, Children's of Alabama who are the major beneficiary here at the Regions Tradition. I'm involved with numerous charities. Bama Rising is a special one for me. A week prior to the Regions Tradition last year we had one of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the history of our state. So bamarising.org was a way for me to get involved and try to rebuild and assist the community. Some of those areas are still affected and need aid so we are lucky to be on the upswing and continue to assist.
Champions Tour: Is that the best part about being an Alabama native?
Taylor Hicks: Yes. Being able to give back is great. The pride that everybody has in sport here in Alabama, not only golf, but college football especially, is amazing.
Champions Tour: Before you go, can you tell me one thing about yourself that no one else would know?
Taylor Hicks: I really like to scuba dive. If you really want people to shut up get them certified for diving. Lawyers and accountants especially (laughing). The Grand Caymans is my favorite place to dive. I wouldn't have the opportunity to do any of this if I didn't have the support of my fans so I'm blessed and very grateful.
Champions Tour: Thanks for your time Taylor.
Taylor Hicks: You're very welcome. I enjoyed it.