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Pro-Am underway as storm drenches course and Eastwood saves a life

Tournament CEO was suffocating at volunteers’ party


Published: February 7, 2014

COMPETITION IN the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am had to be suspended Thursday morning because of heavy rains, leaving pros and celebrities idle as officials scrambled to remake the schedule.

But while that was keeping the event’s CEO, Steve John, busy at the tournament, another pretty important thing was on his mind: The night before, at the party to honor the tournament’s volunteers, John got a piece of cheese lodged in his throat, and Clint Eastwood saved him from suffocating by using the Heimlich maneuver.

“Clint saved my life,” John said.

The party at the Monterey Conference Center was in full swing and performances by Kenny G, Tom Dreesen and other celebrities who are playing in the tournament had just ended, John said. He was standing and chatting with VIPs and eating some hors d’oeuvres when, all of a sudden, he was in a life-threatening situation. “We were just talking,” John said. “A piece of cheese went in my mouth, and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. It was as bad as it could have been.”

“I looked in his eyes and saw that look of panic people have when they see their life passing before their eyes,” Eastwood told The Pine Cone. “It looked bad.”

“Clint came up behind me, and he knew exactly what to do,” John said. “He did the Heimlich maneuver, and he lifted me right off the ground. He’s strong! The cheese popped out, and I was fine.”

“I gave him three good jolts, and that got it out,” the Hollywood superstar said. “And then I made him drink a big glass of water with a bunch of lemon squeezed in it.”

Eastwood, 83, said he had never done the Heimlich on anyone before, “except to practice.”

But he had seen a look of genuine panic before — and knew exactly what it meant.

“The look on Steve’s face was different than when somebody is just coughing or joking around,” Eastwood added.

No blacklisting

Eastwood also addressed a media-generated controversy surrounding the AT&T event this week, after a columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle said he was to blame for comedian George Lopez’ absence from this year’s tournament. In a story printed Wednesday, Scott Ostler said Lopez was always a fan favorite, but was not asked back the last two years because his off-color humor offended Eastwood.

The column, which didn’t even pretend to have actual facts behind it, is worth quoting extensively. Ostler wrote:

“I hear that George Lopez got disinvited, possibly scratched by tournament host Clint Eastwood. If so, Lopez wouldn’t be the first big star to get Dirty Harry’d. Rockers Neil Young and Glenn Frey may have met the same fate in years past. And who knows how many others?

“Eastwood doesn’t do interviews, and Lopez’s people did not connect me with him. So let’s go with my source, who says Lopez got bounced for working blue.

“The celebs in the field are asked to perform for 10 minutes or so at the annual Wednesday-night dinner show for the tourney’s hundreds of volunteers.

“It’s the coolest secret show ever, with a dozen or more star singers, comedians and actors. But the audience skews older and somewhat conservative, and Lopez, in his standup, walks on the wild side.

“He got away with it once, but Eastwood heard about it and Lopez was asked to, uh, tone it down a bit. No dice. Lopez is one of those comedians who take pride in their edginess. Maybe Lopez took the warning as a challenge, because the next year he even threw in an X-rated, F-worded, shout-out to Clint Himself.”

Eastwood told The Pine Cone he didn’t think the column “deserved any attention,” and offered only a very brief response to Ostler’s complaint.

“I didn’t have anything to do with Lopez not being here,” Eastwood said. “All the tournament is doing is rotating celebrities, the way it always has.”

But John said the ideas that celebrities are being blacklisted for any reason was ridiculous and “needs to be squashed.” Attracting a crowd is what it’s all about, John said.

“If we keep the field fresh, more people are going to come, and that will translate into more dollars for the community,” he said, pointing to the pro-am’s charitable purpose.

The bigger the crowd that attends in person, and the higher the ratings for the TV broadcasts on CBS and the Golf Channel, the more successful the tournament will be, John said, and that’s what is always in the forefront of his mind and those of the other top officials at the organization that hosts it, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation.

“We’re always looking for whatever is going to raise the most money for charity,” he concluded.

On the rain-soaked first day, a three-hour suspension of play was called soon after it began. Most foursomes were able to finish their rounds before darkness fell about 5:30 p.m. Rookie Andrew Loupe was in the lead with an 8-under par 63 at MPCC.

Eastwood said he’ll be visiting the tournament every day, and will help present the trophy to the winner on Sunday.

Meanwhile, he is finishing up post-production on his new movie, “Jersey Boys,” starring James Woods, based on the successful Broadway musical.

“I’m mixing the audio and things like that, and it will be coming out in May or June,” Eastwood said.He’s also beginning work on his next film, “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper.

“It’s the story of Chris Kyle, who was a Navy SEAL with four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Eastwood said. “He had 160 confirmed kills as a sniper, and probably another 100 that he probably got.”

But after Kyle retired from the military in 2009 and returned to private life, he offered help to another returning veteran who was having trouble readjusting — and the man shot and killed Kyle at a firing range.

“It’s a wild, tragic story,” Eastwood said.

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