(USA TODAY) - Comedian Rodney Dangerfield didn't play golf, but his wife says he'd be thrilled that his humor is the centerpiece of a campaign to speed up play on courses across the country. One reason Dangerfield didn't play, even though he was intrigued by the sport, was because it took too much time, Joan Dangerfield says.
"Rodney was, I'm sure you can tell, a really keyed-up kind of anxious guy. So it was actually the pace of play - the very, very thing this campaign is addressing - that kind of made him golf-phobic or teed him off against the game," she told USA TODAY Sports in a phone interview from Los Angeles.
In the 1980 comedy film Caddyshack, Dangerfield played Al Czervik, a boisterous tycoon who rattled the pretentious members of Bushwood Country Club with, among other things, a golf bag equipped with a beer tap. In one scene, Czervik is irked that Judge Elihu Smails, played by the late Ted Knight, is taking so long to hit a shot.
"Let's go - while we're young," Czervik barks.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) turned heads during the recent U.S. Open when it announced "While We're Young" as the theme of a new campaign to encourage more people to take up the game or return to playing. Videos promoting the initiative include Arnold Palmer uttering the line to a slow-playing Clint Eastwood - and adding "please" after a menacing look from Eastwood. Kids shout the line to Tiger Woods when he takes too long on a miniature golf course.
"The fact that this organization is using his zinger, I know he would just be doing cartwheels, actually," said Joan Dangerfield, who married Dangerfield in 1993 after a 10-year courtship and was with him until his death in 2004 at age 82.
Joe Goode, USGA managing director of communications, said, "Rodney Dangerfield and his iconic line ... are part of the game's vernacular and ethos. Golf is fun. Fun is why we all took up the game to begin with. And while the issue of pace of play may be a serious one, the cure need not be."
Joan Dangerfield said Rodney admired people, including his doctors, who played golf.
"He figured since the games holds ... the interest and enthusiasm of so many intelligent people, you know that there really must be something gratifying that they get out of it," she said. Yet he was puzzled that golfers might spend seven hours at the course. "He wondered, 'Oh, are they just trying to get away from their wives?' and stuff like that," she said.
She once suggested they take up the game because the couple was getting invited to golf events in places such as Ireland. She also told him that she'd heard playing golf increased life expectancy by five years.
"He said, 'Well, how long do you have to play to get that longevity benefit?' I'm going, 'I have no idea,' '' she said. "So we didn't take it up."
Now two stars of women's golf, Paula Creamer and Annika Sorenstam, appear in USGA promos saying, "While We're Young," while yanking at imaginary neckties - just as Dangerfield yanked at his tie during stand-up routines.
The USGA got permission from Warner Bros. and the Dangerfield family to launch the campaign.
"They were so respectful," Dangerfield said. "I thought the idea was pretty bold for such a conservative organization, but super fun."
Joan Dangerfield is working on a new website, www.rodney.com, to be launched later this month, and a new online game called "The Dangerfield," to be launched this fall. She says the website will be devoted to the full sweep of Dangerfield's career.
She says Dangerfield "forfeited a high-paying Vegas gig to do Caddyshack - and for peanuts," she said. "He actually lost money making the movie. But it did open doors for him and helped him kind of live the movie star life, which you know was fun for him."
Caddyshack was her husband's "biggest break in film." It helped launch him into starring roles in films such as Easy Money and Back to School.
She said she contacted Jon Peters, executive producer of Caddyshack, to confirm Rodney had come up with the "while we're young" line.
"He assured me that Rodney did," she said. "And it sounds like a line Rodney would come up with anyway because of his comments just in general life ... born out of impatience and frustration.''
Accustomed to the audience laughing and clapping in comedy clubs, Dangerfield had a hard time with movie making. Quiet on the set meant no laughs. "It was an adjustment for him to say something and not get the feedback of the laughter," she said.
She also said it was an adjustment for him to work with Chevy Chase, who played cool playboy golfer Ty Webb in Caddyshack. Dangerfield's pace was always frenetic. Chase and his character were the opposite.
"What really grated on his nerves was that sometimes Chevy Chase just spoke too slowly," she said, noting that if you watch scenes with Dangerfield and Chase you can see Dangerfield shifting his weight from foot to foot in jittery fashion.
She said she helped Dangerfield realize Chase was in character as a "suave" guy and that he wasn't speaking deliberately just to get more camera time.''
Dangerfield stole the movie in his own way. Yet he also wondered afterward why nobody ever offered him an opportunity to endorse a golf product.
"Maybe something that he could add his unique brand of humor to promote," Joan Dangerfield said.
The USGA has come up with something.
"Rodney was aware that Tiger Woods had mentioned that Caddyshack was his favorite movie," she said. "... He was especially proud of that because, again, he always wondered, 'Does the golf crowd really look down on the movie?' "
Rodney Dangerfield's signature line in his career was "I don't get no respect." But in the world of golf, "while we're young" also lives on.
Dangerfield said that if golfers are reluctant to say her husband's one line on the course, they can always get their meaning across to fellow players by yanking on an imaginary neck tie.
"If they just make that gesture, that's going to be, 'Hey, hey, hey, hurry it up.' '' she said. "Rodney would be so-o-o-o proud of that."