Shia LaBeouf doesn't really know the rules of this game. He just likes to close his eyes, reach back, and swing really, really hard. Whoosh! The little yellow ball soars toward the pristine circle of green...then tragically veers off into a thicket of bushes. ''Okay, how about this rule?'' he hollers over his shoulder as he trudges to the trees. ''If your ball gets knocked into the woods, you're allowed to kick it out with your foot if you need to.'' He laughs. ''Otherwise we'll be here all day.'' Nine holes of golf soon turns into an afternoon soccer match.
Sporting a trucker hat that crushes his dark curls, an oversize Cleveland Cavaliers basketball jersey, and potato-sack-cut pants, 17-year-old Shia LaBeouf (Shia rhymes with ''hiya''; the full name translated from Yiddish and French, he says, is ''Thank God for the beef'') stands out among the khaki-clad golfers who putter about the Studio City course on this 90-degree-plus July day. ''Did you know Hilary Duff is making a TV special out of her 16th birthday?'' he muses in his raspy pubescent alto. ''Why would you want to do that? Seriously, somebody needs to do an intervention on that Hilary.''
Okay, so we won't find LaBeouf at Lizzie McGuire's birthday bash, but he's popping up pretty much everywhere else. In June alone, he appeared on the Disney Channel for a TV movie based on his tween series, ''Even Stevens''; as a special-ed mascot in ''Dumb & Dumberer''; and as a Bosley protégé in ''Charlie's Angels 2.'' He's also on HBO each Sunday in a two-for-one indie movie/reality series, ''Project Greenlight'''s ''Battle of Shaker Heights'' (due out Aug. 22). ''Unlike his other stuff, this movie features a kid on his own, a kid with real dramatic moments. It's awesome for Shia because he gets to show that side of it,'' says Chris Moore, executive producer of the show and movie. Which means, career-wise, there will be life after facial hair.
Not that the quirky, self-described ''Jewish Disco Screech'' is taking anything for granted, even though his turn as goofball younger brother Louis on ''Even Stevens'' was a hit for the Disney Channel -- and LaBeouf (he earned an Emmy). ''When we finished 'Even Stevens' [last year], I was like, what am I going to do next?'' recalls LaBeouf. ''I was scared out of my mind because I had been living on this set, creating and being free with the same people for three years. It was my family, you know?'' Then he heard about some movie called ''Holes.'' ''It was based on a book, that's all I knew about it.''
Not just any book, but the multimillion best-seller by Louis Sachar, which featured a hapless hero named Stanley Yelnats. ''Casting Stanley Yelnats was crucial,'' says director Andrew Davis. ''I need[ed] a cross between Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, and Gene Wilder in a kid's body. We looked at Shia and knew he was the right kid.'' The $30 million comedy about a kids' correctional facility made an impressive $67 million pile, and positioned LaBeouf as the next Frankie Muniz -- or even bigger: ''I used to see him at premieres and stuff and it would always be like he was looking down on me,'' says LaBeouf. ''And then it turned into we're equal, and then it turned into 'Oh Frankie? I know that guy.'''