Michael Jordan’s passion for golf needs little introduction. A friend of the pros, a celebrity player and someone who has successfully mastered two very different sports.
In 2015, the 56-year-old became frustrated at the slow pace of play at his local Bear’s Club course, he did what all self-respecting billionaires would do – he built his own course.
At $20million, the South Florida 18-hole is expansive, detailed (it has a proliferation of sandy areas and water hazards) and, best of all, there are no long waits to tee off, as he exclusively reveals to RSNG…
RSNG How did this passion for golf come about?
MICHAEL JORDAN, BASKETBALL G.O.A.T. AND GOLFER ‘For the first time in my life it’s been a place where I’ve been able to get away from all the noise, and I desperately needed that.’
‘When you are in the heart of so much chaos you sometimes have to switch completely the other way, and when I discovered golf I suddenly had this outlet that was like nothing I had found before.’
‘I think if you understand golf, you appreciate the seclusion and the calm. Some people don’t like that level of escape, whereas I thought it was the coolest thing ever.’
‘The game has become a big part of me in terms of how I live my life and the necessities I have each day’
RSNG How often do you play?
MJ ‘Pretty much every day of the week. And I’ll do 36 holes. It will have to be a good reason for me not to get my golf clubs out. These days it’s gone beyond sport – it’s actually a therapeutic thing for me and if I don’t get out on the course I feel as if I am incomplete. That sounds really dramatic but that’s the effect it has.’
‘The game has become a big part of me in terms of how I live my life and the necessities I have each day – it’s not just knocking a ball around.’
RSNG What’s your handicap?
MJ ‘I’ve got it down to four. And it’s a bad four.’
RSNG Who do you look up to, professionally, in the game?
MJ ‘Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth – these are the young guys who have really taken the game to the next level, in the same way I did with basketball, I guess.’
‘They are guys who understand the mechanics of the sport, from the course itself right the way through to the marketing plans, the global image, life away from golf. It’s a whole package these days and you have to be so smart and so resilient to be able to match all of that. It’s no mean feat.’
‘Ricky Fowler is another who has it right. It’s all about resonation – it’s keeping your game together whilst portraying a smart image, and to be a true sports star you need to be able to match the two.’
RSNG Who is golf’s greatest of all time?
MJ ‘I’ve said before, it has to be between Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. I think anyone who does come to a decision of who they think is better between those two legends is surely just doing it for more PR, hype and selling stories by the media.’
‘We should just enjoy the fact that those two amazing talents have existed and we know who they are. More so than that, they never played against each other and the courses and conditions have changed over the years, so it’s virtually impossible to choose.’
‘It’s like trying to pick me between Bill Russell and myself in basketball. Bill won 11 championships and I won six… does that make any one of us better than the other? So, I would never say that neither Tiger or Jack are better than the other – they are both great.’
‘I think what really stood them apart is that they always played with a steely nerve. Even in the very most desperate moments, in the big tournaments, you always had faith they could find a way out.’
RSNG Do you get nervous playing golf?
MJ ‘Haha! Yeah, sure. It’s nothing like basketball where I felt totally in control of everything.’
‘When I played in the NBC and USGA Challenge, where non-professionals try their luck at major tournament venue with the TV cameras turned on, I was so nervous. Of course that’s expected to happen as you are stepping outside of your comfort zone and onto a different field.’
‘It was a totally different atmosphere and I became completely human… yeah, I was totally nervous. Especially when I stepped onto the first tee after Tiger had bet me that I wouldn’t break 92!’
‘I shot 16-over, which doesn’t sound great… but that was six shots under 92… an 86. I pulled my first tee shot and ended up with a triple-bogey seven on the opening hole. That just made my nerves even worse!’
‘Early on it was tough, but eventually I told myself that I was an athlete and I love playing this game, so whatever happened was gonna happen. I pulled it round, after that. I told the TV crew to tell Tiger that I don’t accept check-payment for my winnings!’
‘I want to get up, I want to win, I want to experience that thrill – golf is the new basketball!’
RSNG Some of your golfing bets have become legendary?
MJ ‘I always want to play for something, although the stories get exaggerated as time goes on.’
‘At the heart of it I am a competitive sportsman, even in retirement. I want to get up, I want to win, I want to experience that thrill. Golf is the new basketball!’
RSNG Do you ever wonder if you chose the wrong sport?
MJ ‘Hey no, no way. They are very different environments and I think the reason I love golf so much is that I was so long in the environment of basketball, which is very insular, very closed up, highly pressured.’
‘I owe my working life to basketball, and my retirement to golf, haha!’
RSNG How long have you been playing for now?
MJ ‘I think it must be 35 years. It was the mid-1980s where started picking up a golf club. It’s quite funny looking back on when you start in a sport. It’s that nervousness about everything – which club do you need, how do you conduct yourself on the course, even where do you turn when you get in the clubhouse of somewhere you’ve not been to before?’
‘In a way they are some of the nicest, purest moments, when you are just finding your way. You experience that incredible thrill of a new sport or pursuit and realise it is something you are going to be able to invest a lot of time and love into.’
‘Those early feelings of a new challenges in life are very special – and that could be any challenge at all. I always tell people to cherish those, because after that it all becomes serious, haha!’
WHAT NEXT? Want to find out how Justin Rose stays sharp? Then read RSNG’s exclusive interview here.