This interview originally appeared in the October ’10 issue of GOLF.
What’s more difficult, becoming a great golfer or becoming a great basketball player?
They both take a lifetime of discipline and dedication. Although each has a specific skill set, I would not rate one more difficult than the other.
What’s your favorite way to get in your partner’s head on the tee?
There is no one favorite way. I take my time listening to what they say, observing how they behave and also the different way they react to shots, both good and bad. That usually leads me right to their soft spots.
What’s the hardest Charles Barkley ever made you laugh on the golf course?
That’s easy, it was during the Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational, my charity fundraiser in Paradise Island, Bermuda. My partner was Coach Dean Smith and we were paired with Charles Barkley and Coach Bill Guthridge. Our team was holding the honors. I let Coach Smith hit first, then I crushed a perfect shot and turned the tee over to Charles, challenging him to match that. He responds by telling me he’s going to show me how it’s done. He sets up to the ball, swings his club to the top and then [freezes]. Seriously, he stops dead—can’t bring the club down. He starts tugging it with his arms in a jerking action and after about 10 seconds of trying, he just stops and walks away from the ball. While this is going on, I’m looking at Dean who’s just shaking his head in disbelief. I couldn’t help myself and I just lost it. I started to laugh so hard that I fell on the ground with tears of laughter in my eyes. It still cracks me up to think about it!
You were known for getting into the zone on the basketball court. Does that happen to you on the golf course? How long does it last for?
I’ve had many moments on the golf course where I was able to simply play the game without consciously thinking or forcing it. Unfortunately, my skills are not at the professional level to allow me to do that consistently. It’s one of the great challenges that make golf such a special game.
What did you bring to the winning Presidents Cup team last year?
I was there in a support role to my good friend, Fred Couples. I think the players realized how much I love the game and respect their talent. If my competitive experience was an advantage for them to tap into, I was happy to share that with them. It was a blast to see up close as they competed at the highest level and of course, the victory was very sweet.
You developed a bond with Sean O’Hair, do you guys keep in touch?
We both have busy schedules but we shared phone numbers and speak occasionally. I think he’s a great kid.
If you had discovered golf before college, do you think you would have tried to go pro?
No, my God given path has always been basketball and I’m grateful for the success it has brought me. There’s no doubt that I have a strong love and appreciation for the game of golf. Golf is definitely my favorite recreational activity but basketball is has always been my number one passion.
Would you trade one of your championship rings to play a year on the PGA Tour?
No, my championship rings are priceless. I worked tirelessly in order to earn them and I would never exchange any of them for anything.
What about for a green jacket?
That is a tempting offer as I really enjoy watching the Masters Tournament every year. I have had the opportunity to play the golf course—which I absolutely love and would love the lifetime membership that a green jacket brings— but, no, I wouldn’t trade one of my championship rings for anything.
Michael Jordan, 47, won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. He hosts the annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament in Paradise Island, Bahamas.