Four Rounds with Michael Jordan

It was 1996, in Hawaii, one of my hotel partners at the time called me and said “Michael Jordan is coming to town with Nike tomorrow. He’s going to be here for four nights and he wants to play golf every day. 18-36 holes. See if you can get me in a game” Then I get a call from a Nike guy who was organizing things for MJ and he says Michael only wants to play with pros and top amateurs.   I had to give Peter the bad news!

Now remember, in 1996, Michael Jordan was the most famous athlete in the world. He was probably the most famous face in the world. He had just come off winning his fourth NBA championship in June after coming out of his 18-month hiatus into professional baseball back in March of 1995. There was no social media back then so you didn’t know celebrities like you do today.  There were talk shows and interviews, but that was about the extent of the personal exposure.   Yet, his face and image were known the world over, literally.

Guy Yamamoto on the left of photo (right of me), won the US National Publinx Championship in 1994 defeating future Ryder Cup player Chris Riley in the final.  The other 2 local professionals in Clayton Beaver and Johnny Rieger.

Jordan and I ended up playing together as partners the second day.  He knew it was my home course so figured I should be able to get it around.  We won, by a pretty good margin.  The stakes were reasonable.  Nobody was gonna lose more than $100, which was still a lot for a young golf pro!  We ended up playing four matches together for the week.  MJ is highly competitive and that is an understatement.  I will never forget on the first tee in his first match (I wasn’t playing, but set it up with 2 of the best players in the state and one of our assistants) and after the intros and handshakes he looks at the guys and says “OK boys, today you are playing with ME (emphatic point at the chest) and I can tell you now, I ain’t gonna choke, but the Jordan Factor is gonna get YOU”.   They chose partners and go off.  I catch up to them on the 3rd hole just to see how their doing, and Randy Mitchell comes over says with wide eyes “damn, the Jordan Factor has got me, I snapped in out on #2!”..  MJ used everything he had in his arsenal to win the matches.  Glad he was OK with me as a partner!

On the last day, he had just broken out a new set of Snake Eyes wedges, (no longer made, but were great wedges back then) I believe he missed 7 greens on the back nine but got up-and-down every single time. Talk about the clutch! We would win that final match to go 4-0 as a team- to match his number of NBA Championships and of course, he went on to win two more.

He was a gentleman to play with and handed out about 30 Cohiba’s during the 8 rounds.  I also recall fondly his head of security, Gus Lett, who I found out later was almost like a second father to MJ.  He had his back in every situation, even at 60 years old and came out with us during every golf round.  Probably a good thing as even in our gated resort, cars were occasionally pulling up on the road with people running out asking for an autograph.  To be that famous, is both a blessing and a curse- MJ handled it better than most.