Michael Jordan’s love affair with the game of golf dates back to his college days at the University of North Carolina, where he once had an unlikely run-in with another famous Tar Heel: Davis Love III.
In 1984, Jordan and Love were decades away from becoming Hall of Famers in their respective sports. One day in late March, Love and Jordan’s roommate, Buzz Peterson, decided to play golf, and Jordan, despite his inexperience with the game, decided to tag along. The three became golf buddies, often playing together at the UNC golf course.
That’s where Jordan made an innocent mistake that may have had far-reaching effects on Love’s golf career. During one round, Love ran off to retrieve something from his dorm, and Jordan decided to try an experiment using one of the three-time All-American’s clubs.
According to Helen Ross of PGA Tour.com:
“[Michael] said, hey, it may be his clubs [that let him hit it so far],” Peterson recalls. “We’ve got these old clubs because they were giving us scrap clubs they got and don’t use, and they’re like X500 shafts, like swinging a tree. That was the worst thing for us.
“So he goes in there and grabs Davis’ driver, hits it on the hosel there halfway up, and the next thing I know, I see the ball barely going anywhere, but I see this club head just floating in the air to the lefthand side.”
Love probably wasn’t happy to return to a broken driver, but everything worked out for the best. The North Carolina native got a new model and soon enjoyed a meteoric rise through the professional ranks, ultimately becoming one of the most successful golfers of the 1990s.
“[Jordan] will still tell you we set him up on it,” Love said. “… And actually he probably did me a favour because the driver that I replaced that one with through a friend of my dad’s is the one I used from 1985-1997…Michael had a huge influence on my driving career. He broke the gamer, so I had to go get a new one.”
Love won 12 PGA Tour events over that span, including a PGA Championship and a Players Championship. He was also one of the circuit’s top 20 players in driving distance in every year from 1986 through 2001, so it’s possible that he owes Jordan a big thank you for breaking that old driver.
One of the sport’s top prospects, Love appeared to be on a path to stardom either way, but golf is a game in which the smallest adjustments can have huge effects. If nothing else, it’s fascinating to think of what might have been if Jordan hadn’t decided to test out his friend’s clubs.
This year’s PGA Championship is being held in North Carolina for the first time in over 40 years. Love is in the field as a participant, while Jordan, who owns the Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, could show up as a fan.
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