Jordan Brings Cool Factor to Ryder Cup
Michael Jordan is as cool as it gets. In fact, he’s so cool that there’s an entire generation of people who wear his Air Jordan shoes despite never seeing him play a single day of basketball. That’s the line executive producer Mike Tollin told Bill Simmons he used when pitching Jordan on making a documentary about him. Sunday, the third and fourth episodes of the docuseries The Last Dance airs on ESPN, in what has been an education in cool for a whole new generation of fans.
But what does Jordan think is cool?
The Ryder Cup.
Arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time thinks a three-day golf tournament, that pits the best players from the United States and Europe, is a must-see event. Jordan has attended every match since 1995. Since then, the likes of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, and Kelly Slater, arguably the greatest surfer of all time, have become regulars at the Ryder Cup.
“Michael made it okay and made it cool to come and watch and hang out,” said Love III, a two-time U.S. Ryder Cup Captain. “They become part of the culture, the family of the Ryder Cup.”
Davis Love III, a six-time member of the U.S. Team, first met Jordan while the two were student athletes at the University of North Carolina. Just a year apart in age, Love III and Jordan found success at the same time. In 1997, Love III won the PGA Championship while Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their fifth title in seven years. That same year, Jordan attended the Ryder Cup and rode around in a golf cart with U.S. Captain Tom Kite. It was one of the most memorable moments of Love III’s career.
“Here is my mentor and one of my buddies, idols, there in the cart watching me play,” Love III said about seeing Kite and Jordan together. “That’s when you realize how big it is.”
And that’s what Jordan brings to the Ryder Cup. His presence. For a member of the U.S. Team to be able to glance over at one of the greatest athletes of all time is an inspiration, which can be much needed at a critical point in a match.
“He’s a voice of authority if he needs to be, or a voice of inspiration if he needs to be,” Love III said. “Or he’s just standing there watching you play golf and you go, ‘This is cool. Michael Jordan is watching me play.’”
But what does Jordan get out of watching other people play golf?
Love III says Jordan doesn’t attend the Ryder Cup for the spectacle, or the need to be seen. He typically attends with a few of his friends, gets hospitality and enjoys doing what every other golf fan does. Watching golf. He’s not absorbed with trying to get into the locker room. Jordan doesn’t have to ride in the Captain’s cart, in fact he enjoys walking the course and took a bit of heat for riding with Kite in 1997. What Love III believes Jordan gets out of the Ryder Cup is exactly what he thrives on: competition at the highest level.
“He knows that in golf, the ultimate pressure is the Ryder Cup and he wants to see it, he wants to be part of it,” Love III said about Jordan. “That’s just the competitive nature of him. He understands what it means to play and to win and lose under that kind of pressure.”
Love III didn’t grow up idolizing Jordan like Keegan Bradley, a two-time member of the U.S. Team who wears Jordan’s shoes, but he shares that same sense of awe whenever Jordan is around. He wanted to maximize that feeling for his team when he was named Captain for the first time in 2012. He didn’t want Jordan hiding out in the crowd, he wanted the Hall of Famer visible any time one of his players needed a boost. So, Love III gave Jordan special access and asked him, for the first time, to create a video to show in their team room at Medinah Country Club.
The team room at the Ryder Cup has become a mythical place, rarely seen by media or fans. It’s often talked about as the place where transformative moments take place, where players are inspired to achieve the impossible. Take the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline Country Club, where a motivational video and a series of speeches by the team’s wives inspired the greatest comeback in U.S. history. That Sunday, Love III and Jordan would witness one of the coolest moments in Ryder Cup history together.
“I claim that he was lucky on 17 at Brookline,” Love III says about Jordan.
During the Sunday Singles matches, Love III smoked Jean van de Velde 6 & 5 in the fourth match of the day. Since his match finished early, Captain Ben Crenshaw sent Love III to watch Justin Leonard, his friend and teammate, who was off to an abysmal start. He trailed José María Olazábal 4-down with seven holes to play. After a few holes, Jordan joined Love III and they walked the final stretch of the match together.
When the group arrived at the 17th hole, Leonard had squared the match with the Spaniard. But when Leonard spun his approach off the front of the green, the intensity became too much for Love III to bear.
“’I can’t walk with you anymore,’” Love III remembers telling Jordan. The two split ways and watched Leonard drain the infamous 40-foot putt from opposite sides of the green.
“We weren’t standing together when he made the putt, so I said, ‘Michael, one of us got the putt to go in because we weren’t standing, sweating it out together anymore.’”
Maybe Love III was just being superstitious, or maybe it was the fate that Crenshaw had alluded to in his press conference the night before, but it’s hard not to consider the impact of having one of the greatest athletes of all time looking on.
“That’s the story of the Ryder Cup. It’s not the guy that made the putt, it’s who did what to support the guy who made the putt,” Love III said. “I was there for support and then Jordan comes and [Leonard] ended up winning. Did we do anything? No. But we were there to support him.”
Jordan knows the importance of being, and having, a good teammate. In The Last Dance he referred to fellow Chicago Bull, Scottie Pippen, as his “best teammate of all time,” and said anytime someone speaks about him, they should also speak about Pippen.
When Love III asked Jordan to create a video for his team in 2012, Jordan assumed the entire project. “’Don’t worry about it. It’ll be done,’” Love III remembers him saying. So, the Captain was left wondering what the video would be about. Highlights of Jordan’s incredible career, he wondered? That would certainly get the team fired up.
But no, it wasn’t about Michael Jordan at all.
Jordan knew the power of having a strong team, and that meant celebrating every member of it. Each of the 12 members of the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Team was included in the video, which was made up of videos and photos of the players as children and highlights of their accomplishments through the years. There were just a few clips of Jordan sprinkled throughout. There wasn’t a single shot of him flying through the air over the court or dunking the ball, none of the iconic moments that came to define his career. Instead, each clip of Jordan showed him passing the ball to another player on his team or clapping for his teammates.
“We got some great stuff in other years but to me, that was one of the neatest videos we ever had,” Love III recalled, “because he included everybody on the team in it.”
Now that, is cool.