‘Last Dance’ director reveals golfers he would have interviewed about Michael Jordan
In the absence of sports, “The Last Dance,” a documentary reflecting on Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls, has taken the world by storm. Like sports, there’s a communal sense about the documentary with viewers watching in real-time and interacting on social media, texting friends and discussing with co-workers on Monday mornings. Director Jason Hehir is taking some viewers for a walk down memory and providing an eye-opening experience for others learning the magnitude of Jordan’s stardom for the first time.
When he wasn’t dominating on the basketball court in front of tens of thousands in attendance and millions watching at home, Jordan fled to the golf course for an escape from it all. It’s a place where Jordan can find peace while keeping his competitive juices flowing. Golf played a large part in his Jordan’s life during his playing days and continues to do so now as he nears the completion of his private golf club, The Grove XXIII.
From Jordan’s golf games during the ’92 Olympics to his gambling habit with some interesting characters, there are plenty of acknowledgments to Jordan’s golf obsession in “The Last Dance.” There are, however, no golf figures interviewed in the documentary. It’s no secret that Jordan plays regularly with the likes of Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley and has a long-standing relationship with Tiger Woods. Yet none made the interview cut.
“When we were mapping out what the 10 hours were going to be, 10 hours sounded so daunting to me I thought we were going to have to go back into the childhood stories of John Paxton,” Jason Hehir said to GOLF.com. “ ‘How are we going to fill up 10 hours?’
“I certainly thought that in telling the story of Michael’s competitiveness and how that remains to this day that we would want to speak with some golfers who he has played with. Specifically, the pros. I had heard that the pros love playing with him in the weeks leading up to tournaments because it’s always going to be for high stakes and more pressure. But we just had such an embarrassment of riches with the interviews we did about that ’97- ‘98 season, and about the dynasty years as a whole, that we never had to go beyond ’98.”
An “embarrassment of riches” from the ’97-’98 season, the focal point of the documentary, is what cost us the chance to hear more MJ golf stories. In the event this extensive amount of footage didn’t exist, whom would Hehir have approached to interview?
“Freddie Couples. I think that Freddie and Michael somehow had a strong relationship,” Hehir said to GOLF. “And also, Davis Love III who I think taught him the game at UNC. We had discussed that because he was playing at UNC and immediately became addicted, as the competitor that he is, and fell in love with the game. He was showing up before the golf coaches were showing up to get lessons and play with the UNC team.”
When Couples captained the U.S. Teams at the ’09 and ’11 Presidents Cup, he named Jordan as one of his assistant captains for both events. That enough tells you the bond that must exist between those two. Jordan and Love were both Tar Heels in the mid-‘80s. Being fed up that he couldn’t keep up with the UNC golf team’s distance off the tee, Jordan snagged Love’s driver out of his bag to see if the gear was to blame. An errant shot off the hosel ended up snapping the driver head off. Love has since given the driver to the World Golf Hall of Fame to preserve that now-infamous club.
But why interview Couples and Love as opposed to the likes of Tiger, JT, Rickie and Keegan?
“As much as I would love to interview the younger golfers, the golfers of today, I was more interested in talking to people who played with the young MJ,” said Hehir to GOLF. “They saw what his game was like and saw that competitive fire in him from an early age.”
You can watch the final two parts of “The Last Dance” Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPN and Netflix.