Sugar Ray Leonard Q&A: The boxing legend reveals the playing partner who made him hyperventilate

April 19, 2020
Sugar Ray Leonard

He was lights-out in the ring, the winner of 37 pro matches in five different weight divisions. Then, well, the champ squared off against a golf ball.

Hey, Champ. Can I call you Champ?

Yes, but Ray’s cool, too.

How did you get started in golf?

I didn’t start playing until maybe 1992, when I moved to L.A. My game was bad — really bad.

What’s your handicap now?

Maybe an 18. I play at Riviera, so there’s no mulligans, man.

What’s the hardest part of the game?

It’s so strange. As a boxer, I could hit a guy who’s moving real quick. But if you plant a little white ball in front of me, just sitting there, I might miss the damn thing.

I feel lucky to have lived through your heyday, watching you fight Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran. Who was your toughest opponent?

They each had their own significance. Muhammad Ali told me, “Ray, when I fought Joe Frazier the third time, it was the closest thing to death.” I didn’t understand what he meant back then, but when I fought Hagler, Hearns and Duran, I sure did.

For someone who’s never been in a fight, what does it feel like to get popped in the face? Do you see stars, like in a cartoon?

You automatically shut down — your body, your brain — to protect yourself. There is no pain.

What do golf and boxing share in common?

Optimism, tunnel-vision focus and, of course, you gotta keep your head down.

You once played with Bill Clinton. What was that like?

When I teed off, I was hyperventilating. I said, “God, I don’t call you often, but please don’t let me miss the ball.”

Is it true he plays things pretty loose?

Yes. I said, “Mr. President, are mulligans okay?” He said, “Absolutely, Champ.”

Are you a fan of the band Sugar Ray?

It’s funny. One day I was reading the paper and it said Sugar Ray was going to be at this club. I thought, What the hell are they talking about? That’s when I found out there was a band. I said, “Call my attorney.”

You’ve retired and un-retired, like, 10 times. What’s so hard about leaving the fight game?

I miss the transformation. The two months of training, when you can transform your body, mind and spirit—nothing compares to that.

Sounds like you might have one more comeback in you, Champ.

Nah, man. It’s safer on the green.

Chris Nashawaty is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story.

Want more celebrity Q&As?
Rob Lowe
Aaron Rodgers
Dennis Quaid
Don Cheadle