Golfers Who Give Back: Morgan Freeman

By Golf DigestNovember 30, 2012, 7:35 pm

Way back when teenage caddie Morgan Freeman was earning a dollar or two 'carrying a heavy bag for 18 holes,' all he really wanted to do was be in the movies. So now that he has starred in films with most of the greats, names like Redford and Newman, Hackman and Hoffman, Eastwood and Nicholson, now that he has an Oscar and a Golden Globe and, most recently, the 2012 Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment ... what he really wants is to become a better golfer. For the time being, he'll have to rely on just one hand, the result of a car crash in 2008 that essentially paralyzed his left hand from the wrist to his fingernails. At 75, Freeman is certifiably obsessed with golf. He plays at Bayou Bend when he's home in Mississippi, and he watches the Golf Channel and tour events as much as anyone he knows. Interviews and photo shoots aren't among his favorite assignments, but for golf and Golf Digest, Freeman was in a giving mood, so he drove 90 minutes in his BMW 7 Series to meet us for a couple of hours in Memphis. 'That was painless,' he said when we wrapped.

Q: Good to see you're alive and well. Did you read the Internet hoax in August that Morgan Freeman had died?

A: It wasn't a hoax. I think it was just misinformation. A friend of mine, an actor named Al Freeman Jr., who was a professor at Howard University, died in August. So ... Freeman, an actor ... well, that was enough for whoever got wind of it. It's the era we live in.

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Q: You're 75 and still working nonstop. What are your latest projects?

A: I did three movies this year. First one's called 'Now You See Me,' an interesting story about magicians making money disappear from banks. Did one with Tom Cruise called 'Oblivion,' a science-fiction, futuristic film. And I just did one called 'Olympus Has Fallen,' an action-adventure about a takeover at the White House. Now I'm getting ready to do one with Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline, called 'Last Vegas.' It's about these four old guys who've been friends since childhood going to Vegas for one of the guys' bachelor party.

Q: What's harder: playing God, playing Mandela, or playing golf?

A: Playing God is the easiest of all. Mandela I found to be very, very easy, and an awful lot of fun. Golf is hard. Very, very hard.

Q: How much golf can you play with that work schedule?

A: I've easily played more than 20, 25 rounds this year. When you're making movies, you have a lot of time off, days they're shooting scenes you aren't involved in. Those are all golf days for me. Whatever city I'm in, I get to the golf course. When I was in New Orleans, we played just about every other day.

Q: Do you play with other actors? Maybe Cruise or Nicholson, your co-star from 'The Bucket List'?

A: No, I haven't played with either of them. I play with my stand-in; he's a longtime golfer. My driver likes to play. And you always meet somebody on these courses who wants to play. I also spend a lot of time with my son in Southern California, and we play on a public course out there near Torrance. I've played down in San Diego at Torrey Pines. And I really enjoyed Seven Canyons in Arizona.

Q: And you're playing with only one hand.

A: That's right; I swing the club with just my right hand. I was in a horrendous car accident four years ago. I don't know what happened, whether I passed out, went to sleep or what. But I left the highway, and the car just rolled and rolled and rolled ... and the left side of me was pretty much torn to pieces. The upshot is a paralyzed left hand. I literally can't use it. It won't work.

Q: Yet you still play golf?

A: I don't seem to be any worse than I was with two hands. [Laughs.] I can't hit it 240 or 260 yards like some of these guys I play with, but I enjoy trying.

Q: Who knew Morgan Freeman loved golf so much? When did this happen?

A: I remember caddieing in Greenwood, Miss., when I was 13, 14 years old. But that didn't get me interested in golf. I didn't get turned on to playing until 10 or 12 years ago. Sometime after the advent of Tiger Woods.

Q: You and the Plan!t Now Foundation partnered with Michael Douglas & Friends earlier this year, and that's only one example of how you've given back through golf. What else?

A: I don't pat myself on the back all that much about giving back, but if life's been good to you, you should be good to life. And that's really as far as I go with it. Playing golf in charity tournaments is the easiest, most pleasant way to - and I put this in quotes - 'give back.'

Q: Is there a Morgan Freeman foundation?

A: It's called the Rock River Foundation. I set it up because I realized once I got out in the world that I really got a good education at my segregated school in Greenwood. Now I go back, and it's the worst school system in the country. Literally. Somehow, that has to be dealt with. So I set up a foundation to do that.

Q: Describe your greatest moment on a golf course.

A: It has to be the time I parred holes 17 and 18 at Sawgrass. Vijay Singh had wandered over to say, 'Hi, I'm a fan,' and blah, blah, blah. So he joined us for the last five holes, and he started giving me swing pointers. And they worked! We get to the 17th, and I knocked it on the green. Must have been a 9-iron for me. Then on 18 I hit a good drive and a good approach and made my par.

Q: And your most embarrassing moment?

A: That would have to be at the Humana Challenge in January. The first day I couldn't hit the ball at all. I'd either hit two inches behind it or I'd top it. All kinds of dreadful stuff.

Q: Nerves?

A: Of course!

Q: Not to mention, you were playing one-handed. Think you'll ever play in that again?

A: Oh, yeah. It's more about the charity. You aren't there to look good playing golf. I mean, I'd like to, but it isn't about that.

Q: You watch golf more than almost anything else on television, and you've immersed yourself in the game and want to get better. Why do you love it so much?

A: Golf is the only sport I've been able to take part in as an adult. I used to bowl, and I used to roller-skate, but that was years and years ago. Golf is something you can do until you drop dead. Hit that last drive and just keel over. And I wouldn't mind doing just that.

Interview conducted by Craig Bestrom; Click here to visit

Photography by Walter Iooss Jr.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.