M.J. gives fans almost everything they want
July 15, 2009
STATELINE – A front-row seat to a Chicago Bulls’ game during one of their six NBA championships in the 1990s wasn’t as good as the vantage point fans of Michael Jordan enjoyed on Tuesday afternoon.
As one of the early arrivals of the American Century Championship, Jordan treated spectators to an up-close-and-personal experience during his 18-hole practice round at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
On the par-4 10th hole, Jordan hit his approach shot within 5 feet of the pin, prompting a fan to say, “Mike, you going pro?”
Jordan replied, “Yeah, right now I’m out of a job. It looks like you are, too, because you are out here today.”
Jordan missed the short birdie putt, but it didn’t change his sense of humor.
When Jon Miller, NBC’s executive vice president of programming, needed two chip shots to get the ball close to the hole after hitting his tee shot over the 12th green into a cluster of pine trees, Jordan kiddingly said, “That was a great four, Jon.”
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Miller responded with “a blind squirrel, right?”
To which Jordan said, “Just like a squirrel to be up there in the trees.”
On the same hole, Jordan was unable to cash in another short birdie putt. His six-foot attempt grazed the right edge of the cup, and he settled for par.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Jerome Bettis received some compliments and advice from Jordan throughout the round. When Bettis’ tee shot on the par-4 14th hole split the fairway, Jordan applauded “The Bus'” swing: “Bettis, you got set right there. It was right on line.”
While Jordan spent most of the back nine in the fairway and reaching greens in regulation, his tee ball on the 172-yard lake-side 17th hole landed in the front bunker. He wedged his second shot to within eight feet of the cup, then drained the par putt. With the sandy, Jordan brandished a full smile for his appreciative fans.
Jordan concluded his round with a par 5, giving him an unofficial score of 2-over 74.
“He’s a (heckuva) player. He’s always in my pocket. I think I’m his personal ATM,” Miller joked. “He’s a lot of fun to play with, too.”
Jordan’s best finish in 13 previous tournament appearances is ninth place in 1990 – the event’s first year. Since then, he has finished in the top 20 two times (1995 and 2004).
“To have him on the leader board would be great. He’s a good enough player to contend here,” Miller said.
Autograph seekers may have gone home upset with Jordan, though, since he headed straight to the clubhouse after his playing companions wrapped up play on the 18th hole. Jordan has a history of not signing autographs after the completion of his rounds, but the 10-time NBA scoring champ usually delivers his signature at least a couple of days during the week. That’s fine with Miller and NBC.
“He’s polite about it; he’s not nasty,” Miller said. “He’s given a lot to this event. One of the things he does is raise the spirit of the event and understands that we give a lot back to the community. He’s great with the volunteers, fans and sponsors.”