SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – John McEnroe was one of the best tennis players in the world in the 1980s.
McEnroe, 59, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 known for his fiery on-court demeanor, has spent much of his later years covering tennis on TV but has found another sport to pique his interest. In his spare time, McEnroe tries to conquer golf.
“I just got the bug,” McEnroe said. “I played on and off as a kid but didn't play much when I first had kids. The last couple years, it’s a great way to see some friends, get out on the course and definitely try and improve the game now.”
A professed 16 handicap, McEnroe is in France to play in a celebrity match between the U.S. and Europe. Participants include Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, actor Samuel L. Jackson and French tennis star Yannick Noah for a 10-hole scramble on the Ryder Cup course at Le Golf National.
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Unlike in tennis, John McEnroe finds that he still has to play the shots that stray beyond the lines.
Coming off a loss as captain for the World team at the Laver Cup in Chicago last week, McEnroe is familiar with the challenges of a team concept in an individual sport.
From his experience in Chicago, a Ryder Cup-like event, and his numerous Davis Cup appearances, McEnroe expects the Americans to face a difficult task on the road this week.
“I like the strength of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Sort of the opposite in tennis: It's Europe versus the rest of the world [in the Laver Cup, compared with the Ryder Cup] where it's America versus European; they traditionally have the upper hand,” McEnroe said. “So, you can make up for some of it with team spirit and some energy. When you're playing one‑on‑one, it's a different story.”
McEnroe’s golf pedigree is limited. He grew up in New York’s Queens borough, playing golf with friends on public courses. Later, he would turn to golf to kill time on the tennis tour.
“I had a couple legendary matches with some of the other players,’’ McEnroe said. “My best win was me and Arthur Ashe over Jimmy Connors and Bobby Riggs, but they refused to pay us, so that was annoying.”
McEnroe, who never has attended a professional golf tournament, said he looks forward to seeing the Ryder Cup this week.
When asked about the pressures of what the players will face here, McEnroe drew insight from his own experiences in the Davis Cup international team matches.
“I'm more worried about myself right now, but I'm sure it's going to be exciting for these guys,” McEnroe said before he was to take on Le Golf National. “These guys do it all the time, but it is different when you're playing for someone besides yourself.”
McEnroe does not belong to a club and plays with friends when invited. He intends to join a club eventually near his homes in Los Angeles and New York but struggles to find places to play.
“A tennis court, I can get on,” McEnroe said. “Golf's a little trickier.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli