"I played golf for the first time twenty-seven years ago at the Greater Hartford Open pro-am, about an hour after picking up my first set of clubs. Talk about being a beginner—Spalding, one of my sponsors at the time, had to ship a set to the course so I'd have something to play with. But before long I was making good contact. On one hole that day, I knocked my approach shot ten feet from the pin. I looked at my pro-am partner Roger Maltbie like, 'Beat that if you can.' Roger stuck his approach to three feet and put me in my place. Those pros really are good."
"I didn't play much before 1987, the year I retired from the NBA. I was thirty-seven at the time, and certain that I was going to become a scratch player. Little did I know that I'd have to give up the day job, sacrifice the family and play 365 days a year to do it. I couldn't sacrifice that much, but I have managed to improve over the years, thanks partly to advice from some of the best players in the world."
"Once at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am I hit a shot into a patch of ice plant. I had no idea what ice plant was, but my ball was sitting up in it, looking fine. Craig Stadler said, 'Take a drop.' Instead I swung at the ball, and both my wrists just absolutely wrenched. I had two thoughts: 'I'm glad I'm no longer playing basketball,' and 'I'd better listen to this guy.'"
"I moved to Florida in 1997. I had found myself sitting in a 12,000-square-foot house in suburban Philadelphia at age forty-seven—the nest starting to empty, more staff in the house than residents—and I said, 'You know what?I'm tired of these winters.' And that's when John Gabriel called. John is the general manager of the Orlando Magic. The Magic had just fired their coach, Brian Hill. Shaquille O'Neal had left for Los Angeles, and the team was looking to add some credibility to the organization. I had owned a few apartments in Florida, and now the arrows started pointing to my moving there full-time. I knew I'd get to play more golf, and I also knew that everyone in my Rolodex went to Orlando at least once a year. So I kept a condominium in Philadelphia and took my current job as executive vice president of the Magic."
"In my early days down here I would take three-day vacations at the Adios Club in Coconut Creek, and those weekends really added to my passion for the sport. Steve Wynn played there, and so did Payne Stewart. Now, I used to put a lot of spin on basketballs, and it's the same on the course—I tend to cut the ball. Payne was always trying to get me to roll my right hand over. He'd demonstrate for me, swinging a wedge and then, right at the moment of impact, letting the club fly out onto the range. That wedge would helicopter through the air while Payne's voice rose up into that Missouri-accented squeak of his, and he'd say, 'Julius, I'm tellin' you, you've got to throw that sucka!'"
"These days I'm just trying to hold on to the club. Last December I had surgery on my right middle finger. Over the years all my dunks and finger rolls had damaged the tendons and ligaments in there. The finger still isn't right—I'll swing a five-iron easily to hit the ball 150 yards—but that just makes the game more challenging."
"Golf's not only about the score, anyway. For one thing, the game has kept me close to my old high-school teammates from Long Island, the Roosevelt Roughriders. We had our latest golf get-together at Hilton Head last year. We're inclusive—a couple of girls from our class came, too. Golf has also helped me in my career after basketball. I serve on the boards of several public companies, and many of those situations came directly out of golf outings. At a tournament hosted by Vince Gill, I was paired with Keith Bailey, the former chairman and CEO of the Williams Companies. Now I'm on the board at Williams Communications. That sort of thing has happened dozens of times. I love basketball and I'll always follow the game—it was great to see Byron Scott and my old Nets go to the Finals last year—but without golf, I'm not sure where I might be now."
Dr. J's New Move Scorecard: ANALYSIS BY CLAUDE HARMON III
With his height, Erving may always have trouble getting his arms and legs to work together. His setup (1) is fine. His grip is strong, due to the size of his hands; this can cause the hands to be too active, leading to hooks or pulls. His take-away (2) is steep, leading his right knee to lock at the top (3). His body is passive on the downswing (4), his hands working hard to control the club. He keeps his head down nicely (5) and finishes well (6). If he flexed his right knee more, the Doctor could inject more hip rotation into his downswing for a less handsy, more arms-and-body swing.
HANDICAP: 13—same as the number of wraps he puts on his grips to accommodate his large hands
BEST SCORE: 77 at the Country Club of Mt. Dora, near Orlando
CLUBS: Hogan Apex irons, prototype 10.5-degree forged titanium driver, Pal Joey four-wood, Nova Stand-Up putter
BALL: Titleist NXT
MEMBERSHIP: Lake Nona Golf & Country Club in Orlando; Squires Golf Club in Ambler, Pennsylvania