Sober and Serene, a Champ Is Still Swinging
Published: June 24, 2012
RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — The ball was nowhere to be found when he reached the green, and Oscar De La Hoya assumed it must have spun back into the rough. Too bad. He had nailed a gorgeous 9-iron approach from 135 yards right at the flag on Trump National Golf Club’s opening hole, an uphill par 4. He deserved better. One of his playing partners, who knew the course well, then offered a possibility De La Hoya had yet to consider: “It’s in the hole.”
That’s exactly where it was, prompting De La Hoya, the former boxing champ, to celebrate his stunning eagle earlier this month as if he had just registered another knockout. Such is the joy De La Hoya, 39, derives when his game is on, which is often the case — he is a 7-handicapper.
“Oh, my God,” he said in the cart on the way to the second tee. “I’ve got to call the wife.”
The rest of the day went downhill from a scoring standpoint — how could it not? — though De La Hoya recorded a splendid eight-over-par 79 on a course that can be quite punishing. More important, his mood never wavered, a man finally at peace with himself 20 years after he captured a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and became known as the Golden Boy.
The reason for his serenity is not difficult to figure out. De La Hoya, who took his first drink at the age of 9, checked himself into a Malibu, Calif., treatment center in May 2011. He has not had a drop of alcohol since, he said. He also came clean on using cocaine and cheating on his wife, Millie.
Of his many prized possessions, two seem to carry extra meaning. One is the gold medal. The other is a round chip marking the day he began the program.
“I almost lost everything,” De La Hoya said shortly after he notched his third straight bogey, at No. 4. “I’m sure glad she stuck around because any other woman would have easily just walked out on me and taken everything. And I wouldn’t have minded if she would have taken everything because I deserved it.”
There have been moments in his recovery when he thought about going back to the bottle. He went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting instead.
“Everything was O.K. again,” he said.
At No. 5, a challenging, 444-yard par 4, De La Hoya hit his drive a long way and ended up with a par. He followed with another solid par at No. 6, a 409-yard par 4. On the back nine, he parred five holes, including three of the last four.
De La Hoya did not play golf growing up in East Los Angeles. “I didn’t know what a golf course was,” he said.
It was not until he reached his early 20s that his brother persuaded him to go to a driving range. He was awful, spraying the ball all over the place. Then came the last ball in his bucket. He killed it. He was hooked, hitting balls nearly every day.
Three months later, he teed it up for the first time, firing a 97 at Montebello Country Club. It wasn’t too long before he was shooting in the 80s. Even his profession was not going to get in the way. “I would sometimes take days off from training to go play,” he said.
In the late ’90s, during a round at Friendly Hills Country Club in Whittier, Calif., he was on the phone with a representative of Titleist, the equipment company that had shipped him a set of clubs.
“Give me a second; I’m going to hit my shot,” he said.
The next sound the Titleist rep heard was an ecstatic De La Hoya, who aced a 185-yard par 3, the first of two he has recorded.
His Achilles’ heel, as is the case with many golfers, is the putter, which let him down on a few occasions during the day. In the last three months, he has experimented with five different versions, though he has avoided the belly putter. Nonetheless, De La Hoya, who tees it up about twice a week, said he planned to try out for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 in 2023.
“Got the green light from the wife,” he said. “She understands that golf fulfills me.”
De La Hoya, who has taken only one formal lesson, knows that making it as a professional will require great dedication. He is ready. “If it takes me to practice every day, a minimum four or five hours, I’ll do it,” he said.
De La Hoya, who in 2002 started Golden Boy Promotions, a Los Angeles-based boxing promotions company, has done quite well in the business world. As for his own boxing days, he said they were definitely over. De La Hoya, whose last fight was a loss to Manny Pacquiao in December 2008, is satisfied with what he has accomplished in the ring. He finished with 39 victories and 6 defeats.
Golf is another matter. He was certainly not satisfied with his performance at Trump National.
“I have not practiced much,” said De La Hoya, who was frustrated with his inconsistency off the tee. “If my driver is not on, then I can’t get into the groove.”
He did not stay frustrated for long. His life could not be better. At last. Article Link…