The sports of golf and boxing have always shared the trait of bestowing cool or accurate nicknames on its greatest participants.
How can you go wrong with a sport which has nicknames like Tiger, Shark, Golden Bear and The King for golf, or Sugar Ray and Boom Boom or Iron Mike for Boxing.
But perhaps never was a nickname more accurately bestowed than for boxing’s Golden Boy, the recently retired Oscar De La Hoya.
That’s because De La Hoya is one of the few professionals in the sweet science, another cool nickname for boxing, that had an entire career that was nearly solid gold.
Starting with a Gold Medal, won in the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the East Los Angeles native embarked on a career which included 10 world titles in six different weight classes.
He also generated nearly $700 million in bout income for himself, his sponsors and boxing networks, including HBO.
De La Hoya, with a professional record of 39-6, also formed his own promotional boxing firm, titled fittingly enough, Golden Boy Promotions.
He officially retired from boxing in March after a final loss last December, saying he had enough action in the ring, escaping without any serious injury, but still had plenty of energy for his myriad of actions outside the ring.
He has his promotional firm which handles about 40 fights nationwide each year, his large number of commercials and promotional appearances from his headquarters in Los Angeles, his fairly new wife Millie (whom he met in San Antonio), and his great new love, golf.
Since taking up the game less than a decade ago at the advice of a friend, then practicing in secret to become competitive, the 10 handicap boxer/golfer has become obsessed with the sport.
No longer needing to dedicate his training routine to getting ready for a new boxing match, De La Hoya is free to spend his time with the one sport he has not conquered yet.
At age 36 without the aid of a formal lesson, De La Hoya tries to play whenever he can, scheduled around his busy business career, either playing near his homes in Puerto Rico, where his wife is from, and Los Angeles where he has a membership at Annandale Country Club in Pasadena.
Mainly he plays the celebrity pro-am circuit, which is where Avid Golfer’s Art Stricklin caught up with him at the stunningly beautiful Cap Cana Resort in the Dominican Republic.
During the Champions Tour Cap Cana Championship, De La Hoya competed in the pro-am along with Stricklin and former Texas Open PGA Tour winner Donnie Hammond, now a Champions Tour player.
Completely at ease on the Oceanside Jack Nicklaus designed links, De La Hoya talked about his love for his new sport, the highs and lows of his golfing career and the one huge regret his has with golf and what he hopes to do for redemption.
Avid Golfer: Standing on the tee box at Cap Cana, overlooking the ocean and the course, I guess I can see why you chose golf over boxing for your long-term career?
OSCAR DE LA HOYA: Now I am consumed by the sport. I love it. I can’t get enough. I played in the PGA Tour Puerto Rico Open this year with Jerry Kelly and it was great. I think we finished third in the pro-am, but it’s a sport I would love to be good at and be competitive.
AG: Growing up with your busy boxing career, how did you ever get started in golf?
ODLH: A friend of mine asked me to play, about 9-10 years ago and it seemed like fun. I practiced for two months, by myself, just on a range near my home in LA. I didn’t tell anybody. I just wanted to practice.
AG: Do you remember your first round?
ODLH: I played my first round at the public course near my home in East LA. It was the next county over, but I just wanted to play. I’ve never shot over 100. I think I shot 98 my first time.
AG: Growing up, did you know much about golf?
ODLH: Are you kidding? I didn’t watch golf and didn’t even think about it growing up. I had a couple of uncles who played in the military, but didn’t know anything about it.
AG: Were there any courses where you grew up in LA?
ODLH: When I was growing up, we were from humble means, we stayed in a two-square mile circle around our home. We went to the gym, to the market, stayed around home. Didn’t even know there was a golf course around there. I just stayed in our area. I didn’t know who Jack Nicklaus was, didn’t know anything about golf.
AG: Did anybody ever talk about golf or golfers at the gym?
ODLH: People would at laugh at golfers. I started boxing at age 4, that’s all I did.
AG: Growing up in a sport where you got hit all the time, I’m guessing you like golf’s inability to hit back?
ODLH: Well, I’ve been playing for 8-9 years. I got hit by a golf ball once and it really hurt. With all the punishment my body has taken, I’m always sore. I need some oil on my joints to get going in the morning.
AG: Since you’ve taken up the sport, have you had a chance to play with any other boxers?
ODLH: I have played golf with Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield. I guess I’m the best golfing boxer out there, but that is one of the great things about golf. If I boxed with those guys, they could probably kill me, but on the golf course I can beat them. Lennox is so big he has a hard time swinging.
AG: Any other golfing boxers?
ODLH: I played with boxers Winke Wright and Arturo Gotti. Gotti is a real hard core golfer.
AG: Have you found any other similarities between boxing and golf?
ODLH: In both boxing and golf, when you do it well, it’s effortless. That’s the same anywhere. The footwork, the coordination is similar, but just because you’re good in one sport that doesn’t translate to another.
AG: Any examples?
ODLH: Look at Charles Barkley, he is one of the best ever in basketball, but he struggles with golf. It has to be mental, because he was once good. He’s working with Hank Haney now. He is going to come to Lake Tahoe for the celebrity pro-am this summer. I played there once and shot 88-87-88, back when I first started, so I have to do better than that.
AG: What’s the best you’ve done so far?
ODLH: My best score ever was at Valencia CC where I shot a 69 when we were hosting a charity tournament. I couldn’t believe it when I added up the score.
AG: Any holes in one?
ODLH: I had my only ace in LA at Friendly Hills GC. It was a 167 yard par 3. I was actually on the phone with the Titleist rep thanking him for new clubs, and then I made it.
AG: Most interesting round?
AG: Well, I’ve actually had two. I played one time with Jack Nicholson. That was very, very interesting to play with him. I really wanted to talk acting, but all he wanted to talk about was golf.
AG: What was the other?
ODLH: I played in a Bob Hope pro-am, in 1999 with David Duval, and during the tournament he shot 59. I was so new to golf I didn’t even know what 59 was, I was just starting out, so I didn’t know what a big deal it was.
AG: What was that like playing with a PGA Tour player in a historic round?
ODLH: I was so new, I didn’t realize it, but one thing I did notice is the number of girls in the gallery to watch David. I was a single man then and paid a lot of attention, but he had some great followers. He just said it was like that all the time. That’s another reason to like golf when you look at the galleries.
AG: Were do you usually play?
ODLH: Mainly in pro-ams like this or celebrity tournaments. If I’m at home, my brother is a member of South Hills (LA) and I play there a lot. I have a house in Pasadena (CA) where I play. My wife Millie and I are also building a home in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico on the Bahia Golf Club, the newest private club in Puerto Rico.
AG: Do you have some people you like to play with?
ODLH: I played with Barkley, Michael Jordan, but never Tiger, or Donald Trump, that’s what I would like to do it.
AG: How about a dream foursome?
ODLH: I guess I’d have to say Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones, my wife Millie and me. I met her when she was giving a concert in San Antonio and she loves to play golf with me.
AG: It seems like you’ve adapted to your new sport pretty well, so do you wish you had found golf sooner?
ODLH: If I had started golfing at age 4, instead of boxing, who knows what would have happened? I could have been the Latin El Tigre. Maybe the Golden Boy of Golf, but boxing worked out OK for me.
AG: Any regrets from golf:
ODLH: I do have one, but it’s a big one.
AG: What is that?
ODLH: When I was just starting out, one of my main sponsors was Anheuser Busch. Once, Augie Bush the 4th asked me to go to the Masters and then play Augusta National. I was boxing then and kept putting him off and never did it, and then he left.
I can’t believe how stupid I was to do that. Now I would turn down boxing or any business to go to the Masters and play Augusta National. Now, I have my priorities right. I just hope I get another chance to play there.
AG: Best of luck in your new career.
ODLH: Thanks. I just want to keep playing, get better and have fun like this.