Lawrence Tayloracts as if he owns Ashif Jiwa, but he knows the truth: He needs Ashif Jiwa morethan Ashif Jiwa needs him. Jiwa is Taylor's business adviser, confidante--andgolf partner. If LT's golf jones is not satisfied after 18 holes, he can counton Jiwa to go another nine with him. And if the itch, not just for golf, butfor gambling on golf, is still there, another nine after that. Then a finaldouble-or-nothing, get-in-before-dark nine. They play almost daily. With Jiwaand LT, it's a 24/7 thing.
"Three-thirty this morning, the phone rings," Jiwa says, eating ahamburger in the grill room of the Miami Beach Golf Club. Taylor rolls hiseyes. He knows where Jiwa is going with this. "I pick up the phone,"Jiwa goes on, "and LT says, 'You awake?' Big crisis. I'd gotten a cellphonefor his girlfriend, but it's no good. It's not pink." LT looks out thewindow. He can't get out of the room and onto the course fast enough.
Jiwa understands this. He is a partner in a company that manages $900 millionfor a variety of athletes, actors and musicians. He keeps his client list asecret, but suffice it to say that Michael Jordan has been known to fill outLT's foursome on occasion. Jiwa also knows he shouldn't have to takemiddle-of-the-night calls about pink cellphones. Still, he does.
Taylor is 47 now,with jewelry not just dangling from an ear like in the bad days but also aroundhis wrists, neck and two fingers. He's still huge and his lower legs are stillspindly, but now he has the girth of a prosperous man, which he is. He couldsign jerseys for good coin 200 days a year if he wanted to, which he doesn't.His endearing and enduring popularity is rooted not just in the highlight filmsthat celebrate his manic play but also in his candor--the way he has alwaystalked about his high times and on-all-fours life. He sacked his lastquarterback in 1993 and swears he snorted his last line of cocaine in 1999--hisdark days chasing drugs and hookers, wrecking cars, drug arrests and stints inrehab are documented in two autobiographies. In one story he shows up for a NewYork Giants team meeting in handcuffs placed on him not by cops but by a datewho then lost the key. In golf, only his pal John Daly has a similar wild-manstanding, and when they play pro-ams together, people come out in droves towatch LT come within 30 yards of Long John off the tee.
Taylor lives wayinland, where the Miami suburbs meet the Everglades, in a modern development ona golf course, far from the South Beach nightclubs. The blandness of thesurrounding suburban sprawl helps keep Taylor straight. And of course there isthe golf. Recently he had a forced week off from the game after hurting hisback when he fell off a chair. "The days were like 48 hours," he says.LT needs action, same as forever.
Action is nothard to find on this day at Miami Beach Golf Club. LT has one match againstJiwa; one against Johnny LaPonzina, a South Florida golf course operator and ascratch golfer; one against Mike Donald, a former PGA Tour player; plus threeteam matches: he and Jiwa against the other two, he and LaPonzina against theother two, he and Donald against the other two. There are many side bets.
July 2, 2006
LaPonzina, whomanages the Miami Beach course, among others, has a policy of not gambling withhis clientele, but if he didn't make an exception for Taylor, he'd lose a golfpartner. Taylor and LaPonzina have a standard game of $50 for each of the frontand back nine, plus another $50 for the overall 18--a Nassau, in the languageof golf betting. Taylor and Donald play for the same stakes. Taylor and Jiwaplay a $200 Nassau. When Jordan's in the game, the stakes are somewhat higher.O.K., way higher.
As a point ofpride the basketball legend refuses to accept shots from the football legend,even though that's how golfers of different skill levels arrange fair matches.But Jordan is not in denial. At his 40th birthday party, Jordan, who can break80, told the crowd on hand, "I got to admit it. I can't beat him. Now."That was three years ago. He still won't take shots from Taylor, he'll play allday, he doesn't cheat, and he pays up in the parking lot--LT's ideal golfopponent.
It was in 1999,the year Taylor was inducted into the Hall of Fame, that he traded oneaddiction for another. While shooting the Oliver Stone football movie Any GivenSunday, in which he played (brilliantly) an aging player trying to hang on,Taylor had a daily golf game with Dennis Quaid, who played the role of thequarterback in the film. His game was improving, and golf started to feed him."Once you get to the point where you know where your ball is going," hesays, "you can't get enough of it." Almost simultaneously he was ableto take control of his golf ball, and his life. Now he knows what Tiger Woodsknows, what all obsessive golfers know: You can always get better. Golf endsonly when you quit, or when you die. And for LT, so does staying straight.
In the newmillennium Taylor has taken the time and energy he used to put into scoringcrack, plus the competitiveness and compulsiveness that made him the mostfeared defensive player of his era, and funneled it all into his golf game. Heuses a 10-finger baseball grip you won't see on the PGA Tour. His extra-thickgrips are worn out from holding the club too tightly. His stance, severely bentover the ball, brings to mind Charles Barkley, who is nobody's idea of agolfing role model. His backswing is a short blur. He has never taken alesson.
But his golf isexcellent and not just because he kills it off the tee. PGA Tour vet Donaldcan't shoot much higher than 72 on a calm day at Miami Beach, and he gives LTonly four shots per round and their matches are close to even. Taylor playsirons off the tee when it's prudent, hits the ball high downwind and low intoit, and putts with two gloves on (to combat sweaty hands) and with reasonabletouch. During the round at Miami Beach, he plays a 500-yard par-5 in a crossbreeze with a nutted driver that goes 275 yards, a clipped hybrid two-iron thatfinishes hole high and a lagged downhill putt from 40 feet that leaves him agimme birdie. Three Tour shots, all in a row.
"The key togolf is making a repeating swing," Taylor says. There's more golf wisdom inthose nine words than in the typical half-hour of mumbo jumbo that comes out ofcertain star golf instructors. Of course, playing a couple hundred holes a weekhelps.
they play fast,and there isn't much talk, but while waiting on one back-nine tee box Donaldtells LT that when he played the Tour, he was in bed early most nights, wantingto be ready for work the next day. Taylor never had that problem. "If Icould do it again, I'd do things differently," he says. He knows that hishigh times left a wake of hurt people. "But I might not have been theplayer I was."
He comes off ashonest and humble now. A life lived will do that to you. When LaPonzina recallsa recent dinner when the restaurant patrons erupted into a chant of "L-T!L-T! L-T!" Taylor looks at the plush grass around his feet and whispers,"Yeah."
Later, in theclubhouse, when an acquaintance tells him about his impending divorce, Taylorlooks hurt and surprised, maybe because he has been through two divorceshimself. (He has five children and a four-year-old grandson whom he's startingin golf.)
His main purpose,this June day and every day, is to get stoned on competition again. At the endof 18 holes, after a so-so round of 79, he is down to Donald, down to LaPonzinaand down to even Jiwa, who doesn't get shots from Taylor, although he probablyshould. "He'll never let me finish a day in the plus column," Jiwasays. True to form, a couple of minutes later Taylor demands that the groupplay an "emergency nine."
On the first teeof the third nine, he is talking to himself: "Little 33 here, LT, little33." He shoots 34, one under par, from the back tees and earns back moneyevery which way. On this day, 27 holes is enough.
There is a reviewof the wagering while the golfers sit in their carts outside the pro shop. Withall the presses and the individual bets and the team bets and the emergencynine, it is close to one big wash for the day. Taylor and Donald and LaPonzinasettle up with one another on the spot. LT and Jiwa settle up once a week, onFridays. Each Saturday the slate is clean. Jiwa keeps a running tab on a pieceof paper; Taylor does it in his head.
"Now you oweme eleven hundred," Taylor says to Jiwa. He has a booming voice, and thereare cart boys and after-work golfers milling about.
"Could yousay it a little louder?" Jiwa asks.
He has stood inschool auditoriums and said, "My name is Lawrence Taylor and I'm a drugaddict," but he doesn't go to 12-step meetings anymore. He goes to the golfcourse. Jiwa, you could say, is his sponsor. The gambling losses, the manyhours on the course, they're not a problem for him. To help keep a client happyand a friend straight? Jiwa knows if you really want to be in LT's life, itcomes with the territory.
A mantra of therecovery movement is one day at a time. A mantra of golf is one shot at a time.Lawrence Taylor is trying to do both, live one day at a time, play one shot ata time. It's a work in progress. So far, so good.
"If I could do it again, I'd do thingsdifferently," Taylor says of his off-field headlines. "But I might nothave been THE PLAYER I WAS."