by Hans Olson
The Haney Project—Golf Channel’s reality show in which world renowned golf instructor Hank Haney (who once coached Tiger Woods) attempts to improve the golf games of varying celebrities—-returned last night.
Among the current cast is boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, who immediately jumps out as this season’s biggest star.
Which is somewhat unusual….
Not just for the fact that he’s Sugar Ray ‘effin Leonard…
It’s unusual due to the fact that, while this season focuses not on a particular pupil as other seasons have (Barkley, Romano, Limbaugh)—this one feels as though it’s a vehicle for Sugar Ray—despite the fact that there are 3 other contestants….
Along with Leonard, chef Mario Batali, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine, and supermodel Angie Everhart compete for a $100,000 prize to a charity of their choosing…
Nine minutes into the telecast, something strange happens…
We’re met not with Sugar Ray, but with the Golden Boy himself, Oscar De La Hoya.
Haney has traveled to Los Angeles to visit with Oscar, attempting to learn more about De La Hoya’s pugilistic colleague.
“Well, I know he can do it,” says De La Hoya.
“I know he has the capability—especially the focus and the determination up here (pointing to his head).”
We then segue-way into a clip of Sugar Ray on the links.
“Everyone says ‘don’t try to kill the ball,’” exclaims Leonard. “Just swing nice and easy…”
Note: Maybe SRL needs to take note from Happy Gilmore here: just tap it in.
We then go back to Oscar’s Golden Lair.
“For some reason when I play with him, I know I’m always going to out-drive him, because he’s always using his arms,” says De La Hoya to Haney.
“I think if you tell him, ‘if you don’t break 80, Roberto Duran is waiting for you on the 19th hole,'” is Oscar’s advice to Haney to motivate him.
“I was an optimist when I fought Tommy Hearns, when I fought ‘Marvelous‘ Marvin Hagler, when I fought Roberto Duran,” said a humbled Ray Leonard on the course.
“But I’m not an optimist when I’m on the golf course. It’s just….there’s too many factors for me.”
As the show edits back to Hank’s interview with Oscar, the Golden Boy advises Haney to remind Ray of his boxing technique: not using just his arms, but the torque of his body punching, as a basis for his swing on the course.
“It’s just little reminders with Sugar Ray because with him, it’s all mental,” says Oscar, as he again points to his head.
“He just has to be reminded up here, because you’re going to be able teach one of the greatest athletes that the sport of boxing has ever seen.”
After Haney meets with friends of the other contestants, he’s back at his ranch in Dallas, where he gets to analyze Sugar Ray’s swing.
Director of Instruction, Steve Johnson—along with Peter Krause—puts together some footage of Ray in action.
We learn that Sugar Ray began golfing in 1991, has a handicap of 16, has a goal to get said handicap into the single-digits.
“I have so many thoughts in my head,” admits a somewhat annoyed Leonard. “Don’t bend the wrist, don’t lean forward, don’t clasp…all these things…all these things are talking to me…”
“I’m not embarrassed about my game. I feel bad about it, but I’m not embarrassed about it!”
Sugar Ray’s emotion is what impresses Haney.
“He should do good, but I wonder what his reaction is going to be when I say, ‘you don’t use your hands at all?’”
After Hank examines the game of the other participants, we get to the meeting of all the contestants (sans Batali due to a family emergency) in Beverly Hills.
“My golf game is really inconsistent,” says Leonard as he’s driven to the meeting.
“Some days I play wonderful, and some days I play as though it’s my first day on the golf course. And I’m kind of looking for that magical pill–and I think Hank is the one that can give me that prescription.”
As they inch closer toward meeting each other, Sugar Ray’s competitive spirit re-ignites.
“This is going to be quite interesting,” quips the Olympic Gold Medalist.
“I’m going to try to do the psychological warfare, the same way I did with Hearns, Hagler, and Duran. It may work…it may work against me…who knows…I’ll try it though..
Sugar Ray’s competitive edge still rears its head.
“I want to improve. I just want to get better.”
“I’ve never prayed to win in a fight—ever,” reflects Sugar Ray.
“Even as an amateur boxer, I never prayed to win. I prayed that no one got hurt. But at golf? I’ve prayed sometimes!”
When the crash-course of swinging in front of the cameras (and each other) happens for the first time, things get interesting.
We end with Hank giving his advice.
We can only imagine where everything goes from here…
The first episode concludes with Levine taking a faux left-hand to the gut from Sugar Ray.
He didn’t flinch.
Is this a precursor to things to come???
No idea. But this is great reality television.
And great and Sugar Ray Leonard go hand-in-hand.
(Boxing Insider’s Hans Olson can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hansolson)
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