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Muhammad Ali, 72 on Friday, once posed for a swing sequence for Golf Digest

By Sam Weinman

Muhammad Ali, heavyweight champion, activist, improvisational poet, will never add "devoted Stack and Tilter" to his resume. Not with that weight shift.

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Photos by Brad Wilson, 1973

In fairness, Ali, who turns 72 on Friday, has never been much of a golfer -- and that includes when these photos appeared in the October 1974 issue of Golf Digest. The photographs were the result of an impromptu meeting between the heavyweight champion and Brad Wilson, a golf writer and an instructor based in California. While Ali was busy training for a fight with Ken Norton, Wilson arranged a meeting, and asked if he'd be willing to swing a golf club -- something the fighter had never done before.

Wilson writes:


With the suddenness of a vicious right-cross, it was over. Though lightning quick, the swing was surprisingly good. The ball flew relatively straight and landed about 15 yards beyond the 125-yard marker--a healthy 8-iron even for an accomplished player.

At one point, Ali suddenly jumped away from the ball and thrust both hands high into the air. All eyes followed his movements. All ears tuned in for his next remarks. "Muhammad Ali is the world's greatest golfer!" he proclaimed. "Nobody can beat Muhammad Ali! Not Arnold Palmer! Not Jack Nicklaus! Not nobody!"

Everybody was laughing, some even applauding.

"I'm gonna start with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus!" Ali said. "I'm gonna make 'em look bad, predict the score, how bad I'm gonna beat 'em, everything--just like I do in boxing!"

Then, pausing just long enough to catch his breath, Ali glanced at his trainer, Angelo Dundee. 

"Hey, Angie, let's quit boxing and start playing golf," he said. "We'll get rich--and besides, that ball can't hit back!"