Game Changers: Golfers Who Give Back - Morgan Freeman
Photographed at The Westin Memphis Beale Street; 09.24.12 | Photography By Walter Iooss Jr.


MORGAN FREEMAN
'If life's been good to you, you should be good to life.'

Way back when teenage caddie Morgan Freeman was earning a dollar or two "carrying a heavy bag for 18 holes," all he really wanted to do was be in the movies. So now that he has starred in films with most of the greats, names like Redford and Newman, Hackman and Hoffman, Eastwood and Nicholson, now that he has an Oscar and a Golden Globe and, most recently, the 2012 Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment ... what he really wants is to become a better golfer. For the time being, he'll have to rely on just one hand, the result of a car crash in 2008 that essentially paralyzed his left hand from the wrist to his fingernails. At 75, Freeman is certifiably obsessed with golf. He plays at Bayou Bend when he's home in Mississippi, and he watches the Golf Channel and tour events as much as anyone he knows. Interviews and photo shoots aren't among his favorite assignments, but for golf and Golf Digest, Freeman was in a giving mood, so he drove 90 minutes in his BMW 7 Series to meet us for a couple of hours in Memphis. "That was painless," he said when we wrapped.

Q: Good to see you're alive and well. Did you read the Internet hoax in August that Morgan Freeman had died?
A: It wasn't a hoax. I think it was just misinformation. A friend of mine, an actor named Al Freeman Jr., who was a professor at Howard University, died in August. So ... Freeman, an actor ... well, that was enough for whoever got wind of it. It's the era we live in.

Q: You're 75 and still working nonstop. What are your latest projects?
A: I did three movies this year. First one's called "Now You See Me," an interesting story about magicians making money disappear from banks. Did one with Tom Cruise called "Oblivion," a science-fiction, futuristic film. And I just did one called "Olympus Has Fallen," an action-adventure about a takeover at the White House. Now I'm getting ready to do one with Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro and Kevin Kline, called "Last Vegas." It's about these four old guys who've been friends since childhood going to Vegas for one of the guys' bachelor party.

Q: What's harder: playing God, playing Mandela, or playing golf?
A: Playing God is the easiest of all. Mandela I found to be very, very easy, and an awful lot of fun. Golf is hard. Very, very hard.

Q: How much golf can you play with that work schedule?
A: I've easily played more than 20, 25 rounds this year. When you're making movies, you have a lot of time off, days they're shooting scenes you aren't involved in. Those are all golf days for me. Whatever city I'm in, I get to the golf course. When I was in New Orleans, we played just about every other day.

Q: Do you play with other actors? Maybe Cruise or Nicholson, your co-star from "The Bucket List"?
A: No, I haven't played with either of them. I play with my stand-in; he's a longtime golfer. My driver likes to play. And you always meet somebody on these courses who wants to play. I also spend a lot of time with my son in Southern California, and we play on a public course out there near Torrance. I've played down in San Diego at Torrey Pines. And I really enjoyed Seven Canyons in Arizona.

Q: And you're playing with only one hand.
A: That's right; I swing the club with just my right hand. I was in a horrendous car accident four years ago. I don't know what happened, whether I passed out, went to sleep or what. But I left the highway, and the car just rolled and rolled and rolled ... and the left side of me was pretty much torn to pieces. The upshot is a paralyzed left hand. I literally can't use it. It won't work.

Q: Yet you still play golf?
A: I don't seem to be any worse than I was with two hands. [Laughs.] I can't hit it 240 or 260 yards like some of these guys I play with, but I enjoy trying.

Q: Who knew Morgan Freeman loved golf so much? When did this happen?
A: I remember caddieing in Greenwood, Miss., when I was 13, 14 years old. But that didn't get me interested in golf. I didn't get turned on to playing until 10 or 12 years ago. Sometime after the advent of Tiger Woods.

Q: You and the Plan!t Now Foundation partnered with Michael Douglas & Friends earlier this year, and that's only one example of how you've given back through golf. What else?
A: I don't pat myself on the back all that much about giving back, but if life's been good to you, you should be good to life. And that's really as far as I go with it. Playing golf in charity tournaments is the easiest, most pleasant way to--and I put this in quotes--"give back."

Q: Is there a Morgan Freeman foundation?
A: It's called the Rock River Foundation. I set it up because I realized once I got out in the world that I really got a good education at my segregated school in Greenwood. Now I go back, and it's the worst school system in the country. Literally. Somehow, that has to be dealt with. So I set up a foundation to do that.

Q: Describe your greatest moment on a golf course.
A: It has to be the time I parred holes 17 and 18 at Sawgrass. Vijay Singh had wandered over to say, "Hi, I'm a fan," and blah, blah, blah. So he joined us for the last five holes, and he started giving me swing pointers. And they worked! We get to the 17th, and I knocked it on the green. Must have been a 9-iron for me. Then on 18 I hit a good drive and a good approach and made my par.

Q: And your most embarrassing moment?
A: That would have to be at the Humana Challenge in January. The first day I couldn't hit the ball at all. I'd either hit two inches behind it or I'd top it. All kinds of dreadful stuff.

Q: Nerves?
A: Of course!

Q: Not to mention, you were playing one-handed. Think you'll ever play in that again?
A: Oh, yeah. It's more about the charity. You aren't there to look good playing golf. I mean, I'd like to, but it isn't about that.

Q: You watch golf more than almost anything else on television, and you've immersed yourself in the game and want to get better. Why do you love it so much?
A: Golf is the only sport I've been able to take part in as an adult. I used to bowl, and I used to roller-skate, but that was years and years ago. Golf is something you can do until you drop dead. Hit that last drive and just keel over. And I wouldn't mind doing just that.

December 2012