"For me golf really highlighted my weakness as a soccer player. In golf you have to get over mistakes, if not, it just compounds and blows up in your face."
Mia Hamm, 38, has had less time to play golf since she and her husband Nomar Garciaparra had twin girls in 2007. The former star of the U.S. women's national soccer team says that golf made her a better soccer player, that she'd be willing to be Augusta National's first female member, and that she once was an "awful" partner for Michael Jordan in his charity tournament. Hamm also says no one will take this year's U.S. national team for granted in the World Cup.
What's your first memory of golf?
I remember playing when I was about 12. That was the first nine holes I ever played. It was in San Antonio, at the Air Force base I lived on. But I really started getting into golf my senior year in college. My coach and assistant coach would play and it was just a social game for us and that's when I fell in love with it.
As a North Carolina alum, have you played golf with Michael Jordan or Davis Love III?
I've played with Michael but not Davis. With Michael, it was the most nerve-racking experience ever. He has his celebrity invitational for charity down in the Bahamas every year. He was like, "I chose you to play with me." And I was like, "Oh my God." Every time I hit a bad shot it felt like I was disappointing my brother. And I was like, "I'm so sorry." He's competitive and I wanted so badly to win it for him, but I was the anchor on the team. I was awful. I'd probably give myself a C-minus, which means I made contact.
Do you remember a low round?
I do, 76 is my low round. When I was playing a lot, before I had twins, I'd break 80 occasionally. I played more when I lived in North Carolina and also when we were training for events, like the '96 Olympics and the '99 World Cup, in Florida. There were times when we would just train once a day and golf was my refuge. If I had a bad practice I'd go out and just hit balls and take out some frustrations. For me golf really highlighted my weakness as a soccer player. In golf you have to get over mistakes, if not, it just compounds and blows up in your face. In soccer I tended to hold on to a lot of things -- a bad practice, bad pass or a bad game. I wasn't going out to play golf to help me, but I did realize, through playing golf, that you had to have a short memory. Golf was my therapist.
Most people need a therapist after golf; you were using golf as a therapy.
I wanted to perform well, but I also knew that my expectations should be a little bit lower in golf than they were in soccer.
Now that you're out of soccer, does golf absorb some of your competitive spirit?
It does. I want to be good at everything I participate in. But I should also say that I have so much respect for the people who compete at this sport. It's not easy. The thing about golf is: experience means you did a lot of things wrong. People ask me, 'Would you ever want to play professional golf?' And I'm like, 'No. No, no, no, no. These women are good. Just because I can hit a good shot every now and then doesn't make me a pro.' To be able to stand and watch a player like Annika, to watch her do what she does, to watch anyone who is the best of the best and watch them compete, is huge.
You are scheduled to play against Annika in a charity event and she is arguably the best female golfer of all time. Are you comfortable with the title of best female soccer player of all time?
I don't know if I was the best, but I did some good things when I played.
Who would be better?
Michelle Akers. I played alongside her for a while. In my mind I still believe she's the best who ever played. She had no weaknesses. That woman was amazing. She really was. It was shortly after '99 when we started getting more publicity and Michelle had retired because of all of the health issues she had to battle with. But she was just unbelievable.
Is this stat correct? In four years at North Carolina your record was 94-1? What happened in the game you lost?
Good question. I was there. I think the score was 3-2. We played Connecticut in Connecticut.
How many U.S. Women's Open titles would I have to offer you to pull off a trade for one of your gold medals?
It's not that it doesn't compare, but my gold medals are pretty cool.
Where are your (two) gold medals?
They're with me, but I can't tell you. [Laughs.]
Why would you say golf is a better sport for fund raising than say, a sport like soccer?
Soccer isn't very social. Plus, if you don't like someone on the other team, you can do something about it. We had a charity soccer event and my husband and I were captains of the two teams and the next thing I know he's taking me out. I was like, "What's this all about?" And you can't do that on the golf course. There's some decorum that takes place. Golf is social. It brings a lot of people together. And the great thing about a scramble, there's less pressure because you don't feel like every shot has to be your shot.
You mentioned your husband; does Nomar play golf?
He plays occasionally. And for someone who doesn't practice that much, he's good. He has really good hand-eye coordination.
Can we assume Nomar has a quirky pre-shot routine on the golf course and not just in the batter's box?
We try to cut it down. He taps his toes. That's as far as it goes.
Do you guys bet money on the golf course, or do you bet so that the loser does the dishes?
No. We never bet money. And we don't bet on the golf course. If we felt better about our games, maybe we would have more confidence.
Who's more competitive?
He would say I am.
And you would have to agree?
Yes. But he seems to gloat longer. His team won our celebrity soccer event and he's talking about putting a billboard on the freeway.
Do you watch golf on TV?
I do. And I'm quiet when I watch.
Tiger or Phil?
Jack or Arnie?
Golf Digest featured you and Brandi Chastain as golf buddies in the 2005 November issue. Do you take buddies trips for golf?
Yes. We'll get together and we'll usually play a round of golf. It's not like we get together in a golf location. If it's golf and spa -- for sure. There were so many times when we were together at soccer training camps, where we would go out and play nine holes or 18 holes and have a blast. And our husbands all play, which is great. Brandi's husband plays, Julie (Foudy's) husband plays, Kristine (Lilly's) husband plays, so it's really fun. The guys will go out and play and we'll be another foursome and play right behind them.
If I offered you an all-expenses paid trip to Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes or Pinehurst, which would you choose?
Personally, I would choose Pinehurst. If I had to choose for the group, I think I'd probably say Pebble.
If you guys are flying somewhere, how do you get around the country? Do you fly commercial or private?
Do you have an airline of choice?
Not necessarily. I fly American a lot. It just depends on where we are going. I don't like to stop. I'm a big person who looks at where the hubs are because I hate changing planes. Across the pond, Virgin Atlantic is amazing.
One change you'd make to the airline industry?
Find a way to prevent my feet from swelling.
How do you kill time on a long flight?
I have a new Kindle. Love it.
One movie for a long flight?
That's a tough one. I guess it would be, "When Harry Met Sally." It makes me laugh.
A three-foot putt for your life, would you take it or would you have someone like Tiger take it for you?
I'd take it.
If your life depended on it, would you rather have to make a penalty kick or a three-foot putt?
A penalty kick.
What are your thoughts of that video of Elizabeth Lambert, the girl who attacked all of the other girls on the soccer field?
I saw it. I hadn't seen anything like that in my life. Not that many instances in the same game by the same player. I've seen people punch people, I've seen hard tackles, and I've seen a girl go up for a header and stick her leg out and kick someone in the chest, but that video was crazy.
Coming off a bunch of injuries, how do you assess the chances of our men's World Cup team in South Africa?
I think we have a great opportunity. I know Bob (Bradley) the coach, and I know he's going to do everything he can to prepare those guys. Every team is going to be playing right up to the World Cup and at a very competitive level so injuries are always a part of it. But I'm excited. I think everyone is excited after the draw. But the draw is just the first part, that's the easy part. Now we have to go out there and play. The U.S. has gotten better after every competition and so no one is going to take them for granted.
What would you say if you got a call from Augusta National inviting you to be the first female member?
Wow. After saying, "What took you so long?" I guess I'd take it. I'd take it in order to get more women involved.