During ESPN’s recent airing of the wildly popular 10-episode documentary “The Last Dance,” viewers were taken inside the Chicago Bulls locker room for a rare glimpse into the world of Michael Jordan.
One of the most talked about aspects of the show was the way Jordan teased and sometimes berated teammate Scott Burrell, both for his play on the court and his behavior off the court.
When Dominic Bozzelli, who is currently Rochester’s lone representative on the PGA Tour, watched “The Last Dance,” he couldn’t help but smile at Jordan’s tough love tactics because he’s seen it all a hundred times before.
Bozzelli has played over the past few years, by his estimation, about 100 rounds of golf with the greatest basketball player in history, and he has routinely been heckled and chided by the ultra-competitive Jordan.
“Just like you saw in the documentary, he has ways where he’s trying to make you better,” Bozzelli said last week via phone from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where he lives and is preparing for the restart to the PGA Tour schedule following the coronavirus shutdown.
“He’ll start jabbing at me early,” Bozzelli continued. “If I hit a bad drive he’ll say something like, ‘That’s why you’re not playing the major this week.’ Or stuff like that. He keeps ribbing me. You either sink or swim there; he makes you do something about it, makes you dig your heels in. If that’s going to rattle you then you shouldn’t be playing pro sports anyway, but that’s just his way of telling you how to go after your weaknesses. You’re either going to keep hearing it from him or you do something about it. It’s fun.”
Bozzelli, a former standout golfer at McQuaid who later went on to become a two-time All-American at Auburn University, first met Jordan about three years ago, shortly after he’d moved to Palm Beach Gardens and chose Medalist Golf Club to serve as his home course. Jordan is a member at Medalist and a few other clubs in the area.
The day Bozzelli was introduced, Jordan invited him to join his group – which at various times also includes former NFL and Syracuse star Dwight Freeney and former Amerks standout Clarke MacArthur – for the following day’s 36-hole game at Medalist. One problem: Bozzelli was committed to going to the airport to pick up his former golf coach at Auburn who was coming to town for a visit.
“He was like, ‘We’re playing tomorrow at Medalist, you want to join us?’” Bozzelli recalled. “I told him my coach was coming in, but there’s no way I could say no. He said, ‘Perfect, we play 36, we usually start the second 18 around 12:30.”
So, Bozzelli picked up his coach, and they both joined Jordan for the afternoon round.
“I was trying to play it cool a little bit, but the first couple holes you’re pretty nervous,” he said. “The guy’s an icon, you grew up watching him, and he’s one of my favorite athletes of all time. He’s an intelligent guy; there’s no better athlete to pick his brain. You ask him a serious question and he’ll give you a thoughtful and detailed answer.”
Since then, when Bozzelli isn’t off traveling the country playing on tour, he has become a semi-regular in Jordan’s game. “He plays all the time. He plays more golf than I do,” said Bozzelli. “He doesn’t play 18; it’s always a 36-hole day. It feels like you’re going to work when you play with him.”
Naturally,when Jordan is involved there’s always money on the line, and while he hasn’t won much from Bozzelli – “I like where we stand,” Bozzelli said with a laugh – he has become a tougher opponent.
“He’s gotten a lot better,” Bozzelli said of Jordan, who plays to a 2-handicap. “He changed his equipment, had guys come down here to fit him. The driver used to be the issue, but he’s got that all worked out. It used to be an easier win, but you’ve got to bring it. You can’t just show up and collect, you’ve got to play well because he competes until that last hole. It’s impressive.”
When the tour reopens Thursday, Bozzelli won’t be in the field at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Charles Schwab Challenge. His ranking on the FedEx Cup points list (154) does not allow him the freedom those in the top 125 enjoy of being able to enter whatever tournaments they choose. He’s at the mercy of those players taking a week off to open spots.
Obviously, very few players ranked ahead of him will be taking much time off because there hasn’t been a tournament since early March, so Bozzelli may not swing back into action until the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit on Fourth of July weekend.
“When I come back, there might be 11 or 12 events before the FedEx playoffs, and I’ll probably get into maybe five of them,” he said. “Right away everyone’s going to want to play early and then after about a month, it should settle in to guys taking a week off here or there.”
Since the 2019-20 season began last fall, Bozzelli has one top 10 finish and made five cuts in 10 starts, earning $272,865 which is 144th on the money list.
He felt he was playing pretty well but was lacking consistency, and he admitted the time off due to the pandemic has probably been a good thing for his game.
“The shutdown has been pretty beneficial for me,” said Bozzelli, who has made the cut in 40 of 78 career PGA Tour starts and banked around $2.2 million. “You never really have an offseason where you have three-four months off in a row to work on technique. When you’re playing out there week to week, you’re just trying to get the ball in the hole as fast as you can and sometimes you revert back to your old habits. It has been nice to use it as a real offseason and get some productive work accomplished.”
Jason Dufner, a fellow Auburn alum who won the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, has been a big help. “He’s pretty knowledgeable with the swing and equipment and he’s been wearing the coach Duf hat the last five-six months,” Bozzelli said. “We kind of catch up every week. I’m all ears when he’s talking about the golf swing.”
When he’s not playing with Jordan or some of the other pros who make their home at Medalist such as Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, Bozzelli has been playing with some of his buddies from Rochester.
Pittsford Mendon grad Gavin Hall has been living with Bozzelli and grinding it out on mini-tours as he waits for his next opportunity to play in the PGA Tour Qualifying School. And Andrew Lane, Bozzelli’s teammate at McQuaid, has been shacking up with them since the start of the pandemic.
Lane works and lives in New York City and he came down to Florida to be Bozzelli’s partner in the Medalist member-guest tournament the week the country went into lockdown. Rather than go back to New York, where COVID-19 was raging, Lane has been working remotely from Bozzelli’s kitchen table the past two months and playing golf with him and Hall on the weekends.
“I feel like it’s tough if you’re alone this whole time,” Bozzelli said of the pandemic. “But it’s been good that I’ve had buddies around and I can always get a competitive game to keep me sharp. I’ve been lucky; there’s worse places to be. But I’m looking forward to getting going here pretty soon, excited to get back out there and start competing again.”
And doing so without Jordan chirping incessantly in his ear.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana. To get the best local news coverage, subscribe to us through these special offers at https://cm.democratandchronicle.com/specialoffer/