Ever since ascending to fame and fortune in professional tennis in the 1970s, Jimmy Connors has enjoyed a friendly rivalry with the incomparable Arthur Ashe. Both men were hauling around six figures in annual earnings at the peak of their careers, but they were both happy to settle for a good lunch and a bottle of wine.
Well, one day at a golf resort in Las Vegas in the late 1970s, Connors’ hotel stayed open after his golf outing ended, so he enjoyed a leisurely getaway over breakfast. Connors’ feast of choice, for some reason, was the short rib from a local butcher. It consisted of thin slices, sliced thin.
Connors got himself in trouble when he served that short rib over medium-rare, thanks to the lengthy rub from the short rib steak, and then promptly served it to his golfing buddies anyway. At least one of his playing partners stuffed his face with it, and Connors was forced to go to the bathroom when the intense pain in his upper body began.
Eventually, he dropped the rib on the floor. That’s when the waiter arrived and the five men finally got to what they were really there for: The rib.
Having given up his prime rib elbow for the day, the bartender went to fetch the 5-pound pound short rib from the cooler. And that’s where I think we’re missing some of Connors’ life story.
His manager and agent were sipping strong beverages, and they passed him the platter of steaks. He picked out the short rib, put it down, and after the short rib left the table, these two men began spitting on the short rib. What followed was a rather long heart-to-heart. Connors believed these men weren’t capable of managing his career anymore, that he was making too much money and they were losing that. Connors also believed that he had betrayed the locker room, especially the golfers.
Worse than that, after examining the short rib, Connors’ drinkers overheard him say, “Well, you know what this reminds me of? This reminds me of the friends I lost who weren’t very pleasant.”
That was what Connors did not want anyone to remember about him, the man who clawed his way up from the lowest depths of the juniors and was a man who instilled great values in his children. He gave his kids their basic needs and he set them up for college and life. After all, he had earned every penny he’d made on the tennis court. He didn’t want to be known as the fist-raising trash-talker who was too moody and selfish to go along with the team.
That’s how his story ends. Which, to me, seems about right. Connors makes no bones about his love of the game, though. It’s just that when his contract expired at 27, he realized he had gone to too many dinners and tournaments and the partying had gone to his head. And like many a broken-down country boy, his priorities shifted. He began to train harder than ever, became a father and pursued a new passion: golf.
Only Jimmy Connors, the man with a short rib story, earned more money playing golf than he did on the tennis court.
He trained harder than ever, became a father and pursued a new passion: golf.
Connors has become a greater golfer than many good golfers ever dreamed. He has gone to more major tournaments than anyone since he peaked on the tennis court at the 1970 U.S. Open and has a name as big as that of his idol, Arnold Palmer. There’s almost a Reaganesque quality to Connors’ world. A playfulness and enthusiasm that’s reminiscent of Mr. Belvedere.
Hopefully you’ve watched a few episodes of Shark Tank and are familiar with Connors’ kind of rubbery sales pitch. As Robert Irvine would say, he’s the kind of guy who smiles at the cameras, but he’s got a mean streak that’s always ready to erupt in frustration. He’s cool and confident when he walks onto the courts, but he’s highly sensitive, especially when it comes to nerves.
When he lost a hard-fought match to Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2007, he collapsed on his court during the match’s last set and reeked of anxiety and weakness. Why did he do that? Because the last tennis lesson he’d received was not what he expected. Connors didn’t get what he wanted, and he just plain couldn’t face the shame of that defeat.