DJ KHALED PURSES HIS LIPS and furrows his eyebrows as sweat drips from his forehead. He grips his driver, switching his weight from one leg to the other. He's been golfing with pro Michael Block for two hours on a July afternoon under an extreme heat wave in Miami, and he's just duffed a couple of shots on the eighth hole.
"Relax," he says to himself, taking a deep breath. "Don't rush."
Just for a second, Khaled's unbridled optimism pauses. I've heard from dozens of people in his entourage that he rarely showcases negative emotions; the Grammy-winning producer has built a social media empire on his over-the-top positivity. But on this course, in this moment, he's getting real, grounding himself; if any sport can test a person's will to succeed, it's golf.
Finally, after one more deep breath, he takes a swing, his broad shoulders arching to the right. The club makes contact with the ball, a clean sound. He looks intently into the sky.
"Right down the middle!" he yells, as he fist pumps the air. "Ball -- Let's go!"
He smiles, and just like that, his optimism returns.
In all my years as a sports fan, I've never felt welcome on a golf course. I didn't vibe with the crowd, which I perceived to be mostly old white people with pricey golf attire; it was expensive to play -- and exclusive. And so when I heard that the Palestinian American hip-hop star was investing all this time and energy in golf in an effort to open its gates, to make it feel more welcoming, I was immediately intrigued. I was also deeply skeptical -- there was no way anyone could make me feel any differently about golf, not even the king of optimism.
But I was at least willing to give him a shot. I spent three days following Khaled on the golf course, inside his home, at events, and at his celebrity golf tournament, to better understand his obsession with the sport, and try to gauge just how far his optimism can take him.
Khaled, 47, is convinced he'll help break down barriers in golf to make the sport more diverse -- and that he'll eventually play on the PGA Tour. It's an extremely tall order: He's a perfectly decent recreational golfer, especially for someone who's only been playing for a few years, but he will never make the Tour. Moreover, golf is incredibly resistant to change.
But don't bother trying to tell him any of that; his brand of optimism won't allow him to hear it. After all, he's already teamed up with the Jordan Brand, recruited dozens of celebrity friends, and played with some of the best golfers in the world to support his dreams.
"My name is Khaled Khaled, and I am a golfer now," he says.
ON A MUGGY TUESDAY MORNING IN JULY, Khaled's shiny black Rolls-Royce pulls into Miami Beach Golf Club. His two social media managers are here, perfectly positioned to capture him exiting his vehicle.
"LET'S GO GOLFING!" Khaled yells as he jumps out of the car, drowning out the dinking noise from the pickleball courts about 10 feet away. Khaled is here today to play nine holes with Michael Block, the 46-year-old golf club pro from California, and his son, Dylan Block. Khaled, dressed in a black polo shirt and black shorts, daps up everyone around him.
The golf course, a quick drive from his mansion, has become his second home. "I can wait two hours, I don't care, I just want to play," Khaled usually tells Alexis Garcia, the club's resident golf expert, who then scrambles to get him a tee time.
Khaled's brand seems like it's become synonymous with golf almost overnight. He made the March cover of Golf Digest, he posts golf content on his Instagram every few hours that gets millions of engagements, and he's recruited really famous people like Diddy, Quavo and Odell Beckham Jr. to join his foundation's cause to diversify golf. His obsession began three years ago, because like many of us, the pandemic forced Khaled to stay inside his home, and he needed an outlet. He hit up his neighbors, who were all big-time golfers, and they dragged him to a golf course. Soon, he was going three to four times a week.
"When you hit the driver, you hit a certain iron and it's just that sound. And you hit it solid, you want to keep doing it, like me saying, "Another one, another one," he says.
At the golf course this morning, Khaled sits down with Block and his son to chat as they eat breakfast. Khaled initially reached out to Block after his miraculous run at the PGA Championship; the club pro finished in a tie for 15th. He's almost the perfect manifestation of Khaled's mantra that with hard work and positivity, anything is possible. "Now all of a sudden, everyone in the world knows [about me]," Block says. "It's just so weird, but at the same time, it's inspiring. I feel like I've been given a platform."
At breakfast, Khaled tells Block to "Grab the moment and run with it." Thirty minutes later, Khaled is ready; he rides off in his cart -- along with his social media manager, who follows his every move -- to the first hole. He doesn't have a stretching routine -- he just goes for it. After a few practice swings, he attempts his first shot of the day, and makes solid contact, driving the ball. Sweat drips from his forehead as the Miami sun beats down on us.
"Right down the middle!" Khaled yells. "Let's golf!"
I hoot, the noise bubbling out of me involuntarily. Michael and Dylan, who are wearing ironed pants and polo shirts, look at each other and giggle. Turns out, Khaled is only just getting started. About 10 minutes later, a series of howls reverberate across the course; Block just made a sick eagle, and Khaled jumped into his arms. He then asks his social media manager to airdrop him the video. Khaled watches the shot over and over again, exclaiming loudly every time. He uploads the video to his social media page as he walks to his cart.
"He is very into posting in real-time," says Angel Cabrera, his photographer. He wants people to experience what he is feeling as he is feeling it, he explains. And, what DJ Khaled feels, he expresses, old-fashioned golf etiquette be damned. It comes from his soul, he says, pointing to his chest. After almost every shot, he looks directly at the dozen or so cameras -- some iPhones and some professional cameras -- and launches into monologues without being prompted.
Sometimes it's banal. He talks about his golf foundation and the upcoming tournament. Sometimes, though, it is pseudo-profound.
"Golf is like life. Life is like golf. It's not easy, but it's beauuuutiiiful," he says as he points to the palm trees, the clean grass, and the clear Miami clouds.
"You're battling yourself every day. Every night in bed you're thinking about it. What's a little thing you can tweak? It's a feeling you know," he says.
At the start of the fourth hole, Khaled promises to bring home the trophy at his tournament in two days, which will pit teams of four golfers against each other over 18 holes. He's enlisted Block to his team. Khaled tells Block, "We have Bubba" -- meaning Bubba Watson.
"If we get Bubba, we win!" Michael says, smiling.
"We have Bubba locked in," Khaled reassures him.
A look of determination crosses his face; Khaled tees his ball up and without pausing to prepare himself, takes a swing. He duffs, the ball rolling off to the side. Block asks him to tilt his weight to his left foot. Khaled tries again, this time striking the ball clean.
Unlike a lot of golfers, Khaled doesn't overthink his foot placement or the angle of his legs. He looks at the ball and he swings, and, yes, sometimes he duffs. Putting though? He says this comes more easily to him. "My short game is phenomenal -- my putting, my chipping -- and I work great under pressure," Khaled says. After Khaled makes a particularly beautiful putt -- a 15-footer on hole 8 for par -- Block picks up the ball and hands it to him. Khaled holds it in his palm and looking up at the sky says, "God is great."
"Yo, I am playing today!" he says.
I say "nicely done" to Khaled after and even though four carts and a dozen people have been following him, he turns around, and looks at me, his eyes piercing. He points his finger at me and smiles. After nine holes, I've seen Khaled's famed positivity on full display. I've caught a rare glimpse of his other side, him being hard on himself; he's chided himself twice. He's yelled out "Right down the middle" 12 times. The final time, Michael laughs and says, "Never gets old."
You would think a man who is sweating buckets on a stupidly hot summer afternoon in Miami would be wiped out after a two-hour round of golf. But when the round is over, Khaled jumps out of his cart and walks over to chat with two young children in another golf cart.
"Hi, DJ Khaled," the kids say shyly.
"They just wanted to say hi," their father says to Khaled, smiling.
"How is your golf game?" Khaled asks, beaming at the children. He adds, "I am so proud of you. The world is yours."
TWO SECURITY GUARDS wearing bullet-proof vests stand outside a tall, black iron gate. They look at their iPhones to check a list of names that DJ Khaled has cleared to enter his house. "Yes, you're good," one tells me. I've come to his $25 million mansion in Miami to see how golf has influenced his home life, his music and his family. His home consists of two buildings; one that houses his studio and another with his main residence -- designed to separate work from relaxation. His living room is essentially separated into three parts: a lounge area, a TV room, and another reserved for gear companies have gifted him.
Photos of Khaled with celebrities like Rihanna, Drake and Michael Jordan are peppered across the home. A fully staffed kitchen sends out food and juices to Khaled and his team, which consists of social media managers, photographers and a lifestyle consultant. There are multiple closets decked out with rare Nike and Jordan shoes and his trophy room holds his Grammy and BET awards.
I do a double take when I notice an open bag with wads of cash sitting on the coffee table in his awards room. It turns out to be a very realistic replica dedicated to his 2011 song "Money." Next to it, there's a statue of a crumpled-up hundred-dollar bill Rihanna gifted him years ago.
Khaled is lounging in a gray loveseat in the first living room, rewatching -- yes, again! -- the video of Block's eagle. Khaled's golf bag, a custom-made Louis Vuitton, stands to the left of the front entrance, next to two smaller golf bags, belonging to his two sons, Asahd, 6, and Aalam, 3. The faces of Khaled's clubs are etched with sayings or names; the eight iron says ASAHD AALAM, the nine iron reads MAJOR KEY, and his six iron screams WAR READY.
Khaled, who has changed into a white T-shirt and blue shorts, walks us to his extensive collection of rare and custom sneakers, dozens of "We The Best" and Nike golf polos. Jordans are fitted wall to wall, about 75 pairs of them. This walk-in closet is a new addition. He needs to show us his other two shoe rooms, of the Jordans he's been collecting since before they began appearing at his doorstep every other week.
He abruptly calls to his social media manager, who is seated on the first floor -- "Do you have the caption for the video?" He wants to share more golf content with his Instagram followers (he has 35 million) before the big tournament, he says.
"Hi honey, wave at the camera," he calls to his wife Nicole Tuck, who just returned from dropping Asahd off at basketball practice. Tuck does not want to be filmed, but she nods and waves politely. We walk to the front of the house, where his personal studio sits on the second floor. Here, he's produced some of his most iconic songs, like "Wild Thoughts" ft. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller and "Staying Alive" ft. Drake and Lil Baby.
Since discovering golf, he says he now comes into his studio with fresh energy and a renewed sense of purpose. The sport has breathed new life into his music and he promises there will be plenty of golf references on his upcoming album. "My music and golf -- it's going to connect so well," Khaled says. "My albums are made of what's going on in my life at that time. So, I can't wait for you to hear the title and I can't wait for you to hear the connection and the message I'm a put out there to the world."
We make our way back downstairs. Khaled opens his back door and grabs a bag of popcorn on the coffee table. He walks over to Asahd, who is getting a mini golf lesson with Juan Gomez, Khaled's golf club fitter. His chef brings out a tray of snacks. Protein bars, grapes, oranges. I'm so dehydrated that when I pop a grape in my mouth, my entire body perks up. Khaled, on the other hand, doesn't seem to be sharing any of my mid-day energy slump.
"Let me see you chip," Khaled says to Asahd. Khaled has built a putting green for his kids in his backyard. There's a six-foot-tall rainbow-colored sign that reads "Life is Beautiful." A horizontal pool divides the backyard patio into two, forming a natural body of water for his kids to try and drive their golf balls across. A few golf balls float in the lukewarm water.
A smiling Asahd eagerly connects, his eyes darting from his father to the golf ball to make sure Khaled is still watching. Later, Khaled watches his son hit the ball clean across the pool.
"Nice chip, Asahd," he says as the ball rolls near one of the holes and stops. "I am proud of you."
Khaled says Asahd has a golfer's touch and practices his swing nearly every day. "Golf makes you challenge yourself to be greater," Khaled says. "I watch him challenge himself to be better and he does that in basketball, too." Meanwhile, his 3-year-old son, Aalam, is all power. He may be small but members of Khaled's team warned us that he has a powerful swing and to watch out to avoid getting whacked. We all take cover when Aalam starts swinging.
Watching his kids, I think back to the ones who approached him earlier this afternoon, the ones who Khaled had assured they belonged there. Ever since Khaled began showing up to the Miami Beach Golf Club, there has been an uptick in a younger crowd arriving at the golf course to play a round, and they're playing three to four times a week, Garcia had told me.
This is a lovely notion, just as it was a lovely notion two decades ago that Tiger Woods would transform the game. He drove ratings and attendance and revenue, of course, but the demographics of the game barely budged, and today, golf is still an extremely white sport. Out of the 24 million recreational golfers in the U.S., only 20% percent are minorities and 4.4% are Black, according to a 2016 study by Michael Cooper of the World Golf Foundation. There are four people of color on the PGA tour, and only three are Black.
And so eventually I ask Khaled: Why try to change this sport?
"One of my purposes in life that God blessed me with, he asked me to make sure every day I put effort in to make the world better, for our young world," Khaled says. "We have to make sure the world is perfect, safe, beautiful, and inspire them and make sure they're loved."
"I don't know how to do nothing halfway," Khaled says. "So, I go all out."
DJ KHALED STARES IN adoration at the Ryder Cup trophy that miraculously sits in front of him on a cocktail table. The trophy, I learn, has traveled more than 3,000 miles from somewhere in Europe on special request by Khaled.
"I wanted to feel its energy before the tournament," he says.
It's Wednesday, the eve of Khaled's first-ever charity golf tournament and he is throwing an opening reception for all kinds of celebrities at Swan, a restaurant in Miami's Design District.
"Can I touch it?" Khaled asks the people crowded around him. The top is loose, somebody says. "I'm not going to mess with it," he says. Khaled tentatively places his palms around the trophy and cups it.
"This is the level I want to reach," he says to the dozens of cameras around him.
He looks at the trophy and beams. Then he spots Bubba Watson and walks over to him. "Bubbaaaa," he says.
"Are we going to win tomorrow?" Watson says to Khaled and smiles.
He wants the trophy, Khaled says. "I'm good under pressure."
"I'm going to put a lot of pressure on you," Watson says.
Khaled looks Watson dead in the eye and nods -- he couldn't have been more serious.
I make my way to the patio, which is packed with more celebrities. The Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean poses for photos in front of a "We The Best" banner and yells "Let's go golfing." NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and former NBA player Hassan Whiteside, and rappers Ja Rule and Fat Joe show up, forming a cluster around Khaled.
I make a loop around the restaurant, more celebrities: Terrell Owens, Cedric the Entertainer, and Matt Barnes. In this world, everybody wants a piece of Khaled. There is a mad dash to get photos, to get the right angle. People sort of form an unofficial line around him, waiting for him to make eye contact with them, envelop them in a hug and pose for photos.
An hour into the evening, Khaled stands on a slab of stone placed around a tree at the front of the restaurant. Holding a mic, he calls for people's attention. He thanks the sponsors, he thanks everybody for showing up, and he thanks God.
He is doing this for underserved communities and kids, he says. This is all for the next generation.
Don't drink too much, he announces. The tournament kicks off at 9:30 tomorrow morning.
I have to laugh. All this earnestness -- does it ever quit?
"I'm going to win that trophy," he says. "Right down the middle. Let's golf!"
NEARLY EVERYONE ENTERING the Miami Beach Golf Club the next morning is asked to sign a waiver consenting to be filmed. Dozens of police officers and security guards protect the entrances. Rap blasts from a tent near the tee box. It's 7 a.m., and it's pushing 90 degrees, but hundreds have already converged near the DJ as a cavalcade of celebrities greet each other. Fat Joe clutches an orange Gatorade. Former Knicks star Charles Oakley catches up with friends. Quavo, with his gold grill glistening, nods his head to the music.
"Whenever Khaled calls, I am always there," Quavo says, adding that today will be the first time he's ever played 18 holes. "Golfing is actually fun. It's a hard-ass sport."
Suddenly, the DJ turns up the music -- "Popstar - DJ Khaled ft. Drake" -- as three dozen camera folks run toward the entrance. "He's here," someone whispers.
Right on cue, Khaled steps out of his signature ride, his cappuccino Mercedes Maybach, and strolls in, his hand wrapped around the shoulders of Asahd. He poses for photos before he slowly makes his way onto the golf course, which has transformed into his We the Best Foundation Golf Classic. Between the entrance and course, three tents have been erected -- one for the DJ, another where the awards banquet is set to take place, and a third for the media, with a large banner showcasing Khaled gracing the Golf Digest cover.
Khaled has two goals today: He wants to raise money for at-risk kids and he wants to win. So much so that he's assembled an All-Star foursome to ensure victory against dozens of other celebrity foursomes: Watson, the two-time Masters champion; Block; the producer-songwriter-singer The Dream; and Khaled himself.
After 15 minutes of posing and greeting guests, Khaled calls for a cigar, which an assistant hands to him. He sits on the passenger side of his pink golf cart, which is specially designed with "Let's go golfing" on each side. We're 30 minutes past tee time, but he walks over to the DJ tent and picks up the mic. "We're doing it for the kids, for the young world," he says. "Love is the only way. Let's go golfing."
Khaled is finally ready to roll. But, wait. Just as his cart pulls up to the first hole, somebody yells, "Serena Williams is here." A pregnant Williams walks into the clubhouse wearing a Los Angeles Golf Club hat and a black dress with a bright red sleeveless sweater vest. She smiles and waves. Khaled poses for a quick photo with her. Now, it's go time.
Moments later, he drives on the first hole, yelling "Let's golf!" He's already losing his voice.
I ride beside Khaled's golf cart most of the day. He pars most holes, which he proudly mentions several times, and gives Watson and Block a pep talk at hole 8. "I'm going to be real with you. I'm really proud of how we're playing so far but we gotta turn it up," he says.
By the final hole, Khaled's baby blue polo is soaked with sweat. His team finishes with a nice birdie putt by Block (the best score of the hole counts) -- after which Block smiles and says, "And that's how you do it." They just spent six hours golfing, and Khaled's smiling from ear to ear as he enters a giant white tent where the tournament's winners will be announced. Khaled appears to be nervous. He looks to the floor, his arms crossed in front of him -- I think he's praying. The announcer, ESPN's Michael Eaves, calls the results. Khaled's team scored 48 points, 4 ahead of the second-place team.
Several loud pops go off, and just like that, Khaled gets sprayed with champagne. Soon after, Diddy hands him a large check for $110,000. The money will go to Khaled's We The Best Foundation, which works with two organizations to help diversify golf: Circle of Brotherhood Miami, an organization consisting of Black men dedicated to community service, and Fore Life, a non-profit that uses golf to empower vulnerable youth.
Will it change anything? I don't know. But I do know there's something profound about watching people of color have this much fun on a golf course. People riding carts in circles, people munching on Jamaican jerk chicken, people hollering at each other from across the course. There's no fear of being told you're too loud or that you're doing too much, something that worries me in mostly white spaces. Maybe Khaled can't transform golf any more than Tiger Woods couldn't. But he has transformed this course, on this afternoon. He's claimed golf.
It's a powerful feeling. I'll admit: By the end of my three days here, I desperately need a break from Khaled's optimism, from golf, and this sweltering heat wave. But when I return home to Hartford, I'll sign up to play in a new golf league run by Sadie Martinez, a Hispanic woman who wants to make golf loud and fun. If that message sounds familiar, so does my goal.
I want to claim golf, too.