How often do you get to play these days?
I play about 10 times when I'm in Hawaii in March, so that inflates it. And I play the pro-am at Pebble. I'll play a total of 30 rounds a year or so. Scores in the 80s I enjoy. When I'm in the high 90s, I'm pissed.
What's the best tip you've received playing in a pro-am?
In the early years at the [Greater] Hartford pro-am, by accident I had a four-footer for birdie at a par 3. I'd almost made a hole-in-one. And it was so close I couldn't miss it, but I was standing over it sweating. Joey Sindelar, my best friend in golf, said, "Firm to the back of the cup, just like every double- bogey putt you've ever made."
Your swing has a little Charles Barkley in it. Where did you get your technique?
You know the deal Natural Golf [a single-plane theory], like a hockey swing? I tried that, and now after two knee surgeries in the late '90s, that swing kind of married its Appalachian cousin and produced a mutant second cousin called Supernatural Golf. No one can hit a 7- and 5-wood lower than me. It's good in wind and on hard ground. When Pebble is wet, I get screwed.
Who do you like to win the Open this year?
Obviously, Tiger had that public thing working for him in '02. We'll have to see if these young fearless guys like [Anthony] Kim and [Camilo] Villegas can combine fearlessness with thought. Sergio [Garcia] could be interesting, but can he be fearless and not foolish? I guess we'll see. And who would have predicted Rocco [Mediate] last year, or [Angel] Cabrera at Oakmont, or this year at Augusta? There's always someone like that.
Have you played Bethpage Black?
Yes, and it's friggin' long. It's a beast. I can't believe people sleep in their cars to get beat up like that. It's like getting in the ring with Ali. I don't remember the greens being diabolical, like Oakmont, which I think is the hardest Open course, but I'm partial to it. Other courses may be longer on the card than Bethpage, but it is heavyweight- fight long, just no let-up.
When you're working the Open, do you have to remind yourself that golf isn't a 'rumblin' stumblin' bumblin' he- could-go-all-the-way' game?
I don't do it that way. You don't have to scream it out, and I more than remind myself of that. Anyone who says it's how I do it isn't paying attention. I get golf, I like it. I've covered 20 U.S. Opens.
What's been your favorite U.S. Open?
Payne Stewart winning at Pinehurst [in 1999]. He was in his forties, my age, and we'd talked quite a bit, and there was the symbolism of two young guys chasing him in the last Open of the twentieth century. He held off the young Turks, and it was like he was saying for a generation, "You'll have your day, youngsters, but not quite yet."