Tour and News

GOLF Magazine Interview: Paul Goydos

Photo: Brad Swonetz/Redux Pictures

"I appreciate absurdity. I hit a little white ball around a big grass field into a gopher hole, and make a ridiculous living."

Bob Costas: "Ever had a 54-hole lead before?"
Paul Goydos: "No, but I've only been on Tour for 16 years."

Costas: "What were you thinking on the tee on the island hole?"
Goydos: "Land."

Costas: "How'd you sleep last night?"
Goydos: "On my back."

The 44-year-old pro's deadpan delivery on TV at last year's Players Championship turned NBC into Comedy Central — and turned the journeyman in the Long Beach State Dirtbags cap into an everyman. Sergio Garcia won the sudden-dunk playoff after his opponent rinsed his tee shot on 17, but Goydos, with his PBA Tour physique, won the affection of millions.

The single father of two slid into a booth at a favorite hangout, Legends sports bar in his native Long Beach, where his famed cap hangs under glass on the wall (next to Olympian Misty May-Treanor's yellow bikini bottoms). A natural-born barstool philosopher, Goydos ordered a platter of hot wings and waxed sardonic on Tiger, TV, getting better with age — and the true meaning of life.

You've won Bay Hill and the Sony Open. But you became a star after finishing second at the Players last year. What moment from that week stays with you?
The ball going in the water on 17. Unfortunately. It was a great week, but when we strip away everything, I'm left with "what ifs." Tiger doesn't "what if." Tiger just wins.

Some say you were unlucky — that a gust of wind cost you.
That's baloney. That's disrespectful to Sergio. Unlucky? Let's talk about the guy who hit it to three feet when he had to. That's the story. Not a gust of wind.

Your nickname, meant ironically, is Sunshine. We didn't see that negative attitude after the loss.
There's humongous disappointment, sure. But we don't know how this story turns out. We'll see how I play in 2009. If I don't do much the rest of my career, it's disappointing. But I've got two daughters, loads of friends, a good life, and I make crazy money compared to most of the six billion people on this planet. For me to gripe about finishing second in a golf tournament is disrespectful to the guy who's busting his hump to take care of his family.

When were you most nervous — the tee shot on 17 in the playoff?
No, over my 20-incher for par that I almost missed [on the 71st hole]. That was nerve-wracking. Thousands of people hit it in the water on 17. But nobody misses a 20-incher to give away the tournament. The whole world would think, How'd this guy get here?

Was it gimmicky to end the so-called fifth major on the island hole in sudden death?
TV is business. You can do a three-hole playoff, but you'd need 45 minutes, and you run into the evening news, and you're screwed. And it's called "sudden death," not "hit a few shots and see who wins."

Did you watch the tape of the tournament?
I thought it was funny that, with Johnny Miller, I went from a guy who swings like a caddie to a guy that [Ryder Cup captain Paul] Azinger should look at as a captain's pick.

Have you gotten offers to do TV?
The BBC asked me to do commentary for the Ryder Cup, but that's kind of working for the enemy [laughs]. I have a lot on my plate: Single parent, pro golfer. But some day, who knows. Any guy who says he doesn't have an ego has the biggest ego of all, and I enjoyed sitting with Bob Costas in the spotlight. I remember we were sitting there, and at first I was just watching the highlights. And Costas says, "You know, you can comment." So I said what came to mind.

They showed me making a 30-footer, and I said, "He's a good-looking guy." He asked me why I buttoned my top button on a 90-degree day. "Because I have no shoulders. It keeps my shirt on." That's my personality.

Yet 16 years ago, when you were a rookie, the Tour told you not to talk to the media. How could they get that so wrong?
They give rookies mock interviews. My guy asked ridiculous questions, like, "Player X was in the rough and it looked like he moved his ball ... ." That just doesn't happen. I said, "I don't know what the hell you're talking about." They sent me a critique and said, "Just don't talk. You're terrible." I said, "Whatever," and threw it in the trash.

They tell you to be evasive, to not be yourself. It's the opposite of what you should do. Sure, you don't want to say something that gets you arrested, but it's not like [reporters] are catching me walking out of Congress in a breaking scandal. It's golf.

Fans really took to you. You said you felt like Tiger for a week. Should he follow your lead — loosen up, joke around more?
He can't. If Tiger says the things that I said, it's not seen as endearing. It's gonna be, "He thinks he's better, saying he's good-looking." People forget what I say. Tiger is reminded of it for the rest of his life. He's in a different world.

What separates Tiger from other players? Is he that much better?
The difference between Tiger Woods and me is not this huge chasm. It's that he's a little bit better at a million small things that you can't see, that eat away at you. It's like termites. I think he's the most underrated player on Tour.

Are you better than Tiger at anything?
At being older.

You once said that Tiger's got to beat somebody, and you're merely helping him win his 25 majors. Isn't that defeatist?
There's talk that Tiger is bigger than the Tour. But he needs Paul Goydos. He's the apples in the apple pie. Without the crust, you can't have the pie. Tiger needs the Tour to fulfill his destiny of winning 25 majors, which I think he will.

So, you're crust?
I'm the crust — 50 guys out of Tour school are crust, too. But I want to go out there and beat him. Bring it on. Me being the crust doesn't mean I'm not trying to be apples, and it doesn't mean I can't go into 2009 and win two, three, four times and become an apple.

You journeymen stick together, right?
Steve Flesch, Kevin Sutherland and I play practice rounds together on Tuesdays. We discuss the absurdities of life. We read USA Today and say, "What the hell?" Perfect example is the LPGA. What the hell is going on? Language requirements? Caddies getting background checks? Caddies not allowed on the practice green? They've got a great product and, call me sexist, but they've got some good-looking players. But are you kidding me? Part of me wants to watch the LPGA just to see what they'll do next!

I appreciate absurdity. I hit a little white ball around a big grass field into a gopher hole, like Robin Williams said, and make a ridiculous living. You talk about me having an everyman quality. Well, the everyman doesn't get to play golf for a living. An everyman would be the likes of my father, a 20- year Navy guy, was in World War II and Korea, worked his way to a college degree. That's an everyman.

Years ago, you were a substitute teacher in some tough areas of L.A. Did you enjoy it?
"Enjoy" is an interesting word. It gave me a different perspective at age 25. Gangs were a big problem. I was subbing this guy's eighth-grade class, and one [student] said, "I'm in trouble. We just killed somebody." I said, "Why are you telling me?" I took him down to the office. You hear people say, "These are bad kids." These are not bad kids.

Imagine you're a kid who lives in a tough neighborhood, and your parents work 60 hours a week to live in a two-bedroom apartment — he works at McDonald's, she's a maid. They bust their humps. One day, you walk down the street and a guy in a BMW with four girls comes up and says, "Stand here, raise your left hand if you see a cop, and I'll give you two grand." What do you do? Are you gonna be a hard-working sonofabitch like your parents, or are you gonna raise your left hand? Easy choice.

Well, you're now a gang member. And if you don't raise your hand next time, they might beat you to death. Every person would make the same choice, including you, me, and Tom Watson. You say that's a bad kid? You're insane. That's a smart kid who's been sucked into the vortex —

(Goydos' cell phone rings. He assails his keypad.)

It's my daughter. [Still texting.] My oldest wants to go to her boyfriend's. Now that's a good feeling. It's great having teenage daughters.

After your divorce four years ago, you took custody of your teenagers, Chelsea and Courtney, who live with you, a Tour pro. That sounds like a sitcom.
Golf is my job. Being a father is what I am. Comparing the two is like comparing the sun and Earth. I think back to my first year on the Hogan [now Nationwide] Tour 17 years ago, in South Carolina. Chelsea was six months old. She was teething really bad, and I gave her an ice cream sandwich in the hotel room, and she just devoured it, trying to feel better. I couldn't tell you what I finished in any tournaments that year, but I'll never forget that day.

If you could give advice to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?
Know who you are and perfect who you are, through learning. When you're 20, you think you know everything. In reality, you're an idiot. How I became a better golfer at 44 than 24 wasn't through hitting balls. It's through learning. I approached golf the wrong way. I said, "Show me how to do this," when I should have said, "Teach me what you know."

Then, instead of copying someone, take that information and apply it. Make it yours. I'd learn more [from a teacher] sitting here eating wings than on the driving range. This translates to life. There's a quantum amount of information out there. But at 20, you're too caught up with drinking beer, watching baseball, trying to get laid.

The best way to become a better person is to learn what's important. What's important is not that you won Bay Hill or Sony. Those things are lost in the fire. Knowledge is not. You have a degree? So what? You don't know sh-t unless you learn something.

What are you learning now?
I would never have taken literature in college. Now I read a lot. I read Atlas Shrugged. It's about the producers of the world going on strike.

You're supposed to read the money list, not Ayn Rand.
She's a Nazi. It's the Republican transfer- of-wealth idea taken to an extreme. It's an idea that could be told in 300 pages, and she tells it in 1,500, in small type, and beats you over the head with a lead pipe.

Back to golf. What was your shot of the year from '08?
My tee shot on 17, in the [Players] playoff. For better or worse, that shot defined my season.

Your shot of the year is the one that lost you the Players?
[Smiles.] They do call me "Sunshine."

Pop quiz, Goydos! (And no peeking.)

The actor who should play you in The Paul Goydos Story is...
"Tom Cruise. Give me some brown hair, lose some weight, and he looks just like me. And I might be kookier than a Scientologist."

Your house is on fire. All people and pets are safe. You're allowed to run in and save one item. It is...
"My laptop, which has my poker game on it."

One thing you're great at besides golf is...
"I'm not even very good at golf. [Several seconds of silence] I'm not great at anything. I enjoy playing gin. I'm not very good at it, but I enjoy it."

The one talent you wish you had is...
"Playing the piano. That would be cool. Classical. I'd like to walk into a bar and play the piano, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. If you can't get girls doing that, you're never gonna get girls."

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