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Golf Magazine Interview: Peter Alliss

Peter Alliss
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LEAN MACHINE: Alliss never won a major, but in his prime he was still a serious talent.
You intentionally don't befriend players. Why?
You can't give a fair opinion of play if you make friendships. You can find yourself siding with one player or promoting them.

Johnny Miller operates the same way.
He probably copied me.

What's your broadcast philosophy?
I observe. I don't recite endless facts and statistics. I don't know or care if a certain player is 29 years, 18 days and 22 hours old, first held a club at age 3, and his mother had a butterfly collection. They go on and on. I watch a player, see the way he greets the crowd, observe the swing. I make them into characters. Golf needs characters. And I try not to state the obvious. It's crippling when a player has a five-foot putt, leaves it short, and the announcer says, "Oh, he's left it short." You can see that. Don't state the obvious.

CBS's Jim Nantz loves going on about a player's background. Are you referring to him with the butterfly comment?
No, I'm not talking about anyone in particular. Jim Nantz is a very good presenter — the one who says, "Hello, welcome back," and then passes it off to other people. I mean that generally [announcers] rattle on and on as if they're the kings of the jungle. They're full of themselves. They like to hear the sound of their own voices.

What do you consider your finest on-air moment?
That I can remember? [Laughs] At Turnberry in 1977 Nicklaus and Tom Watson went at it like heavyweights. On the last hole, Jack made that long birdie putt. As they walked together, I said, "Elementary, my dear Watson." Then there was a women's event, and it came out on the air that a female from Australia would send video of her swing to her coach. [A colleague] said, "But you don't see everything on a video." And I said, "I don't know about that — I have some friends who have videos that show you everything." There was a long silence, followed by laugher.

What is your weakness? What could you do better in the booth?
[Pauses] Nothing comes to mind. It sounds arrogant to say. I don't have an answer. I have my own style, and it's been very successful for 50 years.

There must be a comment you regret.
Probably, but I can't think of anything.

What about calling Shigeki Maruyama a "wily oriental" during the 2002 British Open telecast? You don't regret saying that?
I was brought up to think that "wily" meant clever and that "oriental" meant mystical. Then someone writes and says that "wily" means sneaky, but that's not the way I intended. I meant it in a good way. I meant it as street-smart.

So you don't regret the comment?
Not at all.

Last year at St. Andrews, the BBC apologized on your behalf after you said "unless you end up like that" while the camera showed a fan in a wheelchair.
That was all misconstrued. There was someone very obese standing there when the picture came up. I started talking, and he moved away and showed the wheel-chair. I've been doing charity work with handicapped children and [people in] wheelchairs for 35-40 years. I was not being derogatory to people in wheelchairs. It's nonsense.

Do you blame these mini-controversies on a "gotcha" mentality?
Yes, that's what people do. We live in a litigious society, with political correctness, which you started in America, and which we've copied here. If anyone says anything you don't like, you go to a lawyer who takes your case, and everyone sues everyone. It makes life ridiculous.

When you look at today's young players, how are they different than when you started?
Today, I hate to say it, there's too much money in sports. You can be the 80th player in the world and take care of your family, and there's no disgrace in not having won a major. You wonder how that affects a young player's drive to be great.

What player would you like to see in the booth 10-15 years from now?
No one. I can't think of anyone who has the combination of a good voice, a sense of humor, knowledge of the game and interest in TV. I thought Lee Trevino would be a terrific broadcaster, but he didn't enjoy it. He didn't like being critical. There's no point in doing it if you can't be honest.

You're 80 now. What have you learned about growing older?
I try not to be old. I keep my sense of humor. I'm tolerant. And I don't suffer fools. If someone is rude, I'll tell them, and in forceful terms. I've been blessed with good health. In life, you get bouquets and you get brickbats.

Who's tossed a brickbat at you?
I've never met anyone in golf I've detested or hated. And that's remarkable. I see golf as being a mirror of life. People hurry to the course, and they're shattered before they begin, because that's how they are in life. Always rushing, always grasping. And their older opponents arrive a bit early, sit outside, smoke their pipes and marvel at the nature. They're at peace.

Sounds like a philosophy: Stop and smell the azaleas. How many years do you have left in the booth?
I've had a wonderful career. I might go on another year or two — if I'm still contributing. I must be doing something right. I haven't gotten the sack yet.

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