Roger Maltbie talks shedding tears at Augusta, Tiger’s talent, and the dumbest shot he’s ever seen (and he’s seen plenty)

Roger Maltbie
Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
Maltbie, with Darren Clarke at the 2010 Ryder Cup, is in his 21st year with NBC Sports.

Many of the top players today live in cocoons of sorts. Things were very different in the 
 1970s and ’80s, right?

I’m from another era, but, yes, it’s a shame that fans don’t get to know players like they should. There’s less interaction with the media and fans. The players finish an event, hop on their plane, and they’re gone. Private planes? S---, when I played, you needed 70 wins to get one of those.

Let’s talk about partying and drinking on Tour, in your day versus today...
Now why would you ask me that, of all people? Back when I played, you had Prohibition. [Laughs] It’s all toned down a huge amount today. We didn’t have physical trainers. We didn’t have coaches and sports psychologists with us. We saw the game different back then. Today’s players are athletes in constant training. We weren’t athletes.

You endorsed Michelob, right?
Yeah, for 20 years I carried a Michelob bag. I always said that I drank Michelob during the day and Scotch at night. And my favorite hole was the one on the top of the can. [Laughs] I’m not 25 anymore, but I still enjoy a beverage. It’s a mistake to think I was out carousing every night. But did I have a Scotch at night? Or two? Yeah. I wasn’t out till two in the morning. I wasn’t the last guy in the bar. I’m not saying I didn’t have nights like that, but they weren’t playing nights.

You sure about that? What do you remember—or not remember—about beating David Graham while hungover?
In 1975, my rookie year on Tour, we were playing the Greater Jacksonville Open. I had made the cut but was in last place. I was in the first group out that Sunday and was paired with David and Joe Porter III. David was a straitlaced, prim and proper man. And I was terribly overserved the evening before. I was in no shape to play golf. None. I chopped it up all over the course on a cold, breezy morning. I was sweating bullets. It’s nothing I’m proud of. Joe Porter is giggling with each shot, because I’m half-topping everything. But I made every putt I looked at and shot even par. As we walked into the scorer’s trailer—I shot 72, David shot 73—Porter is crowing, “That’s the greatest round of golf I’ve ever seen! Unbelievable!” David signs his scorecard and says, “That’s it—I quit! If any drunk can beat me, I quit!” He was not pleased. He didn’t quit, of course, and we’re friends today, but he meant it in the moment.

So drinking can help your game?
You mean is there such thing as “tempo in a can”? Yes, it can smooth out bad tempo. Mr. Busch put a lot of great things in there. There have been guys—I won’t name them because it’s not appropriate—who for years drank on the course [during Tour events]. More in my era than this era. Yeah, guys would get the whips and jingles with the putter, and they’d have a little nip here and there. You just don’t know how far to go with it.

What’s the greatest shot you’ve ever witnessed as a course reporter?
The most dramatic is Justin Leonard holing the birdie putt at 17 in Brookline in ’99 [to win the Ryder Cup]. I was 15 or 20 feet behind the hole, watched the putt come over the ridge, and the ensuing chaos was remarkable. Those Sunday roars sounded like Augusta in 1986 when Jack won.

Johnny Miller told us that his stinging criticisms of Leonard’s poor play—he said that Leonard should be benched—may have helped spur Team USA’s big comeback. Do you agree?
I wouldn’t say Johnny provided the rallying cry, but he did upset people. It upset Justin. After it was over, I had to interview Leonard behind the 18th green. I said, “Justin, can I get a word?” And he said, “Sure, I’ve got a few things to say to Johnny.” I said, “Listen, Justin, this could be the defining moment of your career. Do you really want to get into a contest with Johnny?” He said, “You’re right,” and he left it alone. A wise choice.

That was kind of you, but as a reporter, isn’t it your job to get that fire-breathing quote?
This was a big moment for Justin and the Americans, so I thought, Why engage in conflict with an announcer? Again, we in the media are not the story; we cover the story. We should be in the background. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I feel.

Which of today’s players would make a good 
 TV analyst?
[Long pause] Gosh, I don’t know. You think a guy will be great, then you put a mike in his hand and he’s terrible. I once recommended that a top teacher come on the air. I thought he’d be great because he’s glib and sharp and had done TV spots. And he was awful. Just awful. But I won’t name names.

If it was Hank Haney, just clear your throat.
[Laughs] Not saying. But he couldn’t get the words out. Broadcasting is about taking a snapshot of the situation and condensing it down to a few words. Let’s say a player’s ball is sitting down in the rough, and he has to get the club under the ball, over a bunker and stop it quickly on the green. Well, this teacher was nowhere close to coherent. He’d still be setting up the situation by the time the ball was on the green.

Last thing. Would you like to take credit for the reemergence of mustaches on Tour in 2012?
A lot of guys are rocking the ’stache! Hey, everything that goes around comes around. Mustaches, narrow ties, tight clothes, loose clothes…

Your clothes look a lot looser these days.
I’m down 35 pounds. In my job, you have to be mobile. If I stand sideways, there’s nothing left but mustache, lips and tennis shoes.
 

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