The Golf Channel analyst and Champions tour pro, 61, sounds off on golf’s new dominant trio, his friendship with Bubba and using balls.
Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day. We can’t call them the Big Three. Do you have a better nickname?
Like New Kids on the Block, how about New Kids Roll the Rock?
Not bad! You’ve been thinking about this.
I just thought of it! How’s that for Deep Thoughts?
Of the three, who will have the best career?
The guy who does not get injured is going to be the one who plays the best the longest. Jack didn’t have a hip replacement until after he was done. Arnold came through fairly injury-free, and Gary Player was a freak of fitness. What concerns me about Rory is his injury playing soccer. When you injure yourself, you’re just a little less of yourself going forward. Every injury diminishes you a little bit. Jason Day has had problems with vertigo. The one who seems to be injury-free right now is Jordan Spieth.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on a golf course?
A naked man.
Care to elaborate?
Royal St. Georges, 1985 British Open. I was playing with Tom Kite in the final round, and we were on the 18th green. A marshal stripped his clothes off and ran around the green three or four times. Then he ran at me, and I tackled him. I’m the leading tackler on Tour! You didn’t know that?
Unfortunately, the Tour doesn’t track that stat.
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have all these majors, but I’m the leading tackler. That’s the only stat I lead on Tour.
Which player on Tour today most reminds you of yourself?
I’m going to say Bubba. He likes to have some fun. I know he’s up and down. Some people say he’s too serious. Other people say he’s too crazy and wild. Bubba and I get along really well. We’ve done some things on the course and off the course together. He makes me smile, and he makes the crowd smile. He’s an entertainer and a real showman.
Are you surprised Bubba is so polarizing among fans and media?
I think that’s a bit unfair. When you’re somebody like Bubba, or Lee Trevino, or Fuzzy Zoeller, some people want you to be fun-fun-fun all the time, and you can’t be on all the time. When you’re an entertainer like Bubba, you’ve gotta have your down time too.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
When I got on Tour, a friend of mind from Portland named Bruce Cudd said, “Playing on Tour is hard. Make sure you get it, don’t let it get you.” You think of a lot of players with unrealized potential, a lot of players you look at and say “That guy’s really good, what happened to him?” The game got him. I’m not going to name names — you can figure it out, and readers can figure it out. I was never the best player on Tour, but I wanted people to look at me and say, “He finished his career the way it started.”
What’s the it that trips players up? Pressure? Fame? Media?
That’s well put, and I think it’s all of that. It’s the chase for the victory, for the notoriety, for the money, for the fame. Playing golf and winning is addictive. You can miss 19 cuts in a row and be ready to quit, and win the 20th tournament and think you’re the greatest golfer in the world. That’s the beauty of the game. You or I could be the best player in the world, but you have to put in the work. You have to put in the long hours. You’ve gotta sacrifice. You look at the great players, the Nicklauses, the Normans, the Faldos, the Tigers, the guys who have become number one; there is a lot of sacrifice in their lives, and they’d be the first ones to tell you that. But are you willing to sacrifice things in your life to chase it? That’s what it comes down to.
At what moment did you realize you could make a living on Tour?
It took me a few years. I got my card in 1977, and it was probably when I won the Buick Open in 1980 that I felt like I belonged. I beat some good players, and I felt like I had finally walked across the hot coals and got to the winner’s circle. But you had to have a successful career for eight or 10 years before you could say you belonged. Nowadays all you have to do is win the FedEx Cup and you’re set for life. It’s a big jackpot.
In a book about your life, what’s the title?
I actually did write two books. The first was Buried Lies: Tall Tales and True Stories from the PGA Tour. The second was Embedded Balls, because what’s a better follow-up to Buried Lies than a play on balls? That’s a good thing about golf: You can tell a lot of ball jokes.