The broadcaster and former football coach, 78, on his Augusta membership and the pep talk that fired up the ‘08 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Mind sharing your handicap?
Actually, I do mind right now. I can tell you this: eight years ago I was an eight. I won the member-member at Augusta National in 2005. I’m on the plaque on the wall, which is my greatest accomplishment. I’ve played in the celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe for about 25 years. I’ve played in all kinds of pro-ams, the Bob Hope every year, the Gerald Ford every year. I’ve played with Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Davis Love III, Justin Leonard, Hale Irwin, Fuzzy Zoeller—the list goes on and on. I’m not very good at golf, but I do love the game and follow it.
How did you get hooked on the game?
I was born during the Depression and never played golf, but I was hired at William & Mary as assistant [football] coach. In order to give me $300 extra, they made me the golf coach too. I didn’t even know how to keep score. My only job was to make sure we didn’t get in an accident to or from the match. I had just been married. The golf team would come over to our house all the time, but they would bring dinner. During the first match, my number one guy was smoking a cigarette and having a mixed drink. I asked, “What’re you doing?” He says, “Well, it was a tough match.” I didn’t know anything, so I had them doing calisthenics and up-and-downs at the next practice. Eventually, I became a head coach and ended up at N.C. State [in 1972]. That’s when I really started playing.
How’s your game today?
While a lot of people want to shoot their age, I’m trying to shoot my weight. If I gain five pounds, I think I can do that. I understand my limitations; I don’t try to hit the great shot. Of everything I can do, I’m an excellent putter.
So putting is your biggest strength?
I was taught this a long time ago and have helped a lot of people with their putting: Look at the distance and practice it; take the putter back one-third and finish at two-thirds. If you make sure of this, your distance will always be accurate. You might be off a foot left or right, but you aren’t going to three-putt. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve helped with that one thing.
You spoke with the 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup team before their victory at Valhalla. What did you say?
Paul Azinger wanted me to speak to them on Thursday night, but I was doing a football game for ESPN, so I spoke to them on Wednesday. I walked that afternoon with three groups of four men, watching them play and talking to them. I talked with them all that night. A couple of years later, I was at Augusta coming up No. 8. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley were going down No. 2. Phil came over and told me it was the best speech he’s ever heard, and he still remembers the word win. I told them, number one: enjoy it. They got there because they’re good. They didn’t win the lottery, they didn’t win a drawing, they earned it. I also told them to remember the word win. It stands for “What’s Important Now.” You just hit a great drive, what’s important now? Figure out the next shot. You hit a bad drive, what’s important now? I told them they should not feel any pressure playing in the Ryder Cup. Pressure is when you have to do something you’re not prepared to do.
If you could coach Tiger Woods, what would you say to him?
I’ve played with Tiger. I think Paul Azinger made the greatest comment when he said, “Everyone wants to swing like Tiger, except Tiger.” I would tell him that all he has to do is eliminate the bad shots. The one thing I notice is he bobs his head up and down when he hits bad shots. As you get older, you can’t hit it as far, so do what your body allows you to do. He hits so many great shots. People who are writing him off are making a huge mistake, because all he has to do is eliminate the bad shots.
What’s your favorite thing about being a member at Augusta National?
Being able to entertain people, giving people the thrill of a lifetime. There are two places I’ve been that are better on the inside than they are perceived on the outside. One of them is Notre Dame, and the other is Augusta.
What’s your best moment on the links?
I have seven holes-in-one. The one I remember most was on No. 4 at Signal Point [in Niles, Mich]. It’s about 147 yards. I’m playing with the athletic director, the SID and the vice president of Notre Dame. I hit it over the pin, and it rolled back down and into the hole. The only thing one of them said to me was, “We press.” Not, “Nice shot,” or “Hole-in-one.” Just, “We press.” So, we moved on to the next hole.
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