Curtis Strange on new-look U.S. Open set-ups, and why he doesn't talk to Faldo

Curtis Strange on new-look U.S. Open set-ups, and why he doesn’t talk to Faldo

Curtis Strange won the 1988 and 1989 U.S. Opens.
Jeffery Salter

You are the last player to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, in 1988 and ’89. Of the four majors, do you think the U.S. Open is the most difficult to repeat in?
No, it’s not the most difficult. I would think that the easiest to repeat in would be the Masters, simply because it’s at the same venue every year and you know what to expect. What makes the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA [difficult is that] you change venues, so, you know, what looks good to you at this golf course one year might not be the same feel for next year. I think all the majors set up well for certain players, but no, I would not say the U.S. Open is the most difficult.

What do you think of the slightly kinder U.S. Open course set-ups in recent years?
They’re different. They’re different than what I grew up playing a U.S. Open. The game has changed so much to start with, so obviously you have to adjust your set-up of a golf course to the talent-level and the type of game the guys play now. But with that said, I’m a believer that U.S. Open set-ups should be the hardest course we play all year long. It’s our Open Championship — it should be special, it should be the hardest to win, it should be the hardest test, and I don’t feel as though that’s been the case the last number of years.

There’s a perception that this generation of players is soft compared to the guys in your generation.
I would tend to disagree a little bit. I think Dustin Johnson is a tough guy, an athlete. I think there are a lot of them. You know, I would never say that my generation was any different than the other generations. We’re kind of made up of our environment. I think they’re plenty tough out there.

Phil Mickelson once said that the rough at Oakmont was dangerous. That doesn’t seem like something you would ever say.
[Laughs.] My eyebrows raised a little bit when I saw [Phil’s] quote, I’ll be honest with you. I think they’re kind of a victim of their own environment. “Victim” is probably the wrong word, but it’s not for me to say because I’m not out there right now.

You and your ’88 U.S. Open playoff adversary Nick Faldo are both in the on-course analyst business now. What do you think of Nick as a broadcaster?
I don’t critique other players, and I don’t critique other broadcasters. I try to do the best job I can do. I try to learn from the people who came before me that are Hall of Fame broadcasters, and so I don’t critique — that’s unfair. Everybody has their own personality and their own style, and certainly Nick and Johnny Miller and Lanny [Wadkins] and whoever else, Gary Koch, Andy North, Judy Rankin — they all have their own style, and that’s what makes them all good.

Do you ever talk about the ’88 Open with Nick, or do you leave that alone?
No. People really don’t talk to Nick.

Why is that?
He just doesn’t have that outgoing personality. And you know, neither do I when you compare to me to some of the other people on the PGA Tour or the senior tour. Nick just doesn’t have that type of personality. And would we never bring it up to start with. [Even] if Nick Faldo was a Fuzzy Zoeller, we wouldn’t have ever brought it up, because it’s just not done.

Why don’t you criticize other players? Isn’t that part of the job?
Criticism is something that I think sometimes you have to do once in a while. But my job is to explain why something happened, not to outwardly criticize players. The pictures show that. The pictures are worth a thousand words sometimes, and I come from the school of “less is more” in TV work. Criticism is something that you have to be careful with. In a situation like Jean Van de Velde at the [1999] British Open, I think there’s a time when there’s no room for stupid, and that’s pretty much what I said. That was criticism. But I try not to overdo that just to get a reaction.

Do you struggle to hold your tongue sometimes when someone hits a terrible shot?
No, I don’t. It’s important for me to keep playing some competitive golf to remind myself of how tough this game really is, and I think when you go to the booth and never play again, you get removed from it a little bit, if you know what I mean. I try to remember how tough the game is, and it’s not my style from a standpoint that the players are the show. We announcers, in my opinion, are not the show. I’m not saying anybody else is a show, but if I bring attention on myself, I think that’s the wrong thing to do.

Let’s talk about your Wake Forest team, which included Jay Haas, David Thore, and Scott Hoch, and is widely regarded as the best college golf team of all time.
I am as proud of that as anything I’ve ever done in my life. That was a grand time in our lives, and college in general, you look back on those years and everybody always says, “Those were the best four years of my life.” In our case, it was doubly as much fun and successful because we were good. We worked at it, but we were cocky and good and it was fun. We didn’t know it at the time. We were playing golf, our coach was trying to keep us on the straight and narrow and trying to keep our grades up, but we accomplished a great deal, those four guys on the team, and I’m proud of it.

Was there any hazing? You were in a fraternity, so obviously there was some sort of initiation.
Yeah, we did all that, we went through all the Hell Week and hazing and things that were probably somewhat improper in today’s PC world. I thought it was fun. We all went through it. Just because you’re a golfer-athlete, they didn’t give you much of a break. This was just fraternity hazing. On the golf team we didn’t do anything like that at all. Wake Forest fraternities back then were all on-campus, so we had rules. Girls had to be in and out at certain times, no beer on campus, supposedly. Things like that. Parties in the house had to be over at a certain time. We had an RA [resident assistant] that was on our ass constantly. We weren’t Animal House, put it that way.

You look pretty calm these days, but there must still be things that get you steamed. What really, really ticks you off these days?
Well, I’m not so sure, if I look at it like that. I still live and die to hit good golf shots, quality golf shots. I don’t score very well anymore, and that’s kind of irrelevant to me. I kind of want to hit good shots, and if I hit good shots, my score will happen. This is a self-driven, self-motivated game, and if you’re not self-motivated to some degree then you’ll never be out on this practice tee, you’ll never be on the Tour practice tee, you’ll never be out here. There are still things that get me anxious, which is good.

Like what? Rude waiters? Traffic jams?
Let me think for a minute. [Pauses] No, I don’t have road rage. People carry guns now so I try not to get aggravated. The game of golf is aggravating enough.