No. 1 Journalist: Steve Kroft

<i>Steve Kroft, 64, is a correspondent for 60 Minutes, a ten-time Emmy winner and five-time Peabody Award winner</i>
Justin Steele

First things first: How aggressively did you pursue Tiger Woods in the wake of the scandal?
Very aggressively. He was very hard to get a hold of during that period. We thought it was a good opportunity for him to sit down and talk about this. My guess is that Tiger wasn’t ready to do it and didn’t want to do it. We’re still having conversations with his agent and would like very much to see it happen at some point.

What would you like to ask him?

I don’t think I want to go there. I don’t want to scare him off. [Laughs.] I can tell you what I wouldn’t ask him. I wouldn’t ask him a lot of detailed questions about the various women. That’s been covered enough. I would talk to him about how his life has changed and some of the regrets. One of the biggest problems he’s had is that he doesn’t seem very comfortable around the media, and he’s not very trusting. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that because you have to be careful about you say. Things can be taken out of context and people tend to come away with one thing you said—maybe it’s even a phrase or a couple of words. But I think he’s had a difficult time showing his emotions. He’s a little robotic. And I think he’s a regular guy, but that hasn’t come across yet in any of the interviews he’s done—where he can be honest and reflective.

The notion of a doing a 60 Minutes interview probably scares him to death.

Maybe. Though he did a piece with Ed Bradley.

Yes, but with all respect to Bradley that wasn’t a particularly hard-hitting piece.
Right. And I think to get that interview we did something on his foundation, which I think is important. So we did two pieces—one about him and one about all the things he was doing. But I don’t think he has to talk extensively about [the affairs]. If he can sit down and come across as a regular person, I think he can sweep away a lot of the problems, because I think there are people who are rooting for him. He has said all the right things, and I give him credit for doing that. But I think there’s a suspicion that he has done it all simply because he needs to do it to save his career and his endorsements rather than to reveal the personal side of himself.

Elin Woods would be an even bigger score than Tiger. Have you pursued her?

No, we haven’t looked at that. Though we are working to do a story on Phil Mickelson.

Have you spoken to Phil about it?

I haven’t, but I have a producer who’s been working on it and made contact with him. It’s moving forward, though I’m not sure it’s totally locked up.

Mickelson’s not an easy interview to land either.

Athletes generally are difficult because they don’t need you and they spend a lot of time in front of cameras in the press tents. And they are experts at telling you the bare mininum. They’ll tell you what kind of a shot they hit at No. 13 or what was going through their mind coming down the stretch, but that’s about it. That’s one of the things about Tiger—he does not give much. He didn’t have to, and now I think it would help him tremendously to do that. I think people want to be fair with him and we would certainly be fair. But he doesn’t like it. You see him in front of the camera and it looks like he’s in the dentist’s office.

You’re a lifelong golfer. Who introduced you to the game?

I started playing when I was 12. My father was a very good golfer and he got me started early. My grandfather played too. It was just something that the Kroft family did. I kind of grew up on the golf course. My teenage years were spent on the course in the summertime. It was great. It gave me something to do after I got too old for Little League. I played first the Kokomo Country Club in Kokomo, Ind., and then at the Whippoorwhil Club in Armonk, N.Y., for my last two years of high school. And then I played on the golf team at Syracuse, which was not a golf powerhouse. [Laughs.] I think the lowest my handicap got was around 4. You had to be able to play in the rain and sleet and snow.

What are your earliest golf memories?

My earliest memories are going out and watching my father hit balls or watching him play in a tournament. He was a good amateur player. He was the director at one point of the Indiana Golf Association. When I first started playing I was fascinated by the culture—it was just like Caddyshack. I started smoking and playing euchre with the caddies. There were probably eight or nine of us who were roughly my age—early teenagers—who hung out there all day. I think my father thought it was probably a good place for me to be because first of all he would be able to keep track of what I was doing and it would keep me out of trouble, which was not always the case. It was a great period of my life. I’d get up and ride my bicycle to the golf course and hang out all day. I’d get there at like 8 o’clock and leave when it got too dark to play anymore. It was a wonderful experience.

What was golf highlight at Syracuse?

I came very close to making a hole in one on a par-4 at the Tecumseh Golf Club [in Syracuse]. It stopped on the lip. That was probably the thing I remember more than anything else—that and going down and playing at West Point against Army a couple of years. That was really interesting. We’d stay in the dorms and eat in the mess hall. It was quite an experience. Other than that I remember a lot of really cold days. I’d wear winter golf gloves on both hands and layered myself to the point where I’d have three or four different layers. And I learned how to smoke a cigarette in the strongest winds and all sorts of other useful things.

You look more like a football player than a golfer.

Not then. I was pretty thin. I didn’t hit the ball very far, but I hit it very straight. And I had a very good short game that has since deserted me.

What’s your m.o. on the course today?

I don’t hit the ball straight and I’m terrible around the greens. [Laughs.] Well, I’m not terrible. But part of is I quit playing when I was in my 20s and started working. I played a little bit when I was in Florida in the mid- to late-70s, but once I got to CBS I just never had any time. I was always moving every couple of years from assignment to assignment. I played four of five times a year when I’d go down to my parents’ house in South Carolina. But that was it until I was 50. By then I was at 60 Minutes and living on Long Island, and I was invited to join the National Golf Links [in Southampton, N.Y.], which is a really great course. So I got back into it. My swing was solid enough and sound enough that I eventually got back to single digits for a number of years. Now I’ve got two bad knees and an aching shoulder. So I’ve had to refine my goals in terms of what I can do out there.

Is golf the ultimate stress reliever for you?

It depends a little bit on how I’m playing, but, yes, by the time I walk off the 18th green, particularly at Maidstone or National where you’re looking out at the water, it doesn’t get much better than that. So no matter how badly I play I’m generally in a pretty good mood.

You’re generally hard-nosed and no-nonsense on 60 Minutes. Are you the same way on the golf course?

I think so. People consider me to be a—what’s the word they use for Tiger?—a grinder, in that I never give up on a hole or a shot. Occasionally I will pull off something from the rough or a bunker that changes the complexion of a match.

Do you tend to run hot after a bad hole?

I can run a little hot. But through my experience playing at Syracuse and in a lot of junior tournaments, I think I’ve realized you can’t let your anger get the best of you. I’ve played enough rounds to know that you can start really badly and turn it around all of a sudden in the middle of a round or late in a round, which I think is one of the interesting things about the game.

Do you ever pack your sticks when you go on the road?

You can count on the fingers of one hand how many times I’ve taken my clubs with me. But I have learned that if I find myself on the road and I have some time and there’s a good golf course around, I can generally go and pick up a set of clubs wherever I want to play. It’s easier to do that than to schlep the clubs all over the place. I’ve been lucky that I’ve done a few golf stories—I played some golf with Clint Eastwood at Cypress [Point] and his course at Tehema, and I did a piece on Greg Norman.

That was soon after he blew the 1996 Masters, right?

Yeah, and it was during a period when I think the world saw a slightly different side of [Norman]. He was so gracious and a real gentleman in terms of the way he handled it. It was a good time to do the piece—he was very reflective.

You’ve done a couple pieces on Michelle Wie, too.

Yes, we have. The first time we did a story on her she was 13 or 14 and the second time we did the story we revisited her when she turned pro and collected all the endorsement money. I’m a little surprised that she hasn’t done better. But she’s not doing badly, and she’s still only 20 years old and I think that she will emerge as a great player. In some ways it was predictable. I think when she started to get away from her parents a little bit and became a young woman, golf wouldn’t be the only thing in her life—that there’s more than just practicing and hitting golf balls.

You’re a big sports fan, right?

Yes, I’m interested in all kinds of sports. I’ll glance at the front page and then go straight to sports and then I’ll come back to the rest of the paper. I try and do a sports story every season and sometime more than once. We did a profile on Mikhail Prokhorov, the new owner of the New Jersey Nets. And I’ve done a number of football stories: Charlie Weiss and Tom Brady. I’m doing Drew Brees for the fall. It’s fun, and it’s not such hard work.

Where would like to play that you haven’t yet?

I really would like to get out to Bandon Dunes [in Oregon]. I haven’t played Sand Hills [in Nebraska] or Augusta, but I’ve played pretty much everything else in the top 20. I haven’t played Fishers Island, which I hear is really beautiful. Every summer I say I’m going to go out there, and every summer I don’t make it. This year I’m going to go.

Have you played golf in any dangerous locations like Afghanistan or Iraq?

No, although I had an invitation to play in Pakistan when I was there the last time. President Musharraf and I talked about playing a round, but I didn’t have the time. Here’s the thing about golf and CBS: I remember a story about some sort of presidential trip, where we had 20 or 30 people going and one of the vice presidents of CBS News saw a set of golf clubs with a CBS tag on it coming off the carousel. He wanted to know whom they belonged to, and that guy then got chewed out for bringing his clubs on a news story.

Who of note do you play with from the TV business?

I play with Matt Lauer. I played in the member-guest at National one year with Dennis Quaid. I’ve tried to work up games with Charlie Gibson, but he’s in New Jersey at Baltusrol so it’s hard to get together. I’d like to play with Bob Schieffer—he’s a good player.

You’re the only serious golfer among the 60 Minutes correspondents, right?

Yes, although I do play quite a bit with Jeff Fager, the executive producer of the show. When I first got here and people found out that I played golf—Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt and Morley Safer, all these guys played tennis, and they said, “Oh, I think maybe we made a big mistake here. Who let the golfer on the floor?” [Laughs.] Now there’s a lot more people who play, but there’s a bit of a cultural divide.

So the golfers lunch with the golfers and the tennis players dine with the tennis players?

No, I don’t go out to lunch. [Laughs.] I’m right here, right at my desk.

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