Mark Rolfing, the long-time NBC golf announcer, weighs in on Michelle Wie, Tiger Woods, his own stint in rehabilitation, and his new half-hour television program, 'Global Golf Adventure,' which airs Saturday at 2 p.m., prior to NBC’s third-round coverage of Bay Hill.
Your first guest on your new show, 'Global Golf Adventure,' is Michelle Wie, someone you’ve covered since she was 11. What is your take on her up and down career to date?
I was a big proponent of her playing in the Solheim Cup. To be a little more removed from her parents changed a lot of things, and it changed a lot of people’s perspective of her. There was always a lot of criticism about her playing against the men growing up when, in reality, she didn’t have a lot of choices out there. She won the women’s amateur when she was 12 years old by 12 shots, so, what are you going to do? You can’t just fly back and forth to the mainland and play in AJGA events, so you’re forced to go in a certain direction. The real question is, how much will winning on the LPGA be enough for her? You’ll see on the show Saturday I say, “Six or seven years ago, your dream was to win the Masters. Is it now?” Her answer is “yes.”
What is your perspective on Tiger’s fall?
It’s a sad story. It happens to a lot of people in a lot of shapes and forms. I think it’s going to be tough for him at Augusta. The key for Tiger will be, can he go out and have fun and enjoy it? He says he’s coming back because he missed the game. If he comes back and really enjoys it, I think the gallery and media will tend to embrace it more as opposed to if he’s not enjoying it. He’s really going to have to let himself go a little bit emotionally and really soak it in. Tiger is a lightning rod for people to root for in golf. The NFL is so popular because everybody roots for one team or another. With Tiger, there is always a rooting interest for him or against him. That goes away when Tiger’s not around.
You had your own personal difficulties last year. [Rolfing entered an alcohol rehabilitation clinic].
A year ago [Thursday] I was on my way to Betty Ford. It’s easy to make excuses or say you weren’t sure what your problems were. It really doesn’t matter in the end. It was a tremendous experience and it was a life changing experience, and I’m a much different person than I was a year ago. I’m just grateful I had the opportunity.
What did you learn?
It totally changed my thought process. You learn about what addiction is. There are lots of different forms of addiction, but they are all the same. I was able to learn more about myself in a pretty short period of time than I had ever known. I’d gone a number of years trying to be somebody that I thought everybody wanted me to be and I sort of lost track of who I was.
Has it given you a different perspective on Tiger’s situation?
There’s no doubt about it. I’ve got a much different view on what Tiger’s going through. I don’t know what type of rehab he’s going through, but it doesn’t matter. When you are facing an issue like he is, I know what you have to do and I have great respect for what you have to do. It’s not an easy thing.
Did you have your own PGA Tour aspirations at one time?
I was fortunate to figure out pretty quickly that I wasn’t good enough. I played on the European Tour twice and the Asian Tour once, and I had a couple of situations in contention and I just knew I didn’t have it. The back of my neck would get hot and the back of my legs would get weak. I was choking and I knew it. I was lucky enough to say, “I’m going to walk away from it.” The golf commentating was a total fluke.
How did it happen?
I’d settled out in Hawaii and was playing in a golf tournament on NBC. Don Ohlmeyer was the producer of the show. I shot a good round and they brought me up to the booth with Vin Scully and Lee Trevino. I explained a situation on the 16th hole and I ended up staying in the booth for 20 minutes. I went on the next day and he offered me a job the next week on ESPN Golf in 1986.
How did your new show, 'Global Golf Adventure,' come about?
With the game going global, we figured it was time to go to some other destinations. When we looked at who was watching “Golf Hawaii” [Rolfing’s Golf Channel show] the viewers were into the player guests, and the instruction was important. And even though it’s never been on network television before, I think it will be a good fit in front of live golf. We’re going to Bermuda for the second show, and Stewart Cink is the guest on that show. The third show, in Wales, will be a Ryder Cup preview show.
What do you hope your viewers learn?
I’m going to talk about what I see are the three big issues in the game. It’s too hard for a lot of people, it costs too much, and it takes too long. You’re going to see instruction — not typical instruction like grip but the things that I’ve been able to learn while traveling and being a golf commentator. What you can learn by watching golf on TV, and tips on learning how to travel. The thing about travel is, it’s what I call a great resource of hope for people. It’s a good therapeutic resource, particularly in times like these.