How did players from your era view the Ryder Cup — was it a big deal or more a friendly exhibition?
I wouldn’t call it an exhibition. I would like to think that it was a friendly but intense competition between the international players and the American players. It was very serious for us, but we always looked at it as away of promoting international golf. There was a lot of competition between the two teams, but there was also a lot of camaraderie between the teams.
You were on six Ryder Cup teams and the captain of two (’63 and ’75). What memories stick out for you?
When I was captain in ’75, Brian Barnes beat Nicklaus twice in the same day, which is a pretty unusual situation.
What do you think about how the pros interact with fans? What can be done to increase interest in the game?
I think the players have to let the fans know that they are aware of them and their participation at tournaments. It’s important that the fans have that feeling of appreciation. I said before that Phil Mickelson is very good at relating to fans. I think that it’s important that we have more guys who take that attitude toward the people who are out there in the gallery.
You weren’t able to play on the ’59 team because you hadn’t been on tour long enough to earn points, despite winning the ’58 Masters.
At the time of the ’59 Ryder Cup I hadn’t been a pro five years and I wasn’t eligible to receive Ryder Cup points. I turned pro in ’54 and I had to wait five years to be eligible to accept money in certain events and Ryder Cup points were a part of that.
You had a 22-8-2 record. Why do you think you were so great at match play? In the past you’ve said that you prefer stroke play because you felt that it’s a better test of a player’s skill.
Certainly, I enjoyed stroke play because that’s what I was steering my whole life for. That was the majors and the PGA Tour. But I enjoyed match play. I had won the U.S. Amateur in match play in ’54. So I didn’t have real preference. I thought that you had to do both and do them well.
Was it important to you as one of America’s top players to be a team leader or did you enjoy just being one of the guys?
I enjoyed the people and I enjoyed the competition. When I first went to the Open at St. Andrews in 1960 one of my purposes was that I thought you had to be a good international player. Competitions like the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup are very important for promoting the game all over the world. That’s the example I always tried to set more than anything else.
How much golf do you play?
I play a couple of days a week. But I hit balls three or four days a week. I just try to stay active. I’m not looking to play in any competition. I still enjoy the game and my friends.
You said many years ago that there was a certain carry at the Latrobe (Pa.) Country Club that would tell you when it was time to quit playing competitive golf. Can you still do it?
It’s the 12th hole and it’s a 235-yard carry over a stream and I’m getting very close to not hitting it across. But in the last couple of years I’ve found a method of getting it across at least once a year.
What shots at age 80 can you still hit that you could at age 30?
I’m a good putter.
I guess that keeps you in the money when you’re playing with your buddies?
Lately you’ve dedicated a lot of your time away from golf to prostate cancer research. Since your diagnosis with prostate cancer in 1997 you’ve led your own crusade in cancer research and education about a disease that strikes one out of seven American men. Tell me a little bit about that work?
Well I’ve done what my doctors have told me to do from the time I had my operation in ’97. I’ve tried to relate some of those things to men around the world about the need to get tested. We try to keep men informed about what they can do when diagnosed with the disease. Understanding what you can do about advanced prostate cancer is what we’re focusing on. What we try to do is keep men from thinking that it’s over for them when they have the disease in the advanced stages.
The PGA Tour might be a good setting for education about prostate cancer. Tour players could be good role models for testing.
I think that’s a good idea. We’ll do anything to educate men about the need to have regular checkups and to catch advanced prostate cancer.
For more information on battling prostate cancer, visit myprostatecancerroadmap.com.