George “Buddy” Marucci has been many things in his amateur golfing career: the U.S. Senior Amateur winner in 2008 and a Walker Cup player and captain, but he’s most remembered for his thrilling loss to Tiger Woods in the final match of the 1995 U.S. Amateur. Marucci, 58, is playing the U.S. Senior Open this week in Seattle.
Tell me about the course that you’re playing this week for the U.S. Senior Open, the Sahalee Country Club in Seattle.
It’s in excellent condition. The weather has been perfect. It’s a difficult driving course because the fairways are so narrow. It’s a pretty demanding old-style golf course with some smallish, firm and undulating greens, with some fair but tough rough.
What are some of the key holes?
There are some pretty difficult par 4s on the front nine: the sixth and eighth. On the back nine the 18th is really difficult. They are the longest holes on the golf course. The 17th is a great par 3 down the hill over water. There are a lot of good holes out there.
You’re 58 years old. You’ve been on the world stage of amateur golf for 30 years. You’ve played on two Walker Cups — in 1995 and 1997 — and you were captain for the last two — 2007 and 2009. In 2008, you finally won your first USGA championship at the Senior Amateur at Shady Oaks in Fort Worth. How much longer can you do this?
I played with Vinny Giles [1972 U.S. Amateur winner] this week in a practice round and he’s 67 and I’m 58, and he won the U.S. Senior Amateur last year. So I guess there is still some time for me if I can stay healthy. I don’t hit it very far but I certainly hit it as far as I ever have. I haven’t gotten to the point where I can’t play most of the golf courses. Chambers Bay is 7,500 yards this year for the U.S. Amateur. That’s getting a little challenging for me. But still, it’s not all about the length. I still chip and putt pretty well.
This week you took a tour of Chambers Bay, a links-style Robert Trent Jones II course off the Puget Sound. What did you think?
It’s a big, beautiful golf course. There is nothing like it in the States.
How do you like your chances there in a few weeks at the U.S. Amateur?
I don’t think I have much of chance. These players are just too good. But if I can get to match play anything can happen. I don’t have any aspirations of winning. I just want to stay competitive at certain levels and enjoy it.
In 2013 Merion will host the U.S. Open. You’ve been playing there since you were a kid. Will you try to qualify for the championship?
I will probably try to qualify. Merion is one of the few U.S. Open courses that I could play because it’s relatively short.
How hard was it to run a very successful car business and play competitive golf at the same time?
I had the same business partner for 24 years. I couldn’t have done it without him. I was able to get away and play tournaments because I had someone I trusted and had a lot of confidence in. But it’s hard to balance all that stuff. There were times when I was out and I had to come back. I kept my priorities in order, but I was certainly able to play. We sold our business three years ago and I spent a lot of time after that running two Walker Cup teams. This is the first year that I have relaxed and kind of taken it easy. I have to get back to work at some point. But I haven’t figured out what I’d like to do yet.
How did you prepare for a tournament?
Basically what I try to do now is stay healthy. There’s not so much I can do at this point to get better. I don’t try necessarily to be a physical fitness nut. I just try to stay healthy enough to play. I don’t beat a lot of balls on the range anymore. In the old days I hit balls every day. Now the body can’t take it as much. But I do practice chipping and putting.
With all the money on the PGA Tour today, do you think there will be another strong generation of top gentlemen golfers like yourself and a handful of others who never turn pro?
I can’t really answer that except to tell you that there aren’t a lot of older mid-amateur players who play anymore. It seems like many of the top amateurs were players who were reinstated as amateurs because they weren’t successful as professionals. But the guys who have never turned professional are few and far between. The game is just offering more today. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just a sign of the times.
When you graduated from the University of Maryland in 1974, why did you decide to go into business instead of turning pro?
First of all, the game wasn’t what it is today. I didn’t think I was good enough. I played with Ben Crenshaw this week in a practice round and we had a great time reminiscing about the paths that we had each taken. I had played with him in junior and college tournaments. He did what he did and I did what I did and here we are both playing together. He’s certainly been enormously successful and was always a far better player than I was. I had a great career in business and I still like business. I think I probably made the right decision.
Have you done a lot of business on the golf course?
There is no question that golf will open doors for you. But at the end of the day business is business and someone is going to do business with you because you’re good at what you do. The golf course is a good place to meet people and from there people can decide if they want to do business. I don’t think I’ve ever done business on the golf course where I’ve discussed a deal, but I have made contacts on the course that lead to deals.
What was the experience like as the captain of two winning Walker Cup teams in ’07 and ’09?
It was the culmination of everything that I have done in golf. It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me. I would never be able to give back to the game what the captaincy gave to me. The kids were phenomenal. We were fortunate to win but that’s not what it’s all about. The most difficult part of the job is the selection process. Once the team is selected, as the captain you have to just get out of the way and let the players do what they do. My job was to make sure that they didn’t have to worry about anything except playing golf. I never tried to micromanage any of them.
How often do you go back to look at video of your epic duel with Tiger Woods at the ’95 U.S. Amateur at Newport Country Club, where he beat you 2-up? That certainly put you on the map.
I don’t have to go back and look at it. The thing is on TV all the time. It’s kind of fun to watch. But I lose every time it’s on. I can’t figure that out.
When you were out there in the heat of the thing, did you have any idea that you were becoming a character in one of the greatest golf narratives in history?
We certainly knew that he was special. But I don’t think anyone anticipated that he would be able to dominate the sport the way he has. My experience with him was fabulous. But I don’t think you ever know what’s going to happen with a 19-year-old kid. People walk up to me all the time. But what Tiger has done for me, he’s done for the game. The game has always been big. But when guys like Palmer, Nicklaus and Tiger come into their own, they have a way of polarizing the game. If you happen to be in the storm, you become someone associated with losing to one of the greats. It’s notoriety that you wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten for losing.
Have you kept in touch with Tiger?
If I see him I’ll talk to him. But I don’t call him on the phone or anything. I’ve probably seen him four or five times since our match.
Word on the street is that if I want to play at Seminole, Merion or Pine Valley — to name a few great golf clubs you belong to — you’re the man to talk to. How many club memberships do you have?
I don’t like to talk about that. I don’t count them. All I will say is that I get to play at some really nice places.
Where will you play after this week’s Senior Open and the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay?
I’ll play the Mid-Amateur and the Senior Amateur. So I have plenty of golf.