How are you playing?
I’m playing pretty good. I’ve played five weeks in a row and I took last week off. Now I’m back at it for another couple of weeks in a row.
You had the one good week last year at the U.S. Open. This year you seem to be playing more consistent golf with three top 10s, including a tie for 10th at the Masters.
I was disappointed that I only played well in really one week last year. I wanted this year to have a lot of top finishes. In the offseason I worked really hard on my ball-striking and short game, which was really my weak spot last year. This year I’m putting less stress on my golf game. I’m taking bogeys when I need to make them. I’m keeping the ball in front of me. If I’m missing greens I’m leaving myself in good spots where I can get up and down pretty easily. And I’m also taking advantage of my good shots by converting more birdies.
Over the years you’ve struggled some with your very athletic and unorthodox golf swing. What changes are you making to get a more consistent action?
I’m definitely a feel and athletic player. My coach and I work on not getting really fundamental but making sure that my body is working all together. I’ve been trying to make sure that my lower body is moving with my upper body. With me the lower body starts moving toward the target before my upper body. By getting my upper and lower body more synchronized, it’s helped my iron play and drives, which has taken a lot of stress off my short game.
At one point during the U.S. Open last year at Bethpage you had a six-shot lead before things unraveled a bit in the front nine of the final round. How long did that disappointment stay with you?
It makes me smile every time I think about it. I built a lot of confidence that week. The more times I get in contention the better I’ll get at dealing with it. It only took me a week or two to get over it because I knew if I didn’t I would have a tough time playing the rest of the season.
You had a flashy coming out party at the 2003 Masters where you finished 21st after winning the U.S. Amateur. But then you sort of disappeared for a while on the Nationwide Tour before getting your card for 2009. What did you learn about yourself during that time?
I’m definitely a lot more mature as a person and player. The biggest thing for me was finally getting my card for 2009. Being out on the Tour every week, you expect a lot more of yourself and you expect to be in contention every week, and you’re not shocked when you’re playing in the final group on Sunday. Before, when I was playing on the Nationwide Tour, when I got into a regular tour field I felt like I had to make the most of it in one week.
What’s the biggest difference between a PGA Tour player and a Nationwide player?
That’s the thing. Some of these guys aren’t that impressive on the golf course. But they just know how to get the ball in the hole. I actually was telling someone a few weeks ago that I don’t know if I can even hold on one hand the guys I came off the golf course with that I was really impressed with the way they hit the ball. More often I’ve come off the golf course and been really impressed with how a guy handled a certain round or how he turned a 71 into a 68. Those are the guys that have long careers out here.
You played on the Nationwide Tour for five years. It seems like it’s hard to make a check out there.
What a lot of people don’t know is that on the Nationwide Tour 60 and ties make the weekend cut, and that on the regular tour it’s 70 and ties. Also PGA Tour courses play a little firmer and tighter. So often on the Nationwide Tour you might have to shoot 20 under par over four days to finish in the top 3. There are probably only 10 events on the PGA Tour where you have to go that low.
So when you came out you wanted to be the flashy power player?
Exactly, I didn’t know how to manage my game and play within myself. It was kind of all or nothing, sometimes. I was trying to be somebody on the golf course that I wasn’t. Out here you’re going to have a short career if you try to imitate someone’s game if you don’t have his game and experience to match.
You’re getting married in September to Suzanne Stonebarger, a pro beach volleyball player on the AVP Tour.
It’s great to have someone who understands what you go through not only physically but mentally to play a sport. We can pump each other up and cool each other down.
You proposed last October in Napa during a wine tasting.
Slowly but surely I’m getting into wine, but I’m more of a beer guy. Still, there is nothing better than a glass of red wine with a steak.
Won’t the wedding conflict with the FedEx Cup tournaments?
I hope to be playing in the first three FedEx Cup tournaments. Then the week off we could have our wedding at Lake Tahoe and hopefully after that honeymooning in Atlanta at the Tour Championship. That’s the goal.
Can you play too much golf during the year?
Definitely, but how much you play depends on where you are on the money list and where you are in terms of FedEx Cup points and world ranking to get into select field tournaments like the majors and WGC events. But it’s true you make 80 percent of your money on tour in seven weeks. So I try to ride the good play I have as long as I can, but still stay fresh physically and mentally.
You were a chubby kid who has turned into one of the more muscular and fit players on tour. What’s your workout regimen?
You can’t be hugely built because you have to maintain flexibility. So I’m not trying to get too big. When I’m on the road I do a lot of cardio and a lot of hip and lower back exercises. On my weeks off, when I’m home, I might work out twice a day to try to catch up for what I’ve lost while I was on the road.
With your athletic swing, what are the main muscles that you pay attention to in your workouts?
I’m mostly trying to strengthen my legs, which are a lot skinnier proportionately to my upper body. I’m trying to get a good base under myself, which also means working out and exercising the hamstrings and the hips. I have a lot of lower body action, so if I’m able to maintain the strength in that part of my body with upper body, then everything is going to match up in the swing. If the ratio is 70/30, then I’m going to have a tough time timing my downswing.
You’ve had your brother Andy, now an assistant men’s golf coach at Arizona, on your bag off and on since you turned pro, including this year’s Masters.
You’re with your caddie more than anybody else. You need someone on the bag that you not only trust from a game perspective, but that you get along with. When we come to work, we want to be able to come out and laugh and share the good and bad times with a buddy. I think that’s why you’re starting to see a lot of young guys having caddies who are relatively close to their age and that are also good players.
Most of the top players are here this week at Quail Hollow. Why do you think this event has become one of the most elite on tour?
It’s a good golf course with some tough multi-tiered greens. There are some long holes, some short holes. They treat you really well here. You name it, they have it. Also, I think a lot of the players like to play a tournament before the Players because some of the big names take off the first couple weeks of the Texas swing. If they didn’t play this one before the Players they would only be playing the Masters, the Players and The Memorial before the U.S. Open.
You have to be looking ahead to Pebble Beach after your success at Bethpage.
Growing up in northern California and having qualified as an amateur to play there at the 2002 U.S. Open, I’ve been around Pebble Beach over 20 times. So I know the course pretty well. I’m looking forward to seeing it in U.S. Open condition again.