In 2006 you won the last Players Championship held in March. How has the May date changed the way the Stadium course plays?
This course is twice as firm. The ball is obviously running more. It’s harder to stop the balls on the greens. Now there is a greater emphasis on accuracy off the tee than before. You have to really pick your spots and know where to miss it.
What holes give you fits now?
In the practice rounds on the par-5 532-yard second hole I hit 5-wood into the green and I couldn’t stop it. Now you’re thinking of landing it short and running it, whereas before you could have landed it on the green and stopped it.
What about the greens?
You have to use the slope more on the greens and if you hit it on the wrong side of the slope it goes further away from the hole. Week-to-week we don’t play this Champion Bermuda grass, which I think is being used more and more on PGA Tour courses because it’s sturdier and easier to maintain. If you’re playing on bentgrass greens at the Colonial in 95-degree weather, it takes a lot of water for those greens to survive that heat. With Champion Bermuda you don’t have that problem, which is nice for the players.
How do you play 17?
It’s tough because you have to hit the green. That’s the priority. What’s difficult about it is there isn’t enough depth to see the whole hole. You’re just seeing this flag. So you have to be really spot on with your club selection. I will hit anything from a wedge to even a 7-iron if the wind gets up. But that’s with a north wind, which we will never get again here. We’ll always get the south wind, which is downwind. That’s why you see all the balls going over the green.
You turned 46 on April 28th. By virtue of your Players win you’re exempt on the regular tour for the rest of your 40s. What are your plans after that?
My goal is to play on the regular tour for as long as I can. I have to stay fitter and keep my game in top form. I think overall I’m ahead of the ball game in that department because of the way I’ve been playing and the way I’ve been keeping myself fit. I don’t play more than 23 events a year because I’m focused more on quality than quantity. It’s the same with practice.
You didn’t get into Masters this year despite winning at Disney last November. You were 54th in the world at the time. Is that fair?
When you stop to think about it the Masters is not quite fair as a major. You have a field of 99 players and of that number you have a considerable portion of the past champions that don’t make the cut. That takes the field down to 70 to 80 players and then out of that group you have all the amateurs. But the Masters is history. It’s always been that way. There are some things that can be changed and there are things that can’t be changed and this is one of them. You just have to deal with it. It’s like paying taxes.
At the Zurich in New Orleans two weeks ago you missed your first cut of the season. How do you deal with missing cuts?
I take the positives out of the week that I miss a cut. I look at what hurt me. I look at my game, but I also check to see if I got the better end of the weather, which is how I missed the cut in New Orleans by a shot after shooting a 69 in the second round.
Since 2007 you’ve been working with Sean Foley. He’s helped you out a great deal.
You can only feel what you feel when you hit the golf ball. But you can’t see it. Sean is my eyes unless I want a video on my swing all the time. My specialty is hitting the golf ball. Sean is capable of seeing where I go off.
How can he improve as a teacher?
He is learning how to better understand how people think so that what he knows he can better explain it to the student. This is a flaw in all teachers in understanding the student and how the student comprehends what the teacher is trying to get across to them.
You developed some back problems because at address you had so much weight on your left side, which was screwing up your spine angle.
Before I started working with Sean I couldn’t feel that I was in that position. Being too much on my left side hurt me both on my backswing and follow-through, hence the reason why my back blew out. Your back isn’t supposed to work that way.
So you swing in sync now with your body.
I’ve always wondered why my swing didn’t look a certain way. It’s not because this is what the golf swing is supposed to look like. It’s because this is what the body is supposed to do. I think some of the teachers out on tour are getting it wrong. They want their players to get into certain positions, but you can’t get into certain positions unless your body is in position to get there. Everybody is built differently. You are supposed to swing a club in proportion to what your body is capable of doing. That’s Sean’s method.
So you know what your body is supposed to do. What do you do when you get to the first tee?
At that point I’m thinking my shapes. I’m drawing pictures — right to left off the trees, finishing on the bunker or starting it off the tree and fading it or whatever. I’m playing golf and letting the visuals take over.
Why did it take you so long to make it on tour? You were in your late 30s before you really became an established top-tier player.
I never found myself until then. I’ve only just learned to find myself internally. You have to find out what kind of person you are. Some people take longer than others. Because I’m now settled on the inside I’m a better golfer.
Since the Masters people in our business have been talking a lot about Tiger’s golf swing and his teacher, Hank Haney, and what he should do to get better.
Tiger is not a stupid guy. He knows what makes him tick and what works. He’ll get himself back into shape. It’s not about his golf game.
You were born and raised in sunny Trinidad, but you live in Canada now. What are the benefits of a golfer living in that cold climate?
You mean besides having free white snow? I get free health care. Seriously, I get the benefit of living in a country where we don’t have this problem of kids being shot at school or facing down a person with road rage and a gun. We have some of these problems with crime in Canada, but not to the extent that they are in the states.
You live in the Calgary area.
Yes. I’m in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. So I have great views and if you’re a skier or snowboarder it’s only a two-hour drive. It’s a great getaway for me because I don’t have to play golf in the winter. If I lived in Florida I would probably play every day and I would be sick of the game.
Tell me about your passion, the matches that you started between Trinidad and Canada.
It’s the Stephen Ames Cup. We take 10 kids from each country, aged 13 to under 21, boys and girls. It’s always the week before the Barclays in August and the countries alternate hosting the event. The whole point of the matches is to expose kids to different cultures.