What kind of shape is your game in? You haven’t done much this year so far. However you made some strides last week with an 11th place finish at the Transitions.
I’m just trying to get my game back into good form. I’m ready and I’m working. I have a new coach, Pat O’Brien, out of Dallas. So Butch Harmon and I are done after eight years. I’m working on some new things and I hope it won’t be long before I get back into contention again.
What changes have you made?
I added almost an inch to my iron shafts. My wedge is about the same length as my 7-iron used to be. You would think that I would hit my wedge farther now, but I have gained not one yard. The ball is taking off faster but it’s got more spin on it now. It’s been really good for control. Pat wanted to see what would happen if I used longer clubs. I’m 6’4. It helped my posture and I don’t have to labor so much to get into the right positions.
The Masters is just two weeks away. You played there for the first time in ’97, which was really the coronation of Tiger Woods as the world’s top player. What do you remember about that experience?
It was historic in a lot of ways. Tiger set the record and became Mister Everything, but on that Tuesday before the Masters my second child, Reagan, was born. The Augusta National Club was awesome to my family. They made a special badge for him. Normally, the club just puts the first name and last name on the family badges, but on Reagan’s they included his birth date. It doesn’t seem like much, but for Augusta National to do something like that was really special. The Masters will always signify another year of our son’s life. So it means a lot more to us than just a golf tournament.
Your results at Augusta have been mixed. But you had a third-place finish in ’08 and you finished 10th in 2006.
The parts of my game that have been historically the weakest are the parts of the game that Augusta National exposes the quickest — the chipping and the putting. I’ve been a really great putter at times, but I’ve been really streaky over the course of my career. I’ve changed methods a little. I’ve used a belly putter some. I’ve used different kinds of grips. But at Augusta the one thing that’s really stood out to me is that my short game around that course hasn’t really been good enough. I’ve really worked hard on that and tried to eliminate those weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
The third place finish in ’08 was your best in 11 starts at the Masters.
About eight years ago they made the course longer. It used to just privilege the long hitters who could hit short irons onto the greens, turning it into a putting contest, which made it fun on those greens. But when they added all the length it became more of a complete test. That worked in my favor because I’m a really good ball striker. I can outplay a lot of players from tee to green. I think the changes to the course don’t magnify the putting as much.
When you were at Georgia Tech did you get a chance to play Augusta?
We got to play about once a year. But it wasn’t the kind of golf that prepares you to play in the Masters. I didn’t go over there thinking one day I’m going to play in the Masters and I need to study the course. I was just excited to be playing it.
Last year you made your fifth Ryder Cup team but you didn’t have a great season by your standards. You only had three Top 10s.
I look at last year as one for an opportunity for lots of learning and improving. It certainly wasn’t my best year. You can read things into statistics but really in your heart you know if you’re really in contention to win tournaments. Realistically, if you’re within five shots of the lead coming into Sunday then you have a chance to win. I didn’t have any of those last year. So this year I want to give myself more of those opportunities.
Do you go into weeks knowing that you don’t have a chance to win and you’re just trying to concentrate hard enough to make a check?
Golf is so peculiar. I think it works that way a lot of times, where the weeks that you play the best are when you don’t have anything in the practice rounds. Instead of going out thinking you’re going to wear this course out, you go out there thinking I need to be ready for short-game shots, creativity, chipping out of the trees and making par putts. It’s that grinding style of golf that’s going to benefit you at the end of the tournament.
Over the years, your wife, Lisa, has really helped you with your mental outlook on the game. Is she still working with you?
Yes, but not in an official capacity. My wife is a big part of my golf because she sees a lot of it and knows me really well. She can tell when I’m a little off. She knows when my attitude changes on the course. And she’s always there to say, “How are you going to make the best out of this bad situation?”
How do you get up for the Ryder Cup every couple of years? I know you’re playing for your country, but all that pressure has to get to you a little.
It can be a lot of stress but we love every second of it. Because it’s not bad stress — driving in traffic is stressful. The Ryder Cup is the highest form of intensity because it brings out stuff in you that you didn’t know you had. The kind of shots you see played at the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup just blows you away with how good it is.
In April you will be featured in Dove’s “Journey to Comfort” campaign. Why did they pick you?
My career has really been a journey to comfort. I’ve been through the thick and thin of it. I’ve reached a point now with winning a major and making a bunch of Ryder Cup teams that I’m totally comfortable in my own skin out on the PGA Tour. That’s a big part of the success of a PGA Tour player is being comfortable in situations where you have a lot of pressure on you. It’s really what makes or breaks your career.
Have you played in Ryder Cups where you weren’t comfortable in your skin?
Yes. My first Ryder Cup in ’02 I wasn’t really ready to go. I knew it in my heart. I had just barely qualified for the team and I just felt overmatched.
Did you ever doubt yourself and abilities to play on the PGA Tour?
At first I had plenty of confidence when I came onto the Tour in 1997. I was young and I was eager. But over the years you play golf against the best players in the world and there is a lot more failure than there is success. So a little bit of that doubt started to creep in.
What happened after you became very successful out there?
I started setting standards for myself that weren’t really achievable. So I got a little down on myself and I had to work through it. My wife and kids have been great. I’ve always had a good foundation away from the course to weather the storms as they come and go. I had some really good years from about 2004 to ’08 and got the British Open win in ’09. That was a really big arrival point for me, where all the time and sacrifices that I had made had been worth it.
How do you build confidence?
You have to prepare off the golf course. You have to build a reservoir of confidence that you can pull from and you have to be able to draw from it when the heat gets on. That’s the journey.
With your sons do you let them have the journey or do you break their fall?
It changes as they grow. We’re still doing some of that for our 13-year-old but our 17-year-old is falling. He’s had some trip-ups in the last few years where we are letting him deal with the consequences. It’s good to give them a dose of life.
I imagine that it’s the same with young Tour players. When you’re mature enough to win the big events you’ll win them and if you’re not you won’t.
That’s true. You have to be yourself when you’re in contention. When you get to those nervous and stressful situations you have to thrive on it. But you have to arrive at the tournament knowing that you have done all that you can do to be ready, and then be willing to accept the good and the bad.