ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger, host Mike Tirico and vice president, production, Mike McQuade participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland. ESPN’s multiplatform coverage begins with live SportsCenter reports from St. Andrews on Monday, July 13, and will include live coverage of all four days of play in golf’s oldest major beginning Thursday, July 16.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
MIKE TIRICO: It’s nice to be already over in the UK and certainly exciting. We’re actually here this week with Serena Williams, two wins away from winning the third leg of the Grand Slam for tennis, and hopeful to watch Jordan Spieth’s quest for that coming up next week.
The Open is great. The road is tremendous. And there’s no place like St. Andrews. It’s the home of golf. I said it the other years that I’ve done it there in 2005 and 2010. We don’t go back to Springfield, Massachusetts, where basketball was born essentially as we know it to play a big NBA game, we don’t go back to Cooperstown to play a big baseball game, but we play the oldest and perhaps greatest championship right where the game got started, and it’s a super special week for all of us. I can’t wait to get back, and with all the guys on the call, as well.
The one thing about our golf group, we come together a couple times a year, and it’s like we never left, not just on the air but off, so it’s a privilege to be a part of this group, and I can’t wait until everybody comes on over to this side of the pond to join us for this event.
Q – To follow up on what you just said, since we didn’t do the U.S. Open this year, this actually will be the first time everybody has been together since last year’s Open; do you foresee the chemistry still being as good as always?
MIKE TIRICO: Well, I don’t know. It took us about 20 seconds on the call to start needling each other before we all hopped in, so we’ll all be absolutely fine. The joy of this is whether it’s the end of their playing careers or their TV careers, there’s a tie with everybody on our team that goes back over a decade, so we all know how everyone thinks. We know what this event is all about. So many people have done it for about a decade. This group works together super well, and I think it’ll take us all of two shots on the air to be back where we normally are, and that is thanks in large part to Mike McQuade who you’ll hear from. Mike, since he’s been the executive on this, has made sure he’s done the best to keep all of us not just close to the game but involved in the game but give us the best chance to keep the band together, so to speak, and do this at a high level right from the first tee on Thursday morning. I don’t expect anything to be any different for us again this year.
MIKE McQUADE: Yeah, thank you, and thanks to Mike Tirico. I think one of the reasons why it works so well, our group works so well, is because we don’t spend a lot of time together. I’d hate to think of spending 26 or 27 weeks with these people. I like the idea of just a couple of weeks. I think that helps me.
But having said that, to me this is sort of a fulfillment of a 20 year goal that I’ve had. I took our then two kids and my wife to St. Andrews on vacation in 1995. That was the first time I’d ever been there, and said, my goal one day was to produce the Open at St. Andrews. For me it certainly is a special week.
I think as we prepare ourselves for the week, the best part about it is that everyone is familiar with the place and everyone brings a different perspective on how to play the golf course, what’s the strategy involved in each and every hole, and I think that makes for great conversation during the course of the four days.
Our goal, as always, is to give people the best and most compelling four days of coverage that we can and continue to raise the bar on this championship, and that will be seen by everyone starting on Wednesday afternoon.
Q – And one other quick follow up with you. Obviously everyone knows that this year and next year will be ESPN’s last two years doing the Open Championship, but there has been some question as to whether or not it would continue at the same high level and I think you can address that.
MIKE McQUADE: Yeah, nothing has changed in our approach. While we are all deeply disappointed that we won’t be able to continue doing it after next year, I think we are so busy and so wrapped up into making this as good as it can be that no one is thinking about the idea that we only have two to do. I think we just want to make sure we can get in there and do this great, and that is always the focus, and how do we tell the best stories.
ANDY NORTH: Going back to St. Andrews is very special for me. I think it’s hands down the coolest venue for the Open Championship. It may not be the most difficult course, the most memorable, but it is absolutely the coolest venue.
The golf course is great, finishing in town, being able to walk everywhere, people hanging out of windows and off of balconies and over fences to watch the play. It’s really special, and I think Mike touched on it a little bit, what makes St. Andrews even more special from a venue standpoint is that we’ve all played championships there. We’ve all done the television for championships there. And you continue to be able to compare what’s happened there compared to ’10 and ’05 and ’95, so in a way it’s a little bit like the Masters for the viewers, very familiar with some of the holes and some of the shots and some of the things that have happened at this venue.
I think that makes it even more special, and we’re really fired up about going there. I think our group is as prepared and as professional as any group I’ve ever worked with, and I’m excited about spending a week with these guys.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I would tend to repeat what everybody else has said. It’s the highlight of my year, quite frankly, and especially as we go back to St. Andrews. We all have our memories, our first memories of seeing the place, and you know, you grow to love it, and as Andy said, it’s such a special place, just to be a part of it. My first time there was in 1975 at the Walker Cup, and I’ll never forget my first glance at the Old Course. I don’t know how I could put it into words, but anyway, it’s fun for us to go back.
You know, it’s a great week for us because what I enjoy so much about it is trying to bring Open golf and the way Open golf is played, especially at St. Andrews, back to the American public, and try to do it the best way I possibly can and the best way we all can, and to me it’s the most interesting watch on TV all year long.
You know, some might argue this year about that Chambers Bay thing, but besides that point, I think bringing St. Andrews back to the viewers back home is something we all love doing and take it very seriously. It’s not easy, and we love watching some elements. I think St. Andrews needs some elements to be a good, good test and to really test the best players in the world.
PAUL AZINGER: Well, it’s hard to go last, but I think the main thing Curtis likes to go there is he’s got the course record, and he won’t mention it, but Curtis, you know that’s true.
I was there five weeks ago. The golf course didn’t have any rough. The gorse, which I didn’t realize it was in full regale. I didn’t realize the gorse bloomed this beautiful yellow flower, but the golf course didn’t it didn’t look hard to me. They’re going to need some conditions, and they’re going to need that grass to grow a little bit.
But I think in the end it’s the little things that make a big difference, and we’re going to try to provide and present the big picture is the golf tournament itself, and the little things are what makes a big difference, I think, in why we as a network stand out and this broadcast team stands out. I think the best is yet to come. I look forward to it.
There are some killer story lines coming up with Jordan Spieth going for the third leg. Rory unfortunately looks like he’s out, and that’s an unforced error, and it’s going to be one of his greatest disappointments, I think, in his entire career that he’s not going to be able to defend at St. Andrews, and that’s a shame.
But the best is yet to come, and we’re going to do everything we can. I think these guys, the behind the scenes guys, McQuade and his team, have been planning, like I said, 365 days a year. I’m looking forward to getting over there.
- For the three analysts, can you talk a little bit about Jordan and what he faces this week and just the historical perspective, and as an addition to that, with Rory likely not being there, does that place a little more pressure on Jordan, who doesn’t seem to be fazed by the pressure, but just the fact that there will be no Rory story line, so to speak, so now Jordan’s accomplishment is now even more magnified?
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I don’t think it puts more pressure on Jordan that Rory is not there. I think Jordan is such a focused, poised young man, and I think he’s going to have his hands full just trying to take care of himself. He’s playing this week. That’s been questioned by a lot. I commend him tremendously for keeping a commitment at Quad Cities, John Deere. Bottom line, he’s doing what he thinks is right to do to prepare for the Open, and that’s all that matters.
Now, there’s a couple things that he is aware of that are real, real obstacles. One is jet lag. That’s a real thing. The speed of the greens, to get used to those is a real thing. My point is he has his hands full preparing for the Open this week and next week, so I think he’ll do just fine.
It’s an enormous, enormous accomplishment he’s trying to achieve here, and I quite frankly have never been in that position. None of us really have. So just kind of do your thing.
I guess the one thing I would say is that his sanctuary is on the golf course, and playing this week might be the greatest thing in the world for him. We just have to wait and find out.
PAUL AZINGER: My favorite thing about Jordan Spieth is that he is who we think he is. He’s just a good guy who’s got his act together, and he’s an old head on a young body. He is strategic in his approach, and he just seems grateful that he’s been he’s not an entitlement guy. He works for everything he’s got, and he just seems grateful for it. The fact that his sister has Down’s syndrome, I think that’s right, it’s made a big difference in his life and how he thinks.
He’s emotionally giving to his sister, emotionally charitable, if you will, with respect to the way he thinks and the way he feels. He’s just a phenomenal guy with great composure, deep thinker. He’s a breath of fresh air and kind of a throwback with a businesslike approach. I love the guy, and I agree with Curtis. I think he’s got his own things to deal with. Whether Rory is there or not isn’t going to matter.
ANDY NORTH: I agree with both Paul and Curtis. I think if you look at the golf course and how it fits Jordan’s game, I think there’s two types of players that really do have advantages there: The player who can hit it 800 miles, and we saw Daly do in ’95, Tiger in 2000 and 2005, that you can just hit it over trouble and put it in places that you can’t get in trouble, or the player who has to be very precise and attack the golf course, and I think Jordan falls into that category.
As I would have looked at Curtis back when Curtis was playing his best, you can put the ball in the proper place to create the proper angle to attack a certain hole location. Jordan understands that very, very well, and he is hands down, by far, in my opinion, the best putter we have on TOUR right now, particularly from 20, 25 feet, and those are the kind of putts you get at St. Andrews. It’s hard to hit the ball really close, and if you play smart there you can put it 20 feet from the hole a lot of times during the tournament, and if he does that, he’ll make a bunch of those and he’s got a great chance to win.
- For Curtis and Zinger, with Rory getting injured the way he did, what’s your take on that, and I’d imagine there were some activities you guys refrained from when you were playing?
PAUL AZINGER: I pulled out of tournaments because I sprained my ankle, and I had the shoulder injury from pulling the plug out of my boat. You can’t live in a bubble. Golfers are athletes, too, and Rory is an athlete, and he likes to play soccer. But it’s an enforced error, and I think it’s going to be one of the greatest regrets he’ll ever have as a player is to have to look back on his career and realize that he didn’t get to defend at St. Andrews. But like I say, we can’t live in a bubble, but you have to be sensible. It didn’t need to happen. He did it to himself and it’s unfortunate, and it makes all of us sad, but him more than anybody, I’m sure.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, I agree that you can’t live in a bubble. The only thing I didn’t do was snow ski until I was 40 years old. I did everything else. One year at the Masters, I was at Jay Haas’s house and the Harmons, we were playing full throttle basketball Tuesday night before the Masters. I mean, pick and rolls and just everything.
You know, we have to be able to have fun. At the same time you have to be aware of your hands and your feet and things like that, and accidents happen. I mean, you can do it walking down the street.
I think this whole thing is to me maybe a little bit overblown in the sense of how it’s devastating to us and I think the viewers because they want to watch Rory and Jordan go at it, but you know, he’s a young man. He is the defender, and you know, he’ll move on. I was talking to an orthopedic doctor friend of mine this morning before this call, and he said, it’ll take him three months to be 100 percent. But golf is different. Golf is about your legs, and for him to transfer his weight to his left side is going to be difficult.
Now, with that said, the doctor said, come on, let’s get over it, it’s a frigging sprain. It’s an ankle sprain, and it happens.
But you know, if you were in team sports, LeBron James would tape it up and go play, Tom Brady would tape it up and go play in the Super Bowl, but in golf it’s a different animal because you don’t have a team aspect and you have to do it yourself.
You know, you can speculate on was it stupid, was it smart, but I think he’s being a kid and doing exactly what he wanted to do, and unfortunately it happened when he was defending the Open Championship.
- It wasn’t too long ago Rory at THE PLAYERS Championship was kind of scoffing at the idea that there was any rivalry with any of the other guys. Again at Chambers Bay he was sounding like he was absolutely the undisputed No. 1 player in the world. Jordan’s win might have changed that, but do you think when Rory comes back, it is game on and that there is a rivalry now between them that Rory can’t even dispute?
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, a rivalry is somebody that plays a lot against each other, and they go at it a lot is my point. To me I define it as some animosity against each other, a real competition every time, and in golf that’s hard to imagine that happening because they just don’t go head to head very often at all. Now, they do play tournaments together in the same events, but how often really did Jack and Arnie come down to the last couple holes Sunday afternoon competing against each other, and whoever it might have been throughout the years? I understand the point of what we’re trying to say here, that they’re the two best young players that we have. They’re both playing very well at the time, they’ve both won numerous majors in the last couple years, but I think the rivalry thing is a little bit overplayed because they both are good guys, they both get along really well, and when you’re on the golf course it’s not about him, it’s about yourself and the golf course, and that is it. All you can do is put a score on the scoreboard.
If I’m thinking if I’m Jordan Spieth and thinking about Rory McIlroy, I’m done on the golf course. I think if we keep it in perspective, it’s a nice thing to talk about over a beer and who’s best and who’s playing the best and who’s going to be the best, but a little bit overblown sometimes.
PAUL AZINGER: Well, I think differently, simply because of their age, and Rory is No. 1, but Spieth has got two majors back to back. Even though they’re not going head to head, they’re going to be going at it for a long, long time, and so there is going to be a rivalry there, whether they’re competing down the stretch or not, because somebody is going to go to No. 1, will be No. 1, and somebody will be No. 2, or they’ll, who knows. There may be somebody that can come in Dustin Johnson or somebody could come in and replace them both. Who knows what he’s capable of. Dustin Johnson is dealing with a heartache that’s probably unimaginable.
But golf, there’s a lot of people that can play great at a high level. I think the idea that these two guys are rivals is healthy and good for the game, and I think it’s factual because they’re running 1 and 2 in the world. I think that it’s inevitable, even if they don’t compete head to head down the stretch, to make that, I guess, analogy or comparison or whatever it is.
MIKE TIRICO: I think the game needs it in the post Tiger era, if this is the post Tiger era. If you have two great players who have come out and won early on and, like Paul said, have those years ahead, it helps. Individual sports need great against great to really raise that level of interest beyond the loyal hard cores, and that’s what you need going forward in this sport, and I think if they do stay healthy and keep doing this for 10 or 15 years, that gives you something, someplace to hang your hat as you are a fan of the sport or also for the people outside the game. It’s good. I just think the shame of it is after Jordan wins these two and Rory has that chance, will he get the chance again in the prime of his career at No. 1 in the world to defend and do it at the home of golf. That’s a lot going there, and you don’t know if he’ll ever have that opportunity. That’s the frustration.
It’s funny because I’m sitting here at Wimbledon. When he announced before about an hour ago that he’s out for the Open, he sent out an Instagram of a picture of his foot in an inflated cast with his little miniature Claret Jug watching Andy Murray play on a big screen TV, and it’s a shame that’s going to be as close as we get to Rory next week over here.
PAUL AZINGER: It’s going to hit Rory. It’ll hit him like a ton of bricks when the bell rings on Thursday and he’s not there. He’s going to have a lot of really reflecting to do, and maybe he’ll have to slide into a little bit of a bubble. This is an unforced error and it’s a great opportunity lost, like Mike said, and he’ll never get it back. It’s likely he’ll never get this chance again, and he’s going to really feel that pain, I think, once the bell rings on Thursday.
CURTIS STRANGE: I just wanted to say once again I agree with what they’re saying, to all the listeners. I guess where I was coming from was the individual. Jordan is not finishing the first round and asking what Rory is playing or vice versa, I wouldn’t think. I would never do that. You’ve got your hands full with yourself and the golf course. Yeah, Mike is right. All the sports need something like this, but I think it’s more I just wonder how much an individual really thinks about a rivalry like that is all I’m saying.
- It seems almost inevitable that each year some Champions Tour player has a really nice run at the Open Championship, and I was curious your thoughts on how you think a lot of attention obviously going to be on this being the last time for Faldo and Watson but what about Bernhard Langer this week?
ANDY NORTH: What he did at the Senior Open last year in Wales was absolutely extraordinary. Last year Langer had one of the great years in golf that no one really got a chance to see much because it was out on that Tour. There are a lot of people that thought he wouldn’t be the worst pick for the Ryder Cup, which obviously maybe that was a little bit exaggerated, but he played so well. The last time he played at St. Andrews I believe he finished in the top 5. It’s a golf course that takes precision, and just because Bernhard is 57 years old, I suspect that he’d be the one guy over 50 I’d put money on to have a great finish. I think he is by far the best player on that Tour on a week to week basis as far as preparation and understanding how to attack the golf course, and then going out and doing that. He has been phenomenal the last two or three years, the quality of golf he’s played.
PAUL AZINGER: If St. Andrews is racetrack fast, then everybody is long. The only difference is carry, and there’s not a lot of big carries at St. Andrews. There’s some fits, where you’ve got to fit the ball, and we all know that going left is better than going right. Langer draws the ball, and if the course is racetrack fast, they’re all going to be hitting their second shots from the same spot. In a lot of cases you’ve got to fit the ball there at St. Andrews, and who knows, Langer is very capable. He knows how to win and probably is as familiar with that course as any player in the field.
- This year they’re also on the Monday of Open week having the Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and for many years David Graham seemed to be overlooked for that honor. Just curious your thoughts on him getting in and if you have a favorite story you’d like to tell about David.
CURTIS STRANGE: I think we changed the policy this year on the voting, as you know, and he came up. Wasn’t on the ballot before but came up and got in, and good for him. He had a wonderful career, won two of the majors, could have won a couple more, really tough competitor, had one of the greatest rounds of all time when he won at Merion back in, what, ’81. So good for him. It’ll be the highlight of his life, his career, next Monday night.
You know, enough said. It’s the pinnacle of a golfer to be able to get in the Hall of Fame.
PAUL AZINGER: A lot of people don’t realize or maybe don’t remember, either, that he was estranged from his dad at a very early age, and there’s a lot that he overcame to be the kind of player that he became. To leave his homeland and come to the United States couldn’t have been easy, either, and David Graham is certainly worthy of Hall of Fame. I’m happy for him.
- I was just wondering with what Jordan is trying to accomplish, if he does get to Whistling Straits, if you guys could try to compare it to things in other sports, not just golf, that we thought were records that just weren’t going to happen.
MIKE TIRICO: I’ll just keep relating it back I always have a hard time when you try to cross over sport to sport and compare even years, but I’ll just take it within the golf realm. This is only the second time in 41 years that we’ve been in this situation. You had Nicklaus before in the ’70s, so then, Curtis, we were there, and Andy, as well, in ’02 at Muirfield when Tiger won the first two, and I think it speaks to the difficulty of doing this. If you remember in ’02, Tiger, I think, shot 70 68 or 68 70, I forget what order, and he was in the top 10 going into the weekend, and Curtis will tell you, and Andy, it was the worst stretch of weather that I know I’ve seen in the 19 years of doing this. It was just one awful squall of weather, and he shoots 81 and he’s got no chance to keep going with the Grand Slam or for the Grand Slam.
It needs so many things to be in place, especially with the British and the luck of the draw because of the weather and those things that factor in. But when you look at sports and the things that separate the best players are, are you at your best at the biggest events, and for every other sport, that’s usually the end of the season. So when you’re talking about being at your best in events that spanned four or five months like they do here in golf, I think that takes it to a very unique spot. That’s why I think tennis and golf are the most realistic comparisons when you’re trying to discuss this. But needless to say when you’ve only had it happen twice in the last four decades and there’s a legitimate shot halfway through, it does stand on its own as worthy of the attention it’s going to get starting next week.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, and I think that he really does have a legitimate shot. He is the best putter on TOUR right now, and if there’s no real, as Paul said, if this thing gets fast and there’s not a lot of wind and rain and elements, it does become a putting contest, and he’s the best putter out there. He plays St. Andrews the way I think he should play St. Andrews. He fits it around the golf course. That’s the way he plays golf. He’s not a bomber like Rory and DJ and some of the others, which they play hot and cold as we’ve seen over the years.
But over the last two years, since Jordan has won his first tournament, he’s been unbelievably consistent with three wins and two of them majors. He has, much like Tiger did, a real, real legitimate shot to win the first three legs of the Slam. I think he can handle the pressure. I think he’s that kind of customer.
I marvel at the fact that he’s 21 years old. Is he still 21, guys? It seems like he’s been 21 for about three years.
But anyway, I just think he really has a legitimate shot because he’s playing St. Andrews the one negative is going to be learning St. Andrews in two and a half days, and it’s hard to do.
ANDY NORTH: He’s been playing on a simulator. You look at some of the IndyCar drivers and they’re doing these games that actually do help them. The fact that the pictures are so good, if nothing else, at least you know what steeple to aim at or what building to aim at in the distance, which might be of help.
PAUL AZINGER: Given the fact that he’s probably the most composed and authentic, I guess, and studied and strategic player, he’s all of that, he’s all the things Tiger was, maybe Tiger was as composed as anybody, and if he did get ticked off he was able to put it behind him. Tiger was strategic and studied. He knows a lot about the game, and Jordan reminds me of Tiger in that regard.
It’s a breath of fresh air to watch somebody, and then he reveals himself in his ability to articulate thought. He shares what he’s thinking. I think that’s just great. He can handle it. And the golf course sets up nicely for him, too. He’s a natural drawer of the ball. He’s longer than people think. As Andy North said earlier, it’s hard to get it close at St. Andrews, and he’s the best in the world between 15 and 25 feet.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, that’s the one thing about St. Andrews. As Paul just said, it’s hard to get it close. That’s the one real defense that they can control are the hole locations. They can put them in just some horrific type places that you never think they would put them, but that’s the one defense, and you will see that next week.
- Curtis, I think you just kind of alluded to this. I wanted to ask Tirico, Azinger and Curtis if there’s any concern that without weather St. Andrews might get completely blown up and sort of I don’t know, I guess the impact that would have on the game, given that that’s generally the cradle of golf civilization in the eyes of most people?
PAUL AZINGER: Let me tell you something: That hole is still four and a half inches, four and a quarter, what ever it is, and it’s still hard to get it in there. If the R&A I think they’re smart enough to count how many wedge opportunities these players are going to get, and at St. Andrews it could be 10 or 12 wedge opportunities, and you can tear that place apart, so they will tuck pins if they care about par.
The Masters doesn’t care about par. They set it up the way they set it up. The holes are going to go the way they’re going to go. The U.S. Open cares, and I don’t think the R&A really cares. This is the Old Course. It’s stood the test of time. The only thing that’s changed at St. Andrews is the scale, the size of it. The guys just are going to play from a little farther back, and they may shoot low if it’s really nice out. But if it’s not nice, it’ll hold its own.
CURTIS STRANGE: They can actually bomb for the par 4s, and where do you ever play a course like that.
You know, throughout time Paul, throughout time the scores have gotten lower and lower and lower. It wouldn’t surprise me if the weather is good next week and somebody shoots 60. But it’s going to be really tough when they put these hole locations where they will put them. They’ll be fair, trust me. Everything around the hole will be relatively flat, but just getting it in that area is difficult sometimes.
But you know, it’s just it’s the argument that we’ve had every year going to St. Andrews, is the game is it too strong, too long to play St. Andrews anymore. They’re landlocked. They can’t add any more tees. They’ve done a couple little things just to spruce up the golf course but not really make it any tougher this year, other than possibly the bunker on 9. But hey, they shot Tom Kidd in the first Open at Andrews shot 91 88, and he won, and now you’ve got guys they can shoot 20 under par this week, so let’s go play low man wins.
MIKE TIRICO: 15 years ago in 2000, I was sitting right next to you, Curtis, Tiger got to 20 under, and it was the first time we saw 20 under in a major championship. He ended up at 19. Oosthuizen was a couple shots off of that in 2010, and nobody goes back and says, oh, my gosh, how ridiculous that was in relation to par.
As we’ve seen and experienced, and it’s blasphemy for me to be talking about the U.S. Open with two two time U.S. Open champs on the call, but the USGA is the organization with the obsession of par for a score. The R&A is not, and we have seen that before, and Augusta is not as the guys have said, and we’ll see it again.
If the tournament is at minus 16, minus 15 the last couple of holes, maybe somebody at home will have their enjoyment taken away. I certainly don’t know that person. I think he’ll be just as dialed in no matter what the score is in relation to par if it’s two guys a shot apart playing the Road Hole and then playing 18 for the Open Championship at St. Andrews.
- Simple question: What do you expect from Tiger Woods next week?
ANDY NORTH: You know, first of all, what we’ve seen out of him, I guess very, very honestly I don’t have any idea what to expect for the first time in his career. What we’ve seen last week out of him was something that looked like an improvement. The scoring was good by everybody. The golf course was soft. But the fact that on Sunday he played his first bogey free round in almost two years and was able to miss only a couple of fairways and a couple of greens, you know, that’s some quality golf, and that’s going to help him over this next week in preparation for the Open Championship. He’s got some good shots in his mind and in his computer to fall back onto, and he’s going to a golf course that he’s played awesome over his time there. I mean, he is going to a golf course that every single hole he can picture good things happening on that hole because he’s done it.
I think it comes down to one thing very simply for Tiger next week, and that’s how he putts. He didn’t putt great last week. If he’d have putted great, he’d have had a lot better chance. But I think it’s going to be very interesting, but like I said earlier, for the first time ever, we don’t have any idea what to expect out of him. Personally, I think that he probably has a chance to have a pretty good week next week.
PAUL AZINGER: I would never ever personally write Tiger off with respect to anything until he decides to quit. I actually made the mistake last year of suggesting that Tiger would be the lead story of every major until he decides to retire. Well, that’s obviously not the case this week since it took 42 minutes to even get to Tiger Woods. The lead story is Spieth and maybe Rory McIlroy’s injury.
You know, if he can take his game out of the laboratory and go to the golf course and try to be Tiger doesn’t need anybody to tell him what to think. He probably needs somebody to remind him how to think, not to tell him what to think but remind him how to think. Get your game out of the laboratory and be the best player again. Drive it, wedge it, putt it, at St. Andrews or anywhere. Drive it, wedge it, putt it, and you can compete, and Tiger can certainly do that again.
CURTIS STRANGE: I think the one question there, Zinger just said, is drive it, wedge it and putt it. Can he believe that he can do that. Remember when he won at St. Andrews he didn’t put it in the bunker all week. If he strays with the driver at all you find these little pot bunkers that you didn’t even know existed, and as wide a golf course as some of those holes are, you can still drive it in trouble. And remember, it’s not trouble you can really escape from, it’s a one stroke penalty.
Nothing would surprise me, as Andy said. I’m rooting for him. Golf is better with him playing. I’d love to see him come back just to see the comeback story. But he hasn’t done anything other than some good play last week, some good iron play, to think he would contend.
But he’s got to make I keep thinking to myself, he’s got to make this turnaround sometime. If he’s going to make the turnaround, which I believe he will play better golf in the future, but he’s got to do it sometime, and I keep waiting for that time. It could very well be this week because of St. Andrews.
- Tom Watson will play in his last British Open. Having won it five times, what do you think his greatest Open performance was?
ANDY NORTH: I think Turnberry has to be even the fact that he didn’t win, may be the greatest feat we’ve seen in our sport. To do that at 59 years old was incredible. It’ll be very interesting to see how he plays this golf course. I mean, Paul talked about the fact that if the golf course gets playing fast, everybody drives pretty much in the same areas. Then it comes down to executing iron shots, putting the understanding how to get the ball in the right place. He’s had disappointments at St. Andrews. He’d love to go out walking across the bridge on Sunday versus Friday.
I think it’s going to be a very interesting week for him, but he’s had such a history in Scotland that he’d love to play well and be able to play four rounds and be somewhere near contention, this year especially.
CURTIS STRANGE: How do you pick one moment, when you’ve won the Open Championship five times, how do you pick one moment over so many that he’s had? How about the putt he made to get in the playoff for his first Open Championship against Jack Newton? What was it, a 20 , 25 footer just to get in a playoff? That was when he was struggling to finish tournaments, and think what that did for his confidence. And look at Turnberry against Nicklaus, and look at I just think it’s he’s had such a remarkable career, I mean, I can’t imagine. How do you pick one over another?
I think what he might remember over all of them is standing on that bridge either Friday or Sunday this year. I think that’s one of the coolest, you know, farewells in all of sport, to have the Nicklauses and the Palmers and the Watsons, then to be able to do something like that.
PAUL AZINGER: What a great career, and longevity is something that golf is produce more so than any other sport, and for him to be at the age of 65 giving it his swan song is just remarkable. Longevity is going to be the key as to whether Tiger can beat Jack. Longevity is going to be the key for Jordan Spieth. Watson has had as much or more longevity at a high level than anybody who’s ever played, him and Snead maybe.
- You guys have seen a lot of players through time. Who does Jordan remind you of specifically? And you talked about how hard and fast conditions will probably help him. I assume the reverse is true if it’s blowing and rainy, that hurts his chances. Can you speak to both of those, who he reminds you of and his chances if it’s not pristine conditions?
PAUL AZINGER: I’ll take exactly who he reminds me of and who he swings like is Curtis Strange. Every time I see him, his swing reminds me of Curtis. And his demeanor, Curtis was strategic in his approach and he was fiery at times, and Jordan shows a little emotion. I think Curtis was probably as long by comparison as Jordan is by comparison. You know, that’s thoroughbred stuff, man. Curtis, how many times did you lead the TOUR in greens in regulation? I know you led a few times, and maybe total driving, and that’s where Jordan Spieth falls.
I love Jordan Spieth, and the Curtis Strange comparison, I think the two golf swings, if you think about it, are very similar. We’ll probably do a split screen during the telecast to see how right or wrong I am.
I think that it’s almost impossible for St. Andrews to ever get soft, and you’re going to have to be lucky there at St. Andrews with respect to tee times. It can be calm for hours on end and then all of a sudden blow 40. There’s going to be a luck factor there. The conditions can sabotage anybody and will sabotage most.
ANDY NORTH: If the conditions get really bad and windy and rainy and horrible, the one aspect of the game that can save you is putting, and I’ll tell you what, I love the way he putts. He’s got some serious guts and determination. The worse the conditions, I think that doesn’t hurt him.
PAUL AZINGER: You know, I agree with that, I think it helps him, and here’s why. Jordan Spieth plays shots. He’s not out there making golf swings. He’s not thinking swings, he’s thinking shots. He’s a shot maker, and that makes a big difference when the conditions go south.
- Andy, do you have a comparison to another golfer?
ANDY NORTH: I think I was going to say Paul talked about comparing his golf swing with Curtis’s. I think they attack the golf course and approach trying to play shots and put the ball strategically very much alike. That’s how I would have he and Curtis I think were very similar of how they tried to play a golf course.
Not to take this wrong, Curtis, but I think Jordan might have been a little bit better putter from 15 and 20 feet, Curtis may be a better putter inside of five.
CURTIS STRANGE: He does a whole lot better than I did. When I watch Jordan Spieth play, much like Rory McIlroy, they swing their ways, they’re free swingers, they understand their own swing, and they don’t swing by numbers. You know, they will last longer and play better under pressure because they do it their way. All they’re trying to do when they develop a swing is what will work on Sunday afternoon when the pressure is the most, and when you play by numbers and swing by numbers, that doesn’t work all the time.
And so I love watching both of those guys play for that reason. They play the game. As Paul said, they hit shots, but they play the game, they don’t play swing.
I really see guys play more consistently when they play the game. Jim Furyk, guys like that. Who could ever, but guess what, he’s arguably the most consistent player of my generation, or our generation, and that includes Tiger Woods.
So I love watching him play and trying to think about what’s going on in their mind, and now with I love Jordan coming down the stretch at Chambers Bay because we could hear a lot, and he talks a lot to his caddie. Strategically playing that golf course was interesting the way they went about it, and that’s exactly what you have to do at St. Andrews.
- How about a comparison?
CURTIS STRANGE: I don’t know. There’s been some players you know, like a Faldo, but Faldo was more mechanical and swung by numbers and Jordan does not, like I just said. Everybody is a little different. It’s hard to compare. He’s very good.
PAUL AZINGER: You know what’s interesting to me is we’re a good solid 40 years into video technology, video cameras being used to teach, and man, there are no two swings that look the same 40 years into this. I just find that so fascinating. Jordan does it his way. Rory does it his way. Look at Dustin Johnson, look at Furyk and Matt Kuchar is under his armpits. These guys are all good at impact. They have great feel, and they can do it the most, and once you’ve got it, once you’ve got something like Jordan has, now you just have to do it the most, and when you can hit it like that, do it the most. He makes the most putts, he hits it the most solid, he’s the best all around ball striker. I love his chances here.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, and then once you have what Jordan has, now you’re just refining. Now you’re just it’s things that you can’t even think about. It’s saving that putt. Maybe it’s about guts and heart and confidence, number one, confidence. I made this last week or I made this in I hit that second shot into Chambers Bay from 280 or something, and they’re 25 feet. Dammit, if I did it there, I can do it anywhere, and I can do it better than anybody else. There’s little things that you don’t even think about that go on that make you a better player. It’s not about hitting 5 iron sometimes. It’s not about driving it in the fairway every time, it’s about getting the job done, and that’s the part of the game that you can’t teach. He has that “it” factor, and whatever that “it” is, he has that sixth sense to be able to play the game. It’s not given to everybody, but it is given to all the great champions, and they don’t come along every week. I just enjoy watching him play.
- If I could just close on this, for the three former players or current players in your world, so to speak, with regard to Dustin Johnson, obviously he’s coming off major heartbreak. This has become a thing for him to some degree. He’s had a couple, three of these now. Can you each of you guys tell me what your greatest disappointment was and how difficult it was to come back from that on the course and kind of expand on Dustin and how you think he’ll rebound from this?
PAUL AZINGER: We’ve all had huge losses, and in any sport, even in life, it’s not what you accomplish that matters sometimes, it’s what you overcome.
To me, when I think about Dustin Johnson now, this is the fourth time this has happened, but never, ever, anything like this. I mean, if he makes the putt on the last green at Chambers Bay, if he makes the first putt, then we’re probably calling Jordan Spieth, people would be saying he choked or he blew it, but instead Jordan Spieth was able to gather himself. He learned from his mistakes, and then he moves forward. He took a deep breath and hit a cut shot off the 18th tee when he normally plays a draw to stay out of that bunker. It was awesome.
But now what Dustin has to do, it’s like somehow his I say your desire for success has to be greater than your fear of failure. He needs that, and I’ll tell you, I’ve got to ask Curtis and Andy because I never got over my fear of failure ever in my life. It drove me, and I was nervous every time I was in contention because I feared failure in front of a big crowd.
I think what Jordan did was Dustin Johnson reminded us how cruel sports is. He poured everything into that U.S. Open, everything he had. Now he’s got to gather himself. It’s a great course for him to regroup and do what Rory McIlroy did after he lost the Masters and came back and blew the field away at the U.S. Open.
- Zinger, is there one thing that stands out that you still think about, maybe one tournament that you felt like you let go that was hardest to get over? Anything specific?
PAUL AZINGER: Well, I’ve got two right away: Obviously the Open Championship at Muirfield in 1987. I had won three times coming in, bogeyed the last two holes to lose that, and I thinned a 60 degree sand wedge to the back of the green at the Bob Hope one year and three putted to get in a playoff and lost there.
There’s two tournaments right off the top of my head. I don’t think about any of them anymore. They don’t bother me like they did, but I’ll tell you, it takes years to recover. Dustin has got a lot to overcome, and I think he can do it.
I don’t know what kind of anxiety he feels, but it builds. People say, oh, yeah, well, he’ll do it again, he’ll get that chance again, but you don’t know that for sure if he’s going to ever get that chance again.
Nobody knows that. He doesn’t know that. But when he gets there, he’s got to make that he’s preparing for success, and he’s got to keep dreaming, keep hoping, keeping planning and just keep thinking the best is yet to come. That’s the way Dustin Johnson has got to think for him to be successful.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, you know, anybody who’s ever played this game has to go through those tough times, and mine was the ’85 Masters. Four shot lead with nine holes to go and lost. I think I think about it every year when we go back and do the event. That’s really the only time I really think about it at length, but you’re reminded of it, and we go back to the National every year.
You get over it, but it’s a void in your career. But you know, when do you ever learn when you win? You learn when you lose, and you figure out what you did wrong and why you did it, when you did it, and hopefully you don’t do it again. Hopefully you’re smart enough not to do that again. It will happen again.
PAUL AZINGER: You’ve got to be courageous.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, you’ve got nerves popping out of when you think about standing on the last hole, if the Masters was your dream tournament to win since childhood, and you’re standing on the last hole, the last tee Sunday afternoon, par wins the Masters, if you don’t think that’s not tough to finish it off, you know, it’s incredibly tough. You have to it’s a lot about heart and guts. Sometimes it’s not about hitting the golf ball.
What DJ is going through, I can completely relate, because it was hard for the time after in ’85, and this was you know, DJ has lost the Pebble Beach U.S. Open, didn’t play good last round. You can justify a lot of the things he’s done. Unfortunate at Whistling Straits. You know, hitting a 2 iron out of bounds at the Open Championship when he was not leading but he was coming back, he was like one behind. But this was the really type of situation where you’re almost embarrassed. I was embarrassed by losing a four shot lead.
Jack Nicklaus told me the next week, I saw him, he said, this will make or break you. I think it’ll make you a stronger player, and the best thing for you to do is get back in contention as soon as possible. I think the best thing this week for Dustin Johnson, it’s very, very important for him to play well. It’s not going to make or break him, but the sooner he gets back under the gun, the sooner he gets that feeling back and hopefully he succeeds, doesn’t have to win but just play well under the gun, he can hopefully put that other Chambers Bay fiasco to rest more so, and he will eventually be able to put it to rest, but it’s going to take some time.
But I think he’s a tough guy. I think he’s a hell of a player. Well, we know he’s a hell of a player. He might be the best ball striker there is as far as length, accuracy, solidness, everything, on TOUR, and the length is so overpowering a golf course. But he’s just kind of got to get it back. God, you just hate to say anybody do that. I mean, I just cringed when it happened.
It’s not easy. It really isn’t easy at all.
PAUL AZINGER: I remember when Goosen missed that little putt to win the U.S. Open and had to go to a playoff, and I lost sleep over it for him, so you can imagine what Dustin is going through. But as Curtis alluded to, he is a great ball striker. It’s a good golf course for him. I don’t know, I hope so. I pull for him all the time. I like the way he carries himself on the golf course.
CURTIS STRANGE: He would be the odds favorite, I think, or the sentimental favorite this week, wouldn’t he? My gosh, if he got in contention, yeah. He’s so bloody long. Think about what Tiger did at St. Andrews. He’s so bloody long and he does eliminate so many of these bunkers. He has to actually back off, I think, on some of the holes. But he can easily drive, easily drive four of the par 4s every day under normal conditions.
PAUL AZINGER: You can bet that Wayne Gretsky has had his ear, too, about how champions need to think. That’s a question for him, I’m sure, to help him overcome what he was dealing with. I mean, I don’t know. It’s probably the most difficult thing you’d ever have to overcome as a player, to three putt from 12 feet, four inches to lose a U.S. Open. If he makes that putt, I mean, we’re talking about what the heck does Jordan Spieth need to do to bounce back.
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