ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger participated in a media conference call today to discuss ESPN’s multiplatform coverage of the 112th U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco. Coverage begins with live SportsCenter reports from Olympic on Tuesday, June 12, and will include eight hours per day of first and second-round play on ESPN, ESPN3 and WatchESPN on Thursday and Friday, June 14-15, extensive coverage on ESPN.com and a special U.S. Open tribute on ESPN Classic. Full coverage details HERE.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
ANDY NORTH: I think this is going to be an excellent U.S. Open. Olympic is a fabulous golf course. For those of you who haven’t been there, the golf course is basically built on the side of a hill, and you have a lot of doglegs that work their way around that hill, and because of that, it’s a very difficult driving golf course. You can hit good tee shots because of the slope on the fairways, particularly if it’s fast and firm, it will end up in the rough.
So I think it’s going to be a premium on driving, and the player that wins this week will have to put the ball on the fairway.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I like the last comment Andy said. First of all, nice to be here. It’s going to be a premium to put the ball on the fairway, unlike last year, where we got caught with weather and soft greens or whatever. Everything Andy said is correct.
I think Olympic in ’98 was the toughest golf course all year long. I don’t know if it will play that tough. We’ll have to wait to see how it was set‑up. But I think I expect it to be plenty tough.
Once again, this is like the conference call we did before the Masters. The landscape has changed just a bit. The enthusiasm has been amped up a little bit because Tiger won his last event, so we look forward to that.
PAUL AZINGER: I’m really curious to see how Tiger does on this golf course. He and Mickelson, I feel like maybe Dustin Johnson, kind of the dark horses. Guys who play well on the west coast. Dustin Johnson’s played well in U.S. Opens and had chances to win. But I think Tiger and Phil, this is hitting them in the sweet spot.
I wonder if Luke Donald is big enough and strong enough to play this course. I know it’s going to play long and difficult. The greens are small, and then you have that really tricky seaside grass on the greens, that I look for guys that can handle the short putts, the five feet and in putts.
U.S. Open is always compelling. It’s the hardest tournament to win in my opinion, and I just can’t wait. I think the fact Curtis hit the nail on the head, it’s all been amped up because Tiger won the last tournament he played, he’s going to be the most confident guy there.
Q. – Azinger and Andy or Curtis can talk about this. I was talking to Luke Donald the other day. He’s yet to see the Olympic Club. Is that a disadvantage or can it possibly be an advantage in any way?
PAUL AZINGER: Olympic Club is not that tricky in that it is right there in front of you. But the more time you can spend on any golf course, the better off you’re going to be. I’m surprised he hasn’t rolled in there early.
The greens are small, and Andy alluded to the fact that the fairways are really hard to hit. There’s a lot of grain and slope in the fairways. You’ve got to curve the ball a lot of times to a certain side of the fairway to get it to stay on. At least that’s the way it was. If the fairways are fast, that’s the way it’s going to be again.
But it’s not too tricky. There are a few tee shots that are only blind once, and I think he and his caddie can probably figure it out. But I’m surprised he hasn’t rolled in there earlier.
CURTIS STRANGE: Just very quickly, I think that there’s never an advantage for not playing a golf course. As Azinger said, the more you see it, the better off you are. It doesn’t mean you can’t play well there.
Q. – With the announcement of that pairing (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson), Phil has played really well with Tiger of late. Do you think it’s a good pairing for Phil, and how do you feel about the pairing for Tiger? Obviously, this is a redo of 2008 at Torrey Pines.
CURTIS STRANGE: I know what I would do on Thursday and Friday. I would Tivo that group and watch somebody else, because you’re not going to see a damn thing trying to watch these three guys. There are going to be so many people out there watching one group, it’s going to be phenomenal.
I couldn’t help it. Sorry. I don’t think it makes any difference at this point, to be quite honest. I think, if anything, Bubba will be probably a little bit uncomfortable. But he’s played many times with both of them as well. Not on this stage, but between Tiger and Phil now, I think it’s much like the old Jack and Arnie era.
I think the one thing they have to watch themselves over is trying too hard to beat that guy and just playing the game, playing their round, and in the first two rounds of the U.S. Open. That’s what I would be aware of, and I’m sure they are.
PAUL AZINGER: Tiger and Bubba were really close pre-scandal, and they’re not close after the scandal. I don’t know if there is any tension between the two. But Phil and Tiger tension has always been blown up bigger than it is.
But in the end, you’re not going to play well unless you’re completely absorbed in the task at hand and what you have to do. These are all big boys. Bubba’s the only guy with a chance to win ’em all right now this year. I think he’ll be as zoned in as the other two guys knowing what the heck they’re doing. You have 113 wins or something between Tiger and Phil. That’s pretty unbelievable.
ANDY NORTH: Any time you’ve got great players playing together, usually it brings out the best. I think that’s what you look for there. In the past, Tiger and Phil played some pretty good golf when they’ve played together. But this is a golf course that, if you get concerned with other things, this is a golf course that can eat you up pretty quickly.
They’ve added some distance since ’98, and it’s really a wonderful test. The weather is going to have a big impact too. You can have some of the marine layer come in. It could be wet and cold. It’s going to be a great test. It’s wonderful for ESPN and the viewer that you’ve got those guys all playing together.
Q. – Curtis, a quick follow‑up, Billy Casper, how underrated is Billy’s career in the shadow of the big three?
CURTIS STRANGE: Oh, my gosh. I think we’ve all always admitted and understood, those of us who came and watched Billy and Arnold Palmer and Jack play against each other, and then just kind of reminiscing over the years. Billy was a phenomenal player. He’s won 52 events; is that right? Yeah, and three or four majors. I just think he was the best of the rest. Put it that way. After the big three, he was the best of the rest.
Q. – Tiger won at Memorial just as he did at Bay Hill going into The Masters. I guess my question is, has he reached a level of consistency that we can be sure that he’ll be a factor at Olympic or is it still a hit and miss thing with him?
ANDY NORTH: I’ll be happy to jump in there. In this game you never have any idea if you have it the next week. You hope you can get on a consistent basis. But what Tiger did through those years where he was ridiculously good is unheard of. Guys miss cuts. Guys have a bad week. Guys have issues going off the golf course, and they can’t concentrate, business or family.
I think it’s truly amazing what he did. I surely would think the fact that he’s now won twice this year, he’s got to be getting a lot closer. I know Joe Lacava was telling me that it was as good of ball striking as he’s seen. But I would think he’s going to be successful and consistent again.
PAUL AZINGER: Tiger is a victim of his own greatness. The bar is so high that he’s established himself. I guess Tiger’s tied Jack last week with 73 wins, ten years ahead of Jack. That’s unbelievable. That’s with scandal and swing changes. He’s had a couple of two‑year droughts so to speak, maybe three two‑year periods in his career where he was going through swing changes, and he still won 73 times, ten years faster than Jack.
So it has been remarkable to see. I think he’s going to play well every week. I’m more surprised when he plays poorly.
Q. – Not that it matters, but do you think he needs to win a major before people think that he’s officially back, or is he back?
CURTIS STRANGE: I do. I think that whatever that means, really being back. He’s won two times this year. Nobody else has won more than that. So it’s been unfair because when he wins, we critique how he wins. It’s not just that he wins anymore. But I think down deep inside me to say he’s back to a level of competing every week? Yeah, I think he would have to win a major first.
PAUL AZINGER: Just firsthand experience too, coming back from cancer when I was 33 years old, I played for six years before I won a tournament. It wasn’t until I finally won a tournament that people stopped asking me what percent back am I. Tiger plays at a whole other level.
So I maybe agree with Curtis on this one. He might have to win a major before people finally say he’s back.
CURTIS STRANGE: Sounds like that’s the first time you’ve ever agreed with me.
PAUL AZINGER: No. Well, it’s a burden to the player to have to deal with the question. So till Tiger wins a major, he’s going to have to still deal with that question. How close are you to winning majors.
Q. – Andy, Curtis is the only repeat winner in the last half century. I talked to Curtis about that a few days ago. But as a two‑time winner yourself, I’m wondering if you could have a theory of why it is that difficult to go back‑to‑back in the U.S. Open? Also, if you could reflect a little bit on your experience as the defending champion and the pressure that’s go along with that?
ANDY NORTH: I think there are multiple reasons why it’s so hard to win back‑to‑back. First of all, you’re not going back to the same golf course. If you win Memorial two years in a row, you’re playing in the same place. You win Bay Hill two years in a row, and you’re playing the same place.
So I think the fact that maybe one year, you have a golf course you absolutely love. The next year you go to a golf course that you don’t enjoy playing at all. That has a huge effect.
Second of all, the championship is so difficult to win. You’ve got to have so many things go right that week. Not only you playing well, not only you making putts when you need to do it, but also maybe Tiger doesn’t play his best or Phil doesn’t play his best or whatever. So there are so many things going into it. Then on top of that, there is so much time as a defending champion you have to talk about defending. You’re really not defending anything. It’s not the same place or the same time. So I think your focus, your preparation is not as good as it would be if you weren’t defending.
As far as myself, I went both years afterwards not playing particularly well. In one of the two, played okay, another one, I played awful. But I just never felt like I could go through the preparation I wanted to do.
I had a way I tried to prepare for the Open, which wasn’t out there playing in the middle of the day. And you had to play in your own press conferences, interviews and all that kind of stuff. So I just didn’t feel like I was anywhere near as prepared as I was in the year before.
Q. – Rumor has it the first six holes at Olympic, I’ve not been there, and I’m wondering whether you guys have been there since they’ve redone it, but the first six holes are supposed to be the toughest in Open Championship history. That’s from Tiger Woods who was just out there a week ago. I’m wondering if any of you have been there recently enough if you could tell me why. And I have a follow‑up question as well?
ANDY NORTH: I’ll be happy to jump in there. First of all, starting with the very first hole, it’s a hole that we’ve played as a par‑5 in past Opens. We’re going to play it as a par‑4 pretty much the same length. So jumping right out of the box you’re starting out with 520‑yard hole. That’s not going to be easy. You’re a little nervous. If you happen to drive it in the rough on that hole, you’re really in big trouble. It’s going to be very difficult to make par.
The par‑3, 3rd was always a very difficult par‑3. They’ve added distance to it. But the two key holes there, one, there are six really solid holes. There are some par‑4s that work their way across the slope of the golf course, that I talked about early on that makes it difficult to put the ball on the fairway. And the 5th and 6th hole, which were two really good par‑4s to begin with, they’ve added more length, and they’re both in the 490‑range. So you’re starting off with three par‑4s that are 500 yards. And a par‑3 that’s 235, and two little teeny easy par‑4s that are like 440.
So you’re really off to a stretch that if you drive the ball in the rough the first six holes, you could find yourself 4 or 5 over par very easily.
Q. – All that heavy seaside air, right?
ANDY NORTH: Exactly.
CURTIS STRANGE: Let me throw these at you. The first hole, par‑4, 520, okay. Hole 2, hard dogleg to the right sloping right to left, 428 uphill. 247, par‑3 number 3. Number, 438 uphill, number 5, 598, par‑4. That’s all, 6 is 489. Are you kidding me?
That’s why the three of us don’t try to qualify for the Open anymore. The worst thing that could happen is we would make it.
Q. – Paul and Curtis, I know you guys played there the last time. I don’t know if this is an answerable question. But why we had four winners there that most people would classify as underdogs. Anything about it? An aura, a magic, or is that just undefinable?
CURTIS STRANGE: I think that what you said as underdog in the twosome, but not a really underdog. I mean, Jack Fleck, of course, was an underdog. But Billy Casper, as we just talked about a moment ago, one of the fourth or fifth best players, Top 10 player of all time. So I understand what you’re saying at the time being 7 down in the last nine.
Yeah, that was a real anomaly, I think, and both agree. But Lee Jansen won two Opens. Lee Jansen over Payne Stewart I don’t think was an upset at all. Scott Simpson over Tom Watson, yes, at the time. But look back in history, and Scott Simpson contended for two other, two, maybe three other U.S. Opens. So he was a U.S. Open‑type player and performed well.
I understand where you’re coming from, but I think the ones we really remember are Jack Fleck and Billy Casper because of Casper being so far behind. I tend to disagree about the underdog. Though at the time, it would have seemed like that, yeah.
ANDY NORTH: Let me jump in on that, too. If you look at the guys who won there, they’re all great drivers of the golf ball, particularly at the time that they won there. This is a golf course you better be able to put the ball on the fairway. If you don’t, you aren’t going to win, bottom line.
Q. – Tiger’s resurgence notwithstanding, the last 14 major tournaments, there have been 14 different winners, and I think in the last 7 there have been guys that have never won a major before. Are we in an era where there’s no dominant players or are players just so good around the world that nobody has a chance to break out of the pack the way Tiger did or Jack?
PAUL AZINGER: Well, I think Tiger Woods opened the door for that to happen because of what happened with him and his fall from grace, so to speak, and the big swing changes he made. It’s given other players opportunities to capitalize. Padraig Harrington capitalized when Tiger wasn’t in the field.
Not to take anything away from anybody, but the reality is without Tiger in the mix, it’s opened up opportunities for other guys to get in there and get themselves a major championship. It’s a return, really, to what I was playing and Curtis, it was deemed no real dominant players. As much as Greg Norman stayed on top of the world rankings. There were several patches where there were long stretches of first‑time major winners and a different major winner at every major.
I don’t think it’s that unusual. I think what’s unusual is somebody like Tiger came out and owned it like he has.
CURTIS STRANGE: I agree. I think when Tiger fell off the map there for a couple of years, it did set the stage and open it up. And I think there are a couple of guys that did step forward. Let’s give Rory McIlroy some time to develop, mature a little bit, and he could very well dominate. We’ve seen some other players come on the stage. Mickelson’s played well. I just think that the talent level, there are so many good players now. If you’re not a true, true superstar like Tiger Woods, I don’t think you’re going to see anybody dominate.
There has been a little roll like Jason Dufner, and carried on through a year or so. But to dominate like Tiger does, that’s in a class of Gretzky and Michael Jordan, and Pele and the true greats of all time. I love seeing it, personally. I think it’s great to see some new names and people coming in to their own and establishing themselves. It’s like Jason Dufner this year. I think Tiger was so good, he kind of spoiled it.
Q. – I’d like to ask all three of you about Casey Martin, how remarkable do you consider that story to be? And as the whole issue of him riding in a cart changed over the course of 14 years when it was such a big issue in 1998?
PAUL AZINGER: I’m going to say this about Casey Martin, I don’t even know who said this quote. I put it in my book. I don’t know where I heard the quote, but I love the quote. It’s not always what you accomplish in life that matters. Sometimes it’s what you overcome.
Casey Martin is the great overcomer, a terrific person, unbelievable achiever and winner in life. I think it’s incredible that Casey Martin’s qualified.
CURTIS STRANGE: I was right in the middle of all of that before I had lunch with Casey prior to the Open a couple of months. When I finished that lunch, I was a fan of Casey Martin, and I was on his side in the cart situation after spending an hour with him. I think it’s incredible that he’s still playing golf. Good that he’s still playing golf.
We overuse the word courage in this game way too much. But he has more courage than anybody else in the field this week. It’s good to see him qualify. It’s good to see him there, and good for him. Good for him.
PAUL AZINGER: I was mistaken in that regard, Casey Martin needed a break in that regard. He won his case, and I was happy for him.
ANDY NORTH: I think it’s special that he qualifies for the Open at Olympic where he did before. That’s very cool. You look at he’s a leader of young men as a golf coach. What kind of inspiration does this give to the kids on his team? That’s just awesome that he’s gone on and done something really special.
It’s so hard to qualify for the Open once, and to do it again 14 years later, and now he’s got all of these young men who have gotten to kind of go through it with him which is really cool.
Q. – I’m curious what you think of Rory’s little slide the last month or so. And what kind of career do you think he will have in the long run?
PAUL AZINGER: I wouldn’t give much credence to missing two or three cuts in a row. We live in such a social media world, and we’ve got a channel dedicated strictly to golf. So it’s more micromanaged by the media, and people want to make a big deal of it. I just don’t know anybody that hasn’t missed three cut that’s row at some point in their life except for Tiger Woods.
It’s just no big deal. He’s only 23 years old. I think he’s going to have a terrific career, similar to a Mickelson or an Ernie Els type of career. He’s not Tiger Woods. He missed seven cuts in one year. Tiger missed eight cuts in 14. So he’s a normal kid, and he plays abnormal golf. He’s unbelievable. An unbelievable player. I love watching him swing the club.
But he’s not Tiger. He’s more along the lines of a Mickelson or Ernie Els‑type player.
Q. – Andy, about 18 at Olympic. Andy, what do you think of 18 as a finishing hole? It seeps kind of distinctive and unusual to have a finishing hole of 344 yards for a par‑4 like that?
ANDY NORTH: Well, it’s a hole that over the years has had so much slope on the green that they’ve had issues there. So it will be interesting to see if that green will be at the speeds of the rest of the greens. I don’t have any problem with a little short hole.
You’ve got to put the ball on the fairway there. Standing on that tee, it’s not a blind tee shot, but it’s kind of a little uneasy with that tee shot on the fairways. Maybe 18 yards wide or 16 yards wide, even hitting a 3‑iron is a hard shot to put it on the fairway. Then getting the ball on the right part of that green is not easy. If you hit it 10 feet above the hole, you have a good chance of three‑putting.
So it’s an exciting, short little finishing hole. I like that.
Q. – Curtis, it came up earlier about the difficulty of winning back‑to‑back U.S. Opens. In your case you actually made a good run at the third straight. I’m just curious when you look back on that time, was it ‑‑ has it gained more difficulty as the years have gone by in your eyes? When you were going through it, can you talk about how hard that was to do what you did? Obviously in the ensuing years, it hasn’t happened.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t give it much thought. In fact I’ve told the story many times is that nobody ever gave anybody much credit or chances to repeat because it just hasn’t been done in so long. The first time somebody gave me a chance that I read about was after I shot 64 on Friday.
So on Saturday morning, I pick up the paper, and now I hear it’s been so long since Ben Hogan. I didn’t have a clue who the last guy was. So now I know. So now it doesn’t make much difference to me because I’m in the middle of the tournament.
Fast forward two days. I do it, and now it’s a big story, and I didn’t know much about it. Quite honestly, I don’t root against anybody. You know that. But the longer it goes and the farther removed we get from ’89, the more proud I get of it.
It’s not so much winning back‑to‑back that I did. It’s more astounding that Nicklaus didn’t do it or Palmer didn’t do it or Trevino didn’t do it or Watson didn’t do it. You know, the truly greats in the game.
It must be something to this. As Andy said earlier, it would be a year removed and going to a completely different golf course that might suit your eye. So I was fortunate, playing well both times, very fortunate the second year, because I put myself in position but still needed help from Tom Kite. He gave me the help I needed.
So you can play very well, and you can be there at the right time on Sunday afternoon and just not be lucky enough to come through. I was. So that’s part of it.
ANDY NORTH: I think one thing you have to remember too is when Curtis did that, he was the best player in the world. Sometimes people forget he was the best player we had on Tour during that period of time. So if anybody could have done it, you would have thought he could.
Q. – You mentioned all those great names, Curtis. Tiger hasn’t done it either. But he has repeated in the other three majors. I guess, do you think that speaks to the difference in golf course angle?
CURTIS STRANGE: I guess you would probably have to ask him. Although he’s not going to tell you anyway. So I didn’t say that. Sorry.
Probably. I just think you have to play really, really well. In the U.S. Open, you have to be hitting on all cylinders. You have to have a complete game hitting on all cylinders.
Certainly I think we all expected it. After the year 2000 when he lapped the field a couple times at Pebble, I think we all expect him to win two or three in a row like many tournaments, but it just didn’t come to be. I can’t answer that one. But I do know I certainly expected him to do that.
Q. – His name was mentioned briefly in passing. I was wondering if you could address Jason Dufner’s rise.
PAUL AZINGER: I could address this. Jason Dufner seems to be a journeyman type of player that’s busted out of that mold. I don’t know if he changed the way he carries himself on the course. But I like it. I like it a lot. I think it’s to be admired.
Some might think it’s boring. I don’t think he’s boring in the press room as much unemotionally he would possibly bore you on the golf course. But I think he drives it great and has a terrific chance at the U.S. Open. I admire his demeanor. I wish I had it.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, I think that demeanor can be very advantageous at a U.S. Open. Because I think that’s the key for many players is not to get too high or too low, because you’re not going to make birdies. You’re going to make a bunch of pars. Par is always a good score there. The key for many players is just not to get too high or too low. That describes him in a nut shell.
But what he does, and he, yeah, his personality’s not going to win over the world. But from a golfer and a fan of the game, he’s one of the best ball strikers on Tour, and I love his swing. My question is Zinger is where the hell has he been? He looks like he struggles on the green a little bit of time. He’s jumped from all of a sudden breaking out this year like he has, and take it not one step, but two steps more and win a major to win his National Championship.
PAUL AZINGER: He lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley at the PGA Championships. He knows what it takes to be there. That personality that he has is going to be advantageous. Absolutely it is.
Q. – On a different topic, we had Rory smashing a dozen records at Congressional last year. In other eras, sometimes the USGA went whole hog in protecting par the next year. How do you think Mike Davis and his group will approach that in the wake at Congressional?
ANDY NORTH: I’d love to take this one. I don’t know if Michael changed his philosophy. I think last year was one of those years where I think everybody knew it was going to be soft. Everybody knew that with the heat you’re going to have the greens that weren’t going to be as firm as you’d like to see in a U.S. Open. That happens at Congressional.
But I think they made it a little too easy with some of the cuttings of the rough. The rough was pretty easy to play out of. Not to take anything away from Rory. He played unbelievably well. But as we all know, there has been some previously administrations that would have gone out and had the rough 8 feet deep this year. I don’t think Mike will do that.
I think Mike is a very, very bright person. I think he’s doing a great job. I think the conditions at Olympic are so much different, because one, it’s the type of grass that the ball is going to sink to the ground. The rough didn’t have to be five‑, six‑inches long at Olympic to make it play difficult.
If they had their three inch rough, and then it’s graduated to four inch rough, and then it’s damp, and the ball settles in it, the rough is going to be very, very difficult.
Q. – I want to follow up on the Casey Martin question. I’m going to apologize because I don’t remember which one of you gentlemen said you were on the side of the PGA TOUR then, and now you think you were mistaken in that regard.
PAUL AZINGER: That was me.
Q. – Okay, Paul. I’m wondering, 14 years later as we look back, it was such a hot button issue back then. Do you have a sense in the golfing professional golfing community how many people have had a rethink on this like you have? What kind of change of heart there might have been over the last 14 years?
CURTIS STRANGE: I’ll take it first. I don’t know. When I said I had lunch with him, I was very much in favor of the Tour at the time. It’s nothing personal. That’s what unfortunately it got to be. This was about the game of golf, and what had you to do to play the game of golf. One of them was walk. Hell, I’m against the carts on The Senior Tour, because I feel so strongly about that.
But, he came up ‑‑ when you have a lunch with Casey and you talk about his upbringing. He didn’t break his leg in football. He didn’t sprain his leg during a tournament and ask for a cart. He was born with this disability. When you have lunch with him and talk to him, then talk to him about how the whole thing was handled on behalf of the Tour, you couldn’t help but like Casey Martin and say, go get ’em, boy.
That’s how I had my change of heart. But I still didn’t want it to open up a Pandora’s box and have everybody asking for carts. I didn’t want that.
But in his case, I admire him for going through the system. I admire him for beating it because he wasn’t going to have this ‑‑ we didn’t think he could play golf this long. We didn’t know how long he would keep his leg. So for somebody to do that I thought was very admirable.
But as far as changing the complete turnaround, and I don’t think ‑‑ we turned around in his case, but I don’t think we’ve turned around overall in the cart situation. I didn’t, anyway. That was just such a hot topic, as you said, and people are taking sides from coast to coast. It was unfortunate. It was a terrible PR situation for the Tour, and they were just trying to protect the game. I understand that. But it was unfortunate on all sides.
Q. – Curtis and Paul, that U.S. Open in ’98 was part of Matt Kuchar’s coming out party. Kind of interesting that we’re heading back there 14 years later. With that win last month at Sawgrass, it kind of occurs to me that he’s finally fulfilled sort of all those things that we thought he might be able to do and to do as a professional. I was wondering about your thoughts about that and how nobody’s future is assured, no matter how well they look as an amateur.
CURTIS STRANGE: Isn’t that the truth. There is no guarantee. He was pretty phenomenal in The Masters, in the Open that year for such a young man. The next step would be to turn pro, make it to school, and come out here and progress quickly on Tour. Well, it didn’t happen. Isn’t that more the norm than not when you think about it?
So he struggled. With him struggling and working on his game, and fighting for everything makes him a better player and a tougher guy.
I always believe if you don’t make it right away, it will make you a better player in the long run. Maybe what he went through was the best thing that could have happened to him. We’ll never know that. But in the long run, 14 years later, he won a very big tournament in THE PLAYERS. He’s had an incredible year last year. Was it last year or the year before?
Q. – Money list the year before last, yeah.
CURTIS STRANGE: I think it was all probably well worth it now to him. He’s got a great family and seems like he’s always happy, and sometimes everything works out for the best. I think that’s more the norm than not. A guy struggles, And maybe his game wasn’t as good as we thought it was, or maybe mentally he wasn’t as mature as he should have been. All those things that we never know. We never know what goes on inside and the way he feels about his game, and how good his game really is. I speak from experience. We all went through that.
When you get on Tour, the step from amateur golf to professional golf is so large that the real star and the real prodigy like, you can name a handful of them. You get on Tour, and you have to learn how to play all over again, or you just have to improve. By doing that, you just have to work and it takes time.
Because nobody gives a rat’s ass about you on Tour. They don’t. The old line about half the locker room don’t care about you making 8 on the last hole, and other half wished it had been 9. No truer statement in the world.
Anyway, you learn to fight through all of those things. Then being accepted yourself, accepted by your peers and everything’s worked out for him, I’ll say that.
Q.- We touched on Phil Mickelson at the beginning of the press conference, but it evolved more into talking about Tiger. I wonder what you think about Phil’s chances this week? He’s had some really good highs this year. We saw him at AT&T where he played some of the best golf of his life. Over a week ago he withdraws with mental fatigue. What do you read from all of that? What kind of year is he having? Can he go into Olympic and surprise everybody and win his first U.S. Open?
ANDY NORTH: I think first of all Phil’s had some great close calls at the Open. He could have won two or three of them very easily. The biggest thing with Phil and I think at Olympic is that how disciplined will he be on certain short holes and can he drive the ball to the fairway?
If he drives the ball to the fairway, he’s got a great chance to win. But it’s a difficult driving golf course. Lot of times guys are hitting it a long ways and they have trouble at a course like Olympic even as long as it is. The primary thing you have to do is you better be playing off the short grass.
I think that will determine what Phil does. The only thing Phil cares about right now are major Championships. So I suspect that he’ll come in here and be in really good shape and be ready to go.
CURTIS STRANGE: If I could just add to that. He’s exactly right. But the thing about Phil Mickelson is that he’s got such a short memory, a better memory than anybody else. He plays poorly sometimes leading up to big events, but he’s doing it preparing for that event, and he forgets about his poor play. I don’t think ‑‑ when he goes to Olympic, I don’t think he’ll remember anything about the last couple of weeks.
A lot of Memorial, as a former player, a lot of Memorial was strictly by poor planning. Playing three weeks in a row. Going over to Europe with his wife, Amy, and then coming right back to Columbus. Anybody would have been tired.
You never want to withdraw from an event, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. I think Phil will be fine. He’ll go work on his game. He’s a closet hard worker at home. He doesn’t just show up and go through the motions. He works hard at home.
I think he’ll be fine. But he’s got to put it in the fairway. But it’s going to be interesting because as an analyst to see how these big hitters play this golf course, because it is long enough where they’ll be very tempted to hit a lot of drivers. But it is maybe the toughest driving golf course that they ever played because of the slope of the fairways. So it will be interesting to see who backs off. Who goes forward, who backs off, who goes forward as the week progresses.
Click HERE to visit ESPNMediaZone’s golf media kit for announcer bios, photos, programming schedules and more.