2021 American Century Championship
An Interview with Mark Mulder, Mardy Fish & Stan Utley
June 30, 2021
Q Stan, what have you heard about American Century Championship from Charles Barkley and from others over the years?
STAN UTLEY: Obviously Charles and I have talked golf for the past two or three years for a little bit. I’ve been aware of the tournament. I’ve watched a little bit on TV. It looks like a fun event. I’m not fully aware of all the scoring rules and how it goes on, but I know there’s a bunch of guys like Mark and Mardy that are strong players and always contenders.
Q And so when you talked to Charles about improved play and how to approach things, you guys talk about the fact he’s got the live gallery and live television and different environment than the typical day with his friends on the golf course?
STAN UTLEY: Honestly, Charles and I have talked about golf swing. And I’m not too worried about his ability to compete under pressure in front of a gallery. I think he’s got that figured out.
I’m humored by people that think he has mental issues with golf. Charles’ issues were purely skill issues. They have nothing to do with confidence, mental. He had some bad golf skills working that he’s improved.
Q Mardy, a few weeks ago you and several other athletes publicly supported Naomi Osaka after the French Open because of depression and anxiety. And of course you’ve had your own battles with anxiety during your tennis career. I was wondering, do you or have you experienced it at all in golf? Did you experience it in any way during your run to the ACC title last year or in previous high level golf victories?
MARDY FISH: Thanks for the question. Mental health is really close near and dear to me. I have had a history of it. I’m very open about it because I’m a big sports fan and always have been. And I wanted a success story to sort of lean back on and to be able to follow as I went through my mental health issues and I didn’t have anyone that was close to me or understood necessarily what was going on.
And, so, I sort of came out with my story because I felt like it could help people that were in my position when I was going through it initially.
So that was really important for me. I have spoken to Naomi a few times. And, I mean, obviously her world has changed in the last couple of years with the success that she’s had and people pulling her in every different direction, on and off the court.
And she’s a sweetheart that meant incredibly well by what she tried to do at the French Open, which was to not want to talk to the media during that tournament and sort of highlight a little bit of the mental health issues that maybe she was going through but that other people go through as well.
She’s a very shy person. And that doesn’t necessarily exclude you from just being able to talk to the media, just because you’re shy. It doesn’t work like that. But I assure you that’s not the reason that she didn’t want to talk to them.
People get pointed questions when you’re playing that are difficult sometimes to answer. And so she tried to handle it that way. The French Open, the ITF that runs the Grand Slams for tennis, I don’t think they were necessarily prepared to have that conversation, to understand what to do with it.
She is a person that understands history, her place in history as well. And she wants to be one of the best players of all time. And so for her just to pull out of a French Open that she had won the previous two Grand Slams and going for three in a row and going for a calendar slam if she had obviously continued to win.
So just to think that she just pulled out just because or just because she didn’t want to talk to the media or because she didn’t want to have the conversation is way off. So I was proud of her for talking about it. I was proud of her for coming out with it.
I hope that she’s able to feel comfortable enough to sort of dive into how she feels and what she’s going through because it will help a ton of people, especially in her position. She’s globally the most sought after female athlete in world. It shows with her endorsements off the court. She’s broken every record as far as endorsements off the court.
She’s a pretty special person, special player and special athlete. So I hope that she can become more and more apt to be able to talk about it.
Q The other part of that is have you experienced any anxiety in golf? And do you think maybe because of your efforts and the efforts of other athletes that we as a society are better equipped at understanding mental health issues and supporting those who are affected by them?
MARDY FISH: To answer that first part, I have felt comfortable on the golf course. It’s sort of a safe haven for me. Tennis was something that was it’s really hard on your body. And, so, a lot of times when I didn’t feel very well, which was a lot on the court, playing three, four, five hours at times in some pretty brutal weather sometimes, can be pretty physically taxing. And so that would sort of mess with me.
And golf doesn’t necessarily, you don’t get that part of it. Although it’s an incredibly mentally difficult game, the physical part wasn’t there necessarily. So I didn’t worry about it in that regard.
But to be honest, it’s a daily it will always be a part of my life. It’s a daily sort of battle to sort of feel good every day. I still take medication for it. And I’m very open about it and happy to talk with anyone who is having issues or otherwise.
I’ve been able to talk to a lot of athletes you guys have heard and some you guys haven’t heard of and just normal folks as well. So hopefully it helps.
Q I had no idea, Stan, about your putting record in 2002, seven putts for nine holes. That’s crazy good. I wondered when did you realize that it was record setting? In your round when did you realize these are one putts or I’m just holing out, when did you realize what was happening?
STAN UTLEY: The story was it was a Friday morning in a tour event in Vancouver, Canada. And I made a bunker shot on the 7th hole and I had four putts through seven holes. And the eighth hole, I drove it in the rough where I couldn’t go over a lake. So, I chipped back on the fairway, missed the green, went under the first chip and chipped it a foot. So, I one putted for double. So, now I had five putts through eight holes. And I had a par 3 ninth and hit it six feet and made that. I actually had six putts in nine holes.
Q Makes me wonder, what’s your second best nine hole putting? Do you have eight putts in nine?
STAN UTLEY: I doubt it. But in all honesty, I have two records that I like to share. I also have the most shots anybody’s ever hit from off the green and shot under par, because I played so well that nine, with six putts I only shot 1 under. I promise you, you can’t play good and have six putts. It’s just impossible.
Q You’ve got a book. The “Art of Putting,” but beforehand if there’s one big takeaway from your book, the “Art of Putting,” what would it be if someone was going to go out and shop for it?
STAN UTLEY: I was taught by a fellow named Ken Lanning, an amateur in Missouri. And the number one thing that I would share about hitting a putt is the stroke swing’s on a pendulum that’s tilted. And you need to let the club swing freely from your arm joints. You don’t body move the putter in my opinion; you use your joints to swing the club in sequence. And you need to have the same amount of energy going back and the same amount of energy going through, which means your follow through should be shorter than your backswing because if you use the same energy back and through, the ball will slow the club down and the follow through is going to be shorter.
And the critical thing about the pendulum happens on a tilt is the club head should never ever go straight. It always arcs because the club is hanging on a tilt.
Q Except for that one moment at impact, when it’s square?
STAN UTLEY: It’s square to the arc and square to your intended line, but that’s the only time it would be square. So our listeners know, that was my first book out of four.
Q Mardy, when you won last year 76 points. The year before you had 57. What was the difference in your game from one year to the next?
MARDY FISH: That’s a great question, because I certainly wasn’t any better last year than I was the year before. So, I don’t know. The ball I had one round where I scored like 40 almost. So that helped.
Q Did the lack of a crowd there, do you think, maybe play into anything, or just the way the ball rolled?
MARDY FISH: I don’t think so. But I mean, hopefully not. I don’t get nervous or anything when I’m around with people around. But I was nervous sort of coming down at the end because I wanted to win. But I wasn’t nervous I don’t get nervous when people are around. I don’t think so. I just played better.
Q Oddly enough, the year before you won in 2015 you shot a 57 in 2014. Since then you’ve shot a 74, a 73 to win in ’16 and ’17. And I guess it was a 61 you had in 2019. What is the biggest difference in those years, especially from the 57 year to coming back and getting an 82, and then with the finish I’m sorry, I don’t have the stats for 2020 but what’s the biggest difference in your game? Was that before you went to altitude to play, as you said, in 2015 that you thought helped?
MARK MULDER: No, since 2011, I’ve spent a lot of time in Flagstaff prior to going to Tahoe. It’s been that way for over 10 years now. There’s a reason we’re not professionals. I go through funks for two weeks or a month or six weeks of shooting high 70s, low 80s sometimes. It just happens. Sometimes it’s just the timing of the tournament.
Those three years when I won, I think you said one of the I think the first year I might have had 80 some points.
MARK MULDER: Then it was a few less the other years. Sometimes it’s conditions of the course. Sometimes the course is a little firmer. Sometimes it’s a little more difficult. It’s just the timing of it. I just hope that my game peaks during that one week. That’s really all it is.
And the other thing is it comes down to, the guys at the top of the leaderboard, it comes down to who is going to make more putts. If you are going to hit it a little closer who is going to roll in a few more, because it’s all points.
You’re trying to make as many birdies as possible. Throw in a couple of eagles maybe. If you do that, you can start to accumulate a lot of points. But it’s just avoiding the double bogeys and trying to make a bunch of birdies. There’s no secret to it. It’s just trying to play well for those three days out of the year.
Q Stan, you’ve worked extensively with Charles, enough to get him a bet from William Hill to finish below 70th in the field of 80 some players. My concern is not his swing the first day, it’s his swing and his stamina on Sunday. How do you think he’ll hold up? You’ve worked with him. How do you think he’ll hold up, especially if he’s playing Wednesday or Thursday? I don’t know what his schedule. But even if it’s Friday, Saturday, how is he going to do on Sunday?
STAN UTLEY: I want to be clear, Charles and I have hit balls twice ever. So he’s not a guy coming to me for a lot of lessons. We played golf a couple times, but he took one simple swing tip that I gave him and he worked hard to have that tip improve his game.
To answer the question of how he’s going to do on day two and three, I predict he plays really good on day one and I don’t know how much he’s going to celebrate. (Laughter).
I don’t hang with him at night. And I have an idea that I wouldn’t want to anyway because I couldn’t keep up. (Laughter). I’m not going to predict that. But I do think he’s having enough fun playing golf now that he may take this very serious. And I know when he played the charity event near Thanksgiving he practiced hard and I’m sure he’s still practicing hard.
We chat on text message every now and then, but we’re not hanging out on the range much. And I greatly appreciate him giving me some credit for getting him headed in the right direction finally. And it’s really fun for me to know that he’s loving the game and he’s enjoying getting out there every day and playing.
Q I think when he spoke about a week ago on a conference call he said that one of the first questions I believe it was you asked him was how many voices are you hearing when you go to swing. And you took away the other 10 or so, and he’s just more focused now. And he was also happy to hear about the bet where he could possibly win a lot of money, so maybe he will take it more seriously?
STAN UTLEY: I’ve never gambled, but I’m thinking I may want in on that one.
Q Will you be in Tahoe, Stan?
STAN UTLEY: I’m at my summer job at Aspen at Maroon Creek Club. I’ll be teaching away at the members in Colorado. I’ll be cheering from afar.
Q Mark, I’ve got a random one for you. Over the last 15 months or so, baseball cards and kind of sports cards in general have blown up. Is that something, out of curiosity, that fueled your interest in at all, or anything you’ve done out of curiosity with that? Or is that just something you sign when fans ask you for autographs?
MARK MULDER: They don’t ask that much anymore, but it’s funny you say that because in the past year or so I’ve probably gotten more phone calls from card companies and stuff. So it’s benefited me. I mean, I’ve made money off of it, I guess you could say.
I don’t follow it that much, but whether it’s Panini and Topps and a bunch of those, I’ve done a bunch of signings where they’ve mailed boxes and boxes of stuff to the house and it will take me a week to get through them all. But they’ve got to fill out those cards with somebody’s signature card. So might as well be mine, I guess. They’re not worth much but they’re in some of those packets apparently.
Q Mardy, I know tennis cards are not very big, but I don’t know if that’s a realm you’re in. If I could ask a second one on top of that: Do you have any opinion on the price hiking in tennis tournaments, just kind of around at least the states I know some of these tennis tournaments the price wise for tickets has kind of gone through the roof over the last year or two?
MARDY FISH: I don’t have any I don’t own any trading cards. I am well aware of the market. But I don’t own any. Tennis doesn’t do any. I don’t think you’d make any money on anything unless it was Federer or Nadal. Certainly not a Fish.
As far as the other part, I don’t know much about that. Maybe they’re trying to make it up with the pandemic. I don’t know.
Q Mark, obviously there’s so much going on right now with MLB and checking pitchers and all of that. Just wanted to get your thoughts weighing in on that and how you might have dealt with that, if you had to, in your era.
MARDY FISH: What stuff did you use? (Laughter).
MARK MULDER: I wasn’t someone that used anything, to be honest. I was using the sweat on my head, on my arm, whatever it was, licking my fingers. I think it’s a bad look for baseball the way it’s going right now.
To be fair, I probably would have reacted the same way Scherzer or Sergio Romo did. I would have just taken it all off, thrown it on the ground and said, here, have at it.
The way they went about it, in my opinion, doing it in the middle of the season see, my time was before all the numbers, all the spin rate, all that kind of stuff. I’m not going to sit here and say I wouldn’t have used some pine tar or something had it made that pitch that much better or if I could see numbers that had made it that says, hey, look how much better it is. I don’t know.
I had some teammates that would use some pine tar or some guys would use the BullFrog on their hands, mixing it with rosin. I never touched a rosin bag my entire career. I never understood it made my hand feel all dusty. So why would I want it to feel dryer and dustier than what the balls already were?
The clubhouse kids or whoever rub up these balls months in advance and they sit in storage rooms until they grab the box. And when the umpire throws it back to you they’re incredibly slick and dry and dusty.
So the stuff if you want to make it that fair, then why are the hitters with batting gloves and pine tar and the sticks and all that stuff? If they want to hold onto that bat, wouldn’t we want to hold on to the ball? I know everybody has a different opinion, but with the stuff these guys have, I’m sure with the stuff the pitchers have, I’m pretty sure these hitters want to know that the pitchers know where it’s going.
That’s a scary situation, when you have someone who maybe doesn’t have the best command to begin with, who has a dry ball in their hand that is throwing 100 miles an hour. That could be life changing. You don’t want to see that become something maybe down the road, who knows.
As many rules as MLB has changed in the last few years and how different and cool they’re trying to be, who knows, maybe in a couple years they’ll come out with their own substance that they’ll say, hey, this one thing is legal. So who knows? At the rate they’re going and the things that are changing that wouldn’t surprise me either.
Q Secondly, in regards to the Oakland A’s and obviously I know you started there and obviously played a little bit in Sacramento with the River Cats. I wanted to get your thoughts, Oakland’s been up for years and years possibly relocating, but seems to be gaining a lot of steam now with a look at Vegas and the upcoming votes with the city council there. Just your overall thoughts on Major League Baseball staying in Oakland?
MARK MULDER: We were supposed to have a new stadium in Oakland when I was there. And that’s a long time ago when I was there. So there’s no chance there’s going to be a new stadium for the A’s anywhere in the Bay Area.
I don’t even see it it’s not going to happen near San Jose. They come out with these beautiful plans, I get it. But with all the politics in that city there’s zero chance they’re going to have something.
If they’re going to have a new stadium it’s going to be somewhere else. And that’s unfortunate, because the history of that team and just everything that they’ve gone through with the stadium, trying to make it nice. I mean, it’s such a terrible location. Nobody wants to drive there. There’s a reason the Warriors moved. Nobody wants to go to that area for sporting events.
When I was still doing TV stuff for them four, five years ago, there were bad things happening in the parking lots after those games. And the crime that’s on the BART right now, the public transit there, it’s a sad situation. It’s real unfortunate. But that city is going to lose this team, and they’re going to end up somewhere else. And then it’s going to get worse from there.
It’s just sad. It just makes me sad to talk about it because I have such a love for that place. That’s where my career started. That’s where we had such success with some of those teams, that it’s just really unfortunate that at some point they’re going to be in a different state.
Q Mark, out of all your teammates ever, who is the best golfer besides you?
MARK MULDER: He’s not with us anymore, but Cory Lidle was probably I was golfing with him, not that you guys remember, but in 2006 he died in a plane crash in New York when he was with the Yankees. Just a bad situation. But what makes it even crazier is him and I were together golfing the morning of 9/11.
So the fact that him and I were on a golf course in the East Bay and my mom called me and was telling me about what happened that morning on 9/11. And then I’m in New York playing the Mets in the NLCS in 2006, and that’s when his plane crash happened, when he flew into the building next to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, and the city kind of shut down and we had to get a police escort to get to the stadium because the roads were closed because of his plane crash.
And then we get to the stadium and I was the only one on either team who had played with him and I had to go talk about it. You lose a friend like that, it was a tough time. But he was probably the best golfer that I had as a teammate.
Q Are pitchers the best golfers?
MARK MULDER: Them, hockey players I don’t know, the hockey movement is very similar. A lot of those guys are great players. I just think, whether it’s serving the ball in tennis, shooting a free throw, pitching the ball, hitting a golf ball, there’s very few things in sports that aren’t reactionary. Nothing can happen until you do it. And those are some of the very few things that you can really outthink yourself and mentally can get to you.
So I think that helps when it comes to golf, when you do one of those other things, because you’re used to standing still. You’re used to waiting everybody waiting for you to start that motion, start whatever. So I think it’s a big factor in the success of some of that.
Q Caesars has Tony Romo 3 2, Mardy 2 1 and you 4 1, are you going to win this again? Should I go 4 1 with you?
MARK MULDER: I’ve said that the last few years. Ever since I started betting on myself, I haven’t won. I think this year I will not be placing a bet on myself and hopefully I can get back in that winner’s circle.
Q Mark, with a lot being made over the last few months with spectators returning to sports and the antics that go on with that, with the fans going back to this year’s competition, what kind of energy do you think they’ll bring and what kind of impact do you think they’ll have on the outcome?
MARK MULDER: I don’t know how much of an impact on the outcome. The energy will be awesome. It always is. I’ll never doubt that. And I know the energy will be awesome because I did miss that energy last year. I just felt this is just me: I could never mentally get into the tournament last year. There weren’t those fans. There wasn’t the pressure, I guess, having a whole bunch of them standing around you when you’re hitting a shot.
For me it felt like a little bit of a hit and giggle too much to where I’d hit a bad shot, I’d kind of laugh, let’s go find it, hit it again. That doesn’t work for me when it just me, personally, when it comes to golf, I want to feel those fans. I want to be around them. I want to interact with them, make jokes with them about how terrible my swing looks. That kind of stuff.
So I enjoy that kind of stuff. So I’m really looking forward to them being back this year and getting out there.
Q Stan, can you weigh in on the Tony Romo, Mark Mulder, Mardy Fish, who is going to win the tournament? Are you comfortable talking to us about that?
STAN UTLEY: I want to know why they let a professional Hall of Fame golfer play. I’m talking about Annika. But if they let her play up three, 400 yards, they better bring their games.
Q She doesn’t hit it quite as far, she’s still planning to win, I can tell you that.
STAN UTLEY: She ain’t going to throw off, I promise.
Q If you had to go to the casino, who would you bet on?
STAN UTLEY: I don’t know the guys good enough. My local insight said don’t bet against Romo.
Q Mark, how is your game? Are you ready to win?
MARK MULDER: My game’s good. Playing a lot of way too much father/son golf since we’re in Flagstaff. My son is playing 36 we’ve been here for 30 some days he’s played 36 holes every day but one. I’ve been playing not I’ve played maybe half that. So I have been playing a lot lately. So my game is ready. But, like I said, Friday morning it can all change. And I’ll be ready, though, on Friday.
Q Mardy, how are you playing? And are you ready to win?
MARDY FISH: I’m playing the best I’ve ever played in my life. I am ready to win again.
Q Is it the same strategy as last year where you’re going to hit it as far as you can?
MARDY FISH: You better believe it. Tee it up high and hit it hard.
Q That’s the Lawrence Taylor strategy. You should be a little more strategic than that, you know?
MARDY FISH: No, I’m good.
STAN UTLEY: Does Chuck get two shots a hole with you guys?
MARDY FISH: He can have three a hole if he wants.
STAN UTLEY: That’s a deal.