ESPN golf analysts Andy North and Curtis Strange and host Scott Van Pelt participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. For the 12th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 11-12, as well as extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
ANDY NORTH: I think this is a lot of people’s favorite major because it’s the first one of the year. Those of us who are living in the Midwest and the northeast are coming out of a bad winter and it’s kind of the kickoff of spring. People up here are so fired up about it because it’s the start of our golf season, basically.
And the neat thing is it’s the only major that’s played at the same venue every year, so the viewer has as much knowledge of how certain holes have played as some of the younger players who have never been there.
It’s really fun in that way. It’s going to be a great week. I was lucky enough to be down there for a couple of days a couple weeks ago. The golf course is just fabulous. It’s firm. Right now, it’s playing amazingly fast, which should set up a great tournament.
CURTIS STRANGE: The players, I’m looking at a list right here in front of me — we say this every year, but it seems to be true this year. This seems to be wide open. Rory’s playing well. Just won THE PLAYERS. DJ is so gifted and Justin Rose and Koepka, and Justin Thomas seems to be able to win any where at any time. Can Tiger pull it off? We’ll have to wait and see. But he seems to be trending well. Can Mickelson at 48 do it?
And then you have other guns like Xander Schauffele and Cameron Champ, who is long. It seems to be wide open, and we certainly have our favorites, but it’s so exciting to come in here because the players are exciting and when they get excited, the fans do, we do, and it’s a good week and it’s full of so many story lines that it’s a thrill to kind of open up every day on SportsCenter, talking about different things that we’re able to talk about there. Some of the story lines that we can’t quite get on, you know, SVP and I can’t get on in Butler Cabin. But it’s always a good week and we always look forward to it.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Like everyone who goes and has been lucky enough to go for some period of time, it represents an idea off in the distance, as Andy mentions, during the winter, your mind drifts to being there.
You know, you’re lucky enough if you go through the years to have friendships that are renewed there and probably in many cases only there, people you see only at Augusta, and friendships that are renewed, and the love affair you have with just the grounds.
I’ve talked about it in past; I do the same walk every year from the TV compound over through the par 3 course and I stopped every morning there on that 8th tee and just take a look around, and I’ll do the same thing again, and as I’m standing here right now, I look forward to that, that walk, that place, just the idea that I get to come back there, and as Curtis was alluding to, the story lines are certainly in place.
The fact that Rory has played so well of late, and he’ll come here every year from now until he wins it, if he wins it, looking to finish off the Slam. But always with so many different people that are on that list of, oh, he can win here, and it’s a crowded list.
But history tells us if you can win here, you’d better, because we all thought Greg and Ernie and Tom Weiskopf and David Duval, they are all going to win one, and they didn’t.
I think there’s the history, and then there’s the idea of what’s new and what will be written, as Phil Mickelson always talks about, history is written every year. So our job is to sort of document it, and a job that we are very grateful we get to provide.
Q. Something of a non-golf question to start. When you think about the quirks and oddities of the Masters and more specifically, Augusta National, what are some things that come to mind, the no cell phone rule or pimento cheese sandwich, when people ask you what it’s like to be there for the week and they are not asking specifically about golf, what are some things that come to mind?
CURTIS STRANGE: I had a chance to go there twice as an amateur and never left the compound two years in a row staying in the Crow’s Nest, and I just thought that the etiquette of the game, the history of the game, that I was really proceed to it there, and it’s a special place because everybody that comes through the gates, players, caddies, fans, us, you know, you understand that, and there’s a decorum there that you respect a great deal.
And not being, you know, critical of any place or anybody else, it’s just you respect it because the Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts and Sam Sneads and whoever came before you, you want to uphold what they set forth for you.
So I just always think it’s such a special place. It’s the little things. Like you take your hat off, and you see — as SVP said, you see friends there that you only see once a year, and it’s a great coming together of the golf industry. Everybody understands that it’s a special place and we’re going to act — we’re going to act accordingly there.
SCOTT VAN PELT: No one screams “mashed potatoes.” And it’s interesting, because people kind of govern themselves, you know. It’s just there’s a reverence for once you walk in, that isn’t — it’s not like Orwellian, right. It’s just people know not to act foolish. So they largely don’t.
You don’t run; it’s understood. And when guys hit a drive, you don’t hear someone screaming “baba booey” or “mashed potatoes” there. It’s not going to happen. The place, I think in many ways governs itself.
ANDY NORTH: One of the things I appreciated there so much as a player is that you would recognize so many of the people. I used to walk across the bridge on the left side of 15 along the grandstands. That was where I walked up on to the 15th green from and did it for years, and there were multiple people that had the same seats in those grandstands for 15 years. And it got to the point where, you know, you’d say hi to them as you walk by and you’d have conversations in practice rounds. You know, they ask about your kids.
Those are things you don’t see anywhere else. People with the same seats, the same places, every single year.
Q. For Curtis; you won back-to-back U.S. Opens on different courses. Why do you think when this event is held at the same course every year, we’ve only seen two people repeat? What make this is so difficult, do you think?
CURTIS STRANGE: I just think it’s tough to repeat anywhere on Tour. Just quite simply, because it’s a year removed. And to win on Tour, you have to be so precise and so exact and so perfect, just about, for four days now; that’s the obvious.
The second here is that you have a great field, and you know, the best players in the world are all there, and to beat them two years in a row is just a difficult task. You know, you have to be — especially with these green complexes and the speed of the greens, you’ve just got to be spot on, as they say. Two years in a row is just a tough — it’s just tough to do. I mean, it’s very simple, I think. Everybody goes to the press and everybody knows what’s going on and everybody knows the plan for history and the green jacket and whatnot, but it’s just tough to do two years back-to-back.
Now there have been a couple that have went back-to-back and a couple of guys that win more than one. I don’t know, Andy, maybe you can answer better than I. It’s just you’re beating the best players in the world on a really tough, penal golf course; two years back-to-back, is tough to do.
ANDY NORTH: You know, first of all, it’s hard to win anywhere, any time. It’s amazing when a guy wins that tournament twice over his career, let alone back-to-back years. I don’t — you know, obviously if the golf course fits you, you’ve got a better chance than you do what Curtis accomplished at The Open, the golf courses can be so different, and to be able to do that back-to-back is amazing.
I think it’s just so hard to win anywhere any time that if a buy wins back-to-back, it’s just hard to beat the odds completely. There’s just no other way to say it.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Is it hard to know how many guys, just how many people there are that it seems to favor.
In other words, we go there every year and you say, oh, Dustin Johnson. Well, he’s never really been in the mix on Sunday, and yet if he went out and blitzed the course it wouldn’t surprise you.
A guy like Paul Casey has like five Top 10s. Justin Rose only finishes in the Top-10. Tiger’s won it a bunch. Phil’s won a bunch.
So what you end up with at this course is that everyone knows so well and practices for so specifically and precisely is this pack of the best of the world, almost all of whom seem to have the game and the goods to win.
So you go to certain courses, maybe it’s a links course or a U.S. Open venue and with certain guys, they don’t have what it takes to win there. It seems that all of the best in the world don’t like the place; they love it, and so many of them show up with the possibility in their mind that they could, but you have to beat all of those guys every year. It seems to me that that, as much as anything, is what makes winning here once, hard to do, and two in a row, so prohibitively difficult.
CURTIS STRANGE: Interestingly enough, of the players that Scotty mentioned, none have won the Masters. So we have possibly four or five favorites in the field who haven’t won there. Whoever wins there, if it’s one of the top four or five certainly has a better chance than the other four next year.
For these guys, not to have won, it’s hard to go at that top four or five and think anybody else can win next week.
Q. Very quickly, about the defending champion, Patrick Reed. If you walk with him in tournaments week for week, it’s so clear that he is perhaps the most polarizing player out there, and my question to you guys is why. Why do you think that is?
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I think he wears his emotions. He doesn’t hide anything back. That’s why I like the way he plays so much. He’s emotional. He’s a tough, tough guy, tough competitor and certainly recognizable because of his Ryder Cup record and after last year winning the Masters.
You know, I said after the Masters, and I hope it came off properly to him because I respect the hell out of him, but he’s kind of like the lovable villain, not so much for who he is, but who he is going up against last year, you know, two or three of the darlings of the Tour.
So somebody has got to take that role and it’s him, I guess. But there’s nothing wrong with Patrick Reed and the way he plays his game. He just kind of sometimes speaks quickly and that’s okay, true, but that might get you in trouble once in a while.
ANDY NORTH: And I think Patrick, it’s like the kid that when you’re picking teams playing backyard football or basketball or baseball, or whatever it is, he’s the guy that when you put him on your team, you love him, and when the other team takes him, he’s the guy that you’re going to hate. I think that’s because he’s so competitive.
I mean, here is a guy that’s ultra competitive and he doesn’t care who he beats or who he offends telling them that he’s going to beat them.
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, when he came out with that comment some years ago and said, “I think I’m a top five player in the world” I love that he thought it. Sometimes you don’t say what you’re thinking, you know what I mean. The old adage, where if you’re that good, you contend don’t have to tell anybody, just show them.
So I love the fact that he did it and shows what kind of guy he is. But sometimes when you verbalize your thoughts, honesty is going to against you once in a while.
SCOTT VAN PELT: You have to forgive me for kind of chuckling to myself picturing Curtis Strange the Tour player loving the guy that hasn’t played in a major telling everybody he was top five in the world and imagining how Curtis Strange the player would have taken that when he teed up against him.
I think he’s (Reed) rubbed people the wrong way in the past, and I think the thing about him is he truly doesn’t care. It’s easy to say I don’t care what people think. He doesn’t care what people think.
CURTIS STRANGE: I’m going to take that as a compliment, VP.
SCOTT VAN PELT: It is.
Q. One name that hasn’t been mentioned, Curtis didn’t mention, understandably so, and he would have been mentioned in past years, is Jordan Spieth. He would have been right up there. I’m curious for Andy and Curtis, can going to a site, like showing up at Augusta, can that unlock something because of the emotion that’s involved, or can it work the other way that you feel extra pressure and maybe you don’t perform there? I don’t know your personal experience, whether you found that, if that makes sense.
ANDY NORTH: I think past experiences on a golf course always help you, but I think the biggest thing about Augusta National is that it’s a golf course you have to play golf shots. You have to visualize what you’re trying to do, shapes of shots, trajectories, much more than most of the courses we play.
Jordan’s been caught up in a time where he hasn’t played his best. He’s lost some confidence in what he’s doing. He’s worked a lot mechanically on his golf swing. And when you do that, you struggle.
Every single one of us who have gone through those periods struggled dramatically, and sometimes it’s a course like Augusta where you have to start thinking about creating shots versus technical golf swing things that freeze you up and lets you really play again.
And with his good vibes there, his short game expertise and the fact that now he can’t go around Augusta National thinking about technical stuff in his golf swing, I think will free him up and give him a chance to have a good week.
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I can’t add anything more to what Andy just said. Completely agree.
Just remember that every player on Tour is one swing thought away from shooting 65 every day, and that’s how quickly it can change. You know, we won’t know until we get there, but yeah, I completely agree with everything Andy just said.
Q. I’ll be the first one to ask a Tiger question. Curious for Andy, and Curtis, in particular, your view of his game, state of his game right now, and specifically, it seems like the next few majors, not just Augusta, but then Bethpage where he has obviously won a U.S. Open and Pebble where he dominated the U.S. Open in 2000 like no other, certainly line up well. If he’s ever going to win a major again, it seems like the next two months are his best shot. I’m curious your take on his game and his chances, and also specifically his putting, which certainly seems not what it used to be.
ANDY NORTH: This is a great year for him as far as the majors are set up. They are golf courses he likes and he’s had success on.
I think if you’re breaking down where he’s at right now, I think, one, he’s at a different place than he was last year in that last year he had some great finishes coming into this event, but I don’t think he still had 100 percent confidence his body was going to hold up. I think that’s been put to rest.
I think he’s at a good place there. I think he knows he can do what he needs to do. He’s learned that he has to practice a little bit differently than he did before all those things, but I think that’s good.
I think if you look at his golf swing, it would be hard to argue it’s not as good now as it’s ever been. I thought the fact that he’s dialed it back a little bit, it looks like the rhythm in his swing and the fact that you don’t see him jumping out of his shoes during rounds on the golf course to hit it ultra hard; I thought the last two or three weeks, particularly, we’ve seen him make a ton of really good, controlled golf swings off the tee, which that was usually where he’s gotten in trouble and he’s driven the ball much better of late. He’s put it in the fairway much more.
You mentioned the putting. He struggled mightily at times this year with his putting, particularly speed-wise. I thought last week, he missed a couple of short ones. One that cost him the match on the last hole, but I think that he hit the putt exactly where he wanted to hit it. I think that was a misread versus a mis-stroke. I thought his stroke looked freer and more confident, and I think everything’s trending toward him having a really good week.
CURTIS STRANGE: And don’t ever tell me that things I read and heard this past week, about him missing the short putt to lose the match, could have been a good thing for next week at the Masters. That’s such a crock it’s unbelievable.
But anyway, you know, to me, it all starts off the tee for a player. If you drive it in the fairway, it sets up the entire hole. You’re playing out of the short grass to maybe a hard hole location, but now you can play more aggressively. If you’re a little bit wayward at Augusta, yes, you can play that way but you’re coming in from bad angles out of that short rough and now you can’t control the ball as well.
So now you might put it on the green 30, 40 feet but now 3-putt comes into play. So my point of saying it, I think sometimes if we talk about him missing some putts, yes, but he’s put a lot of pressure on his putting because he hasn’t driven in the fairway or driven it very well.
Tiger’s M.O. has always been that way in my opinion. When he played his best golf, he drove it in the fairway; not only drove it in the fairway but drove it longer than everybody else, as well. If he can drive it well, and the same with Mickelson there. If they can have a good week driving the golf ball, they are not going to drive it perfectly, but if they can put it in play on most occasions, it really sets up well for them because as we’ve always said, and we truly believe, it’s a second-shot golf course. It’s a second-shot golf course, plus, playing the par 5s well.
If you can put it in play, it makes the game so much easier.
Q. For any of you, the nature of Rory McIlroy, he’s now committed to the States more than ever. He’s got a number of business interests, for a foreign player, in the States. He’s kind of the face of different things, the PGA Junior League, now the GolfPass. Just get your thoughts on what makes Rory so appealing in this group of great young players, because he’s not overly flamboyant or — he doesn’t stand out for me necessarily personality standpoint, but what makes him unique, do you think guys think?
CURTIS STRANGE: I have to disagree a little bit. He is unique but I disagree that he’s not flamboyant. He’s not flamboyant in the style of Mickelson or Arnold or that type. But he’s a good-looking kid, honest to a tee, honest to a fault, and that’s a good thing. People feel like they want to go hug Rory after he loses, and everybody I think on the planet was happy that he won THE PLAYERS.
So I just think he’s such a warm and charming, nice man, and also has three majors under his belt. Makes him, you know, that type of person.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I agree with you, honesty. I watched him on the Golf Channel with Rich Lerner and Brandel (Chamblee) and David Duval and Frank Nobilo, and he was also on with us that night, and the Golf Channel obviously on live from there had the latitude of being able to talk to him as long as they want on their show. Our show, we would probably talk to him for five minutes.
Just the depth of the conversation that they were able to get to and the level of honesty and the level of the ability to connect with him on human levels I think makes him more interesting than most athletes in any sport.
I think that there’s a lot there. There’s a thoughtful guy that will tell you sort of what he is thinking honestly and a lot of athletes won’t, and then from just the golf standpoint, man, when he gets that cocky Rory walk going and he’s hitting that putt — that drive he hit on 18 at the place, the water didn’t exist and he pulls out a bazooka and pops it down the middle like it’s nothing; and that level of Rory to me is incredibly appealing from this strict golf aesthetic.
I think, you know, you speak to the other things that he’s doing here, doing like a Podcast, investing in the Junior Golf League. He’s always a European, so there’s a lot that’s very American about who he’s become and where he makes his residence and where he’s investing his time and his energies.
I think he’s as likable as anyone in the sport and he’s more interesting than most in any sport, to me. So I think from all of those angles and with the story line, he’ll bring with him every single year until he wins it, if he wins it, try to finish off the Slam, I think that makes him one of the most compelling stories for us to follow from the moment we walk on the grounds.
ANDY NORTH: To add a little bit to that. Scott is talking about the golf end of it. I truly believe that when Rory is at his best, he’s better than anybody in the game and I think people understand that. They understand that when he gets going, it’s scary. It would be hard to argue there’s anybody that drives the ball any better than he does, and people love that. People love the guy that can hit it hard, and this is a little guy hitting it eight miles. He’s not 6-4, 240 pounds. He’s a small man that can create speed that’s amazing.
I think people understand that, and he is so likable. You know, there’s not a lot of guys that you watch because you don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, with Rory, you still feel like something can go wrong, and I think people like that. You know, will he miss the 8-footer he needs to make or will he lose concentration or two holes or three holes and let something slip. But when he’s good, he’s pretty much unbeatable when he’s at his best.
Q. Just as a follow-up with Scott, you followed him as a reporter all these years. Do you appreciate the fact that — you talk about his honesty, everybody does. He’s changed a little bit. I think he’s a little more guarded than he was, you know, with the big hair and all that. But do you appreciate the fact that he hasn’t just kind of — with all of his attention, he hasn’t just gone into a shell media-wise; that he is still kind of who he is?
SCOTT VAN PELT: Without question. And I think — look, I think we all grow up. Andy, he’s known me a long time; it takes some of us, like me, a lot longer than others, but we all hopefully mature on our own schedule.
I mean, I think he went through some things very publicly, when you’re engaged to someone that’s also a star in another sport, and then whatever goes wrong, goes wrong but the world knows it. There are things that I think make you really want to shut off, having your life be this fishbowl, and yet he would understand that to a degree it’s always going to be.
He went through some periods where I think it was difficult in ways that you and I will never know, but he’s landed in a spot where I think he’s good, man. Like I think he knows who he is as a person. Maybe that sounds real Zen or whatever, but I mean it. He talked about reading books and understanding what his identity as a human being is, which frees him up to go be this great golfer and continue to keep that door open and the lines of communication open with us.
Again, I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it. I think he’s as interesting an athlete as you’ll talk to on this level in terms of that level of — I hate the word transparency because it feels like you want more credit for being honest — but it feels like he’s as truly as transparent an athlete as we have in sports because so many others that become brands are so guarded about the brand that they don’t let you know the person. I think Rory let’s us know the person.
Q. To follow up on Rory, I wanted to get your thoughts, especially you, Andy and Curtis, on what bearing it has that he comes in having won THE PLAYERS. They are completely different events, but it’s in the past month that he’s done it, and also, what your thoughts are of the reshuffled schedule this year and what impact that has on him and everyone else.
ANDY NORTH: I think that the fact that he won THE PLAYERS, not just the fact that he won a tournament after giving — you know, let’s be real about it. For the last year, he’s played some amazing golf but hasn’t been able to finish off a win. To be able to finish one off, get that little monkey off your back, is a really big deal.
Yes, it’s a completely different golf course. It’s a completely different animal, but he made key putts there. He rolled the ball well. He stood over putts that meant something and made them coming down the stretch and I think that will serve him well at Augusta. So that’s a big deal.
He’s an amazing player that coming into Augusta, he’s got to be beside himself knowing that he’s playing well, going to a golf course that he can totally take apart with his driving. I can’t imagine how excited he is this week. It’s probably going to be hard for him to wait for Thursday to get the week started. He’s going to be jumping out of his skin ready to go.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, I think it was huge. You know, this game, our personality is dictated by how we’re playing, and he knows, he didn’t have to reminded that he hadn’t finished off as Andy referred to in the last year or so after playing well the first three days, and to get over that little hurdle and win on really kind of a quirky golf course, in some ways, is similar to Augusta because you have to play shots. There are certain places you just can’t miss it. And to win on a big stage like that, you think about yourself differently.
So if he’s in contention come Sunday afternoon, it’s a different Rory after winning THE PLAYERS than it was before. It’s such a mind game with us as players, so I think it was huge.
Plus he’s got the motivation. He knows what he’s going up against, completing the Slam here. I think more than anything else, he has to, Rory has to calm down and just get the job done. How he can do that, that’s his own way. But you’ve just got to go in there and say, if I play my game and if I get my job done, then I’ll be okay this week. Easier said than done, but you’ve just got to simplify it, I think.
Q. What are your thoughts about this new schedule with THE PLAYERS back in March, and a month after the Masters, you’ve got another major?
ANDY NORTH: I absolutely love it. I think this is something as players, we talked about that — and Curtis can echo this — we talked about it 30 years ago to get the schedule under control and get it over before football season started.
But I think it’s put some pressure on the players. You saw it in the Florida Swing, that there are some guys that skipped tournaments that they really like to play just because you can’t play every single week. You have to take some weeks off to prepare.
For all these top players, the events that matter are those that they moved the schedule around for, THE PLAYERS and the four majors. That’s what it’s all about. Now, a guy might skip — I mean, Tiger didn’t play some events that he’s always played. Rory skipped the Honda at home.
So it’s going to be a little bit more difficult. This is the first year. They will all figure it out. They might have to play tournaments that they have never played before or they haven’t played as much before. Moving around the schedule now might hurt a tournament a little bit because you don’t get as many players coming there because now there’s something coming up that’s big.
But overall, I think it’s going to be really good to our sport and gives a flow to what we’re doing and you basically have five months in a row with five huge events. The players love that.
CURTIS STRANGE: Players like that and the fans love it even more. You know, a major for five months in a row, I think is fantastic.
From a player standpoint, I probably wouldn’t like it too much, but from a fan standpoint, I think it’s fantastic.
Q. Following up, you already talked about Rory, but he turns 30 in May. Is this his best-ever chance to win the Masters?
SCOTT VAN PELT: I think so. The other guys are obviously far more qualified than I.
I just think the form, the confidence with the driver, what that golf club can do around Augusta in terms of, as Curtis alluded to, setting you up for the proper second shot; and the place he appears to occupy in the world, when he joined me on my show after winning, he didn’t shy away from the significance of closing out on a Sunday. He called it massive.
I think we know that Augusta, look, we know what happened the one year where he had to do the second nine and hit it in the cabins, but he quickly put that to bed and went to Congressional and won the U.S. Open by a million. So it wasn’t like he was carrying around so much baggage that he couldn’t play.
The weight of trying to win this one that finishes off the career Slam, that magnifies it, and the buildup to it; there’s a great deal that comes with it, as we know.
But I think the level of confidence that he has right now driving the ball and the fact that he closed out a win on Sunday against that field on that course; Curtis makes a great point. Has a lot of the same characteristics as it magnifies your good or your bad and makes it better or worse.
I think it absolutely feels like his best chance, but as we always say, Justin Rose is going to turn up every year believing he can win because he’s been so close and Phil and Tiger will turn up every year believing they can win because they have. It’s a crowded, crowded — even though it’s a tiny field, it’s a crowded bunch of incredibly talented players you have to beat.
Even if Rory is as confident as he’s ever been, you still have so many people that you’ve got to be better than that week and that’s the vagary of the sport. That’s where the gods of — golf gods come into play as much as we might roll our eyes at that. I think that really happens; it isn’t your time.
ANDY NORTH: To win at Augusta National, you have to putt well. I think Rory has done that better, more consistently this year, than he has for a while. He made a putter change. I think that’s helped him a lot.
We saw him miss some putts against Tiger in their match last Saturday, but I think overall, he’s putted the ball much better and I think he looks like he’s got more confidence that be his putter and I think his putting stroke is a little better and I think all that will help him win at Augusta.
CURTIS STRANGE: We talked a lot about Rory today and we haven’t talked a lot about Justin or Dustin or some of the others. It’s hard to say who is going to be the favorite. I guess we have to let the betting professionals do that.
But I will say this. If I went as a fan next week, and I wanted to watch the players who I thought might win, would be hard-pressed not to follow Rory McIlroy the following week. He’s explosive, he’s likable and he has a real damn good chance he can win.
It’s hard — from the outside looking in, it’s easy for us to say, this guy has a good chance or that guy has a good chance. When you’re on the inside looking out and playing, it’s a tough game and it’s a long week. But you know, we have to bet on the ones who are not only talented but are in good form. Rory fits the bill, you know, in both categories there.
Q. Getting back to Jordan Spieth, for Andy or Curtis, did you ever go to a major searching for it, looking for your game, and actually find it?
ANDY NORTH: You never go to a major searching for your game. That’s the difference between some of us and some of those guys today.
I went in playing poorly multiple times in majors, and sometimes figured it out. I think some of it is that I personally started thinking about these majors a good month before each one. I would start playing shots in tournaments that I thought I needed to play at Augusta or at the U.S. Open, for example. I may not have played as well the two or three weeks going into it because sometimes I was experimenting with stuff that I thought you needed to play well at that next major.
So you might look like you’re not going in with some form, but you’re focusing so much on the one event that mattered that once you got there, it seemed to all work better. I think that’s the case with Jordan. I don’t see any reason that Jordan Spieth can’t have a good Masters next week.
CURTIS STRANGE: But my question in saying that — I agree with Andy. And I’ve gone into a tournament, or maybe a bigger tournament and found something and made reasonably well, but I’ve never won because the pressure on the weekend is magnified at a big major. Therein lies the difference. A regular Tour event is something, but to go and to be able to finish it off, when you haven’t been playing well, and to all of a sudden gain such confidence when you’re on such a big stage is a different animal.
I’m not saying he can’t, trust me, but it’s harder if you’re not playing well than if you have been playing well.
Q. Best players without a major, right now, we have Kuchar playing well this season, Rickie Fowler is always in that conversation, Fleetwood I guess would have to be included, Jon Rahm, Paul Casey. Which of these do you feel like is actually the best player without a major, and which do you feel is most dangerous at Augusta next week?
ANDY NORTH: I think Jon Rahm is the most dangerous. His strength, we’ve seen him go on runs where he can be amazing. All those guys are playing well right now. You just listed guys that could be the favorites to win the tournament, which is amazing.
But Jon Rahm to me just looks like he’s going to have a really good future, and he’s so strong and as he matures, I think his game will also mature a little bit. He gets a little excited with himself sometimes and I think he can hurt himself, but those are all things that you go through.
We forget still how young he is.
CURTIS STRANGE: I hate that statement, best player not to win a major. It’s such a backhanded compliment, isn’t it? You know, you’re a pretty good player, but let’s remind you that you’re not that good, kind of thing.
I don’t know, they are all good and they are all capable. Look at Fleetwood at Shinnecock last year. Look at Jon Rahm as Andy just said, and Rickie, Rickie seems to be playing well every week. Nobody would surprise anybody.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I’m glad you included Casey. I’m thinking about our Wednesday SportsCenter shows where we do a preview and you’ve only got an hour. Andy and I will sit with our producers and go through who we are going to talk about and there’s features on this person and that person, and then we make a point of saying, all right, who is someone whose name we haven’t said yet that we need to talk about, and Casey is that guy that maybe you’ll almost not forget about him, but the list of people, as.I’ve alluded to throughout this call is so crowded in front of him that you don’t get to the guy, and he won again and he’s been in a ton of majors, but oh, he has five Top-10s here, almost shot 63 a couple years ago, course record, and he’s one of those guys that makes winning here so difficult; that he’s in that list that if he turned up in the last group or second to last group on Sunday, you wouldn’t think he was out of place, right.
That’s why, to Curtis’s point, it’s a tough question to answer, because you know, is Rahm more dangerous? Yeah, probably week-in and week-out. But is he more dangerous at Augusta? Maybe not. Look at the history and look at what Casey’s done there.
There are so many guys that you can say that about, which again, to me, makes this so much fun every year.
Q. Just on the point Scott made there, one name I don’t think that’s been mentioned is Molinari. Can you just talk about the confidence that he’s gained over the last 10, 12 months, and do you think he might have a chance of getting in the mix next week?
ANDY NORTH: That was a name I was going to bring up with that last question. He possibly could be my dark horse pick to win. What he’s done over the last 18 months is amazing. He’s a wonderful ball-striker. He doesn’t have the length that some of these guys we’ve talked about, but he hits it out there plenty far. He’s turned himself into a really good putter.
And here’s a guy that the big stage now is something that he absolutely loves. You see him at big events and he’s in the mix all the time. Ryder Cup, The Open Championship; he’s played some amazing golf and he’s in the hunt every time he plays in a big event. I can’t imagine he won’t be in the mix on Sunday.
CURTIS STRANGE: Andy, I have a question for you on that thought process. Do you think there’s a more confident player on the golf course right now than Francesco? Probably not.
ANDY NORTH: Be hard to find somebody that’s much more — he just looks at ease, too, and it looks like he’s enjoying the process of going out there and doing it. That can’t be said for a lot of guys. You know, he has completely morphed into this superstar that no one even talks about.
SCOTT VAN PELT: It’s true. And if you think about the pressure of the game, and you think about the world stage, there’s no greater stage in the game than The Open Championship. It’s the oldest major. It’s where the game was born. And he’s walking with Tiger, on Sunday, and Tiger takes the lead on the back nine in The Open Championship, and Molinari is playing alongside him. And what does he do? He never wobbles. He doesn’t make a bogey the entire time at Carnoustie playing face-to-face with Tiger Woods, and he’s the guy that ends up standing there as the champion with his hands on the Claret Jug.
I think with each successive performance, he stamps himself as a legitimate superstar, and I totally agree with what both Curtis and Andy are saying. There’s an ease to what he does; that it doesn’t look like it causes him any stress, which I guess when you hit it perfect every time, eliminates that stress.
But he’s absolutely on the list of people. And I keep — I don’t mean to be redundant here, but when you go through it, you look at him and you say, well, sure. Could he win? Absolutely. Would it be a shock? No, not at all.
But add him to those list of candidates that we would talk reasonably about, but in Molinari’s case, not only he would have The Open Championship, having dealt with Tiger to win it.
CURTIS STRANGE: And from a playing standpoint, okay, he’s not as long as some, but he puts it in the fairway more often than some, most.
So you know, there’s the offset and that’s why this game, we could sit here and dissect and talk about every player all day long, but when you come down to it, you know, God didn’t give any one player everything but those who are long, don’t drive in the fairways as often as a guy like Molinari, he’s not — he’s one up on most of the players because he’s going to play it in the middle of the fairway every time, and he’s full of confidence.
Let’s not forget, he won Bay Hill three or four weeks ago. Scott said it best. There’s so many players with so many story lines, and that’s what we’re here to do is try to bring out all of this to the viewer during the week, and we’re over run with some of it because there’s so much going on this year.
Q. I just wanted to ask about leaving the flagstick in. The greatest most of that was in 1960 when Arnold left the flagstick in 16, he was one behind Venturi and went birdie, birdie to win. Do you think we’ll see more guys leaving the flagstick in at Augusta next week? Are we going to see it less because it is Augusta and it hasn’t been a tradition of the game lately? And also, do you like it or not like it?
ANDY NORTH: I’m jump in with this because I know we’ve had some conversations about this. I think there’s a bunch of putts at Augusta that you’ll leave the flagstick in just because they are so fast that maybe you could get a little help. Putts that get away from you.
I’m a big fan of leaving it in from 40, 50 feet from the hole. I think that can only help you. It helps your depth perception a little bit.
But I don’t understand leaving it in on 8-, 10- and 12-footers. I don’t get that at all. I don’t see any way in the world it will help you.
We saw some events early in the year, Adam Scott was putting with it in all the time, the wind is blowing, flagstick is rattling around. I can’t imagine that that’s not some kind of a distraction.
CURTIS STRANGE: I agree with Andy. I don’t play competitively anymore, but I think we’ve thought and talked a lot about it, and I think I would take the strategy of, you know, outside of 20, 25, 30 feet, where it’s — especially at Augusta where speed is such a concern.
Pin back left at 16. You miss right. Nobody can keep it around that hole. Why would you not hit the flagstick in? Because if it hits the flagstick, it’s going to help you out.
Again, inside 10 or 15 feet, speed is never really much of an issue, anyway, so why keep it in. But if you’ve taken the mentality of Bryson or Adam, and you’ve been keeping it in all the time, then keep it in all the time. I think everybody’s got their own opinion on that.
Do I like it or not? I think I plead the Fifth on that one, okay. Thanks.
Q. Scott do you have an opinion as an observer? Does it look better on TV or worse?
SCOTT VAN PELT: I don’t know if it’s better or worse. It’s odd. There’s still a moment, if I’m sort of absent-mindedly paying attention, I’ll look up and see the guy putting and I like reflexively lurch, you know what I mean.
You know, the rules are different. But I think what Curtis and Andy are saying makes a ton of sense, particularly with, say, a really difficult hole location on 16 where if you’ve above it, you’re almost using it as a backstop.
It’s can you use the rules of the game to try to benefit you, and is that the spirit of the game or not. Well, that’s up to the player to decide, but it’s just odd to me, and this isn’t a Masters-specific question.
I think it’s just odd when you see it but that’s the rule change they made. Doesn’t trouble me. It’s just something you get used to seeing because we’ve never seen it. But I absolutely get what Curtis and Andy are saying about certain hole locations and a putt you might have, and just the idea that it’s there might make you a little more calm, I should say; if it catches the flag, perhaps it will stay up here rather than down there.
CURTIS STRANGE: One other thing about the USGA, I think they all — such as changing the flagstick, they are looking at it every week, and it was set in place, I believe, just to speed up play.
Is it speeding up play? Well, that’s to be decided. But if it’s not, I think they are not above changing it. But anyway, that’s in the future.
But it just looks odd. If the guy has a 6-footer on the last hole Sunday afternoon to win the Masters and he leaves the flag in, it’s going to be different.
Q. This is going to be odd as the last question. At the top we were all talking about guys that should have won the Masters but didn’t. Who is the one guy, as you go through that mental list, that almost makes you stop in your tracks and say, I can’t believe he didn’t win the Masters.
ANDY NORTH: Tom Weiskopf. I mean Weiskopf’s golf game fit the golf course so well. I think he had four seconds, but there’s a guy named Nicklaus that haunted him his whole life and he did so at Augusta, also.
CURTIS STRANGE: I’m going to agree. Tom Weiskopf, because of his time and his length and his ability with the old equipment. He had everything, the putter, the short game, everything. I’m going to go with him as well.
SCOTT VAN PELT: And that led to the greatest answer ever on a broadcast, as to what’s going through Jack Nicklaus’s mind right now. And Tom Weiskopf says, if I had any idea, I would have won this thing (laughter).
I mean, I’m paraphrasing — you guys speak with such reverence of Weiskopf because you were contemporaries, and I saw him, but I didn’t experience it the way you guys both did, and you guys both speak with such reverence for his game and it’s been such a treat for me to get to know him just as a man.
But as a younger viewer, I guess, watching Norman, there was no way he wasn’t going to win it, right, and then it’s one slip, one can a lamp I think here or there and that’s what happens.
Ernie Els would have won it any number of times. David Duval sitting in Butler Cabin and they told David, “No one ever makes this putt,” and Mark O’Meara jars it and he won out of nowhere.
I think the list of people that we think would of, could of or should have is decorated with some of the greats of all time. And that’s why I think, if it comes to this tournament, if you have a chance, you’d better grab it, because Trevor Immelman did, Charl Schwartzel did, Danny Willett did, they might only get one in their life but when they did, they seized it.
And others have had numerous moments, whether it was them or someone did it to them, the years slip by and the next thing you know, it’s in the rearview, which is what makes this, again, another part of what makes this tournament, I think, one of the greatest sporting events on the American calendar.
I say Norman because I don’t have the context that the other guys do. I’m sure their opinions are more informed than mine.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, you’re splitting hairs. Between Ernie Els and Greg, I mean, my gosh, I mean, two incredibly talented people.
Andy and I go back far enough to where Weiskopf in the day, and this is no knock on Ernie or Greg, gosh.
In his day, Tom Weiskopf was somebody who you would sit and watch hit balls on the driving range, and you don’t do that with many people.
ANDY NORTH: I sat and watched Tom Weiskopf hit balls for thousands of hours my first three or four years on Tour. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody that could hit the ball, so many beautiful looks shots, but they just looked different.
Let me tell you a quick story to end this up. I played with him my first tournament I turned pro, and at the end of the day, if you had been person watching us play golf, you would have bet $1,000 that he beat me by at least 10 shots.
We both shot 69, and honest to God, he hit it within the length of the flagstick every hole for 18 holes. A blind man would have shot 61 or 62 that day. It was one of those days he couldn’t make a putt.
It was the most beautiful round of golf I’ve ever seen, and it was laughable that I actually tied him. I looked like a chop out there playing with him. But he had that ability. He could play some of the most beautiful shots and beautiful rounds of golf you’ve ever seen. To this day, 75 years old, he still hits the ball that way.
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