Transcript of PGA Championship on ESPN Media Conference Call

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Transcript of PGA Championship on ESPN Media Conference Call

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 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. ESPN and ESPN+ will have live coverage of the first and second rounds from first tee to last putt on Thursday and Friday, August 6-7, as well as morning coverage on the weekend. ESPN+ will have Featured Group coverage all day for all four days of the tournament and Featured Hole coverage of No. 18 on the weekend. There also will be extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms. Full coverage details HERE.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

ANDY NORTH: I think for all of us who have not been covering golf, this is very exciting that we get a chance to actually get in our element and enter the bubble and see how it’s going to work. I think the PGA at Harding Park could be an unbelievable event. I understand there’s some rough there, which will be great. We had the opportunity to do a World Golf Championship, Curtis and I, a bunch of years ago there that Tiger won. It’s a great environment for golf. I know everybody is getting used to not having fans there.

But I think all in all, people have enjoyed watching golf, so I think it’s great we’re going to have a major. For so many years the PGA was the last major of the year, and now they get to be the first. So I think everybody is excited to see what’s going to happen.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, same thing as Andy just said. I think we’re all excited to finally call golf. I’m going to be calling it from my home office. I’m not traveling out there.

But anyway, it’s exciting. It’s going to be interesting to see Harding Park and the top players in the world. I found it fascinating that we watch golf, and with no fans, I still feel different watching it, and I didn’t realize how much you subconsciously hear the roars and see the players react. But that’s the new — what’s not hopefully normal, but it’s just the age we live in right now as we speak.

I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great championship, as it always is. The PGA does a heck of a job in setting up the golf course, Kerry Haigh and his people, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be fun to do and fun to call golf again.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Well I’m excited to be part of this. For all of my career in TV, golf and particularly the majors in golf have been at the fore of what I’ve been fortunate enough to do, and I just would say preemptively to anybody that’s on the call that has questions, the answer to probably a lot of what you’re interested in is “I don’t know.” I don’t know what it will feel like. I don’t know a lot of the protocols that we’re going to — I mean, we have fluid ideas of what we’re going to try to do, but I just don’t know. I don’t know what it will feel like. I’m curious to find out about a lot of things.

But as far as just being back in a booth or in a tower and at a major, that’s exciting. As Curtis alluded to, and I’ll be very interested to get their thoughts and David Duval’s thoughts about what the absence of the fans in a major will mean, how much do you draw from them. I had Mike Breen on SportsCenter back in June asking him about going into the bubble and what it would be like for him. He does such a great job on the call of NBA games and the energy that the crowd provides for him, and Mike explained he doesn’t need anybody to give him help. He’s the guy who’s standing up screaming “bang” even on the road. He’s getting side eyes from the fans in the home arena looking at him, like hey, you’re screaming for the road team or whatever, but the energy that is provided by fans that will be absent, I’m interested in what that will feel like.

But again, there’s a lot that we’ll figure out as we go. Like Andy said, I’d echo that I’m thrilled for Harding Park to get this opportunity. I know how much the PGA of America hoped that they’d be able to stage the championship there. The story through the years of its glory and then falling into disrepair and then now to get an opportunity after hosting a Presidents Cup and a World Golf Championship, to host a major is

CURTIS STRANGE: He just hit on a heck of a note that I really haven’t thought much about is the announcers. Thinking about when you’re on-site, and I haven’t talked to anybody at CBS over the last six or seven weeks to see how it is, but when the fans, when there’s a roar or a moan or whatever, your voice is dictated by the atmosphere of what’s going on through the player and the fan, and so that in itself makes our job a little different I would say, and not only for Scott but for Andy, as well, on the ground.

There’s a lot of things that we’re going to find out and react to on the fly.

As we contemplate Brooks going for three in a row, you could have spoken to the presses at the U.S. Open. Is it any different at the PGA? We’re still dealing with different courses, et cetera, but what do you suspect the difference might be, and is it any more difficult?

CURTIS STRANGE: It depends on how he looks at it. I think there’s probably a bit of a difference just because the U.S. Open is our National Championship and there’s more talk about, more who’s done it last, Willie Anderson or Ben Hogan, does he count.

I think there’s a lot of anticipation from his camp and from his fans. But other than that I haven’t read a lot.

Now, that’s to take into account that we’re in these different times now, so I think golf is — all sports have been put on the back burner just a little bit. But I haven’t read a lot about — and I’ve talked a couple times to reporters about three in a row, but as far as going for three in a row, it’s another tournament. In the back of your mind you’re going to do something that only one, I believe, person has done. Hagen did it, and there might have been somebody else.

But it would be a hell of an accomplishment, my gosh. He’s certainly more than capable. Hasn’t been playing his best, who knows about the knee. Nobody knows anything about that kind of stuff other than him himself. But it’s just you go with current form and he’s not playing his best, but he’s certainly capable of doing it, without a doubt.

To answer your question is it different, maybe ever so slightly.

Something you said, Curtis, and I’d like Andy to weigh in on this, as well, almost anytime we play there’s a certain buildup, and I don’t get a sense there’s any buildup to this because there’s so much focus on who tested positive, what the numbers are. There’s so much other stuff going on right now. Do you get a sense that’s going to help some players, even if it’s a Jordan Spieth going for the Grand Slam, that kind of stuff? No one is talking about it.

ANDY NORTH: Well, you know, I don’t know if the player gets as caught up in that, as much that as a lot of people would like to think they do. I think the fact that there hasn’t been much said about this, but the players have circled this week on their schedule. They’re trying to peak, get their games at the best level they can for this event based on their schedule, their practice, their work that they’ve put in.

I don’t think the players ever get as caught up in it as a lot of people outside the locker room think they do. You know, you’re focusing on what you’re trying to do. Right now in Brooks’ head, he’s trying to figure out how he can get his game at the level that he’s been able to get it at major championships over the last three or four years where he’s been just unbelievably good. He’s shown us that he’s had that ability to raise his level when he needed to. It’s going to be interesting if he can do it next week because he hasn’t been in his best form, but he’s come into some other majors where he hasn’t been in his best form, either, but he’s able to raise that level, and I think that’s the biggest thing that at least I look at him and his chances of winning is that he has that ability that not everybody has.

SCOTT VAN PELT: If I could just weigh in. If this is that so much of conversation and buildup and things of that nature is tied to it following a script that we’re familiar with; you know what I mean? You go to Florida and you get ready to go to Augusta in April and then you prepare for — obviously they changed the schedule around, it would have been May, and then you get ready for the Open season in the summer. And because all of that’s been put on hold and there’s been this — I think — I applaud the effort of Commissioner Monahan and the PGA TOUR for saying we’re going to try our best, here we go; some guys are going to test positive but we’re going to do our best our, and they put their head down and they’ve kind of gone on with their business. But it hasn’t allowed for the typical type of buildup that we would associate with getting ready for a major, at least in my mind; you know what I mean?

Mentally you don’t have the sort of same sense of anticipation just because it hasn’t followed the same script. My sense of the conversation as it relates to Brooks and everyone else is once we get on the ground, you’re like, okay, it’s a major. I feel like people will almost have to reacquaint themselves with what’s happened in the past, you know what I mean?

CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I agree with you, Andy, everything is different. We have to look back, this is the first major of the year, but we’re in August. So that’s different in itself.

There hasn’t been the buildup, and I think as much as we’ve wanted to watch golf and sports on television, quite frankly I haven’t watched a lot because there’s been other stuff on your mind. Yeah, I think golf is — and golf is following that, as well.

This will be for Curtis and Andy. Curtis, to follow up on what you said about how different it’ll be, you’re going to be not at the course, so can you give me the mechanics of how you’re going to be able to handle your job? I imagine 2,000, 3,000 miles away? And Andy, how do you think being a course reporter will be helped or hurt by not having to navigate through fans?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I’ll start. I think you’ve got a situation where it’s going to be so much easier to move around and get in position and not have to get caught in an area of gallery where you kind of cut from one hole to another. I mean, I suspect it’s going to be so much easier for us old guys that don’t hear very well. Sometimes you don’t hear information or instruction from the truck when you’re in the middle of a roar.

I mean, I think it’s going to be — and I think looking at it from my job itself, I think I’m probably going to have to be much more careful how close I get to players because they’re going to be able to hear you, which is usually not the case because there’s enough of an undertone of just people moving that it probably deadens that somewhat. But I think it’s going to be very important to be aware of not speaking loudly when you’re close enough to the players.

CURTIS STRANGE: I have to disagree with Andy just a bit from the fan standpoint. When I was at my other job, which doesn’t exist anymore, when I was on-course reporter, I hid behind the fans. I could — Andy made a good point. You’ve got to be careful with your voice now because there’s no other white noise out there. So I hid behind them. I could hide. I could do this, I could do that.

And the other thing I spoke to a few moments ago is that you did get energy from the fans. Fans are unbelievable. I didn’t know I liked people so much. I had a ball out there walking on the golf course. They were actually a lot of fun. Those who were partaking in a particular beverage sometimes were hysterical. As long as they’re not talking about you, okay; put it like that.

As far as I’m sitting here with my home studio right now, and this is the simplest thing I’ve ever been in. I’ve got my computer in front of me. I’ve got my iPad, which will be my stuff — I have a little computer, desktop here, and I have a little iPad that’s my camera, and I have a light. How simple can it be? And as far as navigating from a long ways away, the other coast, I will say this: I have not felt that CBS has missed a beat with Nick Faldo and the two — Nobilo and Ian Baker-Finch being remote in Orlando and Jim Nantz being on-site. I don’t feel like I have missed a beat with their telecast, so I hope I can do the same.

As far as timing and issues, eh, we’ll get through whatever we have to get through, but we’ll have rehearsal on Tuesday or Wednesday and get on with it. But this is going to be interesting here.

Where are you?

CURTIS STRANGE: I’m in probably one of the farthest points from San Francisco. I’m in Morehead City, North Carolina. That is on the East Coast, way out there. I will say this quite frankly: The reason I’m doing this is because I didn’t want to get on an airplane, and my producer Mike McQuade allowed me that opportunity to be involved in the telecast in a little different role, calling golf but a little different role, and I thank him for that because I’ve taken this last — as we all have, taken these last five months very seriously.

I was curious how you guys think the expectations from the viewer have changed since you guys first got into the broadcasting business, and what someone at home now expects that they wouldn’t have expected five years ago and 20 years ago say?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I mean, I think people — what people want is the minute someone has a tee in the ground and the ball is in the air, they want to be able to see it. The exciting thing about what we’ll be doing with ESPN+ and ESPN is very similar to what we did with the Open Championship, that if someone is playing, I don’t want to overstep what is going to happen in terms of being able to deliver, but I mean, if people are playing, we’re on the air somewhere. That’s what I think people want.

The idea that the technology exists in 2020 that would provide for that is a reasonable sort of a feeling. Every different ruling body has different feelings about how they want to broadcast, what they want to do, and I think we’ve shown that if people are — if their want is for us to be on the air, we will.

So the ability with Plus and with ESPN to be on the air from the first swing to the last putt, it creates some long hours, and God knows over in the Open Championship the sun stays up until late at night, man, you can be kind of hangry out there if you’re in the tower somewhere and you’ve been talking about golf for 14 straight hours, but I think that’s what people want. People just want to see the golf.

So I think what’s fun about what we’re going to try to do is that ambitious approach, that you’ll be able to find it on ESPN or ESPN+ when golf is being played.

CURTIS STRANGE: That’s what’s happened to Sean McDonough when we stuck him out on the 8th tee at St. Andrews for 10 hours.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Listen, it wasn’t him, I’ll copy it. I still remember one day where I don’t think we got any food, and I went back to the hotel and I think I ate the leg of a chair. But we got through it. The chairs at St. Andrews, delicious.

I was just thinking about the technology and how not just the volume but also the experience the viewers at home are expecting, Shot Tracer on more holes and expecting being able to hear certain conversations, if you feel that that has shifted or if it’s mostly just the —

ANDY NORTH: Can I tap in here? I think it’s important that with the guy with his iPad at home, he’s following it on his iPad if he’s serious about it. You need to be able to give information that means something, that may have some insight that you’re not getting off of a site someplace. So I think that’s really important for guys on the ground and guys in the booth is that you’ve got some great information that’s not just something you can pull up on Pgatour.com.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think Tracer is on every hole, by the way. I think. I’m not positive but I’m almost sure that that’s the case. But again, as I said at the beginning, there’s a lot of things I’m not exactly positive about, but I want to say to your question, I want to say the Tracer is available in some form or fashion on every hole.

CURTIS STRANGE: You know, when I watch golf now, if Tracer is not on, I miss it. And I’m saying on every long shot there is, honestly. I miss it. I love it. I like the — the more sound from the players, the more I like.

I’m a stickler, I’m a real stickler personally for, whatever my role is, if I hear a caddie-player discuss a shot, I just shut up, and I personally think that’s the way to do it. I know sometimes you have to finish a sentence, but it’s the greatest sound, the most important sound you can hear on the golf course is their decision to hit the shot.

But getting to that is that between cameras and the mics are so good now that I want to hear everything. I want to hear the ball. I want to hear them talking on the green, that type of stuff. That’s where the technology has come a long way, and maybe we’ve had it, we just haven’t used it, but we’re certainly using it more now.

Scott, the next eight weeks are going to be somewhat crazy. You have a WGC this week, there’s going to be two majors, there’s going to be a FedExCup decided. If you were to prognosticate a little bit, what do you think if you looked at the next eight weeks? What do you think will be the big headline? Do you think Rahm solidifies his No. 1 ranking? Do you think Rory finds it again? Do you think a guy like Morikawa wins his first major? What do you think we’re looking at in the next eight weeks? There could be quite a bit of volatility.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think it’s breakthroughs. I feel like what we saw with Morikawa at Memorial, although we clearly saw the second week was Memorial in terms of setup, right, but DeChambeau is the story line of just the obvious difference of what he looks like and how he takes a golf course and can minimize it to lob wedge distance on 400-however-many-yard holes. I feel like we’ll see breakthroughs.

ESPN.com asked me for a pick this week for the PGA, and I said Xander, and I don’t have a reason. I just think a guy that has played that well in major championships that often is just — you knock on the door and eventually it opens.

My guess, and again, it’s obviously a guess when we’re picking one person to win an event with 150-some-odd people is just that, but I feel like for all the young talent that there is in the game that there are many players that are circling around the edges — a Fleetwood, I can just keep naming names. Rahm hasn’t won one yet, to your point. He’s world No. 1. I just feel like it’s breakthrough season.

In a year where there’s complete and total disarray as far as how it comes together, what it looks like, what it feels like, it would only make sense to me that it didn’t follow a script that made so-called sense and would be a bunch of names where you go, oh, yeah, he was always ready to do it or he was on the list of people we thought might. I think it’s breakthrough season. That’s my guess.

ANDY NORTH: I hope that at the end of this season, whenever it does end, there will be some stories written on what a great job the TOUR did of figuring out how to handle this and how to deal with it and how to move on with their business. I’m usually very critical of the TOUR, have been for 30, 40 years because that’s what we did as players, but I think they’ve handled the situation very, very well. I think the guys have shown that they’re mature and adults, and they’ve handled the bubble situation very well, and I think — I hope that those are the kind of things we’re going to be able to talk about at the end of the season, that we were able to have a season because they’ve handled it very, very well.

CURTIS STRANGE: I concur. I hope that at the end of the season we have an end of the season and every tournament is played, including the U.S. Open and the Masters. Nobody said that’s going to happen as we sit here today for sure. So I hope it all goes through. I hope the players stay disciplined. I know it’s probably tough out there just to go out and eat a nice dinner at a restaurant because you can’t — anyway, I hope that’s the story line.

For Andy, I’m curious your take on Tiger’s history at Harding. As you know, you mentioned the WGC he won in 2005 over John Daly, how much that history matters next week, and sort of separately how realistic it is for him to contend in majors as he nears 45 and also as he played so infrequently. Obviously his back his bothered him more this year it seems than going into last year’s Masters. I’m curious your take on Tiger.

ANDY NORTH: Let me get the history on the golf course. Obviously every time he’s played there he’s played unbelievably well. Winning the WGC event, even though that was 16 years ago, that’s a different Tiger Woods than we have today. His play in the Presidents Cup was absolutely amazing. He played fantastic golf.

But anytime a player — and I don’t care how old you are or how far you are removed from your last victory or your last great play, you have these visuals and you have these — you have it in your computer in your head that you can pull off these shots because you did it there. It comes back to horses for courses so often we talk about. Well, so much of that is because guys have those visuals and those feelings at that particular golf course.

Now, it’s a completely different Tiger Woods. Tiger only has four competitive rounds under his belt. I don’t think that’s enough for him to go out there and be at his best. I think the biggest problem next week for him could be the weather. I think he would love to have it be 90 degrees and perfect, but as we know, San Francisco this time of year sometimes is the coldest weather of the whole year, so it could be foggy, it could be drizzly, it could be 60 degrees. We’ve seen historically that his body doesn’t operate very well under those conditions.

I think it’s going to be — and particularly he’s coming from where it’s been 95 degrees every day where he’s practicing. That difference of 30 degrees is remarkably difficult for a player to deal with that has injuries.

We saw his great play a couple years ago through Atlanta and the stretch where he won in Atlanta. The weather was really warm and he had to get on an airplane and go play the Ryder Cup in Paris where it was 35 degrees difference. He didn’t function very well there.

To me the biggest worry for me is not the fact that he’s going to be rusty, not the fact that — I think the fact that he’s going to have to deal with some cooler temperatures and will he be able to handle that, will his body be able to handle that.

CURTIS STRANGE: Could I answer that, as well? I agree with everything Andy said, but I have to be — my job in TV is to tell you what reality really is. You know, yeah, he could compete and he could do this or that, and the weather and issues and back, but let’s be honest, when he’s played, he hasn’t played well, and is that because he hasn’t played or he couldn’t practice, the back, we don’t know. But he hasn’t played much, and when he’s played he hasn’t played well, and he’s not playing this week.

So going to San Francisco — let me reverse it. What says that he — what shows me that he might play reasonably well? Nothing. Other than his past being arguably one of the best players — well, the best player in the world ever.

Hey, I’m a Tiger Woods fan, and I would love nothing for our telecast but to have him play well, but I just — when you talk about a player, can he do it, certainly he could do it. He did it last year. But it’s another year. He hasn’t played much. His back is out — you know what I’m saying. There’s nothing showing me that he’s going to play well at all.

For both Andy and Curtis, I’m curious your thoughts on the impact of the conditions. Andy kind of mentioned the weather. I was out at Harding yesterday. It was 59 degrees and fogged in. But beyond the weather, also the rough, which I think someone mentioned earlier. I walked it a little bit yesterday, and it’s very, very significant, which it has to be because Harding isn’t very long, as you guys know. I’m curious both of your takes on the impact of both of those things, of the unusually high rough, and beyond Tiger how the fog and cool weather could affect this tournament.

ANDY NORTH: One of the things that I think people don’t understand how amazing the TOUR players are is how they’re able to adjust and adapt to whatever conditions. You can go from Bermuda greens to bent greens, and it takes them about 10 putts on the putting green to get locked into the new speeds, the new surfaces. They do this all the time. If you’re 25 years old and completely healthy going to a cooler environment, it’s not that big a deal.

The ball doesn’t go as far there. That’s going to be a big adjustment. If your normal 8-iron is 165, it might only go 155 there. Players have to be really aware of that. They have to get locked in with their distances early in the week.

I always felt there it was a struggle to get the ball to the hole on your approach shots. I think early on you’ll see what players are locked in, who’s got the proper distance control. If you can do that, you’re going to have a great chance to win there.

And then with fog, we could get some delays, some weird things that can happen out there. It’s just adjusting and being able to adapt, and these guys do it awfully well.

CURTIS STRANGE: Couldn’t agree more. We make too big a thing about climate change, different from East Coast to West Coast, that kind of thing. They’ll adapt. That’s what Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday is for. They’ll be ready to go.

ANDY NORTH: The rough is going to be an issue. We’ve seen it there in the past where it’s been thick, and because of the moisture, driving the ball is going to be very important. You know, some of it — if you can put the ball in the fairway there, you’re going to have a great chance because it’s not going to be just a bomber’s paradise, I believe.

What DeChambeau has done is absolutely amazing in my eyes, the fact that he’s been able to gain 30, 40 yards over the last six months by changing his body and creating speed. But you still have to put it in the fairway. If you drive it in the rough enough times, it’s going to get you. I understand he’s hitting wedges out of the rough, but it’s a golf course that if you put it — if you hit six fairways a day or less, you’re not going to do very well. Driving the ball in the fairway still is going to be important. It’s a major championship, and it’s nice to see that we’re going to have some rough.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, there’s a lot of people that have talked over the last 20 years, how do you Tiger-proof or DeChambeau-proof a golf course. Well, length wasn’t the answer. That’s been proven. Look at what Koepka did at Erin Hills. A lot of people think shortening — playing just a short golf course with a lot of rough, fast, firm greens is the ideal condition.

We saw Memorial, how hard and fast those greens got, and it got to be a difficult golf course. We’ll see. I just like a little different golf course, not a bomber’s paradise. It’s going to be fun to watch, and it’s fun to watch some strategic moves off some tees because they think it’s important for them to — if this particular player thinks it’s important for him to put it in the fairway on this particular hole, then he’ll hit something other than a driver. If he thinks he can bomb it out there and get it on the green out of the rough, then so be it, as well. I kind of like watching and seeing the different aspects of a player’s strengths and what he believes are his strengths.

ANDY NORTH: Also, I think that there’s enough trees on this golf course, and if I can remember correctly, there’s some holes there that you can put the ball in the fairway and you still have to deal with some overhanging trees on that side of the fairway. So it’s not just getting it in the fairway, it’s getting it in the right places in the fairway. If you’ve got the ball in the rough and you’ve got to deal with trees, you can’t control the spin on it, you can’t curve it as much, there will be some problems in the rough. Short grass will be really good.

Scott, this question is for you. I’d love to know a little bit more, you mentioned earlier about getting hangry, these long days. Can you give me some specifics? What time are you going to be waking up and heading back home? How do you prepare for such a long day, and by the end of the week how taxing is it physically, mentally, emotionally when you’re putting in this many hours?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Well, let’s start with being honest. I’m sitting in a booth talking about someone hitting a golf ball. I’ve said this often and through the years. My father worked as a plumber. He wore boots to work, and they put makeup on me. It’s hard work relative to what you do in terms of a broadcast day. But when you are — when your goal is to be the opening tee shot to final putt, which we did for years at the Open Championship, where we’ll be trying to do it here at Harding Park, it does mean that you’re there very, very early in the morning. Your call — I work in a late-night space doing SportsCenter when I do it, so early mornings aren’t typically something that I’m — Andy will be chuckling. I can sleep I guess — or I used to before I had kids. Those days are done. You’re there early and you’re there until it’s done. So I mean, is it 12 hours? Is it 14 hours? We had some days at the Open Championship that were every bit of 14, 15 hours of being at the golf course or more. But you do get breaks.

We’ve got a lot of people, whether it’s Jim Nantz and the folks from CBS or Sean McDonough who’s brilliant at this and forgot more about calling sports than I’ll ever know. So we’ve got lots of people that are able to collectively ham-and-egg it and get from the beginning until the end.

But again, it’s just a long day, and what I don’t know at the moment, and I’m really anxious to see, is what does it feel like. The energy that a major has, there’s a real — there’s something to it. There’s an electricity. There’s a tension. There’s a buzz. There are these roars. And it’ll be — who knows, it may be a foggy day with no one there and the best players in the world shooting great scores, and what will it feel like. How will we represent that? Will it be reflected in the way that we talk about it? I hope not. I don’t want it to feel like it lacks energy.

But I’m interested to feel or find out, I guess I should say, what it will feel like to be the one trying to document it because this is the biggest event that will have been played. I know this is an exciting weekend with sports coming back across the board and the bubbles and all, but this is a major championship. So this will be the biggest event that has been staged since the middle of March. We’ll try to reflect that.

And listen, after 16 weeks of doing SportsCenter with no sports, I’m thrilled to work 16 hours talking nonstop about actual sports and the best in the world.

Obviously Jon Rahm getting to No. 1 in the world recently, I wanted to start with Andy on this one. Obviously he’s going to have more confidence going into another major. What do you expect from him now that he is world No. 1 at Harding Park?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I expect him to keep playing like he’s been playing. I’ve thought for the last couple of years that he may be our next superstar. I’ve loved the way he’s attacked the golf course. He’s aggressive. He’s really strong. I mentioned early on in his career, I thought his legs worked very similar to what Nicklaus’s did, the same kind of strength, and that’s where his power comes from.

You know, so much of it is once you get to the top, and Curtis can answer this part of it, is that you work so hard to get there and you’re so excited to be there, how do you handle it once you get there is a big deal. But I think he’s a very driven guy with a lot of talent and a lot of strength. I think that he’s going to win an awful lot of tournaments and majors before he’s done.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think Jon Rahm will do just fine. He’s been — gosh, we’ve all thought, this is his time. Winning a big tournament two weeks ago and the PGA is now, and I just think the world of his game. I love an intensity. People have written about a little bit of his intensity, and I love it. It means he cares. It means he works at it, and he’s all in. I think he’s going to be really a hell of a player when he’s done.

Next week, certainly there’s nothing that says he won’t do really, really well. I think everybody is so excited to be back playing golf, number one. Nobody is getting tired yet. And he’s playing as well as he can play, and it’s — all the stars are aligning for this young man.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Curtis, you laugh when you talk about his intensity, but as a guy who famously got, if you’ll pardon the term, red-assed when you played out there, don’t you have to learn how to manage the fire so that it doesn’t burn — that it’s fuel rather than it burns you up; know what I mean?

CURTIS STRANGE: VP, you just hurt my feelings.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Come on…

CURTIS STRANGE: You know what, as long as you use it properly and you learn not to have it be detrimental to you. And Jon Rahm has — I think he’s going through that. Not that he’ll not get pissed off enough in the future and blow his stack here for a hole or so and say when am I going to get back and finish out the tournament well. I mean, that’s all part of four days of competition.

I always wonder about people questioning that, and I think people that question that — and don’t get me wrong, but if you’ve never been in the arena, and I’m not — certainly not begrudging the media at all, but when the public and social media now, they talk about somebody getting mad or something, God, I love it, because that means he cares so much, and he’s worked his ass off and he really cares, and he expects a lot out of himself. And that’s okay.

I’d much rather see that than somebody who hangs his head after a poor shot. He’s never going to be as good as he possibly could be. And I think Jon Rahm, he’s been around a while now. Let’s not forget. And he’s played some exceptional golf.

But I think now when you learn and you’re confident in your ability, you realize that — you don’t realize and say, oh, I can’t do that because I’m not supposed to. You just kind of realize that that’s not good for you, and if I hang here through this tough still stretch on the second round, then I’ll be just fine. These things — you realize that these things happen over the course of four days.

Each day you have to fight through those little battles every day to shoot a good score, and over four days in a major championship, that’s why we say mentally tough is as important as physically tough and physically talented, because you have to fight through those little battles over four days to come out on top, and I think he is hitting his stride, and again, it’s not like he’s never going to blow his stack again. Hell, I still blow my stack. But I’m just saying that’s the way he’s made up, and I don’t ever want him to change so much because a tiger doesn’t change his stripes, and that’s who he is. I think it makes him better versus hurts him.

You can’t tell I get fired up talking about this stuff, do you? You know, if I ever saw a guy I said, I’m going to beat him. I got him, that kind of a thing.

Scott, in terms of next week, are you going to be basically doing dawn until dusk on both ESPN+ and ESPN Thursday and Friday, or is this a rotation between both the streaming platform and then linear come 4:00 p.m. eastern?

SCOTT VAN PELT: As far as where we’ll be, it’s fluid. Our sort of rough sort of schedule and what the orders look like, I’ll be rotating around throughout, as will all of our different announcing folks, between being on ESPN, being on ESPN+ throughout the day. But it’ll be a little bit of everything. I would look at the computer right now and look to see exactly what it is, but my son is watching airplanes take off and land, and if I try to get on the computer right now I’m going to lose a fight to a four-year-old and nobody wants that. Nobody wants that.

My question is for Andy and Curtis. Both of you guys have competed in major championships down the stretch on a Sunday and have won them. Do you think it’s going to be a challenge for the guys near the top of the leaderboard on Sunday without the fans there, or do you think that they’re so programmed to what a major championship feels like that that necessarily won’t bother them?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think that if you’re locked in and you’re in the position to be there, you’re probably focusing pretty well. I think the guys are now getting used to this. I’ve talked to a few of the players, and a lot of them have actually said they kind of like it. You know, that you’re kind of in your own world and you’re not being distracted with — maybe someone you know in the gallery or other things that go on.

You know, not a lot of them will admit that publicly, but I think they’ve sort of enjoyed the calmness and almost the quiet of just going out and playing. It’s very much like playing at home, maybe playing practice rounds. You’re not signing autographs, you’re not doing a lot of the other things that you normally deal with.

I think the biggest thing, if this was the first tournament without fans, I think that would probably bother some of these guys, but I think overall they’ve done it now enough that it’s just the norm. There’s a lot of us that didn’t play in front of a lot of fans early in the week a lot of times.

You know, you get used to it, and I always felt like it was a lot easier with a lot of people than a handful, but now with none, I think that’s — a lot of the guys actually like it.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think they get in their own little world, and they are so consumed with playing well down the stretch and trying to win that I don’t think it makes one difference at all. Atmosphere-wise, yeah, it’ll be a little different, but I don’t think from a player’s perspective and from the player’s playing ability, it makes no difference at all.

The best thing Andy said in a long, long time is that you’ve got to remember, we played a lot of rounds of golf with nobody out there at all over the years.

I’m curious from a player’s perspective just going back to December and the Hero when Rick Reed had his incident, and of course there was the incident a couple weeks ago with Jon, and some of the comments that came up after the Patrick Reed incident was hey, we’re pros, we can feel anything, we can feel a feather fly two yards before we’ve hit, and that came out after the Patrick Reed incident. I’m curious from the player’s perspective, number one, were you concerned when you saw that a couple weeks ago? Not so much was it a penalty but how do you feel about that, and as players, did you feel just about every kind of movement that one would expect as a professional golfer would, and really more for Scott, is there something, a line in the sand that has to be drawn from a broadcast perspective, maybe the tournaments don’t have quite the camera levels that you’ll have going forward maybe at a PGA Championship, but just curious is there certainly some type of situation or aspect that the network needs to look at to say, gee, this guy is given this consideration, we have to give it to all, or should it just be it is what it is, the cameras from an HD levels that are focusing on that angle. Just curious on those questions.

CURTIS STRANGE: I just want to say, I sat there and watched this live, Jon’s incident at 16, and I talked to an official after that, a couple days after that. It contradicted the new rule. Jon Rahm said he didn’t see it move. That should have been the end of the conversation because the rule states if the player didn’t see it and then the high definition camera says it moved just a fraction, then no penalty. And they went to the (TV) compound and saw that it moved. Well, he said he didn’t see it move, so then they assessed two strokes on him because they said you should have seen it move. I don’t get all that.

But anyway, I feel for a guy like Jon Rahm because it puts kind of a — you know, it puts kind of a dark spot on — now we’re talking, a man just won a big, big golf tournament, Jack’s tournament, and now we’re talking negatively about his win. I didn’t like it at all.

That’s all I have to say.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Didn’t they stop — was it ’17 or ’18 that they said they were going to stop taking calls for this very reason because — and I think the reason that they did this, and this is why I jumped on Curtis at the beginning, just philosophically we’ve had these conversations, guys as a group sitting in the TV compound for years about just — again, you know better because you’ve been out there doing it. You put a camera on Rahm with high definition and see it move ever so slightly — granted he had the big lead so it was a lot easier to slap that penalty on him. If he was up one, what do you do? I don’t know. So he’s the leader and you had however many high definition cameras trained on every move he makes. Well, Thursday or Friday you’ve got people going off two tees, so somebody is on the 3rd hole, nobody is paying any attention and the ball moves just as much or more but nobody saw it happen so nobody is there to police it. So you’re effectively ruling incorrectly. Like you’re not applying the same standards to all the competitors, and that’s where I know we’ve had these conversations throughout the years where you’re like, well, how is that reasonable, which is why I believe they stopped taking that sort of viewer feedback from the person sitting on his or her couch going, hey, that’s a rules infraction, which I was all for, I just don’t see how you can police some people one way and somebody could — I’m not implying anyone is out there just blatantly cheating, but if no one is following you with a camera, you could kick it out of the rough theoretically and no one would be watching you.

ANDY NORTH: I think the fact that in the history of golf, the reason — if I’m playing with Curtis, he has my card, it’s his responsibility to make sure I do things right before he signs my card. And if he’s watching me hit that shot, I don’t see the ball move, he doesn’t see the ball move, at the end of the day he signs had I card because he thought I did everything correctly, that’s how golf —

CURTIS STRANGE: That’s the end of the story, yes.

ANDY NORTH: Exactly. Now is it fair — Tiger has had to live under this wave of TV scrutiny for his entire career. There are other players that have never had to deal with it. As Scott was saying, it just doesn’t make sense that there are different rules for different guys because there’s more TV cameras on them.

My only question is as players, though, and I go back to that Reed situation where it was pretty obvious he hit the sand, but with Andy’s comment saying that, hey, essentially his playing competitor didn’t see it, it should have been the end of the situation, is there a different standard that we’re looking at with regards Rahm’s situation, and as players could you feel that movement, particularly in a chipping or pitching situation where maybe you’re looking at that hole a little longer than when you ground the club?

CURTIS STRANGE: And I think that’s definitely a different situation there because in the Reed thing it was more obvious, and he did it twice. In Rahm’s case, again, I think it was contradictory to the new rule, and if I’m wrong, somebody speak up, but if he didn’t see it and the high definition saw it — we all saw how little it actually did move, and in high grass, God knows how many times that’s happened over the years and you don’t see it.

That was supposed to be the end of the conversation, but they decided to put two on him, and I just — I didn’t agree.

ANDY NORTH: Jack Nicklaus for his entire career has never grounded his golf club, and he told me that that is the reason, that if it doesn’t get grounded, there’s nothing they can ever say to you about it. I think that’s pretty darned smart.

My question is to Andy and Curtis. If you could pinpoint through your eyes any differences between a PGA Championship and a U.S. Open.

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think historically the PGA has been set up more like a regular TOUR event, and then until the last five or six years the U.S. Open has always been set up, a little narrower fairways, deeper rough, greens probably a little firmer, and I think a little bit of that had to do with the difference in being able to set a golf course up in June versus one in August when it gets so hot that you’ve got to keep more moisture on it so it’s going to play a little bit softer.

But I think the philosophy has just been USGA for years wanted to have theirs the ultimate test, where the PGA wanted theirs a little bit fairer and more like a normal TOUR event.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah. In the age of Kerry Haigh for the PGA of America, it’s been set up like that, and it’s been set up wonderfully well. The players give it tremendous remarks, no controversy whatsoever, on great golf courses. The U.S. Open has historically wanted to be the ultimate test, as Andy just said.

The big, big difference, they’re both major championships but one is the National Championship and the one is not, and the U.S. Open is a very, very important tournament to those of us who were born in this country, and that’s the difference. They both have tremendous traditions and history behind them, but one is your National Championship and one is not.

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Media Contact: Andy Hall, [email protected]

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Andy Hall

I’m part of a team that handles PR/Communications for SportsCenter, including the SC Featured brand, and ESPN’s news platforms. In addition, I’m the PR contact for ESPN’s coverage of golf, motorsports (Formula 1), and the sports betting program Daily Wager. I’m based in Daytona Beach, Fla., and have been with ESPN since 2006.
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