Transcript of Masters on ESPN Media Conference Call

Golf

Transcript of Masters 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 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. For the 13th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 12-13, along with preview shows and special feeds on ESPN+. Also ESPN will have extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

ANDY NORTH: It doesn’t need to be said but we will talk about it. This is going to be unusual. This is going to be different than any Masters we’ve ever been around and the fact that it’s in the fall, I think the golf course will play a little bit differently. I think it’s going to play a little softer. I think it will play a little bit longer. I think the greens will be really, really good.

The quality of the fairways I think will be a little bit different than maybe you’ve seen in April because maybe they haven’t had the chance for the grass to mature but if anybody can pull it off it’s obviously Augusta National. We have a bunch of guys who have played really well over the last two or three months of golf and there’s an awful lot of golf in a short period of time.

We are fortunate to be where we are, I think. The fact that we are playing the Masters, I think it’s going to be an exciting week and we’re going to have a great champion.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, just the same as Andy. The golf course, as far as that is concerned, you know, will it play different? I think possibly, because of the weather and I just a few minutes ago, I looked at the weather forecast, it looks very good through next week, through, Friday is what I got, anyway, it looks like the high 70s. So that looks like it won’t be as much of an issue as it could be, because it was cold yesterday here in Carolina.

You know, I don’t look at this golf course — well, opening remarks. I look forward to it. I think it’s going to be fantastic. As Andy said, I’m glad we’re playing. I know everybody has jumped through hoops through this cluster of times that we live in to get this golf game planned, and I will say this. I commend the players just wholeheartedly on their discipline and how well they have reacted and kept somewhat COVID-free. It’s not easy, I can imagine. Glad we are playing. I think it’s going to be terrific.

I don’t sense that people are near as fired up as they normally would be in April but that’s understandable. We have football and just finished the Series and stuff like that. I look forward to it. I think it’s going to be great. I think it’s going to be a great championship. But much, much different than what we are used to in the past.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think it’s just so strange, not that in a bad way, but just unusual. So much of what the Masters represents to people is this springtime renewal and as Jim Nantz frames, a tradition unlike any other, and you think about azaleas and spring and the winter is done and it’s a different season and all the rest.

Mentally, I would always be prepared for the idea of going there, and this year, it comes, I mean, our kids just trick-or-treated last weekend, and I have to get some suits together to go to Augusta National which is something we’ve never done. I’ve never seen it in the fall.

Andy has told me about it. Phil Mickelson, when he came on the show, mentioned he’s played quite a bit of golf there and he did say it plays significantly longer and softer.

So look, it’s a different mentality in advance of, but I imagine once you get there, you’ll know where you are, you’ll know what’s at stake, and the Masters is one of the most coveted crowns in sports. We all understand that.

So whatever feels now, now, a lot will feel the same once we get there, even though not having Patrons and all the rest will make it different, as well. Just being on the grounds is always special and we look forward to it.

Couple questions for anyone wants to take it. Do you think the lack of spectators is going to be a greater adjustment on reacting to sounds or the sight lines?

ANDY NORTH: I’ve played there a lot obviously when there hasn’t been tournament conditions, and it to me was always really weird. It seemed so strange not having grandstands and the look that you’re normally seeing in the tournament.

But there are a lot of guys that haven’t played there very much. You know, I kind of thought, is this going to negate some of the history that our veteran players have and some of the course knowledge that they have versus some of the younger guys that we have seen play so well this fall?

You know, I think it’s going to be different. The cheers, that’s such a big part, the roars. As a player, always knew where the roars were coming from, and you could sort of sense who they are for. Obviously that’s not going to be the case. You know, we pumped in noise in a lot of other sporting events. I don’t think we’ll be pumping in noise at Augusta National.

I think having played there, and it seems like it looks so differently; it just is a different-looking golf course than the normal tournament setup.

CURTIS STRANGE: As I think they all have been. Whenever we go to a tournament site not during the week, and it’s so different because you don’t see all the infrastructure.

I think it’s a good point. I think more than anything else, it’s not so much sight lines. It’s just depth perception on some of these holes, and that’s very important at Augusta, but they will get used to it. They go off yardages there. They are so robotic in how they go about it now, in a good way.

So does it affect the score? Probably not. But the fans and the roars, I honestly can’t imagine going there and not hearing those on the weekend. That is part of the entire week. When you leave there, you think about Jack making the putt at 16 against Weiskopf and Miller; and Jack making the putt at 15 in ’86 and the putt at 17, and Tiger’s great history there and whoever it might be.

And as Andy said, you know, you really at times don’t have to look at the scoreboard. But I can’t imagine this weekend without that. I’m going to have to because it’s reality, but it’s going to be — it’s going to be really different.

First question is for Scott. Do you know if Lee Corso is going to put on a golfer’s headgear? And second question for Andy and Curtis. Do you guys think that Augusta is going to try to toughen up the course after seeing what Bryson did at Winged Foot a couple weeks ago?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I have no idea what Lee Corso is going to do. I think it’s a cool idea and a cool marriage of, you know, an unusual concept of a fall Masters and the opportunity to bring an event — to bring that show (College GameDay) there. I think, what a cool concept. What an amazing job they have done with Lee, last week for Halloween. So I’m sure they will come up with something. I don’t know, I haven’t asked them, and like you, I look forward to finding out.

ANDY NORTH: I don’t think that they will do anything differently than they normally do. I think they will set up the golf course to be a fair test and how it normally plays as much as possible, get it as close to that. They aren’t going to grow four-inch rough or doing anything like that. It’s going to be set up very similar to how it normally is.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, and to add to that, they haven’t done anything else. They play the tips. They play the hardest hole locations they can. They really can’t change it at all other than in the middle of the year, but no, it will play the same.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Bryson, he’s still got to putt, it right. He’s still got to putt it, right, fellas?

CURTIS STRANGE: You’ve got to get that big ball in that little tiny hole, VP, don’t you?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Well, I think that’s been his issue there, so we’ll see.

Just want to get your thoughts on the great run of golf that Dustin Johnson was having, interrupted by having to miss a couple of events because of COVID. Hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, and what do you expect from him? What do you want to see from him this week and what do you expect from him next week?

ANDY NORTH: Well, first of all, the Top-10 run that he’s had was some amazing golf. The finish at BMW was amazing even though he ended up on the short end of that stick. He played some awfully good golf obviously.

Who knows how he will come back. You expect this week at Houston that he will be normal. He doesn’t seem very much one way or the other. I would hope that you would see his short game being sharp. I think that’s going to be the most important thing for him going into the Masters.

The weeks that he putts well, he has a really great chance of winning. We talk about that at Augusta so often but for him personally, I think just to see that he’s healthy and strong this week and that his short game is in good shape.

CURTIS STRANGE: Andy is my hero, so I agree with everything he says. I will say this, speaking this morning about just this subject, is that I don’t know if we know how anybody is going to play here. Current form is so important to me, and certainly DJ has the talent to win anywhere, any time that he chooses to.

But I think about Rory McIlroy, does it make a difference playing in November versus April? I think it does, especially after what we’ve gone through with COVID and the elimination of a lot of tournaments.

Does it affect Bryson? I don’t think it affects Bryson simply because this is the way he’s gone about it anyway.

But I think the whole idea of playing at the end of the year versus in April, basically what people think is the start of the golf season, which is ridiculous, but that’s what some people say. I think it makes a difference.

Are these players tired? They are playing an enormous amount of golf. Tiger Woods, does he play well? Well, he hasn’t played well and he hasn’t played a lot. But does he get fired up by being defending champion? Absolutely he does.

Does Rory come in thinking that this is such a different type of tournament this year, does he forget about his past here and play really well? There’s a lot of questions we can’t answer, but I think it’s worth speculating on a little bit during the week because we just don’t know how anybody is going to really react to this November date.

That make sense? It makes a difference to me.

This is for SVP. As somebody who covers college football on a daily basis, the fact that College GameDay is going there, what do you hope it brings to golf, and at the same time, what do you hope it brings to college football? Having that show there, and one audience looking for golf updates and another audience looking for their normal Saturday morning college football?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think what people should know about the folks behind the scenes up and down the sort of — I won’t use the term food chain, because that makes it — I don’t like what that sounds like, but just the group of people from the highest levels of production to the PAs and APs that are part of GameDay, so many at one time or another had something to do with our golf coverage, and that’s a reverence and a respect for the game of golf on that side production-wise.

And I say all the time and I mean it. Like I think College GameDay is the best show we do at ESPN and Rece Davis is as good a host as there is in television. And so you have people that are going to have reverence and understanding and appreciation for the venue where they are.

So you’re not going to see them show up and have marching bands up and down the fairways and things of that nature. You know where you are. You’re at one of the most storied golf venues on the plant and at an event that there’s a certain level of decorum that’s understood.

I don’t know this, but I’m imagining, is it as much pomp and circumstance? No. But there hasn’t been this year, largely, right, because you haven’t been able to do that at venues. Because like last week they were at Penn State, and it’s just such a bummer that you can’t have typically what it would be with both with a whiteout game and all the people there are there.

But I would imagine that those really creative and Emmy Award-winning people will figure out a way to marry the location to the games that are being played and probably cross-pollinate to a degree. I’m sure there will be — you don’t go there to not talk about where you are, right. They are there to do a college football show while at the same time I guess setting the table.

So I guess it’s going to be a college football show, I imagine; I haven’t been in their production meetings. But with the setting that’s as unusual as anything that they have ever gotten to do, and I can just tell you this much. The place over there on the par 3 course, that’s my favorite place on the property. It’s so beautiful over there and such a cool setting.

I love that the club was on board and interested in having and hosting this very unusual marriage of time on the calendar to put the two together.

I’m just interested in you to see. I’m just kind of thinking out loud here it.

And it seems a wonderful opportunity to grow the Masters, not that it needs to be grown, but to expose it to a different audience that may be your diehard, every Saturday, college football audience.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Sure. And I think the Masters has done a wonderful job in recognizing over the past however many years, just the ways that you can show your venue and your event so people, everyone has heard of the Masters.

But to your point, maybe the more casual fan, to see it in that light, there’s no downside that I can envision. As I say, I’m just as interested as anyone to see it.

Regarding Bryson, what so many people, it’s fresh in their minds, obviously Winged Foot and he murdered Winged Foot which nobody expected him to do. I think now everybody is expecting him to go and tear Augusta up because of the fact there’s no rough there and there’s not a lot of trouble and people forget how well he putted obviously at Winged Foot. What are your expectations or anticipations for what you might see out of Bryson at Augusta?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I’ll jump in here. I’m most interested of all the players next week watching how Bryson will go ahead and attack the golf course.

I watched him play an awful lot of golf at the U.S. Open, and watched him hit an awful lot of balls, and you can watch it on TV but until you’re standing next to him and actually watch the violence that he’s creating and how the golf ball leaves the club head, you can’t believe it. It is absolutely astounding.

I’m looking forward to see where he drives it on some of these holes. A hole like the 8th hole, I’ve heard rumors he’s hit like 7-iron in there. 13, he’s talking about trying to drive it over the trees into the 14th fairway and create that angle.

I mean, it will be places that we’ve never seen anybody even think about getting to, and the fact that there are no Patrons, you can go some different directions than maybe you normally would, you couldn’t, because there’s so many people in that spot.

I’m really excited to see what he does. Is he just going to flip it on to the third green every day, like it’s just a nice long par 3? I don’t know. It’s going to be fun to see. But it sure changes how you can attack the golf course if you can drive over every single bunker and you can start taking shortcuts and hit it up over corners that no one’s ever done before. It’s going to be fun to see.

But as you inferred, you’ve still got to make putts. I don’t care if you’re driving it next to every green, you’ve still got to make some putts. So it’s a hard golf course to make putts on, and it’s a week that if you don’t have your speed perfect, you’ll never make any putts.

So you’ve got to be locked in that week around the greens, but it’s going to be fun to watch and try to attack the place.

CURTIS STRANGE: What Andy ended on there is to me, the most important part of Augusta is he’s still got to make putts, but he proved that at Winged Foot. He was No. 1 in scrambling. That seems to be the nature of his game.

I think he’s incredible. I marvel at the way he’s going about this, and thinking so outside the box, his own way.

You know, he’s proven that with the golf ball and the distance and all the conversation the last 20 years or so, he’s proven that it wasn’t just about the ball and the club it. Was about the physical man, as well, and that was poo-pooed for a long time, but he’s proven that it is a lot about physical; the strength, the speed, the flexibility. But in his case it looks about the strength, mass, the speed, something I’ve never thought about.

I’m anxious like Andy to see where he drives it. Augusta has always been the most important second-shot golf course that I ever played, and I think we all agree with that. Think about the second shots he’s going to have.

So I don’t know if he’s a heavy betting favorite, but I do know he might be the most talked-about person coming into a Masters since Dustin and his run some years ago or Tiger or Jack in their day. I think the world who follows the game thinks that Bryson is automatically going to win, and we know that’s the not case, but he’s pretty dog-gone good, and more than anything else, he’s full of confidence right now after winning the U.S. Open.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I do want to add — where is he going to drive it on 13 for real. Andy points out 8. 3, you’ve got to scale back.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yes.

SCOTT VAN PELT: When it’s on that front left, you know, you don’t have a whole lot of room. Like if he can drive it on that, then his numbers and his math are beyond comprehension. No one’s that good, I don’t think.

But Justin Ray, a guy who used to work with us at ESPN who does a lot of great coverage on golf pointed out on Twitter last night, that in the last three years for people that played at least eight rounds, he was dead last in strokes-gained-putting at Augusta National, dead last.

Again, it’s fun to watch him hit it. And just to Andy’s point, when I was out at Harding Park, there was a guy on the range that has the right hardware on the trophy shelf so to speak, I’m talking about a big-time player who said, “Hey, have you seen him hit the driver yet?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “Stick around, it’s worth watching.”

As you know, guys with their name on the bag don’t watch other guys hit balls. It’s like that with that dude. It’s just insane. And I was mad because he was working through a wedge all day. I’m like, pull out the driver and let me see what it looks like, man. I never saw it up close.

You’ve got to putt it. But as fun as where he drives it goes, that statistic was something I made note of last night, and numbers can not necessarily lie, but they don’t always tell the whole story. But I thought that was worth at least making a mental note of since he was dead last there.

You touched on it a little bit in the preparation and how guys are getting ready. A typical year, it would be the Florida Swing, how do you plan your Florida Swing. You’ve got the Match Play the last few years, Houston, and everybody kind of knew where they were going to go and how they were going to prepare. This year, it’s been two events moved from Asia to the States, Bermuda which almost nobody who is going to the Masters went to and less than one third of the field for Augusta is at Houston this week. How do you think they are going through that process mentally and maybe both you and Andy put on your players’ hats, how would you have prepared for a fall Masters?

CURTIS STRANGE: You have to be honest with yourself: Are you playing well, do you need to play Houston or do you need to rest. The most important thing is how do I get to Augusta prepared, rested. We act like these guys can dial up their A Game at any time, any week. It doesn’t work like that. You build up to this. Now some of them are incredibly talented and even when they don’t have their A Game, they can play well. But can they win. At Augusta, that’s tough to do. But it’s a feel game.

I think this whole year has been nothing but adjustment, adjustment, adjustment and that’s what they are good at because they do it every week, but this is such an anomaly. I think they will be prepared. They will all be in there knowing how to handle themselves. Will they be rested enough, because they have played a lot of golf in a short period of time; and a lot of big golf, a lot of big tournaments, which is more stressful than some of the others.

ANDY NORTH: To add to what Curtis is saying, to me it’s as much the mental part of it all. They have played a lot of golf. But to me, there’s been so many more mental things they have had to deal with this year than they have had. It’s not normal. You’re trying to stay safe. You’re trying to get your practice in. You’re trying to not be around people. There’s so many more things going on from a mental standpoint. Can you be fresh mentally and come in here completely clear-minded and ready to play your best golf.

I just think it’s going to be — guys are going to play well. There are going to be a whole bunch of guys that play well but are they coming in here feeling like they are prepared like they normally are? I’m guessing not. I think the preparation has been different, a different type of preparation this year, and for some guys, it doesn’t make any difference.

For others, I know Rory has really struggled with the fact that he has not played in front of fans, and I think it’s affected Tiger’s play somewhat, too. You know, these guys are so used to having so many people around them, and they so feed off of the energy of those people that not having that, I think it’s been very difficult for some of these players. I think there’s a lot of the guys that love the fact that there’s a  lot of players around, so it’s been different for pretty much every single player.

CURTIS STRANGE: And can I just follow-up on what Andy said. And when you eliminate the fans, Patrons at Augusta, that is bigger than any other event they played, but we are all so used to the roars as we talked about earlier and the people and the backdrop and the defining of the fairways and greens with all the fans, and it won’t be there, and it’s such a part of your memory as a player there, so how they handle that, we don’t know.

Is there any advantage or disadvantage for a player that maybe is not used to getting those big crowds or has not had to prepare for Augusta before?

CURTIS STRANGE: Oh, I think so. I think so. I think a younger player getting in the mix and not having the fans, IT will be easier on him. Absolutely.

I won’t go there, but there’s been some young players that have won in the last couple months, one or two, and some say that would they have won if there had been all those fans there. I would like to think they would have but Augusta is a different animal as we all know?

ANDY NORTH: For some guys, it’s like coming from college tournaments a lot of them were playing a year ago. So the fact that — I just think it really hits home to guys who so feed off of energy of the people around them and use that energy as a positive.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Don’t you guys think that the energy of Augusta is truly unique, because it’s the one you go to every year and it’s the one where you know certain holes — Andy, Curtis, you know this. You would see people that you would see them every year. There’s just a familiarity of knowing where you could get that little boost. You know, maybe you had a fan over on the third hole and they would wave, whatever it might be.

I feel the absence of that; if you had it, if you had a knowledge of that, I feel like you would miss it far more than a Wolff that doesn’t have any frame of reference, you know what I mean.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think the boost of energy, for me, anyway, starts when you come through the gates.

It is a different, different atmosphere, one that we all enjoy and love. Is it stressful? Hell, yes, it’s stressful. Even as a TV guy now, I get fired up to do the telecast because it is the Masters. I see people that I see once a year; we are all in that case. Industry giants, media friends that we haven’t seen — that we never see anymore because we don’t play, but just friends and players and re-acquaint yourself with is the golf course, and as an analyst, Andy and I and VP, you want to do the very best you can do because it’s the biggest and the best.

I wonder if you can share your views on Rory McIlroy going into next week. In recent years, it’s as though Rory has felt he needed a distraction to take his mind off the task at hand. He’s gone about juggling and meditation last year. Do you think he’s in a better position this year, and do you feel that Bryson, the attention, the focus on Bryson might work in Rory’s favor?

ANDY NORTH: I would think with Rory, coming in here, he’s got to be in a really happy mind spot right now: New father, figuring all that out.

The golf course is going to play a little bit softer, which I think plays right into Rory’s hands. It’s not just being able to hit the ball a long way there, but being able to carry it a long way and he does that as well as anybody. And maybe he’ll come in under the radar a little bit, and here is a guy who has a chance with a Grand Slam and I’m betting we won’t have a whole lot of those stories written next week. There will be a lot of other things, Bryson and Dustin and some of these other guys. He might come in there feeling really good that he’s under the radar and got nothing to lose and just go out and play.

But I think that he plays so much better, and we’ve talked about it multiple times already when he’s feeding off the energy around him. He seems to be able to do that as well as anybody.

CURTIS STRANGE: I’m such a huge fan of that young man for a lot of different reasons, but his golf game is incredible. You don’t root — you try not to root for anybody, but I think we all root for him a little bit because he’s — you would have thought he would have had a green jacket by now. That’s not a knock; that’s just the way golf is.

Put it this way: If there’s a week that I think he can win, it’s Augusta because of the setup of the golf course, the way he plays the game, the way he enjoys the fans, the Patrons, all of the above, but you still have to get it done. Maybe being under the radar can help him this week, maybe playing in November.

But I think he’s such a poster child for a champion of Augusta National the way he plays.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I would just add, if I could, that the two guys that just talked, they have won, they know; I can’t play the game. But arriving at a venue, knowing what it represents to you potentially from an historic perspective, he’ll arrive there for the rest of his playing career knowing, if I win, I win the Slam. I don’t know how you find the right head space to make that not be, not a burden, but a weight. Does that make sense? Like I don’t know what you can do to divorce yourself from knowing what that would be. And he’s got an incredibly great frame of reference for life, not making it an all-consuming thing. Andy just talked about being a dad, and putting it in its right context.

But you still turn up knowing: If I win, I’m on a real short list. I don’t know how you convince yourself through books or meditation or anything else to not let that really weigh on you. Maybe not having a whole lot of attention, and I agree, I don’t think that he will have as much talk for a number of different reasons. Perhaps that’s the recipe.

But as we know, he will have to play well enough that the attention will squarely be on him at some point, because he’s not going to shoot just 60 on Sunday and win with no one having paid attention to him.

That really fascinates me about him, and him in particular, because I think he’s uniquely wired, and it’s why to Curtis’s point, I think we all enjoy him so much, just the way he sees the world.

Knowing it’s Augusta, knowing that it’s the big leagues and all the top names, all the top-level talent that’s there, do you individually in your mind see an underdog that can come in there and just take it by storm?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think if I was going to look at some underdogs or guys that are a little bit off the radar, I might look at even though he’s gone up the World Rankings significantly, a guy like Wolff, that —

CURTIS STRANGE: Stop it. That was my guy. Stop it.

ANDY NORTH: Or one of the younger guys like that that will come with not a lot of pressure.

I think some of the advantage to the veteran players maybe goes away a little bit in November, and maybe the fact that a guy like Wolff, coming in there with a complete blank slate. He has no idea —

SCOTT VAN PELT: He’s the 15th-ranked player in the world. An underdog is like a 12-seed in the NCAA tournament. You just gave me a 2-seed or a 3-seed.

ANDY NORTH: Well, there you go. He’s never played Augusta National. I mean, as of two weeks ago, he had never seen the golf course. Talk about a guy that would come in here without a clue what he is doing, you know, that would —

CURTIS STRANGE: I was just going to say, since you’re not going to allow me to say Matthew Wolff, VP, I’m going to go a brother to him in Viktor Hovland.

SCOTT VAN PELT: There you go.

CURTIS STRANGE: These three young kids, and the third part of that threesome has already won the PGA in Morikawa. These three kids are so talented and have already won. But I think Matthew Wolff has the tools to do well there. He hasn’t played well there, which to me makes him an underdog, that he hasn’t played well there, hasn’t played at all.

SCOTT VAN PELT: The reason I think that someone from off the radar is so unlikely there is simply because so many of the best players in the world love it and play well there.

You end up with such a crowd trying to elbow their way to the finish line to get that green jacket, and the idea that it would be someone that was sort of like, wow, that’s a surprise. I mean, look, Danny Willett did it years ago. Charl Schwartzel did it, and both those guys did have an incredible five-, six-hole stretch.

The one thing I would say, and I’m really most curious about this. So much of that place is understanding it and learning it and knowing it, and the people that have been there for all those years have such an advantage because of that. Having never seen it, and now seeing it in a way where we’ve never seen it, I think all your accumulated knowledge is not useless,

But like to the very first question that was asked – I think sight lines is wild, because you’re so used to seeing it look a certain way. So I’m fascinated to see if it really doesn’t matter.

CURTIS STRANGE: I totally agree. But I think that was more important in the past.

Now, Andy, tell me if you agree. In the past, when we didn’t hit it so far, when we were back there hitting, 4-, 5-, 6-irons into the 5th hole, not flip wedges. So therefore you had to know where to miss, how to get in there with a lower-flight ball.

Now these guys in particular a guy like Matthew Wolff who is so long, just whewwww up there in the fairways, 80 yards wide. My gosh, you could play the College GameDay up there. My point is, he’s coming in with a sand wedge, wedge, 9-iron, whatever it may be, and we are back there with 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-irons. So it was more important in the day than it is now.

When you’re coming in 15 over the water with a 3-wood or 4-wood, you’d better be damn sure you’ve got a good line and you’re going to get the back of the club on the ball solidly, because if you don’t, there’s a lot of bad things going to happen. Same with 13, 11.

But now they are coming up with such short irons — think of it like this. How many times in the day did you see Jack Nicklaus in the middle of the fairway on late Sunday afternoon with a 1- or 2- or 3-iron in his hand. Tough clubs to hit, right. Do you ever remember him missing the green? But now you’re hitting 5-, 6-, 7-irons. Hell, I could even do that.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Right now?.

CURTIS STRANGE: No, no, not now. (Laughter).

The two quote, unquote, gray beards in this field, Tiger and Phil, you referenced a little bit, Curtis, before. Obviously we haven’t seen them play that much, which I think is a massive detriment. What’s your take on both those guys? Phil not having performed well on the PGA TOUR but won his two Champions Tour events. Can that do anything confidence-wise coming into this week, other than how he always feels stoked and ready to win every time he comes down Magnolia Lane, and what do you expect from Tiger this week?

CURTIS STRANGE: I think Phil can take something from the Champions Tour, absolutely, because he won by a large margin at the Bass Pro Shops, which makes a difference, and he came from behind in Richmond on a pretty good little golf course, and that’s got to, I don’t care where you win or how you win. He won a golf tournament against a lot of his peers.

So can he win there? Absolutely he could win there. Will he? You know, he’s got to be hitting on all cylinders, and he’s long enough. He putts it and chips it well enough, but can he really play well enough. He’s still so talented. It wouldn’t surprise me. Can he finish it off? Wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was on the leaderboard on the weekend.

Tiger, on the other hand, hasn’t played very well when he’s played. He hasn’t played very often, at all. And I think that speaks volumes.

ANDY NORTH: I agree with Curtis. I think Phil has been messing around with a 47-and-a-half-inch driver trying to hit it further. You know, I think he used it at Richmond, Curtis. I think he actually used it there. So can he drive it straight enough? If he can gain ten or 15 yards, that’s a big deal. When he believes he can do it, there are a lot of times he does it. Short game has been very good and any time you win golf tournaments anywhere, it helps your psyche. That’s good on his part.

Looking at Tiger being the defending champion, last year he came into the Masters doing a lot of things well. His iron play was really, really good a year ago. We haven’t seen that this year. And I just think that he hasn’t played very much golf. I mean, to play well in major championships, I think you have to play enough that you have complete confidence at what you’re trying to do.

You can practice at home. It’s a whole other world bringing the back out and putting it on display in a major championship. He has great history there. He understands the golf course very well. Could he play well? Of course he could. But I just don’t think he’s got enough, as he says, reps, under his wings to play at a level to beat these guys who have been playing a lot of golf.

CURTIS STRANGE: And one more thing. And not on those two, but with DeChambeau, he hasn’t played at all, either. We haven’t discussed that; does that affect his ability to be sharp Thursday and Friday. We’ll have to wait and see.

Twenty-plus years ago, we had Tiger-proofing. If Bryson or Wolff, if these guys just bomb away, do you foresee — what do you foresee being the next version of Augusta National trying to prevent guys from going crazy-low, and do you think that could happen as early as April?

ANDY NORTH: There’s not a lot they can do physically with the golf course. Could they come up with a golf ball that they require players to play that goes ten percent shorter or 50 percent shorter? There’s been a lot of rumblings that that’s becoming closer to actually happening. We’ll have to see.

You know, the longest, no matter what — if they were to do the golf ball, the longest guys are always going to be 20, 30, 40 yards longer than the other guys. It would be just a great opportunity to play some wonderful golf courses that can’t be played anymore. Augusta National, how many more holes can they move it back 30, 40 and 50 yards? I don’t see that happening. It will be interesting to see what happens with the golf ball down the road.

How would you feel about them moving the tee back on 13? They have land back there, if they want to, they bought the land, and they could stretch 13.

ANDY NORTH: That’s one hole, one shot. Yes, they can move it back there, but the distance the guys are hitting it, you have to move it back there, 30, 40 or 50 yards to make the hole play like — according to what Bryson is doing, right, is that going to — more guys are going to try to do that kind of stuff in I don’t know.

The one I think this that’s cool about Bryson — this has nothing to do with it — he’s proven yet there’s another way to play golf. There’s a million ways to play this game and there’s no one perfect way to do it, and I think that’s really refreshing.

CURTIS STRANGE: I don’t see Augusta personally, and I haven’t talked to anybody, but I don’t see one tournament going to a specific ball out of the other 41 weeks of the year. I don’t think that would be accepted by the players at all.

As far as what they could do, they could grow rough. They could add some bunkers. I don’t see them doing that. I think what Andy said — does it ramp up the talk on bringing the ball back for everybody, I don’t know, possibly, it could do that, too.

But I don’t know. I think we ought to enjoy what he’s doing. He’s only one guy right now. And he doesn’t do it on every tee shot, either. You know, he ranked sixth in driving distance at Winged Foot. It’s not like he’s 20 or 30 ahead of the No. 2 guy. He does it once in a while.

(Photo courtesy Augusta National Golf Club)

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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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