Transcript of Masters on ESPN Media Conference Call


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 85th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. For the 14th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 8-9, along with preview shows and special feeds on ESPN+. Also ESPN will have extensive coverage on SportsCenter, and other ESPN platforms.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

ANDY NORTH: I think, first of all, getting back to April is really going to be nice to get in the normal schedule of things. For those of us in the Midwest that Masters in April is the start of spring and golf courses opening up here, so that’s important for the northeast and the Midwest particularly.

Then getting a golf course that’s going to play firmer and faster, more like we’re used to than as soft as it was last year. I think we’ll see some different kind of scoring. And all in all, it’s just fun to get there and get after it and get the first Major of the year.

CURTIS STRANGE: Same thing. We go through this every year. It seems like it’s almost redundant at times, but it’s not because we all get so excited about this week. It is special, and Andy played there many times, I played there many times, SVP’s been doing this for many years. When you still get excited about getting there — getting on the airplane, getting in the truck driving, going through the gates, registration — you know, everything that we do pre-Thursday morning is exciting, and then to finally get to the job, it’s a special week.

I want to say, just to continue what Andy was saying, I think kudos to everybody involved last November. It was a little bit of a different golf course, which surprised me a little bit. I actually thought it was going to be pretty much the same. But you know what, it was a great event, great champion, and I’m just glad we didn’t have a 2020 with no event.

So all good. Looking forward to the week. It’s going to be fantastic again.

SCOTT VAN PELT: When I left the grounds last year, the last thing I saw were the “GameDay” folks, seeing Rece Davis and Herbie and David Pollack and Desmond. On the way out, Chairman Ridley’s coming in. It’s amazing to realize that that actually happened, that the Masters was played in November in the midst of a college football season and the other seasons that were being played, the NFL.

Without patrons, it lost a lot of its soul, there’s no question about that. So even with limited people there, I’m grateful to hopefully see some azaleas, the friends I’ve met along the way. I always talk about Nadine that works in security, and Tony and Joaquin, the guys that you get to know that are on the grounds there, and people that you see, faces that you’ve known for a long time. It’s special to see them again. It will be great to hear — it doesn’t have to be a roar, but just applause. I think we all look forward to that.

I’m thankful we were there in November. I’m thankful, as Curtis said, that the Masters was just delayed, not cancelled, but the Masters in spring is something that I think is just synonymous with sports fans across the world. So we’re all looking forward to being back there.

CURTIS STRANGE: And the weather looks fantastic, to everyone who was even wondering. It looks fantastic through next Friday in Augusta.

Obviously, Rory McIlroy, we’ve talked about Rory on this call, a perennial topic. I just wonder what you guys make of where Rory is heading into this year’s Masters, which doesn’t seem to be a good place. Would you guys agree with that? And can you tell me around in the short time he has available.

ANDY NORTH: I’ll jump in on that. Obviously, Rory hasn’t played at the level he’d like to play in the last six months. He’s had some good weeks. He was very honest about chasing distance and messing his swing up a little bit, but sometimes going into a Major Championship — obviously, Rory has amazing ability, but going in there, maybe working on some things that he hasn’t worked on before or coming in there with a different pressure on him than normally, maybe going in there, striding a little bit, will take a little pressure off him and free him up and maybe play some good golf.

We’ve seen him get off to bad starts on Thursdays there over the last few years, and some of that may be just the pressure of trying to win the grand slam. But the golf course fits Rory’s game so well. If he can figure out something, he’s got a great chance there, even if he’s not coming in the year playing great.

CURTIS STRANGE: I’ve already done a little bit of homework here. I think everything of Rory’s ability and he is one swing thought away from shooting 65 every day. Yes, I agree with Andy on that. And I don’t think he’s that far off. It seems like to me he went after distance. He’s admitted that. It messed him up a little bit. Now he’s got to go back. How long it takes him to get back to a comfort zone, only he knows, and maybe he doesn’t know.

Currently, he’s only hitting 57 percent of the fairways. He’s 148 on tour. That’s enough said. At Augusta National, the margins for hitting the greens from the middle of the fairway are tough enough when they get firm and fast. From wayward angles and a little bit of rough makes the margins even much, much tougher than an ordinary golf course.

I think he’s got to drive a little bit better although statistically he’s never been a good driver with the golf ball. As Andy said, Augusta fits his game. He’s so talented. It’s amazing to me that he hasn’t won here yet. I certainly expect him to, but this year, he’s going to have to find something quickly, to be quite honest with you.

SCOTT VAN PELT: As the non-professional of the trio, I just find it amazing that he went in search of something else. The notion that his good enough wasn’t good enough, I just can’t fathom that. I can’t fathom that someone who’s put on some of the golfing displays that we’ve seen would leave him in search of, but I guess, as he said, he saw what Bryson did at Winged Foot and thought, well, I’ve got to get me some of that. That’s just amazing to think about.

Curtis and Andy would know far better than I whether it’s find a bullet in a short period of time, but maybe it is as easy as being a swing away. I always thought that Rory’s good enough was as good as anyone’s. The fact that he didn’t was the most interesting part of it.

I have one more, if that’s okay. I’ve never had the opportunity to ask a question about a Scottish golfer on the East Coast. Robert MacIntyre is the top ranked left-hander in world golf at the moment, and he obviously did well at the top last week. What do you guys think about Robert MacIntyre, and do you think the left handers doing well at Augusta might be something he can lean on?

ANDY NORTH: Well, he sure has played some good golf the last year. The fact that he’s been able to come over here and feel comfortable, I think that’s important. Sometimes that’s not the case. Golf, he’s a talented player. Your first couple trips around Augusta are a little bit scary. You’ve seen it. You’ve watched it. I don’t care who you are, it’s not easy to get around Augusta when you’re first trying to figure it out.

So it will be an interesting week for him. We’ve seen these guys do very, very well the first time, but they usually don’t. Hopefully, he can figure it out and get a good game plan, and go out there and play some good golf.

CURTIS STRANGE: Andy, you’re so right there. I don’t care how old you are, but the first couple trips around Augusta National are — first of all, you’ve got to get over the awe feeling, the shock and awe feeling of Augusta National. Then it’s about learning the nuances of the golf course, where to hit it, where to not hit it, where to miss it, when to go, when not to go, speed of the greens. Just all of the above.

Now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but I think, if somebody in their first couple of times around there, has to be really, really playing well and putting well to overcome some of those little tangibles, intangibles that you learn from experience there.

If I could just go back for a moment on Rory. VP was so right in why did he chase something that may not have been necessary, distance? You’ve got to remember Rory is 5’10”, 165, and he’s chasing a guy, potentially DeChambeau, who’s out there doing this experiment, who’s 6’1″, 240. So that in itself seems kind of odd to me. Rory was plenty long enough, plenty capable, and really, quite frankly, has a whole helluva lot more talent than most people on Tour. So I agree with VP, why?

But I think he found out it didn’t work for him, and he’s trying to get back in a hurry.

First, quick question to Scott. You said on a recent podcast you were on the grounds of Augusta National recently. Did you get a sense for how it’s playing, or did you run into anybody while down there?

SCOTT VAN PELT: No. No, I was very brief, and it was just — I was there before all the — everything sort of bloomed. The trees still didn’t have leaves or anything on them. So, no, I didn’t see anyone, nor do I have any sense of anything other than it was strange to be able to see certain trees, like I said, without foliage on them. I’m sure that’s changed since I was there. No, unfortunately, I have no Intel at all on that front.

Thank you. I appreciate that. Anyway, for you and for Curtis, I was watching the One in November documentary. Really well done, by the way. I’m not sure anyone in ESPN had a hand in that, but well done to whoever has a part in that. But there was a moment of you guys on that Thursday inside Butler Cabin, and it just seemed normal. Jim Nantz said the whole time that TV made this all seem normal. Did it all feel normal on that Thursday when you guys came on the air inside Butler Cabin?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Curtis, what do you think?

CURTIS STRANGE: No, not at all. Walking the grounds before Thursday, it was a very, very quiet atmosphere, unlike any sporting event that I’ve ever been to, and the players seemed melancholy. The lack of fans — there’s a couple of them that have been vocal in saying there’s a lack of energy. It certainly seemed a lack of energy from the players and from us as well. Now, Thursday we came on, and Thursday got a little different because you get fired up. It’s the start of the event.

But it was completely different from start to finish. You know, from our perspective, part of the TV and the fun of our fraternity is going and hanging out and exchanging ideas and talking golf and just getting excited about the week. That didn’t happen, nor is it going to happen next week either because of COVID. So we got from our cars to our stage setup, back to our car, back to our hotel room, so it’s all completely different.

From a Masters standpoint, I don’t know, VP. You and I, when we went on air and the red light came on, we tried to act as normal as possible, and I think we did a good job because it was the start of the Masters, but it was different.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I agree. To Curtis’ point, the two of us are just trying to put coherent thoughts in a row, if at all possible. I mean, I believe we did. There’s a familiarity certainly to being in that space, in that Butler Cabin and seeing — hearing that music, seeing shots played on the golf course. But to Curtis’ point, the absence of noise, the absence of people, the absence of daylight, not being able to stretch it into the early evening. Just everything about it felt different even as there was a sense of familiarity.

Again, I don’t speak for Curtis, but I think I can in saying we’re all grateful that it happened, grateful that the event was played and not cancelled, but I think it will feel very — even without this many folks this next week, I do think it will feel far more familiar and, quote, unquote, normal this next week, even as so many things we typically do we won’t.

We’ve heard Jordan kind of talk about this magical feeling when he gets to Augusta. It’s a lot like things that Phil has said in the past, that it almost doesn’t matter how well he’s playing at the time. Curtis or Andy, I’m wondering if you could maybe speak to the feelings you had when you turned up there, what that was like. And why do you think it is that Jordan typically plays so well there?

ANDY NORTH: First of all, I think, once you drive in the gate there, no matter how you played the week before or two weeks before, there’s so much excitement, and you know that there’s unbelievable possibilities for that week. You just have to figure out how to get it around.

No matter all the years played there, it was always an amazing feeling when you first got there. It might change after you played a couple rounds, but early on, it was awesome.

What Jordan’s been able to do, he’s worked really, really hard on his golf swing. I think, because he’s hit the ball better, it’s really given him some confidence, and he’s putted the ball well early on this year. We’ve seen him have some rounds where he didn’t make a lot of putts, but we’ve seen other rounds where he’s made it from everywhere.

Once you start holing putts, it frees up your golf swing, you start hitting better shots, and that all just snowballs positively, just like the last couple of years how it snowballed negatively for him.

He’s always had a great feeling about Augusta, but I think combined with his play earlier this year, I think he’s going to be a factor next week.

CURTIS STRANGE: It’s exciting to get there, and you have more energy there than the other weeks, other not that the U.S. Open — the four Majors. Andy said it. You know, if you haven’t been playing well, you get there, and you have this energy, but when you hit that first kind of heel, neck, slice off the 1st tee and you’ve been doing that for a Frickin’ month, you go back into your s**t attitude again, you know.

And you try to overcome that, and you work hard, and your energy on the practice tee is to find something, find something, and sometimes you can. But when you go to a Major and you’re looking for something, it’s not a good sign. It’s never a good sign.

I honestly think with Jordan, it’s the same as everybody else, what I just described. Jordan, the difference this year is he’s making a bunch of puts. The game from tee to green has not changed really at all, but he’s making the putts that we saw him make in those great years of his, and that’s what he needs.

So many times, we complain about our swing, we complain about our ball striking, but are we making all those four and five-footers we used to make? If you think about it in terms like that — are we getting it up and down that once or twice in a round that we did back in the good years? Most of time, no, we’re not. It comes down to saving the shots, taking advantage of those opportunities, and shooting the lowest score that you could that particular day.

What about his game? Early on in his career, people kind of downplayed his ball striking, which he’s actually quite a good ball striker, certainly statistically. What about his game do you think sparks him to play as well as he has? I know the last couple years he hasn’t obviously played well there, but generally speaking, he’s got an unbelievable track record at that place. What about his swing —

ANDY NORTH: I think the biggest thing is he’s very comfortable curving his ball from right to left. He’s not one of the longer guys there, so being able to curve it is helpful. We forget, we talk about his putting, his pitching and wedge play around the greens there is marvelous. He is so able to get the ball up and in from places a lot of the other guys can’t do.

I think that the beauty of Augusta is, if you’ve been around there enough times and you understand where to miss the ball, you still have to get it up and in. Well, if he’s able to do that, he is marvelous with his wedge. We see him get himself out of trouble so often by hitting an amazing shot by 20 or 30 yards off the green up to a foot or two, and those are the kinds of things that, if you’ve hit a bad shot, you make a great recovery, and it’s a good enough recovery it’s even a stressless putt.

You have to hit a good shot up there and still have to make a six footer. His good ones are up there a foot, taps it in, walks off, no big deal, I’ve saved a par.

So I think that’s really been the key to his game. Yes, he’s making a lot of putts, but he’s always been such a good pitcher of the golf ball. Around Augusta National, that’s a huge advantage.

CURTIS STRANGE: I couldn’t agree more. Andy said it best.

I would ask this of everyone. How meaningfully do you think Tiger Woods’ absence will be felt? Since his car crash, they continue to bring his name up almost every week. What about next week?

CURTIS STRANGE: Just I think everybody wishes him well and hopes the recovery goes as well as he can. You can’t — especially at Augusta, you can’t go there and not think about the guy. His record is phenomenal there, of course. Recent, two years ago, in that unbelievable victory. Changed the game in which we knew basically in front of our very eyes at Augusta. Just all of the above, probably a little more so. It’s a good point, probably a little more so next week than a normal TOUR event.

We all just wish him well. I come from a player’s standpoint. I’m anxious to hear what Scott has to say, but from a player’s standpoint, we, they owe him a great deal and respect in what he did there at Augusta, and remembering is a great tribute.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think there more than any other place they play, you think of Tiger. So much of his career sprang through that lens. From that bookend in ’97 hugging his father to ’19 hugging his children in essentially the same spot. You can’t help but think about him. Anyway, I think because he’s won there and Tuesday with the champions dinner you get together with that very small group and trade the stories and what have you, that his presence will be sorely missed.

Then again, just so much of being there and thinking about shots he hit. The greatest players there hit shots that people talk about forever, and Tiger’s got a pile of them. They’ll think of him more than they would at THE PLAYERS, for sure, even though Tiger’s won there a bunch.

ANDY NORTH: Obviously, from a media standpoint, no matter how he plays, he’s a huge impact on what happens from the television standpoint. So he’s definitely going to be missed, and like Curtis is saying, we just hope that he’s making headway every single day, and we can get to see him sometime soon.

Two questions for you here. First off, I’m wondering how do you guys think that this tournament is going to look different from the tournament in November?

SCOTT VAN PELT: It won’t be 20 under.

CURTIS STRANGE: There will be flowers. There will be pollen, plenty of pollen.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Oh, yuck, yeah.

ANDY NORTH: That’s one thing we’ve forgotten to mention.

CURTIS STRANGE: People over the years, when you went in there to play golf, we walked eight miles a day every day of our life playing golf, and then you go to Augusta, and all of a sudden, you get shin splints because the hills up and down. Nobody ever realizes how hilly that golf course is, and your bloody legs hurt.

And the pollen on top of that. When you get to your car, you couldn’t figure out which one is yours because they all were yellow. You could see it coming across the pine trees when it started to blow. Little things like that.

When I had a chance to win there in ’85, I went to the 10th tee with a four-shot lead, and I didn’t think my caddie was going to make it for the last nine holes. He had such bad asthma and allergies, I thought I was going to have to carry this bag. Wouldn’t that have been a sight, coming up the last hole like this.

Anyway, there are things like that that happen that are so unique to the rest of the TOUR, but the pollen, my gosh, some people had a helluva time with it. Not that anybody really cares.

ANDY NORTH: Yeah, we’re going to see the ball running a lot more. Last November the ball was so soft, and they had to. One of the things I’d be interested in looking at is having had the tournament in November, has that had any effect on how ready to play in April? By having the tournament, did that throw the natural growing period off in some way?

But I’m just looking forward to getting there and seeing the ball run down some of the hills and getting some speed back on the golf course because we didn’t have that much in the fall.

If I could take the three of you back to your first experience at Augusta National, I’m wondering who were you thinking about when you got on the grounds for the first time?

ANDY NORTH: Probably wasn’t thinking about much of anything. You’re so happy and excited to finally get in there, I qualified for my first Masters based on finishing high in the U.S. Open the year before. I’d gone to the Masters once about 10 years before I had a chance to play, just to watch as like a 15-year-old or 16-year-old. I just was completely blown away by it.

I don’t know if there are any thoughts other than, holy mackerel, I finally got here, and let’s go try not to throw up on the 1st tee.

CURTIS STRANGE: It’s the same thing. I don’t know if you’re thinking about any one person. I was 20 years old — 21 years old and going through that — I drove my old go to hell Chevy Nova, yellow Chevy Nova, called the Canary, through the gates up Magnolia Lane, and coming from Wake Forest, it was quite an experience.

I never left. I was there for eight days. I never left the gates in eight days, staying in the Crow’s Nest. Never left the compound.

SCOTT VAN PELT: That’s awesome. I obviously didn’t play. The first year I went was ’97, which was a good year to turn up for a first time, and I thought of my grandpa and my dad, like huge sports fans that were so impactful to my life who were no longer in life, and I just thought, man, they’d have smiled big if they saw their boy walking around Augusta working, like the fact that I was gainfully employed at all and the fact that my office for the week was there, I mean — look, I still feel that way. I still feel that way, that I’m amazed that I’ve gotten to do it, but that first time for sure, it just blows your mind, just what it looks like because nothing anyone tells you will prepare you for what it is. Then you see it, and you go, oh, well, now I kind of get it.

First, partly for Scott, but I know you guys are all big sports fans, so maybe it applies. Scott, with your background in golf and then now covering every sport all the time, what should we and people in the golf world remember about the way the rest of the sports world sees the game? I know it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds and forget about our general perception in golf.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I mean just in terms of how people in sports see golf, you think?

In terms of the way that you choose to cover it on your show, for example. What might make a highlight? What might appeal to the broader sports world outside of golf?

SCOTT VAN PELT: That’s where maybe I’m different, maybe because of my background, having started at the Golf Channel. I don’t want to just show the big names. If I get a highlight on a Thursday or a Friday and it’s like, well, could we see a shot from the leader? I mean, I think it’s important to document who — because, as we know, there are Thursday stories and Friday stories, and then those peel off, and the best players tend to identify themselves over the course of the weekend.

So I try my level best to make sure we’re acknowledging those who played the best, whether they’re the biggest names or not. But I think the sport — the cliche for years has been that Tiger made it cooler. Sure, I think so, but I also feel that you’ve seen so many other athletes from other sports who kind of identify with the challenge of the game and embrace that.

I mean, having a guy like Steph Curry, who’s arguably one of the best players in the world that have ever played basketball, changed the whole paradigm of the sport, be so enthralled with golf. That’s only a positive thing, like getting out and trying to compete. There could be conversations about should he have a spot in the field? I understand that. But he actually acquitted himself fairly nicely in some events.

You see a Romo who — I also think it speaks to when the Romos and Currys in the world who can play, and you’ve got the ropes up and a pencil in your pocket, it’s going to count every stroke now. It really helps identify how the Curtises and the Andys and the men and women who play this sport professionally truly are. The humility of the superstar athlete in kind of bowing to the game of golf, I think that’s really, really instructive.

I don’t know if I answered your question, but I do think that we’ve seen it a lot in the last few years, how many guys and gals in other sports want to try to climb this hill. It’s slippery, man. It’s hard to climb.

ANDY NORTH: I think one of the neatest things that Curtis and I have been able to do over the years is get to know these greatest athletes through golf. They would do anything to be good at our sport. That’s the coolest thing. For the best at what they do other places are so frustrated that they can’t do our sport as well. That, to me, has always been very interesting.

And how hard so many of these guys, when they retire, golf becomes their passion. It becomes their — you know, there’s been more than a few that said, gee, I’ve got 12 years to get ready for the Champions Tour, and they’re serious about it, but it is amazing how the general public sometimes views our sport as very non-athletic and whatever all the cliches are, but yet the best athletes in the world really struggle at playing it well.

Then just one other question for all three of you guys. Are there any mysteries of Augusta that still intrigue you, or have you guys seen so far behind the curtain that the mystique has kind of disappeared?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I just would say, I have no idea how they change the golf course from what it looks like on a Tuesday or Wednesday to — we could talk about all the SubAir, this or that, there’s someone with a magic wand somewhere because, you know, it can change how it plays more so than any other place.

Again, I’m the novice here. Andy and Curtis might roll their eyes at that, but I have no idea how the golf course’s sort of characteristics can change so much without really any weather impacting it, but that’s part of — for me, anyway, that’s the mystery of the place.

CURTIS STRANGE: To me, I go back to how this property was found, designed the golf course, became the Masters, became this tournament now that we know so well, and the mystique to me is how it all evolved. You know you have to be at the right place at the right time with the right people. You had Arnold Palmer in the ’60s at Augusta. It brought golf to the masses.

Everything, the stars were aligned from day one here at the Masters, and they continue to align every single year. Tiger Woods in ’97, Tiger Woods two years ago, Phil Mickelson, his first win here — I mean, it just goes on and on and on. It’s just the story, if you’ve never read the books on the history of Augusta National, even back in the day, it wasn’t successful from day one. So the whole evolving history of this place is phenomenal to me. Then you put the Masters on top of it, and it’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

ANDY NORTH: Having had the good opportunity to have friends who are members and getting a chance to play there during off times, to walk around the clubhouse, I love looking at the pictures, some of the pictures from the ’40s and the ’50s, and the participants used to go sit on the ground out in front of the clubhouse, and they took a picture. That was the picture of who was playing in the Masters that year.

To look at all the great players who have come through there and then some great pictures of how the 16th hole is totally different now than it used to be and whatever, to me, I think that’s the magic of not only Augusta National, but going to the and the Winged Foots of the world where there’s so much history and so many Major Championships, seeing the history on the walls is always really interesting to me.

My question is outside the obvious guys who didn’t win the Masters over the last, say, 30 years, guys like Davis Love, was there someone you thought had all the game, had all the shots, had the short game to win the Masters, but never did and probably won’t now?

ANDY NORTH: I wish we had a list of players in front of us to answer that. I think you look at some of the guys that we — that Curtis and I played with and against, I think you had a better — there was a player that — John Jacobs, that Curtis and I both played with more than a few times that was unbelievable talented, hit the ball eight miles, but yet, not just Augusta, but other — didn’t win. Didn’t win tournaments.

I think sometimes we get caught up in how something looks versus just getting it done, and also the fact that winning is not easy. And I think sometimes that gets lost. I think Tiger has messed up a lot of today’s players thinking that, if they don’t win three or four times a year, they haven’t had great years. If a guy can come out and play 20 years on TOUR and win one tournament a year, he’s a Hall of Famer. I think that gets lost in all this sometimes.

But winning is tough, particularly at the Masters, and when you see a guy win it multiple times, that’s pretty darn impressive.

CURTIS STRANGE: You brought up some of the names. Let’s not forget, maybe, maybe the guy that didn’t win that should have won was named Tom Weiskopf. Talented, played behind Nicklaus, of course. The list, I don’t think is that long, but there’s certainly some guys down there. It’s like, as Andy said, we don’t have the names in front of us. You’ve got Norman and Weiskopf.

It’s one week a year or four weeks a year for the Majors. We put so much emphasis on these four weeks a year, and if you don’t win one of them, if you’re unlucky and don’t play well at the right time — you know, Colin Montgomerie, even a Lee Westwood, who’s playing well now. I don’t know, I don’t have the list in front of me, but there’s plenty of names — not a lot, but there’s a few out there that you say why not?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I’ve got a few more, Curtis. I’ve got a few more. Just thinking off the top of my head.

You guys say Weiskopf and Norman, for sure, but how about — I think of the time I’ve been covering the sport. Ernie Els was going to win that a couple of times, didn’t happen. David Duval was going to do it a couple of times. Davis Love III was right there. Justin Rose has got a million top 10 finishes, bunch of top fives, went to a playoff, didn’t win.

It strikes me that this event, more than any that I’ve covered for 20-some-odd years now, this one, more than any other — and Andy’s talked to me about it so much — you get one five hole stretch — like Danny Willett had, like Charl Schwartzel had, like Mark O’Meara, and it sneaks up on all of us that he had to putt to win the Masters, and he won.

Weiskopf, Norman, Love, Duval, people that you think, they’ll win one eventually and they play good ball, but somebody just has that magical hour and a half stretch of his life where it’s four or five birdies in a row on the second nine, and they’ve got a date every April for the rest of their life, you know what I’m saying? That’s what, to me, is so magical about this event in particular because you do come here each year.

You could say the same perhaps about other Majors, but you don’t see them the same way because they’re not on the same holes. This, to me, I always think about, when you have your moment, if it’s in front of you, you’ve got to grab both lapels of that jacket and hang on for dear life.

CURTIS STRANGE: And Scott, to continue your point, if you’re one of those guys that did win, you know, the world almost looks at you — you think they look at you as a failure because you didn’t win the Masters. There’s no tournament out there — I don’t think even the U.S. Open or the British Open are the same way — it’s just either you win or you didn’t at the Masters. You go to the dinner, or you don’t.

Guys, in November there was this sense that Bryson DeChambeau was just going to pummel Augusta National. That didn’t happen. I’m wondering what you guys thought of what he tried to do and what do you expect from him this go round?

SCOTT VAN PELT: That was his sense, wasn’t it? He was the one that said par was 68. I know that people looked at each other and said, is that right? Let’s see how that goes, you know. Andy, go ahead. You certainly know better than I.

ANDY NORTH: You don’t mess with the golf gods. You don’t start — whenever you start thinking it’s easy, that’s when you’re in big trouble, but I thought what he tried to do was really cool. I thought — I think it’s really interesting what he is trying to accomplish. It didn’t work last fall. It doesn’t mean it won’t work this spring. The guy hit driver, sand wedge to 13. If you do that enough times, there’s going to be a week where he drives the ball great at Augusta National and wins by eight shots. That’s going to happen at some point in time.

Because he can. I mean, no one else can hit it the places he can hit it right now. He’s geared back a little bit. He’s not trying to hit it quite as hard, but anybody watched Bay Hill, the couple of tee shots he hit at Bay Hill were the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, our lines were 50 yards to the right of that, and it was still scary.

SCOTT VAN PELT: But look at his putting statistics at Augusta. They’re awful. That’s the issue, I think.

ANDY NORTH: They’re terrible at Augusta, but they’re good at a lot of other places. His putting has improved dramatically over the last year or so. Can he do it in Augusta? Can he figure out those greens? That’s a big part of it. There will be a time I truly believe he will, and he might lap the field that week. It might only be once, but I think there’s a good chance of it happening.

CURTIS STRANGE: Let’s not forget that he’s our current U.S. Open champion, but he didn’t do it with the length. Maybe some of the strength out of the rough to get it around the greens, but he was No. 1 in scrambling. That’s what won the U.S. Open for him, not his length and distance off the tee.

Curtis, you were there, and you played the Masters in ’75 when Lee Elder was the first Black American to play at the Masters. Do you have any memories from that, and what do you guys think about in general of him having this opportunity to be one of the 1st tee starters. That’s not something they just give out at Augusta very often.

CURTIS STRANGE: When I look back on that now — and I think it’s wonderful that Lee is part of it next week, and I think it’s wonderful what Augusta National and Fred Ridley are doing within the community and the college there, but I didn’t have a great sense — I can think about it now, but I was 20 years old. I was in awe of the place.

But I will say this. Back in the day, we had a number of African American players on TOUR, five, six, or seven. So it was a big deal that Lee was the first African American to qualify, or to be invited back in the day, but I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought because it was not — I was 20 years old.

Andy, how would you describe him as a golfer?

ANDY NORTH: He was a player that, I think, got an awful lot out of his game. One kind of funny story, playing in Houston, when he won at Houston, we had rain-outs and 36 holes and all that on a Sunday, and he happened to start the last day on the wrong tee, on the 10th tee, and ended up winning the tournament. Literally, they had him holing a putt on the last hole, and that was the only thing that was shown of him because there wasn’t wall to wall TV. They took the camera out and showed him putting at 9.

I had a chance to play quite a bit of golf at Lee. A unique golf swing, but he was a good driver of the golf ball and, I mean, competed like crazy. I think that’s — and I think Curtis made a really good point that we weren’t shocked about a Black player, an African American player because there were so many on tour then, that so many had .come up through the caddie ranks. There were a ton of guys that we were all great friends with, that played a lot of practice rounds with, that Lee and Charlie Sifford get so much credit, but Pete Brown and Curtis Sifford and Bobby Stroble and Nate Starks.

CURTIS STRANGE: Jim Dent was a helluva player.

ANDY NORTH: Unbelievable. One of the great drivers of the golf ball of all time. But there were a lot of guys that it didn’t seem out of the normal for that to happen then. As big a deal as it probably was, it just didn’t seem like it was that big of a deal because you were around so many guys that played good golf all the time.

Guys, it seems like every year there’s a Masters competitor in his 50s and even into his 60s who goes out and fires at least one low round. I’m just wondering, how much does it make you smile when a guy like Larry Mize last year goes out and shoots 70 in the opening round. Secondly, how do you explain that given the length of Augusta National these days?

ANDY NORTH: For Larry Mize to shoot 70 at Augusta National, that’s one of the all time great runs you’ll ever see because of the length. Larry averages driving it like about 240, 245, something like that. You’re giving up 100 yards to some of the guys in net. That’s the beauty of the game we play. It’s about executing. It’s not always about how far he hit it. If you’re a player that’s really good with the 5 wood and you can still knock it on the green and give yourself a birdie opportunity, that’s more power to you.

There’s a guy in Japan, Sugihara, that Curtis probably played golf with, I played some golf with over there. Literally, he couldn’t hit it 225 yards. I was about a foot taller than he was. We played each other in the match play over there one year, and I’m hitting 9 irons, he’s hitting 4 woods into every hole, and he’s hitting it inside of my 9 irons literally every single hole. So if you don’t think that’s frustrating.

But that’s the beauty of this game. It doesn’t matter how far you hit it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are. If you can figure out a way to play, you can play golf.

CURTIS STRANGE: To follow up, knowing the golf course is a great example of knowing the golf course and where to hit it and when to go.

Just a follow-up. Mike Weir is a guy, somebody who had a number of struggles over the last ten years. He’s obviously a Masters champion, and he’s playing some really good golf of late on the Senior Tour. Is he somebody, not necessarily who could contend for a title, but is he somebody, given his experience there and his wedge play and putting, is he somebody, do you think, could at least surprise with a top 30 finish or a top 20 finish or something like that?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think his ability to play well for a day or two wouldn’t shock anyone. I always come back to that term, our buddy Mike Tirico invented the theory of leaderboard gravity. As time goes on, it just feels like — he’s not a lesser than. I don’t mean in any way to belittle Mike Weir’s talent, it’s can you dig in your boots and hold on for four days, you know what I’m saying? It wouldn’t shock, I think, any of us to play well on a Thursday or Friday, but can you hang around as it gets to the weekend?

These guys in their 20’s, the Justin Thomas and DeChambeau and Dustin — he’s in his 30’s, but you get what I’m saying here. The point you make is a great one. Freddy Couples, after he turned 50, felt like he was in the last couple of groups off on Saturday and Sunday a bunch, but inevitably, whether it’s leaderboard gravity or reality of the situation, he dropped off just ever so slightly or fell out of the top ten or whatever.

You can lean on the familiarity and the love you have for the place only so long. Four days is a long time. 72 holes is a long time to maintain a spot. You said top 30, sure. That doesn’t seem unreasonable, but to really contend, I don’t think it’s a shot at Mike to say that would seem like a long shot. He might say the same, you know.

ANDY NORTH: I think it’s really cool because of Mike’s good play and the over 50 crowd, he’s coming in here with probably more confidence than he’s had in his game in maybe the last 10 or so years. There’s an awful lot to that too that, if he believes he can do it, there’s a good chance he might.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yes, it’s just great to see him playing well again. I can only imagine the frustration the last 10 or 12 years, as you saw. Great to see him playing well, shooting good scores, and the hamburgers in the clubhouse taste a little better, the beer’s a little colder. Everything is better when the putts are going in.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Can I just say one thing about Mike? He had such a remarkable run there, where he won a ton of dough, won a bunch of events. He was always such a great guy, always a smile, a kind word, whatever. I feel like, even in the face of struggles, I don’t feel like the Mike I ever encountered ever changed. I don’t feel like I ever ran into a sour guy, a guy that’s pissed off. This game can — I’ve seen it. I don’t know, but I’ve seen it. It takes chunks out of you. It’s hard.

I just feel like the Mike I’ve ever seen never really changed a bunch. I admire that, being able to carry yourself that way throughout the highs and the lows.

Dustin Johnson doesn’t have to wait a full year to defend his title. Is that any way an advantage for him with his win being more fresh in his mind and he doesn’t have to sit on it for a year and think about it?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I don’t think any of that touches him, you know, Curtis? Go ahead. I don’t think good or bad. He’s got the best ability on tour to look out the windshield and not in the rearview mirror. I think he’s more neck shot than anybody on TOUR.

CURTIS STRANGE: I agree, and I don’t think it makes any difference to your question one way or the other with any player, but even more so with D.J. There’s not much that bothers him. As I was talking to Butch Harmon yesterday, he said, you know, he hasn’t played great the last three times out, no worry. No worries at all. (Laughter).

ANDY NORTH: The thing is he won on a soft Augusta National last year and shot amazing scores, but he had a ton of top 10’s in a row in April. So if his game’s anywhere near where it’s supposed to be, there’s going to be a great chance to defend.

I love the way you talked about the evolution and the Masters, Curtis. How do you guys think the Augusta National Women’s Amateur can continue to grow in its infancy?

CURTIS STRANGE: Gosh, what a just unbelievable event that’s become. They’ve only played it, what, one time? So I’m glad it’s back. To see that response from the first year. To see the two players play well head to head, to see the response from the fans was fantastic. It was a home run. I’m glad to see it back this year.

How does it improve? Gosh, I don’t know. Who knows? You’d have to ask them. It’s hard to improve on such a successful first event. I will say that.

ANDY NORTH: If I can add something, I really like the direction that Augusta National has gone the last few years, the Asia-Pacific Amateur, the Latin America Amateur, the Women’s Amateur, these are unbelievable events for golf, period. They’ve really taken their position in golf and shown some great leadership, in my mind. I think Chairman Ridley, I think, is just continuing that down a real positive track.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I was with our buddy Mike Tirico not long ago. He was getting ready to head up — different network, but we’re all friends here. You add to that what they’ve done with the Drive, Chip, and Putt. You’re creating more and more avenues to see young kids out there from all over the country, to see the Women’s Amateur, which it’s just — I don’t know. Just the more and more exposure there is to the game to, whether it’s young kids, whether it’s the Women’s Amateur, whatever. And Andy’s point about the amateurs around the globe with the invites, what it represents, the idea that somebody would get to play in the Masters and compete in whatever it is. Drive, Chip, and Putt, the Masters, the Women’s Amateur, any event. I think you always see what it means to the competitors, and that’s only a positive thing.

CURTIS STRANGE: One other thing. They are through all this, they are growing the game as well as anybody in the game right now, maybe more so than any other organization in the game.

What was the first thing, plural things, you bought at the Masters shop, and do you still buy anything?

ANDY NORTH: I’ll be happy to answer that one. I don’t go in the Masters shop, but my wife sure does. Every year she comes back with more stuff than I can even imagine. But it is pretty cool. That logo is a pretty darn famous logo. From a gift standpoint, if you’re giving that to somebody, they usually appreciate it.

CURTIS STRANGE: Funny you ask that. My daughter-in-law and oldest son are in town this week, and we just got off the website this morning, and my — I don’t even want to look at my credit card right now. (Laughter).

SCOTT VAN PELT: Here’s the thing. You guys have both got me by a couple years. You’ve been at this longer than me. By now, every person you know should be done. You’ve gotten something for everybody. I know grandkids get added to the mix and people are growing and they need new, but the first one I went to is ’97. Through the years, I’ve probably been able to maybe afford them a little bit more stuff. I left an entire bag in an overhead bin in an airplane once, which was a catastrophe. You just think you’ve got to be done. Who else could I need something for?

Then every year, you’re like, that’s a handsome quarter zip. Mom kind of likes that visor.

I bought like $250 of ball markers, which are a great gift. You give them to somebody like as a gift at a wedding or a little thank you to somebody, and it’s like the people in your life that play golf appreciate it because they can’t get it anywhere else, and you’re lucky enough to be there.

I wouldn’t — for a while there, I had a big stack of stuff, but over the years, you give some out. As I think about it, I’m probably going to have to get on that website, Curtis, and get some more. It’s every year. It’s a tradition unlike any other.

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Media Contact: Andy Hall, [email protected]

Andy Hall

I’m part of a team that handles PR/Communications for SportsCenter, including the SC Featured brand, the E60 program, and ESPN’s news platforms. In addition, I’m the PR contact for ESPN’s Formula 1 coverage and golf majors (the Masters and PGA Championship). I’m based in Daytona Beach, Fla., and have been with ESPN since 2006.
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