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 15th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 7-8, along with preview shows and special feeds on ESPN+. ESPN and ESPN+ also will air the Masters Par 3 Contest on Wednesday, April 6. ESPN will have extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
ANDY NORTH: We go through this every year, that it is the first major championship of the year, and I think people look forward to it. It’s a rite of spring in the Midwest, in the Northeast. We’ve still got some snow on the ground up in our neck of the woods in Wisconsin so people are fired up about getting out, hitting golf balls, and the Masters kind of signals that time of the year. I think getting that first major, it feels like the year is really going full tilt once you get to that point.
CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I think utmost on my mind is always going back to Augusta and being part of it. Not only with ESPN but as an honorary invitee, and just being a part of the stage of the players, the tournament, the golf industry is all under the oak tree most of the week, and it’s great to see old friends and the people you don’t see but once a year.
And as always, under the tree you talk early in the week about the storylines, and every year because as Andy said it’s the first major, there’s so many different storylines, who can win, who can play well, who’s been playing well. You know, you look forward to the entire major championship season.
This year is no less than any other, as we have so many young players playing so well. Dustin Johnson, who’s the old guy, is starting to play well again. I picked a winner for ESPN.com the other day, because I had to. I just don’t see — how do you pick with so many of these young players playing so well, and even a young Sam Burns is starting to really play well. You’ve got the defender in Matsuyama, and Jordan Spieth is down in the World Ranking a little bit, but he’s always played well at Augusta and always putts so well and seems to finish high.
The list is endless, and I think that’s what we look forward to every year at Augusta.
SCOTT VAN PELT: We have familiar refrains when we have this conversation. So many of the folks that call in I’m sure are familiar with just the return to a place we enjoy, an event that always delivers. I’m looking forward to Augusta feeling like Augusta, and by that I mean, look, November was a Herculean effort from everybody to get it done in the midst of the pandemic. Last year felt more like Augusta in terms of its place in the calendar, but it wasn’t quite back to what it felt like pre-COVID, and I expect it will feel very much like that, and my sense is that it will.
I was back there a couple of weeks ago to do some things in advance of the tournament, and I mean, they said do you want to do anything, and I said, I want to see my friend Tony over there that works at the club, and I went and saw him. We hugged each other like old friends, because we are. I just look forward to the chance to interact with the people that you’re used to seeing, that circumstances kind of prevented that in the last couple of years.
Then of course there are so many different storylines, and one that seemingly has just developed in the last couple of days that I’m sure we’ll discuss here, the possibility of who might be in the field.
Q – Curtis and Andy, just a quick one for you as it relates to so much depth right now, and I’m going to think five of the top 10 are looking for their first major. When you look back at your era, Andy, I think you were 28, Curtis, you were 33 when you first won, was there ever a sense of urgency when you looked around and saw who else was winning and did that help or distract as you went into each major?
ANDY NORTH: I think you usually have a group of guys you come out with, you’ve played junior golf and college golf with, and I think the fact that maybe one of those guys wins, I think that gives you encouragement because you’ve played against that player for years, and you’ve beaten him and he’s beaten you. I think that helps.
I don’t think you put pressure on thinking you have to win. You’re trying to win — that’s just part of the process. But I think, for example, when Jordan Spieth won so early those multiple times, I think that had to help Justin Thomas and some of the other guys that had played a lot of golf with him, that shoot, if Jordan can do this, why the heck can’t I do it. I think that’s a big part. I don’t think it’s a negative; I think if anything it might be a positive.
CURTIS STRANGE: I completely agree. It’s never a negative. I think it motivates you. What motivates you in this game from day one, it’s your friends doing well or beating you and so you have to rise to the occasion and improve your game and work harder, and that never stops. It never stops.
When you get on Tour — it’s interesting you say, I was talking to a fellow yesterday about Scottie Scheffler and about the other three young players in Morikawa and Wolff and Hovland playing so well, does he feel like he’s been overlooked a bit until recently. He said, no, not at all, it motivated him because he’s played with and against those guys forever since junior golf. That’s exactly the way you should look at it, and I think that’s the way everybody looks at it.
Q – The Par 3 Contest coverage being expanded led me to have this thought. Curtis and Andy North, did the Par 3 curse ever get into your head during Masters week? And for Scott and for all three of you, you guys all talk to today’s players; is the Par 3 curse as big a thing as some of us in the media I think make it out to be sometimes?
ANDY NORTH: I always thought the Par 3 was a great time. In our era, it was much different than it is today. I think we — I looked at it as a way to kind of get a final day — I like the idea of going out there and trying to make six-footers or eight-footers where it sort of meant something, which I think helps get you better prepared for Thursday.
The curse part, I made a lot of bad decisions while I was playing, and in the Par 3 I birdied five of the first — four of the first five or whatever and got to the sixth. It wasn’t the sixth hole then, it was the eighth hole. I was a bunch under and I hit it in the water on purpose. I think I might have been 5-under going to that hole, which was dumb. I should have been thinking about trying to win it. But at that point in time, oh, if you win that, you’ve got no chance of winning the tournament, so I flopped a couple in the water on purpose on that hole and shot your even par or whatever it was and moved on.
But I also enjoyed Wednesday. I thought it was a nice day to kind of put the final touches on your preparation for the week and hopefully got you in a good frame of mind going forward.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. I think we make a bigger thing than what the players make out there. Andy is not the only guy to realize about nobody has won both so he hit it in the water late in the round, but I think all in all, the guys — looking back on it like we are now, would have loved to have won the Par 3. My gosh, what a wonderful event to have your name on.
I never got that many under par to even worry about it, to be quite honest with you, because I took more of a laid-back approach, and we were always out there having fun, and I didn’t play a couple years when I felt like I had a chance to win because I wanted to relax and take it easy Wednesday afternoon versus go out there for an hour and a half and go through all that.
But anyway, I think it’s a bit blown up. I think the guys go out there — but as Andy said, it’s such a different atmosphere now because you have all the families involved, and some will take it more seriously than others, but I think it’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. It’s a chance for the patrons and now TV over the last number of years to show the beauty of this place and the fun of this place and a part of Augusta National that the viewers didn’t see until so many years ago. It’s the prettiest place on the planet just to the left of the road going in.
I think it’s wonderful, and it’s great to see everybody being able to enjoy it more than we used to because there’s so much exposure now.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Years ago I caddied for David Duval in the event, and David, it was when he was at the peak of his powers. He might have been No. 1 in the world or very close to it, and we played with Davis and Freddy, and from the very jump we were talking about putting some in the water if we had to. That’s how it started.
Then early on, like we made a big number early, and I was just crushing him because I was like, we don’t have to worry about anything. Just try to get it on the green, big boy. We were having a laugh about it, and we had so much fun and so much laughter, it was — my gosh, Dru Love is an adult now. There’s a picture, Dru is about this big, and there I am like a jolly green giant walking down the middle of the fairway. It was such a memorable day for me to put on the caddie whites and be out.
I think what Curtis and Andy are alluding to is the fun of the day, and you’ve really gotten a chance through television to see it the last few years, and I’m so grateful the club wanted people to see it because it’s such a great snapshot of what the place feels like on Wednesday, and it’s so unusual that the day before one of the four most important rounds of the year that you just totally take your foot off the gas and smile and have a laugh.
I believe in talking to players that everyone enters, you walk to that first hole wanting to have fun and wanting to make birdies, and then if you do, you’ve got a decision to make. You’ve got to think about it. You get over there on 8 and 9, what do I want to do here?
I don’t think anyone starts the round thinking about it, but if you play well enough that you have to think about it, you can’t not think about it, if that makes sense.
CURTIS STRANGE: Why not be the first?
SCOTT VAN PELT: Exactly. That would be my mentality, but I never had to — you guys dealt with it in a different way. But it’s there. Everybody knows it’s there.
Q – These days it feels like the buildup to the Masters, and maybe it’s because of social media, is four or five months long. I’m wondering if the anticipation of the tournament was the same when you were younger, maybe in your early teenage years, your adolescent years, and also, is there a particular Masters tournament that really, really drew you in when you were, say, 10, 11, 12 years old? To all three of you.
ANDY NORTH: Well, the anticipation was real from a player standpoint. I mean, you’d start thinking about — when you first got to play at the Masters, you’d start thinking about it a month or two beforehand. I’d start playing shots I was trying to play or thinking I needed to play during the Masters Tournament. I might be hitting them at Greensboro or some other place, which sometimes didn’t help you play, and you’re hitting shots that you probably shouldn’t be hitting to try to play well that particular week. But it’s in your head. That’s all I thought about for the month or so before.
As far as — I didn’t get into golf until later. Curtis was around golf his whole life because his dad was a pro. But memorable Masters, I wasn’t a kid, but I was out of college, that ’75 Masters with Nicklaus and Weiskopf and Miller was absolutely incredible. I thought that was one of the most amazing events ever, and then luckily I got a chance to play the very next year, so that was cool watching those guys.
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I reminisce and think about sitting in dad’s golf shop, there was a little 12-inch black-and-white TV and watching Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Those years were ’65 to ’70 or something, and it was — you had no idea, when you’re already in love with the game and you see something that’s so spectacular and you see Arnold and you see — whenever Jack came on the screen and you’d see Casper and the greats of the game, you can’t help but dream about, gosh, maybe one day I could even meet these guys or play there.
Then you fast forward and you do well, and to play there as an amateur, you have no idea the anticipation before 1975 when I was going to drive from Wake Forest in my yellow go-to-hell canary Nova Chevrolet, and drive through the gates of Magnolia Lane.
I had gotten there Saturday afternoon late, and I never left the property until Sunday morning. I missed the cut. You say ’75, Andy, I played with Jack Nicklaus that first round in 1975 when he won against Johnny and Tom. I’m going to tell you something that’s the honest to God’s truth: Jack Nicklaus hit 18 greens that day. He had 36 putts, and he shot 68. He birdied the 3rd hole with a 20-footer and he three-putted the 8th, so he had 36 putts and he shot 68, and on my drive home to Wake Forest I said, I’ll be damned, I’ve got to study harder because there’s no way I can play that good. There’s no way I can play this good. I’ve got to take some more serious courses at Wake Forest.
But memories like that never leave you. I don’t care what you do in the game, playing has memories like that that will never leave you and motivate you and now you can tell your grandkids.
SCOTT VAN PELT: That’s a tough story to follow. I have never arrived in a hillbilly Nova, nor have I played with Jack Nicklaus. But I’m probably more relatable. I grew up playing basketball and baseball. Golf was something that to me I’m grateful came into my life later, but it was something I watched with my father.
It’s weird, as a young kid, something about it on television just looked different and felt different. Maybe it was just the reverence my father had for the competitors and what the event was. So that seed was planted before I even really had any participation in the game, and obviously long before I got a chance to do what I do now.
But in terms of social media as an amplifier, it’s interesting, as we all know, it isn’t always the most positive place, but there are a few events that sort of galvanize people’s anticipation and sense of, gosh, I can’t wait.
It’s the perfect event because it’s the first one, it’s the same place, it’s coming out of the winter, like Andy said, there’s still snow in some places. Hell, it’s freezing here outside of D.C. this week and was snowing a little bit earlier this week. Just the sense of getting there, what sun feels like on your face, the flowers, the people, the friends, the whole bit. The anticipation I’m sure people get sick of it or you roll your eyes, but not the people who have been there. They help, because they know. They know what it feels like. That’s why we’re all just — we can’t wait to get back.
Q – Scott, what was your first Masters?
SCOTT VAN PELT: The first one I attended? This young guy won by a million named Tiger. ’97 was the first Masters I was lucky enough to cover.
Q – Andy and Curtis, how has the broadcast style adapted to spotlight these younger players, and if Tiger Woods ends up playing, what is going to happen then with the broadcast? Then for Scott, hosting SportsCenter, the night edition, what makes broadcasting the Masters important, and how do you plan to implement that into SportsCenter?
ANDY NORTH: Well, I think when I started playing, you had two hours of TV on a Saturday and two hours of TV on a Sunday, and if you were in the last group and double bogeyed the first hole, you never got a shot on TV. The coverage was so limited.
Now in today’s world, ESPN+, for example, what we’re doing during the week with the featured groups and the featured holes and that sort of thing, every single player that’s playing in the event will hit some shots that will be on television. The tours let the players know, be prepared, every single shot you hit is going to be on television. Thank gosh that wasn’t the case in our time. We would have made fools of ourselves sometimes.
I think that’s really been great for the young players. They draw a fan base around them that we probably didn’t — it took us five or six or eight years to get people who knew who you were. These guys are known instantly because of the coverage and how it’s done.
I don’t think the coverage of golf has changed all that much, it’s just the volume and the opportunity to be on TV and understand that and figure out a way to create a brand or a following on social media. It’s such a different world, but I think it’s been a wonderful thing for these young guys, and they’ve really embraced it.
CURTIS STRANGE: To continue exactly what Andy was saying, agree with everything, is that the volume of TV, the hours that we are on next week, from SportsCenter until 7:00 at night, gives us a chance to introduce all of these young kids and gives us a chance to show their wares and talents and personalities and charisma, and they all have it. They’re all different. What I love, they all swing different now, too. They swing their own swing.
It gives us a chance to do that, and therefore, as Andy said, it took seven or eight years of decent play to get known out there. Now these guys are — Scheffler is 25 years old and we’re going to introduce him that he’s won three of his last five events, and he’s played well in a couple majors, don’t get me wrong, but he’s going to be introduced to the world next week if I have anything to do with it because he is some player, along with Jon Rahm and Collin and Viktor and Cameron Smith, who’s to me a little bit still under the radar, and boy, can he play.
The point is, as Andy said, it’s never changed, but we have to do a better job of background information on these players because we have so much time to show them.
SCOTT VAN PELT: And yet I was texting with a player yesterday and joking that if Tiger plays you guys could play nude and no one would know you were there. And I’m kidding, obviously, but —
CURTIS STRANGE: No, you’re not.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Look, are we going to talk about Scottie Scheffler? Of course we are. He’s No. 1 in the world. I did a podcast with Marty Smith that we taped last week for next week with Jim Nantz, and he asked who do you like, and this was prior to Scottie winning down in the Match Play, and as Jim was going through his answers, before he got to his last one, I threw up a hook ’em, and he said Scottie Scheffler, and I said, if you didn’t say him I was going to. That goes back to an earlier question about guys just showing up, believing they can compete and win, and Scheffler is certainly showing that.
The question was asked about if Tiger were to play, how does it change things. Well, it changes everything. He’s the singular player in the sport. There’s people tracking his plane yesterday like it’s an SEC coaching search, and just the idea of him going up there and what’s going on and is he going to try, and if he plays, then that becomes its own lane of coverage. It’s Tiger. We all know what he is and what he represents, and if he’s going to try to play after what happened and the car accident — by the way, fellas, it’s not just him playing a tournament, it’s him playing the Masters Tournament. It would be quite something from a coverage standpoint.
You asked a question about SportsCenter and how important it is. Because I have covered golf my entire professional life, I think I look at these events perhaps differently than some of my peers in terms of how important I believe they are, and as it relates to doing SportsCenter segments, we don’t do our show from here, but we’re doing segments for them, and whether it’s me sitting next to Curtis or sitting next to Andy as I have since my very first moment in Australia in 2001, we have a great deal of fun, and we have the kind of easy camaraderie and friendship that comes through 20 some odd years of doing these things.
Hopefully my respect for the events and leaning into the expertise of the people that I’m lucky to be sitting next to, that shines through. It’s really important to me. That’s what I try to bring to covering the event.
And also to covering the sport when I’m doing, like, the quote-unquote — like my in-studio stuff. I pay more attention to golf maybe than — not all my peers certainly. Michael Eaves loves golf as much as anything. So do a lot of people. I’m rambling now, but it’s an important event, and this week in particular.
CURTIS STRANGE: I guess my question was part of a Tiger — if Tiger plays. I’m so excited that he looks like he’s putting forth an effort to think about it and test his body. Is he going to play? We have no idea. But it looks like he’s testing himself, and that is a good thing, and how else would you test yourself other than to go walk and play and get up there and play some practice rounds and see if you can walk the golf course, see how the leg holds up, see how the game is.
I commend him, because when you practice and walk and work out at home, it’s a different animal than when you get to the site and walk the golf course, which is the hardest walk in golf, Augusta National, and walk the golf course and put yourself in that element and that atmosphere, and I just — I applaud him for trying because he’s got to start somewhere if he’s going to play again —
SCOTT VAN PELT: Hey Curtis, isn’t the most important thing not to play in it? He knows how to play in it. Even if his leg is in a compromised state, which he said it is, I would imagine it’s not to play in it that’s the issue. You’ve both dealt with injuries. He played yesterday. Isn’t it waking up today and seeing what’s my leg feeling like today, because it’s not playing it once, you’ve got to get up and do it again Friday, and then if you play well enough, Saturday and Sunday. Isn’t how he feels today more important?
ANDY NORTH: Absolutely. Can he even get out of bed this morning? Because it’s one thing to do it that one day, but to do it four days in a row, on this golf course — I struggled on this golf course all the time walking around, and what he’s gone through, I think it’s marvelous that he’s giving it his best effort.
You know one thing, if he’s pointing to try to do it, he’s giving it everything he’s got, and you’ve got to surely applaud him for that.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s my point, but you’ve got to start somewhere. He knows where he stands physically.
Q – You guys started answering my question on your own there, but I was wondering if you guys are surprised at the progress that Tiger has made just to be clearly thinking about it and what a successful week would be if he did play. How should we think about expectations for Tiger?
SCOTT VAN PELT: I’m surprised because I watched him talk to Jim at the Genesis in Riviera, and he was — we’ve all known him a long time, and when he’s as frank as that about, like, it hasn’t progressed the way I wanted it to, and look, I have to play, like I’m not riding around in a cart playing 18 holes, he was just very candid in his assessment of where he was and where he wasn’t. He certainly didn’t sound like he was in a head space of I can give this a go.
But also having known him as long as we have, the thought that he went down to his place in Florida and grinded his butt off to give himself a chance doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t, and as I explained earlier, ’97 was my first Masters. I long ago stopped trying to define what a successful week would look like for this dude.
Now, you can roll your eyes at I only compete if I think I can win and should a 46-year-old man play on a compromised leg, and let’s not forget a fused back, should he think he should win? Well, no, not reasonably, but it isn’t reasonable that a guy with a fused back in 2019 beat all those guys that he beat. I’m not putting any limits on him if he’s able to play. But I’m very surprised based on what I thought I knew that the possibility not a week out exists that he could play.
ANDY NORTH: My hopes for Tiger through this whole process is that he can just play golf again, that he can get out and play golf and enjoy his time with Charlie and Sam on the golf course as a father and not as the former No. 1 in the world, the greatest player ever, but as a dad, that he can go out and do that.
The glimpses we’ve seen him playing with Charlie in the Father-Son have been wonderful, and the fact that we understand that Charlie was up there yesterday and had a chance to go around with him, I think that’s fantastic.
If he plays, that would be amazing. If he doesn’t, the process he’s going through right now is a real healing process for him in a lot of ways. It’s just exciting to see where he’s come. It’s an amazing comeback for a person that we didn’t know if he was going to make it through that night.
To be in this position where people are actually talking about this guy might actually play in the Masters, I think that’s amazing. I answered this question earlier; if he plays golf, where do you think he could possibly play, and it would seem maybe the Open Championship because it’s St. Andrews, it’s flat and it’s an easy walk. Augusta is the last place you would have thought he could possibly play.
I think that we’re even considering this is amazing.
CURTIS STRANGE: He likes challenges, doesn’t he.
ANDY NORTH: He sure does.
CURTIS STRANGE: He likes challenges, so this is certainly going to be a challenge. I look forward to it. I hope he plays. It’ll certainly be an exciting week.
Q – Just wanted to ask you about what advice, Andy and Curtis, would you give to a first-time competitor at the Masters on how to putt the fast greens there? And for SVP, what’s the wackiest thing you’ve heard of players doing to try to prep for the speed of the Masters greens?
ANDY NORTH: I think the biggest thing is that, and you see a lot of the younger players do it, if this is your first time around the track don’t go out and play a practice round with your buddies, go try to find a veteran. Go try to find a guy who’s done well there and try to arrange practice rounds with guys who have even won if they’ll play with you, if you’ve created those kind of relationships. Just to watch players who have played there and who have done well there, how they try to approach the golf course, you can learn an awful lot, and ask questions. Absolutely ask questions, because the golf course has so many quirks to it and intricacies that it’s not easy to get around the first couple of times.
Just keep your mouth shut and your eyes open and learn, and I think that’s the best you can do. Putting those greens, they’re absolutely mindboggling sometimes, but I think a simple answer, to go there early, spend some time just trying to figure out — have some concept what parts of the green you want to try to play to, where you can make par from. Trying to get an understanding of the golf course will help you putt those greens better.
CURTIS STRANGE: Andy is so right. If you go play every practice round with Ben Crenshaw or Tom Watson or Jack Nicklaus, you still have to get out there and experience it yourself and realize that there’s certain places you just cannot be on the golf course. We go to the statistics and talk about how it’s a second-shot golf course and every winner is always in the top 5 in greens in regulation and so on and so forth. But it’s true, and you have to know where to miss it on certain holes, where to try to get it on certain greens, and after that’s all said and done, sitting here as Andy and I a little bit older in age, I would hit half as many golf balls when I went there because a lot of times you get to Augusta and it’s so perfect, even the old practice tee you hit a lot of golf balls, maybe too many golf balls. But I would hit fewer golf balls and I would get on that putting green or I’d go out on that golf course and I would putt and putt and putt, because it’s the speed of the greens, yes, but it’s also the slope of the greens, and that with a tiny bit of grain is unlike anything you’re used to.
You have to try to be instinctive so you’re feeling instinctively by Thursday morning, and that’s tough to do. Preparing is big; learning it is even bigger.
SCOTT VAN PELT: We’ve all heard the stories of putting on a hardwood floor or putting in your bathtub. There’s all these cliches of the speed. But what players have all said to me is what you just heard from Andy and Curtis. You can get your club — they did it down at Isleworth back in the day. They’d get the greens running a zillion. Okay, great. But you know what your hardwood floors aren’t? They don’t have the slope of 14 green. So you can practice on a fast green all you want, but you’re not going to feel the way you feel on a Thursday or a Friday afternoon or try to make it or a Sunday on the second nine. You don’t feel emotionally the way you feel, and you’re not asked to putt on 16 if you’re on the wrong side and you’ve got to put up and down or 14 or whatever.
It’s the only place you can really prepare for them is when you’re out there on them is the way players have explained it to me. Putt fast greens all you want. There’s plenty of fast greens. They aren’t Augusta’s greens.
CURTIS STRANGE: One more thing just to say is, as Scotty just said, I’ll never forget I had a four-footer at 16, pin was right, I’m above the hole, and I think to myself, if it doesn’t go in, I don’t know where it’s going to stop, so the anxiety of that and hitting it so easily is just not done anyplace else on Tour. So you add that to the speed of the greens, the slope of the greens, it’s hard to explain. It’s hard to explain. You have to play there numerous times to apprise what your body is going to react like, what your mind is going to react like and what that ball is going to react like.
Q – Andy and Curtis, Tom Watson joining the starters on Thursday, your initial reaction? What do you think that will mean to him?
ANDY NORTH: Well, I think he’s really excited. For years, he said, I don’t know if I’ll do it, I don’t know if I’ll do it. I think he actually mentioned that he didn’t know if he should be included because he’s not Gary Player or Jack Nicklaus. But he’s pretty darned close. His history there is amazing. You look at his record, he was a dominant player for a decade, and that doesn’t happen very often in our game.
I think — first of all, I know he’s really excited. He and Jack are such good friends. Gary’s history is so amazing there. He’s fired up about it.
I suspect he’ll hit a really good one. He will have been working. He won’t just come out there and have to dust off a head cover and fire away. He’ll be ready to go.
CURTIS STRANGE: Tom Watson to me was the next guy in line to be asked, with his record and history. But Tom Watson is also the guy that when he hits the first tee shot is going to want to win to play all 18.
SCOTT VAN PELT: That’s exactly right.
CURTIS STRANGE: He’s not going to want to stop.
SCOTT VAN PELT: He might be the first one to walk off it with an iron.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s right.
ANDY NORTH: In the old days, Sam used to do that. In the old days they’d go out and maybe play nine holes, which —
CURTIS STRANGE: They weren’t going to hold up anybody, were they?
ANDY NORTH: No, that’s exactly right.
Q – Scott, Mike Tirico was regaling me last week on some stories of the two of you guys inside Butler Cabin. I wonder if you could take me back inside your first time in Butler Cabin. What did that look like and what did that feel like?
SCOTT VAN PELT: It’s one of those places certainly that — even now, even now I sit there for two days, and I mean, how did any of this happen? I mean, no joke. It really doesn’t make any sense.
You could say the same of all of Augusta National, but look, the Butler Cabin and walking into it, you might expect like to hear the angels sing and it’s going to be something that’s beyond your comprehension, but the truth is, and this is what Augusta National does, they’re not trying to flex on you. Does that make sense? We’ve all been to golf clubs that are trying too hard with the setup. You walk in and they want to impress you. Augusta National and Butler Cabin, they don’t need to do extra stuff, man, because it’s Butler Cabin.
So you walk in, you take a look around, you take a deep breath, you go, wow, here I am. There’s the pictures; I recognize these people. There’s Mr. Jones and this and that, right. I tell the players when they come in on a Thursday — I always say the same thing, hey look, it’s nice to see you, come back Sunday. It’s a lot better in here on Sunday. They’ve got a jacket and you will have earned it if you’re back here on Sunday.
But it’s truly, truly two days that I look forward to, and I sit there with Curtis, and because it’s a CBS event, it’s on ESPN but we’re not calling the golf the way we will when we’re at Southern Hills for the PGA. I forget that I’m the host, and I’ll be sitting there with Curtis and we’re watching golf, and all of a sudden the producer is in your ear and you realize, oh, wait, I’m meant to say something here. You’ve got to gather yourself and make sure you’re present.
It has an ability to really just — it’s almost like you’re in a trance just sitting there because you can’t believe, at least for me — it’s different for Curtis. This guy played it. He’s won stuff. He’s supposed to be there, I’m not. So it’s all those things, and it’s that way — I don’t even know, Andy, what year this is for me to do it, but every year will feel like the first year. Every year.
Q – Curtis and Andy, I was wondering who you can think of other than Ben Hogan who would have played Augusta National with severe injury. And maybe what’s the worst injury you’ve played with at that course?
CURTIS STRANGE: In some of my later years I had to withdraw in the middle of the first round because of a wrist injury, and I never thought, hey, wrist injury, man up, play. Some things really hurt and you can’t play, and I had to withdraw and it was devastating to me to walk off the 8th tee up the hill and just say I’ve had enough, I can’t do this. But personally that was me.
You know, I think Andy and I might be stumped because it just doesn’t happen. Ben Hogan was as tenacious a competitor as there’s probably ever been, and Tiger Woods is right there with him. I can’t really think of anybody that’s won or done well there that fought through injury like this.
ANDY NORTH: I think there’s different kinds of injuries, too. I struggle with back and knee issues there all the time, and it was a hard place for me to get around. But there’s a lot of guys that go there that aren’t 100 percent; let’s say that. But when you look at what Hogan came back from after his accident, what Tiger is trying to come back from after his accident, that’s a whole ‘nother level.
Everybody is injured at some point in time. I broke my hand one year and couldn’t play there, and like Curtis — it was ’86. I had won the U.S. Open the year before, so you’re going there as the U.S. Open champion, and I fell and broke my hand a month or so before the Masters and didn’t get a chance to play. I went down there with a cast on my hand thinking I could try to figure out a way to play on Thursday, and there’s no chance. It was just dumb.
But you want to try so hard to see if you could do it.
You don’t see this happen very often. Guys are smarter today, too. If they’re injured, they don’t play. I think that’s what — I think Tiger and Ben Hogan are probably the two players that have had the most severe situations that anybody has had to deal with.
Q – And the stances, up and down and sideways and —
ANDY NORTH: Oh, personally downhill lies there were almost impossible for me because I couldn’t drive on to my left side because of my knee. There’s some that are so severe, you’re afraid I might hurt myself.
But yeah, hitting balls at home, like Curtis said earlier, is wonderful, hitting off a flat practice tee, it’s a beautiful thing. Now you get on the side hill at 9 or something and you try to hit a shot and you haven’t hit one of those yet. It is an interesting place from that standpoint, and I think it just ramps up the whole discussion about Tiger being able to play. It’s going to be an amazing next few days to see what people talk about.
Q – Augusta has been a happy hunting ground for left-handers. Why is that?
CURTIS STRANGE: Left-handers, the ones that have won there and done well are damn good players.
ANDY NORTH: Well, I always look at — I think Augusta National, the golf course, there’s certain holes that really pull a player in. Second hole, for example, you’re standing on that tee, and the first thought in your hit is I’ve got to hit a draw around this corner. Well, then you overdraw it a little bit, it catches the edge of one of the trees or gets under the trees or runs all the way down the hill into the creek that runs down there, hitting a draw off that tee maybe wasn’t the smartest thing. It took me 10 years there before I just finally said, I’m not going to try to hit a draw here, I’m just going to hit it as straight as I can, and if anything make sure that it doesn’t move left. Maybe I’m giving up a little bit of distance, but I can get it in play; you knew you were going to play the hole.
I think for a left-hander there’s a lot of holes like that that my set-up better. Maybe you’ve got more control as a lefty cutting it off that hole than you are as a righty trying to hit a hard draw.
It’s like Curtis says, Phil can really play. Mike Weir can really play. These guys know what they’re doing.
CURTIS STRANGE: Bubba can really play. One of the best shots I’ve ever seen in my life in the playoff. Andy makes a good point because you have to look at it, when we think, we’ve always heard growing up Augusta is a draw golf course off the tee, and as Andy said, it took him 10 years to realize maybe a draw is not the thing, and you don’t have to. You’ve just got to put it in play and make a few putts. But Mike Weir won by laying up on par-5s. There’s different ways to do it, you’ve just got to get it done.
Q – Bob McIntyre is back in the field this year after finishing 12th a year ago. How impressive was that effort and what can we expect from him this time around?
SCOTT VAN PELT: I just loved how — that was one of the really cool things last year because top 12 and ties come back, and the story went that he was waiting — I can’t remember, I want to say someone either missed a putt, and he wouldn’t have been rooting for somebody to bogey, but whatever it was missed a putt either for birdie or par which allowed him to stay top 12 and he came bursting out of the clubhouse because he got to come back.
But I was actually looking at where — it’s like 70 some odd in the World Ranking, but played well enough last year to finish T12 and get a trip back.
I think that through the years, and I always defer to the guys that have done it in Andy and Curtis, but it’s a place you’ve got to learn, right? It’s a book — you read it and you put it up on the shelf but you’ve got to keep reading that book. My grandma said it’s like the Bible. You keep reading it because you don’t know once you read it the first time. Make sure you stay in your book.
I feel like through the years you accumulate knowledge, and I think getting to come back and play it over time, we’ve certainly seen players learn it. You’ve seen players like a Justin Thomas. His finishes get better every year. I don’t know if Bob will do better than T12 this year, but just earning the chance to come back and continue to play it is the key. It’s a place, I don’t know if you ever figure it out, but you definitely learn it over time. At least that’s been my observation.
ANDY NORTH: I think the impressive thing is how well he played it last year in his first go-around. Last year was a little bit different because of the lack of patrons, the numbers we’re going to see and the energy. It’ll feel a lot like the first time again for him this year, which I think will be interesting to see how he handles.
Q – I had a question about two players, Zach Johnson, who as we know is a veteran but a shorter hitter, so what do we think about his prospects realistically playing Augusta? The other thing, Harry Higgs, what a fan favorite he’s going to be, first time at the Masters, his brother is caddying, Alex Higgs. What do you think about that story?
ANDY NORTH: Well, I think following Harry might be a good follow for the week. That might be a good person to go out and watch play some. I think Zach Johnson, the bottom line is if Zach is playing well, he can play well anywhere. He proved it there, wonderful wedge player. But if you’re not playing very well going into the Masters, you probably don’t have a whole lot of chance to figure it out and find it there.
He has not played as well so far this year as he’d like, but he’s a veteran player that keeps working, and he’s had great success there and has a great feeling of how to play the golf course. I think that’s really important.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I love the Big Rig, it’s no secret. When we were at Kiawah and the Big Rig made birdie on 17 and 18, I literally I think my call was, “Look at the Big Rig.” I’ve got to remind myself, keep your poise, Scott.
You know, I really like the guy just because he’s got this persona, shirt is unbuttoned, and he’s got game, though. I want to make it clear, I like the personality, but he’s not some bozo. Like the guy can play. He told a great story on my podcast, and I know you’re talking to him, maybe you already have, but about standing over a shot at Kiawah on 16 where he’s in the tournament. Like he had a shot like we could win this thing, it’s going to take something but he was there, 70th hole of a major, and that was a big moment for him to feel like he was in the arena with a chance. What did he do? He played well enough at Kiawah to earn this trip.
I know he’s excited. I did encourage him to keep his shirt on on the 16th here. It’s not Waste Management. Like to keep yourself buttoned up.
He was joking about that, he’s not about to go Waste Management on anybody. He’s such a big personality, but he’s got game, too, and I’ll be interested to hear your podcast with him and his brother about how excited they have to be just to get this chance.
CURTIS STRANGE: If he takes his shirt off here at Augusta, we might see Mr. Roberts show up.
ANDY NORTH: He won’t finish the round if that happens. He’ll be on Washington Road literally within two minutes of taking it off.
Q – Curtis, just a quick thought on Zach Johnson.
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, he’s getting on in his career, and we’ve all gone through those stages, family, traveling, has a lot on his plate now with Ryder Cup, which is an unbelievable honor for him. It’s about at this stage in his life concentrating when he has to concentrate and work when you have to work. It’s tough to get motivated. It’s easy if you get in the hunt on Saturday and Sunday. It’s about doing the work on Tuesday and Wednesday and then staying in the game on Thursday and Friday when you fight those little battles on the golf course.
You know, he’s been such a great champion and such an ambassador for golf. He always gets to come back. He always gets to come back, so you never know.
Q – One of the really cool traditions to me among all the many at Augusta is the Champions Dinner. I wonder if each of you has like a favorite anecdote or something you’ve heard about that that kind of sticks out about the Champions Dinner for you.
CURTIS STRANGE: How the hell do we know anything?
ANDY NORTH: We have no clue.
CURTIS STRANGE: It’s some little dinner; who cares?
ANDY NORTH: Yeah, exactly. Bunch of guys show up and they’re looking for a free dinner from some guy. What’s the big deal?
CURTIS STRANGE: All got to wear that green coat for some reason; I don’t get it.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I actually heard a story about how — you know, there’s the guys that hold court, right. Back in the day, you’d hear the stories about the joke tellers and the story tellers, but somebody told a story about years ago that somehow or another — this was just — the anecdote that was told to me is somebody asked Bob Goalby about winning the Masters, and he just started telling a story, and like the room stopped and listened. It struck me that here’s a guy that like others have it other moments, right, lots of moments, but is that Bob Goalby’s best moment in the sport? Had to be, right? Well, now you have a chance where the whole room is stopped and silent and listening to a man tell a story about his greatest moment in the game, and I just thought, that’s really cool. You know? That’s really cool, because each person — even if it’s Jack or Tiger who’s got a potful of them, you know what that moment felt like because you did it, too. You did it more, but just to give a guy a chance to remember the most when he was the absolute best he ever was in the sport, I think that’s awesome, man. That’s to me — when you see these older champions in their green jacket and they’re walking around under that oak tree, they earned the right to be there.
Obviously I’ll never be in the room, nor should I be, but just imagining what that would feel like to those guys. I think it’s, as you said well, on the long list of things, that Tuesday night dinner is really neat.
ANDY NORTH: No better group to be part of.
CURTIS STRANGE: Exactly right.
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