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 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. For the 16th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 6-7, along with the debut of the lead-in program Welcome to the Masters at 1 p.m. each day. Preview shows and special feeds will be available on ESPN+. ESPN and ESPN+ also will air the Masters Par 3 Contest on Wednesday, April 5. ESPN will have extensive coverage on SportsCenter, and other ESPN platforms.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

SCOTT VAN PELT (on what he’s most looking forward to): Every bit of it. I think anytime you get a chance to go there, there’s an excitement. We talk about it every year; I think the folks who are covering the event who are on with us today that have been there understand very well what I’m speaking of.

The new show will be fun. You just want to set the expectation. We know how hungry every golf fan is out there from the moment that you’re on, just let’s see shots. We’ll be able to bring some more of that, but it’s also some interviews that just carries us up until our coverage begins in earnest.

Then in the late evening, it’ll be Curtis and I from Butler Cabin just calling golf, which is just such a treat. As I said, any and all of it is what I look forward to, and a little bit more — some is good, more is better, and I know how fans out there feel about the opportunity to see a little bit more, and we’re happy to bring a bit more to them this year.

Q – Andy, you always talk about how this is kind of a rite of spring every year, but what are you most looking forward to for next week?

ANDY NORTH: Yeah, there’s a gazillion storylines. I think every year we have tons of those. Obviously it starts with Tiger, is he going to be able to do what he needs to do there. You’ve got a bunch of the top guys, Rahm, Scottie Scheffler, McIlroy, who are all playing really well, you’ve got Cam Young and Sam Burns, two guys who played exceptionally well last week who are kind of that younger group of guys.

It’s like it always is, it’s going to be an awful lot of fun. It’s going to be a lot of good golf, and I’m sure everything will show very well.

Q – Curtis, how about you, what are you most looking forward to for next week?

CURTIS STRANGE: Who wins. You know, it’s the buildup every year, and we go through the same ritual every year, and it’s so much fun to do it. You would think it would get old after Andy and I, after all these years and Scottie after all these years of doing the TV. But it doesn’t.

I’m in my Masters mode now as of a couple days ago, and I think about it, I was on the boat most of the day yesterday thinking about the different players and different scenarios and the golf course. I can’t wait to see the new 13th tee. All the little things that happen during the week that just — it never disappoints, Augusta National. The whole storyline of the different players playing well has been terrific to lead up to this week.

It’s always great fun. It’s a long, hard week. We put in our hours. We have a great team, and we work with CBS and it’s just a big part of, I think, all of our week, to look forward to this week at the Masters.

Q – This is really for Scott more than anyone, but anyone can chime in. Scott, we talked to CBS yesterday, Sean McManus and Sellers Shy said they’re really going to treat the LIV guys kind of like they would any other player. You guys have kind of covered LIV here and there with highlights and whatnot, but what’s your approach at the Masters which is a little bit different than any other tournament? What’s going to be your approach to talking about the LIV guys and the storylines surrounding them?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I understand the question and the curiosity about it, but I make zero distinction between anyone. It’s an Augusta National Golf Club event. They sent out the invitations. They had the qualification process, and it’s their field. This isn’t a PGA TOUR versus LIV Tour conversation at all. It’s who’s the low man at Augusta National, and I can just speak for me personally, that a guy like Cam Smith, the last time we saw him in a major, he played pretty well at St Andrews on the back nine and won a major championship. He’s a top-5 player in the world. He was a guest in the Butler Cabin with me last year on Thursday. Had eight birdies, I think he bogeyed a couple coming in, but whatever, he was there with me in the Butler Cabin because he was a storyline.

We’re there to cover whatever storylines there are, and there’s been zero conversation, nor would there be, to exclude someone based on which Tour he played for at all. It has nothing to do with the Masters.

I mean, I haven’t had a chance to talk to Sean or Sellers yet because we haven’t been together, but like Mike McQuade, who’s the person who’s done all of our golf that I’ve worked with since forever, since I started, we’ve had zero conversations about would we treat — there’s nothing different about them other than the curiosity to see them all play together in a major championship, which I think a lot of golf fans — again, I just speak for myself in saying, I’m curious and excited to see what it looks like because we haven’t seen it.

The storylines are the storylines, and we’re there to cover those. I’m certain that that’s the way that Sean and sellers and folks from CBS feel.

CURTIS STRANGE: I can’t agree with Scottie more, and like he said, we haven’t discussed anything. I completely agree that LIV shouldn’t even be mentioned next week. We have to give respect to the Masters tournament.

The only way I could ever see anything coming up, and not even mentioning LIV, but some of these players haven’t played a lot of competitive golf. So how sharp can they be from a player standpoint, I look at that. It’s not because of they play on the LIV Tour, the Asian Tour, the European Tour whatever, it’s just they haven’t played as much and as often as the Schefflers of the world and Cam Youngs and whoever.

I don’t see us mentioning the Roman numerals at all.

ANDY NORTH: Yeah, I agree. Guys hit good shots, we’ll talk about good shots. They hit crummy shots, we’ll talk about crummy shots. That’s the bottom line. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a bunch of guys playing golf, and hopefully we’ll see some great golf between whoever it is.

Q – Mark Broadie in Every Shot Counts basically said you can gain the most from 10-foot putts. Maybe that would surprise the casual golf fan, but I know that wouldn’t surprise Augusta patrons who are always gathered around those iconic greens. I wondered what you can say about the scene with the patrons around the most iconic greens at Augusta every year.

SCOTT VAN PELT: There’s nothing like it. Nothing else like it. Andy and Curtis know far better than I what it feels like to stand out there, to be in the arena. I’m much more comfortable on the other side of the ropes with the patrons just watching.

But I don’t think there’s anything that feels quite like those because every green is familiar, intimately familiar to the folks that are watching, and I don’t think there’s any green — there are any greens in the world where even the shortest of putts can feel nervy, right, because you know that you could miss and have more coming back, especially the way the swales of those greens are.

But again, Andy and Curtis know far better than I what’s required when you’re actually standing on them.

ANDY NORTH: Well, I truly believe these are as difficult a set of putting surfaces as we have in championship golf. I think as Scott was saying, there’s some putts out there that you are literally afraid of that you’re lagging the ball from 10 or 12 feet just to make sure you don’t screw up. I think because it’s the same golf course every year, people at home get used to, oh, gosh, I can’t wait until they get to 14 because man, that green is crazy, or I can’t wait until the tee shot at 16 because we know how the ball is going to react there.

I think the familiarity to the people watching at home and the patrons on the ground, it really makes it that much more special.

Q – Andy, if I could ask you a question that we’ve probably asked you every year for the last seven or eight years at least, given his 64 in the final round last year and his good form this season, is this the year for Rory McIlroy?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I do like the changes that he made prior to last week. I think he looked very, very confident with the driver. It was just a bit shorter, which would make him a little bit — he said it helps him get the club back in front of him. He can be a little bit more aggressive with it. I thought in stretches he putted really nicely. There’s some other stretches he didn’t. But the bottom line that his game when he’s rolling is so good, and Augusta National fits what he likes to do so well. Can he putt well there? Can he have a week where he putts well? If he does that, and I thought we really saw some stretches where he made a ton of — didn’t make a lot of 25-, 30-footers, but he made a ton of 6-, 8-, 9-, 10-footers, and to me those are the critical putts at Augusta. If you make all those kind of putts, you’re going to have a great week.

CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I think everybody is rooting for him, for a lot of different reasons. Andy said it best; his talent level is equal to or better than anybody else out there, and I think Jon Rahm is a spectacular strong player, but there’s a lot of young guns out there now that have the strength, the length, the ability to challenge.

I actually think this year there might be more names on that list that Rory has to beat, and fearless names.

But he’s certainly capable. He’s playing well. I think if he can make a few putts, he’s certainly going to be there Sunday afternoon.

Q – Any of those names that spring to mind, Curtis, the ones he needs to be wary of?

CURTIS STRANGE: I think a guy like Sam Burns. All of a sudden we know how good a player this guy has been, but now all of a sudden he comes into the Masters in great form. I look at players, their talent level, of course, but what’s their current form. Cam Young, I just think this guy is so strong that he’s going to burst on the scene much like Scheffler did two years ago — actually a year and a half. He looks like to me he could be dominating much like I think a Jon Rahm could be dominating. Not that Scheffler has not been, but when you have that length and you have that intensity and you need that intensity to continue that string of dominant play, you need that focus.

Cam Young looks like that. Then you have everybody else who’s playing well. It’s going to be a fun one to watch, and it’s going to be fun, who gets off early, who can stay patient, not panic. It’s going to be good. It’s going to be good.

SCOTT VAN PELT: If I could just add one thought on Rory, I think he’ll arrive here every year with the same questions being asked, won’t he: Is this the year? He’s a brilliant player, and he’s played brilliantly this year.

I just can’t help but think of St Andrews where he was spectacular and went out on Sunday with the opportunity to fulfill a dream and win at the home of golf, which meant the world to him, and as he said afterwards, it’s not that he did a lot wrong, he just didn’t do enough right.

The desire to win — this is a man who’s got the world in the right frame, I believe. I think golf is a comfortable part of his life but it’s not all of his life. But Augusta National, right, the opportunity to finish this off, if he’s in that spot as he was at St Andrews, what’s the weight of that? Even if you’ve got the world and golf in its right place, it’s still a lot. Only he would know, I wouldn’t. I just wonder what would the weight of it be, and I wonder if winning might be something where he had a Sunday burst as he did a year ago where he didn’t have to deal with being the lead horse and manages to do something spectacular come the second nine, if that’s not the way ultimately for Rory to win. Not that he couldn’t lead from the front. He certainly could. I just think the weight of it, it might suit him better, as it would most people, to be the guy that came rushing to the tape, so to speak, to win. Just the thought I had, just the way St Andrews a year ago.

Q – (for Scott Van Pelt) How is your voice after last week?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Nice of you to ask. I had allergies, for those of you who don’t know. I was in the middle of doing a show and my voice just stopped working. There were probably folks like great, we’ve been trying to mute you all these years. It’s fine. Whatever it was, it went away. Thank you for asking.

Q – For Andy, you talked about the driver change that Rory made. As a player, whether it’s a putting — whether it’s changing putters, changing something in your driver, how much of a confidence boost can that be, and is that something you need to see in a Tour event or is that something that even at home you can gain confidence from?

ANDY NORTH: Oh, start at the end. I think you gain confidence even at home, but to be able to do it under the heat is the most important thing. Rory showed last week that he took the work he’d done at home and took it to the golf course there and had performed exceptionally well.

I think anytime you try a new club or try something new, there’s that anticipation, there’s that nervous energy that you have, which I think is really good from a player’s standpoint that you’re a little bit on edge because you don’t know if it’s going to work or not.

But then when you can take it out there in the field and have it perform exceptionally well, I think that gives you an awful lot of confidence in it, and not only that but the work you put in at home, it shows there. That’s the one thing that I think is so important for players.

So often you put in a lot of work and you don’t get results, and when you do put in the work or make a change and get good positive results, that’s a win-win. I think he’s in a good place because of it.

Q – Wanted to ask about a couple past champions. Leave Tiger out of this, talk about a couple guys around the age of 50, Zach Johnson and also Phil Mickelson is a couple years after 50. They always say past champions still have a chance of contending. You never know what Augusta presents. I’m curious, Curtis and Andy, what are their chances, those two specifically, Zach and Phil, their chances of contending or getting there Sunday and being somewhat in the mix, and what would they have to do well to contend at Augusta?

ANDY NORTH: Yeah, I think it’s an uphill battle for those guys to contend right now. Phil hasn’t played a ton of golf, and when he has played, it hasn’t been spectacular in any way. Zach is working hard on the Ryder Cup, and he’s got his attention a lot of other places, and not being a longer player, I think that even makes it even more difficult at Augusta National as you get older.

Phil has this wonderful ability that he drives in the front gate there and all of a sudden a switch gets turned on and he’s pretty good. But I think you’re getting to the point where you start to wonder if it’s a possibility. They would have to — for Zach to play exceptionally well there, I would think that his short game and wedge game, particularly third shots into par-5s, would have to be just spectacular, and for Phil, I think that magic would just have to hit him as he drives in the front gate and sees what happens.

CURTIS STRANGE: I guess I agree with Andy in everything, but it’s just more blunt. Zach hasn’t played well of late, and his length would be — remember when he won, he wedged it as well or better than anybody ever has, and then Phil, I go back, he hasn’t played a lot of competitive golf, and when he has played, he’s played quite poorly for Phil’s standard. Yeah, I don’t see either one. Certainly you can catch lightning in a bottle, but it would be highly unlikely for either one to play well.

Q – The 13th tee obviously is going to be a big story, but my question is more about the course and what they can do going forward. Augusta National obviously has made all these changes over the years and especially since 1997, but I think we could agree they’ve probably got the greens as fast as they’re going to be. There’s not a lot of room to add length. Is the 13th tee sort of the last line of defense for the golf course or is there something else they can do going forward?

ANDY NORTH: I’m looking forward to the 13th tee, also. I want to see how that really affects how they play the hole. I suspected the longer guys can still go 3-woods there around the corner and hit it on easily or maybe take driver up around the corner.

You know, there’s only so much given land available. Although they’re pretty darned good about creating land around them. You never say they can’t add more distance. But I think the cool thing that Augusta — yes, they’ve had the distance changes over the years, but you go back and watch video of the Masters in the ’70s, Masters in the ’80s, Masters in the ’90s, it really hasn’t changed that much.

The golf course is still about the greens, still about the approach shots, still about controlling your approaches into greens and getting the ball into the right spots so you can go from there.

Yes, the distance has been important. It’s created a more level playing field comparing scores from now versus 25 years ago, but they want to put on a great event. They do that every single year. I think the addition of the distance at 13 will be really a good addition.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think the golf course is plenty long now as it sits. Remember, we get some spring type weather in there — last year was cold. I think the golf course is pretty challenging, and Andy said it best, it’s all about the greens.

Q – (for Andy North re: Wisconsin in the NIT) Does Greg have the guys ready for North Texas?

ANDY NORTH: Well, here’s hoping. Obviously it’s a team that not a lot of people know about. They won 29 games, they win, they’ve got some terrific players, and I think this year’s tournament has really showed that there’s a lot of great players playing a lot of schools that don’t have big names on their fronts or their backs. I think that’s really cool. It’s been a fun run.

Q – Just on Scottie Scheffler, defending champion, World No. 1, two big wins this year, what does it say he’s never really been in this conversation so far? Is that a testament to him or more about Rory that he’s maybe going to be flying under the radar, so to speak?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think what’s happened to Scottie’s life in the last 18 months has been amazing, all the wins, all the wonderful things that have happened, but yet he has not changed one bit that I’ve seen. He’s the same guy. He goes out there and just goes about his business.

I love the way he plays where he’s very aggressive, yet his short game, his wedge game, 60, 70 yards in, is really, really good, and we saw examples of that last year. Some of the pitch shots he hit around Augusta National were incredible. One at the 3rd hole just jumps right off the sheet as amazing.

He’s just a really, really good player. I love the fact that he isn’t trying to be somebody that he isn’t. He knows who he is, and he goes out and plays that way, and I think because of that, he’s going to have unbelievable success going forward.

CURTIS STRANGE: For Scottie to, as Andy said, for Scottie to go about the last year and a half and what looks like to me completely unchanged him, I admire that because that takes energy. That takes effort to continue to do the same thing you’ve always done, and I don’t mean — but to answer the same questions, honestly, not to protect so much, what the hell are you trying to protect anyway. Same guy — I saw him at THE PLAYERS one evening after the rain delay, he’s out there eating ice cream with his wife.

It takes energy and effort, and I admire that in somebody with — I am who I am and I don’t care how successful I’m going to be, I’m going to be the way I was brought up.

Q – It looks like Sandy Lyle, this could be the end of the road for Sandy. He said at the weekend he’s played his last Tour event which signals this could be his last Masters. Could you talk about Sandy, what he’s done for the game, what an ambassador he’s been for Scotland and golf in general?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I was fortunate that I got to play an awful lot of golf with Sandy. An unbelievably talented player. I think that sometimes gets lost in that era where you had Seve and Nick and Langer, that Sandy sort of gets put on the side a little bit, and his numbers in his career was just as good as those guys.

The one thing that I think most average golf fans will remember about Sandy forever is that he had a Ping 1-iron that he hit 800 miles. He could hit it — he was one of the first guys that would hit 1-iron instead of driver, and he hit it eight miles. Such a strong player. Such a good guy.

I think a little bit misunderstood, and you probably know that more than the American press do, that he would say what he believed, and sometimes people didn’t like that.

That’s how it goes. But Sandy has had a wonderful career, and he will be well thought of for a long time.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I’d just follow that I was lucky enough to meet him after he’d done his greatest — he’s achieved his greatest moments in the sport, and I just enjoyed him. I enjoyed his company. I enjoyed that he was thoughtful when we chatted, and was always a gentleman with me. I always got on well with him, and I just —

The thing about the sport, and I think about it often, because this isn’t all that I do but it’s where I started, I just am grateful that golf was the sport that was my on ramp into this business and I consider myself incredibly fortunate because of the types of people that I’ve gotten to meet, and Sandy is on that list of just gentlemen that you think achieved an enormous amount and was always gracious with me, always patient with me when I was a young guy kind of finding my way. Tip of the cap for a hell of a run.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, he’s been a class act for many, many years. He’s gone about his business quietly. He’s done his thing.

I admired him. I’ve admired him and still do. I played with Sandy last year in a casual event. We had a great day.

You know, just — he was something when he came along. I heard Andy reference the 1-iron. He was part of the regime that started to change the game, and I say often, how did the Ryder Cup — how did the European Ryder Cup team become so strong. Well, for five reasons, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Seve, Nick and Ian. Sandy was one of the fivesome that changed the Ryder Cup and the competition. And of course his major wins.

He’s been a great asset to the game.

Q – Given the fact that he hasn’t been brought up on this call to this point 39 minutes in, is it possible Tiger is playing under the radar here?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I mean, look, we all know who he is and what he is. He’s singular. We all, I think, at this stage of his career recognize the physical challenges that he must deal with, and that limits a whole lot of freak-out beforehand. But let him put together two or three. Let him stuff one on 6, roll it in, bomb one on 7, have the hole location where it rolls back down tight. Now it gets to 8, the easiest hole on the course. Let him make three in a row. Then what happens? Then you start going, hold on now, hold on now. That’s all it takes. All it takes for anybody, and I would — I won’t speak for Curtis and Andy. Those guys are players, I never was. But it doesn’t take a whole lot for any of us to start thinking, well maybe, what if kind of a thing.

So he’s not under the radar, but I get what you’re saying. I just think that we maybe have reached a point where because there’s so much talent, so much young talent that’s playing well that we would reasonably list those people ahead of him in terms of who we believe is likely to win.

That’s not the first thing that will be discussed is Tiger, but again, Thursday, let him go out and put two or three like he did at Riviera, three or four together, it wouldn’t take a lot for him to be right there front and center on the radar, right?

ANDY NORTH: If I can jump in, I thought what we saw out of him at Riviera, his golf was quite good, and it looked like physically he was better than the time — the last time we had seen him, and that was important.

But you’re talking a whole ‘nother animal at Augusta National, to be able to get around there is so difficult. It’s just — for him it’s such an uphill battle. But back in the back of your mind, you still believe that, as Scottie was talking about, you get something rolling, you just never know.

Would it be an amazing story if he could play well and be around on the weekend? Yeah, it would be. But I think people appreciate the fact that he still makes a huge effort to try to be great, and I think that’s the beauty of sport.

If you’re going to go out there, you try to do the best you can. I’m looking forward to seeing how physically he can handle the week.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think the one thing that always comes to my mind in the last couple years is the walking of the golf course is tough — it’s the toughest walk on Tour. But I want to continue what Scottie was saying. So he birdies three in a row, he gets by 9 and 10, struggles at 11, makes a good par putt, then he’s got 13 and 15. Next thing you know, the golf world is abuzz. Yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he got us on the edge of our seat for the first couple of days, but can he sustain it? I think that LA kind of just made me look forward more to the Masters because he’s still got something in that body.

Q – Scott, I’m curious, as someone who’s done a lot of cool stuff in sports, how do you look at sort of the end of this Jim Nantz run of calling the Final Four and then the Masters?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I mean, all of our dear friend Mike Tirico, with whom we’ve worked for many years, and I say all of us meaning obviously Curtis and Andy, as well, he did like the Super Bowl and the Olympics on the same day, which is just — what are you doing? Who else could do that?

But I’ve often just shaken my head and kind of needled Jim, who obviously is as lovely a guy as you’d hope to meet, when he gets there on Tuesday, just your week, bro, your week. You leave Houston, which the only thing this week that would have made it more perfect for him is if Kelvin and the Houston Cougars could have gotten there, but this year obviously everything was out the window, but to be as great as he’s been on everything he’s done earns him the right to call the biggest events in sports, to go from the Final Four to Augusta National, it’s a week — maybe this is personal for me because I love college basketball, and my favorite week of the year is the Masters, for me personally, I can’t imagine a better duo than those two.

Super Bowl, Olympics pretty good for a day, as Tirico did, but obviously, yeah, it’s been an amazing, amazing run.

The thing is he could obviously still do it. It’s not like he’s being — they’re going to the bullpen. Ian Eagle is awesome. But Jim is just a guy you recognize your priorities in life and how you want to allocate your time or whatever. Better to leave a party a half hour too early than a half hour too late. It’s been a hell of a run, and it will obviously continue at Augusta National for many years.

Q – Andy and Curtis, curious your thoughts on 13 in terms of what you will be looking for as sort of a barometer of how well it’s working or if it’s a little bit too long or anything like that, and then I’ll ask specifically if Curtis — with your history on the hole, what kind of emotions it’ll bring up seeing some guys try to go at it with a wood again and how you’re going to deal with that, discussing it on a broadcast.

ANDY NORTH: Yeah, I’m looking forward to — the thing that I always thought was so cool about the 13th hole was the second shot. You put it out there in the middle of the fairway and you’ve got a lie where the ball is literally 18 inches above your feet and you’re trying to hit a 2- or 3-iron or 4-wood, whatever, that length of shot in there. To me that was just such a cool shot, and it was a difficult shot, and you had to just suck it up and hit it. I love that hole.

Over the last 10, 15 years where guys have been able to hit it past that hill and now they’re hitting 7-irons and 8-irons, that really changes the hole. So I’m really looking forward to guys hitting some 3-, 4-irons in there, some 2-irons, maybe even going at that green with a utility club or a 5-wood. I’m really looking forward to that. I think that’s going to make the hole really fun again, and it brings in 6s and 7s, and you still can make eagle there. I think that’s the beauty of that golf hole.

CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I sit here with not being there yet, to me it could actually be an easier tee shot. It just depends on how much they want to take away.

We saw so many people, players over the years go through the fairway whereas we couldn’t hit it really far enough to get through the fairway. Now, these guys are much longer, of course, but I’m just kind of imagining now.

As far as hitting longer shots, as Andy just talked about, if they have to hit 2-irons or 4-woods or hybrids in, we’re going to see how damn good they really are because it’s a tough shot in there.

I birdied the hole a lot. I made an eagle there, so you had to bring up one other time —

Q – Sorry, it had to be done.

CURTIS STRANGE: It had to be done. But I will say this. When you think about it, and I want Andy to respond, but I don’t care what position in the tournament you are in, if you’ve got a nice lie with a 4-wood, 208 to the front of the green, I don’t know who’s going to lay up, honestly.

Now, I’m not saying — knowing what I know now about ’85, I’d be an idiot to go for it again, but who’s going to lay up with — again, the ball is above your feet on a downslope, but I’ve got a 4-iron. That’s a whole lot easier shot than hitting a 2- or 3-iron off of that lie. Andy, do you agree? Who’s going to lay up?

ANDY NORTH: Not many. Not many, because you don’t want some guy, one of the patrons to say, Curtis, you stink, go ahead and go for it.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, and had that yelled at me there before, too.

ANDY NORTH: Exactly.

SCOTT VAN PELT: The whole, every article that’s been written about the change has referenced the Bob Jones lie, right? The second shot was supposed to be, what, a momentous decision. Should I hit 7 or 8, that’s not a momentous decision. I think what it does is it brings that — Curtis just articulated, it brings that momentous decision back into play. What’s really interesting, I looked this up, last year, and this is a one-year sample size, but last year 13 and 2 played to the exact same stroke average. They were not the easiest par-5 on the course, 8 was. Obviously water, and the trees on the left got a fair bit of business through the years. I think they’ll get more now. But it wasn’t the easiest par-5 because even with the 6 or 7 in or 8-iron in, people still would find the water which brought big numbers into play what I just think it’s fascinating because you’re going to have to hit two great shots to make a 3 but you hit one bad second shot and all of a sudden a 6 or a 7 is in play.

Q – This is a question regarding Cam Young. Curtis, you were very eloquent a while back about the way he plays and what you see. How much in his demeanor, and you just talked about his laser focus and just his expression almost never changes, birdie or bogey, does he remind you of you when you were playing because I feel like you were a notch more intense, at least looking anyway, and probably in your soul, as well, than everybody else. Is there any part of Cam that reminds you of you in the way he goes about his business?

CURTIS STRANGE: No. If he’s intense — I’d forgotten when they interviewed him this past weekend that it’s his sixth runner-up finish on Tour. He’s getting to a point that I think you’re going to see plenty of intensity coming down the stretch. Now, has he made mistakes coming down the stretch? I don’t remember any. I think most of the time he’s just gotten beat.

But with his length and with his ability, let’s not forget length is such an advantage there, but it’s a second-shot golf course, and does he know the course well enough, but to compare him to me, there’s nothing remotely close to his game to mine other than I think he wants it. You’ve got to want it to be very successful on Tour.

ANDY NORTH: To want it is a big deal. It really is a big deal. I don’t think you can ever understate that. He works hard. He’s a terrific talent, and I think he’s at the same place we saw Scottie Scheffler 18 months ago, a guy who is really playing some great golf, hadn’t quite figured out a way to win, and when he does, I think he’s going to win a ton of them, just as we’ve seen Scottie.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I totally agree with that, and Andy, I think he’s just like Scottie. He’s no nonsense, no BS. I find that appealing. He’s an all-business dude. I don’t know him much, just when I met him I just was really impressed that this is a guy who’s about his job, very serious about it and is obviously very good at it. I’m with Andy that I think the domino falls for that guy, and the dam bursts.

We say that a lot in this game, and we’re not often right, but I’d bet money that when Young wins one, it won’t be the only for long.

Q – If you recall I think it was ’14 when Rickie Fowler finished top 5 in all four majors and we assumed it was going to be any minute he was going to win a major, and he hasn’t come close since basically. Does it become a thing even for as talented a guy as obviously Rickie is and as Cam is? When does it become a thing when you keep getting close and you’re not getting over the line? How long do you keep going saying I’m playing as well as anybody in the world for the last year plus but I haven’t been in the winner’s circle yet. Psychologically maybe for Andy and Curtis, when you recall trying to win your first one, what’s that like until you do it?

CURTIS STRANGE: I think we said the same thing about Tom Watson, and there’s a few others. I think you learn about yourself on Tour because you’re playing so much golf, although he’s 25 years old. You learn how to play the game. Every day you improve out there as a youngster, and he’s learning every day. You learn when you lose. Even when you come close, you learn — you reevaluate the little minor mistakes you might have made out there, and I think he’s in that stage right now.

When does it become a thing? I don’t think it’s a thing yet. He’s 25 years old. He feels like he’s bulletproof. Now, you could say the same thing about Rory McIlroy, is it a thing. Well, we don’t know because we can’t get inside his head. But being a thing, I think as golfers you learn to adapt to that. You have to have a short memory as a golfer. When it becomes a thing to you, you’re done. You’re done. I don’t remember anybody having issues like that. Andy, do you have an example like that?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think this goes way, way back. Bert Yancey had a thing about Augusta National. He built replicas of the greens in his basement, and I think you can go over the edge of trying to win too much. There’s that fine line of not caring and putting so much pressure on yourself you can’t function, and the great players figure out how to walk that line very carefully, and I think that’s always interesting in our game. I think he’s still at a point, yeah, get the first win, majors have a chance to come after that, but getting your first win is such a relief when you’ve been a good player and you’ve come close and you’ve had chances, and I think the biggest thing for him is you mentioned earlier, he hasn’t given stuff away. Guys have beat him. Well, welcome to our sport. If they play long enough, you’re going to play your best and somebody is going to beat you a lot of times.

I think if you were a guy who had six second-place finishes and had the lead and gave them away, I think that’s a whole different story than where he is.

SCOTT VAN PELT: He’s a second year, too, right? I mean, he’s just got here. I totally get what you’re saying, and again, I always defer to the players. Just as an observer of sport, I see a guy like I said earlier, I think when he wins one it’s going to be a handful of them because I feel like he and Scottie are very similar in makeup and obviously the wins that Scottie has had in the last year and a half put him in a different place, but it wouldn’t shock anybody that follows the sport if he was the next guy that did something like that.

Q – Curtis said up front it’s still special going to Augusta. Could you guys go back, all three of you go back in memory lane and tell me about the very first time you were on the grounds at Augusta and if there was one or two specific things you remember about that first time you were there?

CURTIS STRANGE: I qualified in 1975 from making the Walker Cup team in ’74. I got there Saturday afternoon prior, and I never left the compound. Not once, until Sunday morning. I missed the cut, and Sunday morning I drove back to Wake Forest, and I drove back thinking — I had just played with Jack Nicklaus who hit 18 greens and had 36 putts and shot 68 in the first round, and I thought to myself, I can’t do that. Maybe I’d better study a little harder. But I never left the compound, and I couldn’t get enough, and it was one of the greatest memories, weeks of my life.

ANDY NORTH: I had a chance to go there as a patron in 1966. We were on spring break and went down, I got a chance to walk around and watch Hogan and Nicklaus and Palmer and everybody that was there, and it was an amazing experience for a young player that hoped to be a good player. Leaving there, I told my mom and dad, I said, this has really been fun. I’m not coming back until I get a chance to play. Luckily, 10 years later I got a chance to my first Masters.

It’s an amazing week. You almost can’t describe the feeling you have looking forward to. We’ve done this a million times and I still get so fired up to go down there, walk in there Monday morning and get started.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I didn’t play with Nicklaus and I didn’t tell my parents I’m not coming back until I qualify, but I did go for the very first time in 1997, which was a pretty cool year to show up for the first time, and obviously there’s a lot about that week that’s memorable. I remember vividly Saturday night after Tiger had just laid waste to Colin Montgomerie, and you’ll remember, they asked if there was any way that he could lose, and Montgomerie looked at the question asker and said, “Have you just come back from holiday?”

There was no way on earth that Tiger could lose. And the press center was different; they’ve built this magnificent new place for us. ’97 it was fine, as well, but a lot of the sound for the television was gotten underneath a group of trees there off of 1 fairway, and as we got done at the end, I just sort of threw out — just an aside, I said, Sunday red tomorrow? And Tiger smiled and said, always. I said, it’s going to look like Christmas, isn’t it, and said, we’ll see, and hit me with that big smile and walked away.

Obviously that Saturday night we were all well aware that history was at hand, and it was just a matter of how low could the guy go.

I remember when it all felt like then, and just like Andy said, now I’m an old guy with no hair, and I’ll show up with the same sense of excitement and gratitude to be there on Monday as I did in ’97.

Q – Ed Sneed told me the first time he was there he got there late in the day, and it was probably Saturday. The sun was setting. He said he literally sprinted down the hill — TV wasn’t all pervasive like it is now. He sprinted down to Amen Corner so he could see it for the first time before it got dark. Did any of you guys have anything — obviously not running, but the first time you were there, was there something on the golf course you really wanted to see?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I’ll just tell you the spot that I have found, and it was by accident, and it’s the spot that I still go to. I’ve talked about this a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing the par-3 course because obviously it’s very different. I’m hoping that the spot on 8 has remained the same, the tee shot that goes down over the water. I’ve found that spot, that first year, and I’ve gone back every year since that I’ve been there, and it’s just a place that I sort of stop and spend a little moment being grateful, and I looked over one year to my left and I thought I was the only person out there and I saw a guy standing there doing the same thing, and it was Jim Nantz, and I thought, I must have found the right spot. That’s the spot for me that I found the first time, and at some point on the first day and at some point every day, the 8th tee of the par-3 course.

CURTIS STRANGE: Not really. It was the whole property. You drive in there, and I think about it, I was — what was he, 20 years old. I’m driving in there and my go-to-hell Chevy Nova wreck with a hatchback, four cylinder, and I’m driving down Magnolia Lane and I had this clubhouse in front of me, and I’m going to stay there all week long, really? I’m really going to do that? You don’t sleep much, and you go out on the golf course the next morning, of course you don’t sleep much that night, and it’s just the entire property. It’s just so different than what you envision and what you’ve seen on TV your entire life. It’s just — it was spectacular back then and still is, every time you go.

ANDY NORTH: One thing I looked forward to as a player there, obviously driving in Gate 3 was always special, but I always enjoyed going out at least one of the practice round evenings at maybe 5:30, 6:00 and playing nine holes where you hit a lot of extra chips and putts and stuff, and it was quiet. The quiet and the sunsetting and the shadowing of the golf course late in the evening is just so spectacular. That’s something I always looked forward to.

CURTIS STRANGE: Why is the main entrance not entrance No. 1? I’ve always wondered about that.

ANDY NORTH: Let’s talk to Chairman Ridley about that. Maybe we can get that changed, Curtis.

CURTIS STRANGE: I’m sure that’s at the top of his list.

Q – I’m thinking about this tournament, the thing that makes it so special is kind of how precious the coverage has been in the past. You had to stay up and watch the highlights before letter man and what happened during the day. Obviously we have more access, we have more coverage, that’s great for golf fans, that’s great for you all. I’m curious if you guys have thought about how you make Augusta a place that kind of stays the same, still feel like it’s not changing, even though there’s more access for the fans at home. How does it still feel precious?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Because Christmas is Christmas, know what I’m saying? Seriously. When you wake up on that day, no matter how old you are, there’s a feeling.

I think the greatest things about sports are the things they make you feel. Athletes can do that, games, venues, and I feel like St Andrews does it. There’s a long list that you could name. But the two that jump to mind are that and Augusta National, just for me, and I understand what you’re saying, there’s more access now. People would love to be able to see every single shot on every single hole and there are apps that can help you with all that.

But I think that even in a world that gets more cynical and has more access than it ever has before, there’s certain things that the access to it is going to remain special, because it’s going to feel different than anything else.

I think that Augusta National and the Masters are on that real short list of something that make you feel a certain way, and the minute you hear that piano, the minute you see those shots that are so instantly recognizable you can close your eyes and see them right now, I don’t think you have to work at it to make it feel precious. I think it just is.

Q – Maybe I’m the only one that needs this clarification, but I want to go back to the very first question. Were you guys saying about LIV that you’re going to — you’re not going to shy away from the LIV players, you’re going to show whoever is in contention, but are you going to ignore the controversy that exists with the PGA TOUR and the LIV players?

SCOTT VAN PELT: In what way would it be relevant to what happened on the second hole? You see what I’m saying? I’m not trying to be combative. No, but like how would it present itself to — I’ve thought a lot about this. Let’s say that there’s a player that plays on LIV and there’s a player that plays on the PGA TOUR and one of them hits a shot on 3 and then somebody hits a shot on 6. Would there be — let’s say it’s Reed and McIlroy. Would you say they had that dust-up because of — I don’t know how it would — I don’t understand how it would create a need for discussion in relation to covering the Masters.

Q – I mean, I think in some ways you’re ignoring the elephant in the room. People are going to tune in to see if someone from LIV is going to win or somebody from the PGA TOUR and just what the temperature is, no?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Again, I’m not ignoring the elephant in the room at all. I think we all get that — okay, on Sunday if a player from the LIV Tour were going to win, then that’s obviously a significant storyline, and if it’s Cam — that would be back-to-back majors, an incredible storyline, and he plays on the LIV Tour. But I just don’t — I get it. Like I read all the Shipnuck stuff and he’s gone out there and covered the events, and I appreciate how people have covered it and all, I just don’t know how we would be remiss if on Thursday we weren’t trying to drum up some sort of a thing. I don’t know how it would be — I don’t know how I’d be ignoring it is all I’m saying.

Hold on. I want to make sure I’m answering your question, because I’m being sincere that I get all of the things that have happened. It’s just this is — to me, again, as I said personally as a fan, I’m excited to see the top 5 player in the world who won the last major play against all the guys who played so well on the PGA TOUR. That’s really exciting, and I’m thinking about this. If I’m sitting with Curtis and there he is, this is the first chance we’ve had to see Cam play because he plays on the LIV Tour. Would I not say that? Of course I’d say that. But the controversy part, I don’t know how I would — what I’d say about that in relation to anything that would be germane to covering the first round of the Masters.

CURTIS STRANGE: From my perspective sitting beside you, if you said that, then it is my job to say why he plays on the LIV Tour, why that’s relevant to say that because he hasn’t played a lot of golf of recent and then I’d have to look at the way he’s played.

That’s giving background information on why or why not this guy is playing well or not.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think I’m thinking about — if it presents itself in a way that feels germane to the discussion, by all means. I’m not ducking or avoiding anything. I just don’t know how what happened in an event in Tucson or wherever as opposed to what happened at an event — the Match Play. If somebody played well, he played well in a most recent LIV event, then fine, mention that. But in terms of the — the bigger question you’re asking is who’s going to win, and by then I’m not on the broadcast. That’s a Saturday-Sunday thing. I’m trying to answer the question as honestly as I can because I’ve thought about how to do this job correctly.

Q – There was this crazy story earlier this year with Scott Stallings and his invitation. I was just curious if any of you ever met someone with the same name, and Scott, for you, how you would have responded if Bo Van Pelt’s invite ended up in your mailbox.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I would have showed up and said, where’s the first tee and what’s the course record.

ANDY NORTH: I think for years, we always tease Curtis a little bit, Curtis has a twin brother that is a very, very good player and looks — I think he could have gone and played overseas while Curtis was sitting at home and they split the money at some point in time. But Curtis would have some fun doing that with his brother, I guarantee you.

CURTIS STRANGE: Don’t think it wasn’t discussed.

SCOTT VAN PELT: What a cool thing, right, the Scott Stallings who wasn’t Scott Stallings, they sorted it out, and I don’t know if he has played, but he will play, right? I believe they did invite him to come play, I believe, right?

Q – I think they invited him to come to the tournament. They invited him to play, too?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I could have it wrong. Maybe it was like we’d like to have you come to the event. One way or the other, I know that the other Scott Stallings is coming in some capacity. If he’s coming to watch, he should come and cheer on Scott Stallings.

Q – Did anybody bring up Jon Rahm at all? Has his name emerged?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Honestly, not really. All that guy does is shoot 68 every round he plays golf it feels like, and it wasn’t brought up a lot for as good as he is.

CURTIS STRANGE: He’s been playing spectacular golf. He drives it a million. He’s a good putter. What else is there?

Q – Does he have the mental — are you confident in his mental side of the game to handle —

CURTIS STRANGE: You know what? Yes. Yes, absolutely. He’s been winning golf tournaments left and right. There was a stretch there he didn’t finish out of the top 4 there for a while. Does he get a little hot under the collar? Absolutely. Is that good for him? Absolutely. It shows me that he has the intensity to attack a place like Augusta, and he has the intensity and focus to attack an entire year, to keep this good play going.

Absolutely he sees — there’s no weakness to his game.


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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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