Transcript of ESPN PGA Championship Media Conference Call


Transcript of ESPN PGA Championship 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 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. ESPN and ESPN+ will have live coverage of the first and second rounds from first tee to last putt on Thursday and Friday, May 18-19, as well as morning coverage on the weekend. ESPN+ will have Featured Groups and Featured Holes coverage all day for all four days of the tournament. There will be more than 230 live hours of play across ESPN and ESPN+ for the event. There also will be extensive coverage on SportsCenter, and other ESPN platforms. ESPN also will offer an alternative telecast for four hours a day during all four days of competition.

A transcript of the conference call follows:

CURTIS STRANGE: I look forward to going back. It was a wonderful golf course in the day, and I think it’s a much better golf course now with the renovations. It’s going to play, I think, wonderful. I think the par-3s are better.

It’s like, I’m a broken record whenever we go to any golf tournament really but especially major championships, and not so much the Masters, but driving is such a priority at the U.S. Open and the PGA and sometimes the Open Championship. It sets up the rest of the golf course, and especially here.

You only have two par-5s and they’re really not catch-up holes like you would normally think a par-5. There’s a few shorter par-4s around the golf course that would be a catch-up hole, but it’s just a solid, solid golf course, beautiful golf course, wonderful history and tradition here.

But once again, it’s a driving golf course, even on the short holes because it sets up a second shot and potential birdies on especially the short holes. Can’t wait to go back.

Andy, your thoughts looking forward to next week?

ANDY NORTH: I’m really looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be fun to watch the finish of the tournament on 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18. You’ve got a par-4 that’s drivable by most of these players, and then a new par-3, and then three really difficult par-4s to finish. As Curtis was saying, it’s really a good golf course.

I also enjoyed playing there. It’s a golf course that if you played poorly, it just beat you up. It could just absolutely slap you around. It’s not a golf course you can just squirrel it around and shoot a score. You’ve really got to be on your game and hit a lot of quality shots.

I’m really looking forward to how these guys take it on.

Scott Van Pelt, you’ve talked about this before, but you’re going to be in the host chair for a long time on Thursday and Friday. What is it about this event that allows ESPN’s golf team to really shine?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Well, we come on when the event starts, and we’ve got the space on ESPN+ and ESPN to just cover it all day long, which I think is what golf fans have made clear they really are interested in. You get guys want to see shots, and we’re there very early until it’s done.

Going back to that first one we did at Harding Park, I know talking to Seth Waugh at the end of it, he just had this big smile on his face about the approach we brought with us, and it’s all from our guy Mike McQuade, whose name I always want to reference. He sets the tone for us. We get behind him, and we follow where he leads.

We’ve got such a great group. It’s worth mentioning how much we really enjoy each other. We’re together once a year, and I’m always amazed at how well we kind of ham-and-egg it given that we just don’t spend that much time together, and like Curtis said, I’m looking forward to getting back there.

I didn’t win a tournament there. I covered Shaun Micheel’s. That’s been a while ago. Obviously the course is very different, so I’m anxious to hit the ground running, following around some groups that will tolerate my company and give me an idea what their approaches will be, help me understand how to cover it, or at least me. Those guys know, obviously.

It’s good fun. We really enjoy the opportunity to cover a tournament from the beginning until the very end those first couple of days. It’s great fun.

For Curtis and Andy, I wanted to get your feel on we’re in our fifth year, I think, in May. August was always the end of a long summer, probably a little bit of fatigue and guys just went out and played. Now we’re in May, and it feels like guys might even be more tired. You had Rory skipping Hilton Head, Rahm and Scheffler skipping Wells Fargo; we have a lot of these elevated events. Is this working in May? Is it a good spot in May? Are the dynamics different than in August from a fatigue factor?

ANDY NORTH: I think, first of all, the move to May was really good. I think it really elevated the PGA. I think it got lost being the fourth major quite frequently.

I think we’re going quite a bit north this year. Hopefully the weather cooperates. It looks like it could be 50s, 60s degrees, but it gives the PGA a chance to set the golf course up more like they wanted to. You get into August, with it be so hot that you have to figure out a way to keep the grass alive during the week if it’s hot and humid.

I think overall from the golf course standpoint, I think it’s an improvement. I don’t know how it’s going to affect the players. They’re going to have to try to figure out how this whole new schedule works and how you take weeks off and how you don’t and how you prepare for major championships. I think that’s going to be a learning proposition for these guys.

CURTIS STRANGE: As always, I agree with Andy on all of his points. I think going to May was a home run for them. It’s still the start of the season up north. A lot of eyes will be on the PGA.

I do think that for some players back in August, it wasn’t any less of a championship, it was just late in the year. People were almost getting ready for football.

But I think the one thing I hope that doesn’t happen is that it can eliminate a lot of the great northern courses and that what it possibly could do going to May, but there’s certainly plenty of good golf around, especially with their new Frisco facility.

As far as the players’ fatigue, you make a hell of a good point. We’re fatigued in May already.

Let’s not forget, the TOUR makes the schedule with a great deal of help from the players and the board, and especially in this new-age TOUR in which we live, which has basically started this year, the TOUR and Rory and Tiger and the lot made the schedule up, so if you choose to — if you’re tired, you’re going to get tired no matter how the schedule falls.

A lot was written on Rory withdrawing from Harbour Town and some guys withdrawing this past week. That’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes you fatigue quicker than others because you’re quite frankly fed up with your game or fed up with yourself or fed up with everything.

With that might come some penalty now with all of this awards and money up for grabs.

I don’t think anything of it when somebody withdraws. They’re doing what’s best for themselves to prepare for a major championship and the PGA this week.

You’ve kind of touched on it already, Curtis, but with Rory obviously missing the cut in the Masters and withdrawing from the RBC and basically sort of implying that he needed a break from effectively being kind of the TOUR spokesperson in dealing with all this LIV stuff, what would your advice to him be? Would you advise him to try and take a step back from that and try and concentrate more on the golf?

CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I wouldn’t try to advise him on anything because I’m not privy to what he’s feeling right now. But I can only imagine. You put in so much energy to try to peak for a tournament like in April, the Masters, and you don’t play well. Why that is, I don’t know.

Then frustration sets in, and you want to get away for a week or so, so you withdraw the next week. We’ve all gone through that.

I certainly understand that. As much as you might love Harbour Town and Hilton Head, you withdraw because you’ve got to get yourself together and you know you’re starting to go down a rabbit hole that you don’t want to go very far down because it’s tough to climb back out.

I feel for him because I think — I really truly believe this, this LIV conversation the last year and a half, maybe two years, with him being somewhat of the voice and being involved in the schedule and the meetings and the phone calls, I think it’s taken a lot away from his golf, and I think it’s probably not “exhausted” is the wrong word, but it’s fatigued him a bit.

When you leave this game just a little bit focus-wise, it will affect you. I think he said after the Masters, he’s looking forward to just getting back to playing golf, and hopefully that’s the case.

He is actually a member at Oak Hill. I don’t know how often he actually gets to play there, but he has said that he’s a fan of the renovation under Andrew Green. Can a little bit of home advantage help him next week do you think?

CURTIS STRANGE: Oh, I think you look for anything. I don’t know how anybody reacts to certain situations, but I think yes, he’s got his family there. The entire family will be there in more a comfortable atmosphere. It certainly won’t hurt him, put it that way, yes.

ANDY NORTH: So often we see players who get on the board and they feel like it’s a responsibility that’s very important to them, and someone has to step up and do it. We’ve seen a lot of players struggle with their game when they’ve been on the board because all of a sudden you’re distracted, and I’m not even talking about LIV, I’m just talking about normal TOUR board activity. We’ve seen players resign once they’ve been on the board because they felt it was affecting their play.

There’s a lot of moving pieces in this, and there’s no one perfect answer, but you have to get away from the game and get your head cleared out, and if he’s done that, I expect him to be a threat here in Rochester.

CURTIS STRANGE: I was just going to say, thank goodness for Rory McIlroy and the people that take the responsibility to be on the board and have a voice and put their time and energy in that because we need those players. We have to have those players, and we happen to have one who’s one of the best players in the world, which brings credibility to the board and brings weight and their voice carries weight, so thank goodness for people like that, but unfortunately it does weigh on them a little bit.

SCOTT VAN PELT: What I was going to say, Curtis, is he was sort of a — he didn’t ask for the job, but last year he became the de facto spokesman week in and week out, and you think back to that very — that flash point week in Canada where it’s a national open and he goes out and plays great and it’s him and Finau and JT together and after that he had the very specific comment, the pointed comment about Greg, and he was as good, as thoughtful a spokesperson as the TOUR could have possibly hoped for. Then he played great golf, and then he wins at East Lake, and you win the whole thing.

What did that take out of the guy? Who knows. “Fatigue” is probably the right word that Curtis used. Then you and I talked about this about Augusta, what’s the formula look like for him to win, and I keep thinking it’s the deal where you’re not — you just keep yourself in the mix and then you come flying home on a Sunday. But he put himself behind the 8-ball right out of the gate again, and at some point every year you turn up at Augusta and you’re going to be asked the same question, and when is it going to happen, and then time starts slipping away, and then you start looking around going, well, damn, how many more years do I have where I’m really going to be having the best chance to do this, and maybe it all just lands in your lap and you’re like, you know what, I need to not do this.

So he doesn’t get $3 million. With all due respect, and I don’t mean to be flip, but he’s got $3 million in a couch cushion, and that was the PIP money anyway. It wasn’t like someone came and stole it out of his safe. He just didn’t get the extra.

In his mind, my mental health is worth more than the $3 million I’m going to get here, so I’m not playing.

Listen, are we supposed to root in our business? I guess we’re not meant to, but somebody like Rory is an easy guy to think, when he plays well, doesn’t bother me any. I just enjoy the guy. I think he’s thoughtful. I think he’s interesting. I think he’s a hell of a player. I think we all understood what he was doing, and again, Curtis and Andy would know far better than I how necessary it was to take a moment to step back.

Look forward to seeing him play this week.

Gary Van Sickle and I had a chance to talk to Terry Diehl earlier this week, and I’m sure, Curtis, you and Andy are friends of his, and you know him quite well, and he was talking about the renovation and how the greens there are situated such that you have to be absolutely below the hole or you’re not going to be making any putts. He referenced the Trevino-Nicklaus year and said that he felt that Jack played better than Lee did from tee to green, but Jack kept hitting it hole high and left himself putts like this all day. Can the two of you speak to that and how important it is at any tournament but especially a major championship.

CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I go back to quickly what I said a moment ago was driving it in the fairway sets up the rest of the hole. It’s such an important part of this golf course and playing well here, because of just that. You’ve got to keep the ball below the hole, and how do you do that? By controlling it out of the fairway.

You’re exactly right. There’s some greens here that have a lot of slope from back to front, and that’s old-school style golf course. That’s typical Donald Ross. I forget about — it’s been a long time since I’ve been there, so I can’t wait to see it and see if my memory is even close to being what it actually is, but I do remember having some big, big breakers, some very fast putts down the hill, and just two putts sometimes are a good thing.

ANDY NORTH: I think we talk about that at major championships so often that to be successful you’ve got to have putts uphill. You’ve got a chance to make them. You’ve got a chance to be aggressive. We talk about that so much at Augusta, at the Masters.

At most major championships you’re playing older golf courses built in the ’20s or older that were all push-up with a lot of surface drainage from back to front, so you’re going to have a lot of those slopes.

Oak Hill is a beautiful example of that. Holes like 18, 13, if you hit it above the hole, you’ve got absolutely no chance. If you’ve got it pin high from eight feet, you’re probably better off having 30 feet putting up the hill because you’re going to have an eight-footer that breaks two feet maybe.

It’s just all about getting the ball in the proper positions so you can be aggressive with the putter.

To piggy-back on Doug’s question, as someone who hosts SportsCenter every night, where do you see the PGA May versus August?

SCOTT VAN PELT: It’s so much better for the game and so much better for this championship to be positioned here. Curtis said it accurately; we’re going to make a big deal tonight out of a schedule release, okay. Everybody knows Andy is a Packer guy, Curtis roots for Washington. We know who those football teams are playing. We know who the opponents are. We just don’t know the order that they come out of the chute and when you’re on national TV.

The schedule release for the NFL is content unto itself, and as such, the minute that football is in the air, you get a little lost, man. That’s why I think the Playoffs, they’ve tried to figure that out, as well.

A May spot, are you dealing with the Playoffs, Stanley Cup and NBA? Yeah, but those are at night. You’ve got the day to yourself. You’ve got from 7:00 a.m. until it gets dark to yourself to host a championship, and it just works beautifully for — listen, the PGA Championship, go back through the years. I don’t want to say forgotten, but it wasn’t the one people thought of first, and yet for years, you’d have great championship after great championship.

Just our association with it, like was Harding Park any good? Pretty good. Morikawa hit an all-time shot. Was last year any good with JT and Zalatoris chasing down Mito? It’s a great event. To me having the stage in May, not to itself but certainly with more of attention than you get in August is such a win.

I won’t be there doing SportsCenter, I’ll be there obviously covering all week, but just from a how much bandwidth do you get in that time frame, it’ll get a heck of a lot more in May than in August.

For Curtis and Andy, Max Homa, we keep waiting for him to make this next step up, to get that first major championship. Is this the type of course you think that could happen?

CURTIS STRANGE: Yes. I think length obviously is always an advantage if you can put it in the fairway, but I think yes. Again, he drives it well.

I’d have to disagree, respectfully, that I don’t think we’ve been waiting for so long for him to win a major because he’s just really established himself on the scene in the last, what, two years. But I think, yes, if he can get a feel for the golf course and get that feel — we talk about these players like they can put it on automatic or they can flip on a switch. It doesn’t happen like that.

When you practice your ass off for a big tournament and all of a sudden you get there and something is quite not working and you don’t know why, well, that’s nobody’s fault. If he can get there and get in a good rhythm and feel good and get off to a good start, a solid start, make a few putts, yes, build on that day and then build after that, yes, he certainly has the ability to do it here at Oak Hill.

ANDY NORTH: I think Max is a beautiful ball striker. You’d expect him to do well in major championships. He hasn’t had a lot of great finishes yet in them. Playing a major is a little bit different, and as Curtis was saying, he’s not that deep into playing really well.

It takes a while to figure out what you need to do differently at majors. I don’t think you can go to a major championship and do the exact same things you do in a normal week. I think it takes some adjustments. I think it takes maybe more mental preparation than in a normal week, whatever. But I think as you get through this, and he’ll learn and he’ll continue to improve in majors, and I expect him to win one at some point in time.

Curtis and Andy, I know I’m asking you to try to recall 43 years ago the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill, but — I‘d say that’s just a long time ago now. It’s hard to believe. But reading back on it, Trevino and Tom Weiskopf were pretty critical of the transformation of Oak Hill that year. Do you remember much about that week, because Tom Weiskopf uttered a famous line that kind of began the whole restoration movement of wanting to start a Donald Ross society of sorts, and that happened. Do you recall much from that week and the reaction to the new holes and the pretty stark changes there?

CURTIS STRANGE: No, I don’t. I was so young and I was more concerned about the guy on the end of my 5-iron. The course seemed fine to me. I had not played it before, and here I am 25 years old going to a PGA Championship, so I wasn’t concerned — I don’t even remember those comments, to be honest with you.

But I think with that said, you’re going to go and see a restoration that so far I haven’t been there in person but I’ve seen all — for the last three days I’ve seen everything I can find, and it looks like there’s been a distinct improvement, put it that way, especially on two of the par-3s. I don’t know what he’s done to some of the bunkering, but everything relates back to Donald Ross and his workings around the greens, replacing, again, the two par-3 greens and holes the way — somewhat like they used to be in the original design.

Everything looked like I can’t wait to see it.

ANDY NORTH: I don’t have a great memory of those holes, of that week, either, other than not playing particularly well. The golf course, I had a chance to play it before that. There’s an amateur event there, the Williams, that I played in 100 years before that, and I remember I didn’t particularly like the changes to the par-3s. Not that that has anything to do with it.

But so often, particularly years ago, heads of greens committees had an awful lot to do with what went on on the golf course, and you had — every three or four years you’d have a new greens committee chairman, and things would get done on the golf course that years later you were like, what the heck was that all about, where now most of the big-name clubs have got somebody under contract that one person makes the decisions on making changes on the golf course, and probably for these great golf courses that’s really a win.

CURTIS STRANGE: Can you imagine, Andy, if Andrew Green, for instance, goes in there and having to put up — I hope there’s only one or two guys he talks to. Can you imagine having to put up with the entire membership? Because they all know a whole lot more than Andrew Green, of course.

ANDY NORTH: Well, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve probably built 15 golf courses over the years, and we refuse to do remodels just because you didn’t want to deal with 100 people.

One question for Scott quickly. The schedule has a lot of kind of the alternate broadcasts again, and I haven’t seen the details, but I’m curious what your take is on those. I know they gave a nice strong lead in rating last year and added something different. I know you’re a busy guy. You probably didn’t have a whole lot of chance to — you probably had to go back and watch them. Just your thoughts on that direction as part of the PGA coverage? The Joe Buck, Michael Collins stuff from last year, the —

SCOTT VAN PELT: Yeah. I think that what we see, and again, just to reference the NFL, and we do Monday Night Football, speaking of Joe Buck, but the ManningCast and the idea of a different look at the same thing just gives people a different way to consume it, if that’s something that they enjoy.

As far as we’re concerned, we’re happy for you to enjoy it however you like and wherever you like. I think more than ever before, as I sit in my car and talk into my phone, we’ve become people for whom the convenience of having manners in which to consume things is as important as consuming them at all. It just totally makes sense.

Look at some of the various things we did this year from Augusta, just a little bit of the lead-up to the actual 3:00 eastern time coverage. It’s just other ways to consume.

As I say, I think the feature groups, the Plus, all of that, the Joe Buck, Michael Collins, have some fun, talk to people. Anything that elevates the event more, more eyeballs, more attention — “grow the game” has become something a lot of folks that have been involved in golf lately are talking about. That feels like that’s part of what it is, I guess.

ANDY NORTH: Can I throw something in here, too? On Tuesday and Wednesday we have a noon-to-3:00 show from the golf course that I think will be great for the golf fan to see the changes in the golf course up close and be able to talk to players during their practice rounds about what their thoughts will be. That might be something people might be interested in, also.

Curious to ask you, I think every year there’s sort of conversation at this event around its identity maybe next to some of the other major championships, how it distinguishes itself. I’m wondering if with ESPN’s coverage coming to this event over the last few years if you guys feel that you’ve helped to give the PGA some sort of identity?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I’m happy to start the answer there. Identity? I don’t want to be that bold and suggest that we’re like king makers because I don’t think we are. The event is a major championship. It was before we were part of it, and it will be if at some point we’re not doing it.

But what I think we can do, and it’s what we did when we covered the U.S. Open — Andy, you go back before I got to ESPN with again, I reference Mike McQuade. Our idea was this is a significant event. We will bring all of our resources to the fore. We will commit ourselves to covering it with the respect that that championship deserves.

A couple of guys that I’m talking with here that won it a couple of times. It meant a lot to us. Whether Curtis and Andy won this one or not, same idea. You’ve got four chances a year to become legendary in this sport, and that’s what the PGA Championship is. It’s one of those, the history of the event is well understood.

I don’t know that we’re giving identity as much as we’re committing the bandwidth that we’ve got to elevate the coverage in a way I think we’re uniquely positioned to do that lets the golf fan just sit at the buffet and eat to the point that they’ve got to lay back and take a nap, got to unbutton the top and say, all right, give me some more, I’m going to take a nap and we’ll watch the afternoon.

That’s really what I think it’s about. This is a big deal. We’re going to bring everything we’ve got to the table, cover it with the respect that majors deserve, have some fun in the process, and I think that’s our identity. We bring our identity to covering this event, and that’s — I’m speaking for me here. I think that’s our approach, I believe.

Jordan Spieth came out with a wrist injury, withdrew this week. I’m curious, he had been on a pretty good heater, looked in the best position he’s ever been in to maybe complete this career Grand Slam. Just want to get your thoughts on the play that he’s had of late and then what you think — how your feelings change about his chances based on the report of an injury.

ANDY NORTH: Anytime you’re coming into a major championship with some sort of a hand or wrist problem is concerning because of wet, long rough probably this next week. If you put it in the rough enough times and have to chop it out, it’s going to definitely affect that.

Obviously Jordan has been playing some really good golf and looks more like the guy we knew a few years ago where he had a chance to contend every time he played.

Is it a concern? Obviously. Hopefully this is just a week — for him to skip this week, obviously it’s a very important tournament to him. But if it’s a matter of hey, I just need three or four days off, give this thing a little rest, then he’ll be fine. I hope that’s the case and he’s going to be able to come in there and be able to play well.

CURTIS STRANGE: The only thing I would add is Jordan skipping this week, which is one of his bigger tournaments for him personally, speaks a lot to that there’s something wrong. He’s doing what he has to do.

I’ve never had a wrist injury. I can’t imagine trying to play golf with a wrist injury, hand injury.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I was thinking about that JT had to withdraw from a PGA, and I can’t remember which one it was, with a wrist issue, and it was post Quail Hollow, so I’m not certain exactly the year and the time frame, but I’m pretty sure he had to skip the PGA, which obviously no one wants to miss a major, and in Spieth’s case, you never want to miss it, because to your point, this is his chance to finish off the Slam.

I’m with Curtis and Andy just in the sense that you root for him to get the opportunity. We were talking about Rory and showing up at Augusta every year being asked the same question. I don’t know if “easier” is the right word, but going to a different place every year, it’s a fresh chance to see a new place and try to bring that form with him. He’s a lip-out away from winning at Harbour Town again and has been right there in the mix.

Obviously we’re all going to be waiting and hoping that there’s some decent news about his availability, but the point about not playing Dallas to me is alarming because we all remember him as a high school kid out there making the cut and like what a rival that was. It was like, wow, look at this kid, he’s competing. That was our introduction to him.

To not play an event that is so meaningful to him tells you it’s a concern to try to give himself the opportunity to be able to play next week, which as important as the event in the Dallas area is, this one is more so. You just hope he’s all right.

Andy and Curtis, what have you noticed that he’s done to his golf swing that has helped him get back to being one of the better ball strikers — close to one of the best ball strikers right now on TOUR?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think one, his rhythm has slowed down some from a few years ago. I think that’s important. He’s worked really hard to get the club in a little different position, doesn’t get it caught behind him as much as he did.

But overall, I think he’s just put in a ton of work. You’ve got to give a guy an awful lot of credit for that. Where he was in the game for three or four years, then he starts struggling, it’s really easy just to say, what the heck, I’ve got what I need or whatever, I’ve got majors, I’ve got all this stuff. But he has really put in a lot of work, and you’ve got to give him an awful lot of credit to get back to where he is, really one of the better ball strikers out there right now.

CURTIS STRANGE: Exactly right, Andy. I don’t know what to think because his stats are much, much better. I actually think he’s making more putts and chipping it as well as he used to. Jordan Spieth, when I think of great pitchers of the golf ball, I think of Seve and Tom Watson and maybe one or two others, but they were the top of the list. Jordan Spieth is — and Phil Mickelson, of course. And Tiger in his day.

But Jordan Spieth chips in more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life. Maybe it’s because he misses so many damn greens sometimes. Like with Watson it didn’t make any difference. This guy is not just a good pitcher and chipper of the ball, he holes it so many times. That’s a knack. That’s a feel.

I used to say about Tom Watson, people would say, oh, he’s lucky. But when you do it every day, it’s not luck. He’s aiming at something.

I think when you start — getting back to when you start hitting the ball a little better and you get a little confidence and then you start getting some confidence back around the greens a little bit, then it all flows again together.

Do you put Jordan ahead of Ray Floyd?

ANDY NORTH: That’s very difficult to do. You’d have trouble with Raymond if you did that. Raymond is one of the greatest pitchers and chippers ever. I think Raymond was very, very good close to the green. I think Jordan is unbelievable from 30, 40, 50 yards away. I think that would be the only difference.

CURTIS STRANGE: Jordan is better with a lofted club.

ANDY NORTH: Raymond used all kinds of different clubs.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, Raymond would hit that little 5-iron, 6-iron from six inches off the green. I’m putting it from everywhere these days, and he’s going to take that 6-iron, and he’s six inches off the green, going to take that 6-iron. I’ll never forget he made one at 16 at Doral one time to win.

Anyway, you put a lofted club in Jordan’s hand, and he’s very, very good.

Who’s better right now, Scheffler or Rahm?

ANDY NORTH: That’s a real easy question to answer. Thanks.

I think that what Jon Rahm has done the last six to eight months is absolutely amazing. Both these guys are terrific players and fun to watch play. I enjoy watching both of them a lot.

You know what, I don’t know who’s the best, but if they’re playing with each other, you’d probably want to go out and pay attention. It’ll be fun to watch.

Rahm is on a really nice run right now. I also thought that Scottie was maybe the better of the two putters, but Jon has really putted the ball exceptionally well the last six months. I think they’re quite equal.

CURTIS STRANGE: Me being such a stat guy, they’re first and second in so many categories, alternating back and forth, strokes gained, strokes gained off the tee, into the green, approach shots, scoring first and second — they’re first and second in damn near every category. Then when you look at wins there’s 4 and 2, and top 5s are equal, and top 10s are equal. I think — who’s best? Whoever shoots the lowest score that day. How do you split hairs when they’re both so doggone good and both separated themselves from the rest of the field at this point in time.

Is that what you think, Curtis? I realize that’s what you think, but do you get any sense that Scottie and Jon have really created some reasonable separation, as hard as that is to find in today’s game, from your Rorys and Cantlays and Cameron Youngs and Max Homas and the like?

CURTIS STRANGE: Yes, I do, because first of all, the eye test shows you that, and then you look at the stats, that shows you that. Wins show you that.

I said this, probably said this to you, too, but with all due respect to Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm to me when he started on the tear earlier this year, I thought to myself, you know, he’s a guy that could be one of the few guys in the history of this game that could win eight or nine tournaments in a year. Why is that? The last guy to do that is Tiger Woods, and I believe the guy to do that before him was Vijay.

The reason I say that is because he has the physical strength. When he came in and Scotty interviewed him in Butler Cabin after the first day, and I’ve been around Jon a lot but never able to sit down there and watch how — just look at how big this guy is. He’s a mountain of a man. He’s so strong.

How can he win eight or nine tournaments a year? He physically has the strength. He mentally has the focus and the intensity to last through that 12-month period and to stay on top of his game. Then he’s got the talent. He’s got the length off the tee. He’s got the talent. When he gets on a stretch putting, he’s tough to beat.

So why do you say Scottie couldn’t do that? Scottie could do that. I just think Jon has a bit more intensity to hang in to do that over the course of 10 to 12 months.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think the thing with both of them is that they’ve reached a place where when they shoot 68 on Thursday you just shrug and go, right, that’s what they do. You know what I’m saying? It’s never surprising. It’s only surprising when they don’t play well. That’s why — you didn’t ask me. I think if you choose one or the other I’d say Rahm just because I feel like it’s constant with him. It’s just a never-ending stream of low to mid 60s or high to mid 60s every single day, and the way the Masters started, that could unnerve anyone. He just kind of shrugged, and all right, I can still shoot 65. Start with a 6.

It’s absurd how strong — Curtis said it. He’s an absolute truck. Again, this is in no way saying Scottie is not that. It feels like the consistency of the ability to shoot the 68 as if it’s par for him is singular. I don’t know. I think Rahm is ever so slightly ahead simply because of that, at least to my viewpoint.

What’s the difference between the prototype U.S. Open and a PGA course? Curtis, you’ve done a PGA and a U.S. Open at Oak Hill, and I think Andy, you’ve done them at Oakland Hills and Southern Hills. Both of you have.

CURTIS STRANGE: When you compare apples to apples, meaning the same golf course, huh. The U.S. Open, probably a bit more demanding off the tee, tighter fairways, a little deeper rough, which makes a big difference. Second shot is — well, tee shot is so much more of a priority.

I think that the PGA has been handcuffed a bit by being in August by what they can do with the green surfaces as far as firmness and speed because of August heat and humidity.

We’ll see in the coming years how Kerry continues to set it up, but Kerry just seems to let the players play a little bit more. How do you define that? I don’t know — Andy, help me. A little wider fairways, not quite as penal rough.

ANDY NORTH: Very slightly softer conditions probably also. Slightly softer playing conditions usually. I think in August, the golf course never could get away from you because they had to put so much water on it, where we’ve seen the U.S. Open in some certain circumstances get away from it a little bit as the wind blew and it dried out so much.

I think the PGA in May in the future will look more like the U.S. Open, but I think Kerry Haigh does an amazing job of getting the golf courses up. He’s got a real great feel for it and isn’t trying to reinvent the game. Just here’s the golf course, let’s go out there and try to play it. I think that’s what I like so much about the setups.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Hear! Hear! Kerry is awesome, awesome, awesome.

CURTIS STRANGE: He is. And one more thing, instead of talking about the PGA, you could refer it back to the USGA, whereas they go to the edge and they have gone over the edge with a bit of controversy over the years, and there you go. There’s never any — I don’t remember ever any squabbles in the locker room or talk or controversy about the way Kerry Haigh has set up a golf course.

I was going to ask about Jon Rahm, as well. Curtis, you’ve already touched on it, but how impressed were you with his victory at the Masters, considering he four-putted the first hole, and do you see any kind of ceiling on how many majors he could win going forward?

CURTIS STRANGE: Well, it’s impossible to predict how many majors he would win. There’s certainly huge potential for a guy like that.

Again, I like to think of his intensity. He doesn’t look like he’s going to win some and back off and get comfortable. He looks like he’s got an inner drive to do the best he can over a 20-year career.

The Masters, he looked dominant. He looked dominant. Strength showed its face so many different ways, and to me it showed it particularly when the weather got really cold and nasty on Friday and Saturday. His strength and his ability to hit the golf ball showed well during some of those difficult times. He played well during that time.

Andy and Curtis, could you comment a little bit about Brendan Steele and how you think he’ll do at the PGA?

ANDY NORTH: Well, we haven’t seen him play much golf, obviously. He’s the type of player that keeps a ball in play, and when he’s on with the putter, you see a lot of good things, like so many players on TOUR.

I haven’t seen him play in the last year and a half, so I honestly don’t have a great feel for it.

CURTIS STRANGE: Same thing. He’s just one of a large number of players who have a lot of ability, have won some tournaments. If he got on a roll and felt well, liked the golf course, started making some putts, certainly could shoot good scores here, without a doubt. But then you add the added pressure of a major championship, as the week progresses, on the weekend Saturday and then builds to Sunday. He hasn’t done that yet.

Will he do it? We’ll just have to wait and find out. But it’s a different animal, these major championships. There’s different pressure, there’s different atmosphere. Some do it and others don’t.

Could he do it? Absolutely he could do it, as well as many others.

What did it mean for golf to see some harmony among PGA TOUR and LIV Golf players at the Masters, and then for Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson to then be in the mix?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I don’t know if there was harmony necessarily. That might be overstating it. I’ll just — I think guys were rooting for their sides, frankly. Seeing Rory and Brooks play together is a good reminder that this is golf; there are actual conflicts in the world that are real and there’s war and things of that nature that are quite serious.

The lines are drawn here with the tours, we know them, and certainly the LIV players showed very well, between Phil and Brooks and Reed all playing very, very well at Augusta. No question, they did.

But I think it was a good reminder with Brooks and Rory, I guess, playing a practice round, just reminding each other that it is golf. But “harmony” might be overstating it a bit. I do think that the guys who play on the PGA TOUR were — I don’t think this, I know this. I know they were happy to see Jon win, because had it been Brooks or Phil or a LIV player, Patrick Reed was up there, then what would the conversation have been? I don’t know. They’ll have an opportunity next week to do the same. I don’t know what kind of a headline that would be.

I have said this often; my appetite for this conversation has waned. I feel like mostly it has for people. Some guys play on one tour, other guys playing on another. It’s just golf. They’re not going to fight. They’re not going to fist fight. They’re going to try to beat each other on the leaderboard. The end.

ANDY NORTH: I think it’s important that we get the best players playing at major championships. I was excited about Augusta and I’m excited about here. I want to see the best players play well and see who comes up at the end. That’s the bottom line.

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Media Contact: Andy Hall, [email protected]

Andy Hall

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