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 106th PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. ESPN and ESPN+ will have live coverage of the first and second rounds from first tee to last putt on Thursday and Friday, May 16-17, 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 a alternative telecast for four hours a day during all four days of competition. MORE DETAILS:

A transcript of the conference call follows:

SCOTT VAN PELT: Good morning to everybody that’s with us. We look forward to the chance to be together as a group. We get one crack at doing a major where we can kind of get up at the crack of dawn and go until it ends and just fire up the cameras and fire up the lights on the set and go.

Been lucky being at ESPN all these years, we’ve had some piece of or a bunch of each major championship at one time or another. Our opportunity to work with the PGA of America and do this championship is a thrill. From the first swing on Thursday morning and then through the week, we’re doing the early coverage — obviously CBS is in the afternoon on the weekend. That partnership is fun. Good to see them again.

But it’s just a blast to show a ton of golf. We know the golf fan out there. All they want is to see shots. They certainly don’t want to see me and Curtis or me and Andy talking. The minute they fire up the camera, we start giving them some thoughts on what’s going on, they’re like, “Show the golf!” So we’re happy to do that. We show a lot of golf. Shout-out to Mike McQuade who’s the leader of our group. As I say, it’s a fun group. We enjoy each other a ton.

Look forward to getting back to Valhalla. It’s a course that I saw back in 2000 when Tiger beat Bob May and I was there for Paul Azinger’s U.S. Ryder Cup victory. I just need to get back on the ground and reacquaint myself with the place. I look forward to doing that. It’ll be fun. We really enjoy the chance to do it.

ANDY NORTH: I echo so much of Scott. I think one of the reasons that we enjoy the week so much is that we really do like the crew that we’re working with. We have a lot of fun doing it. Valhalla is an interesting golf course. I was lucky enough to be there for the Ryder Cup. I played it in the Senior PGA, been there for the PGAs before. It’s an interesting golf course. It’s got a lot of really good holes.

The weather will have a big aspect of what’s going on. It’s a golf course that we’ve seen play wet. We’ve seen it play dry. It sure is a lot more fun when it’s dry. Hopefully it’s a great week and we can dodge any of the weird weather that happens in May pretty much throughout the whole middle part of the country.

CURTIS STRANGE: Well, everything that’s been said, I totally agree with. We do have fun. I think the viewers sense that, and that’s important to us.

But the thing that I go back to is that I look forward to seeing some players that we haven’t seen play a whole lot this year. I look forward to this field. I look forward to getting away from all of this other — this talk, this noise out there involving golf, and we don’t seem to have time to do that during the Masters and PGA and then the other two major championships, so that’s a good thing.

But it’s a great field. It’s on a really golf course that’s matured well. As Andy said, he’s played here. I played in the first two PGAs here, and I enjoyed it. It was a hard golf course and it was a long golf course. I understand there’s been some back tees that are back there in some dark places in the woods, so we have to go find them.

But it’s going to be fun. I hope that Scottie is able to play and comes in here fully prepared. I hope Tiger comes in healthy and does well. There’s a host of other players that certainly have the talent to do well there.

There’s so many storylines when you start looking at it from our perspective. Many of them are fascinating.

This may be a simple answer but I’d still like your thoughts. The fact that Jordan Spieth is somewhat of an afterthought going for the Grand Slam while there’s enormous hype for Rory at the Masters, how much of that is a product of Jordan’s form, and how much of it is a product of Augusta and Rory going back to the same course year after year?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think you’ve hit it right on the head. It’s some of both. The fact that we do play the same golf course for the Masters every single year, I think that brings up the storylines automatically. You go to new courses, I’m not so sure that people pay as much attention to some of the historical things just because it’s a new golf course and a lot of people haven’t seen it before, or maybe they saw it years ago in some event.

But I think that some of it right now is Jordan’s form, but I think a lot of it is that it’s a golf course that you don’t see all the time and people are more concerned about those aspects versus some historical portions of it.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, it’s both, obviously. I think it’s a lot of you guys not writing about it, too. It’s no disrespect to the PGA of America by any means. I think them moving to May has been a huge home run for them, right in the start or toward the middle of the golf season. But it’s just the way it is. He’s just not playing well.

Still, it’s funny, I hadn’t even thought about it. We should talk about it. We should give him his due because this is for the Grand Slam. It’s a big, big deal.

But we really haven’t, have we.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think it’s the venue. You didn’t ask me, but we have the vivid image of Rory duck-hooking it on 10 and leaning on his club and then the shot on 13 and you can just easily go back to that image, where we don’t have any real scar tissue of Spieth at Valhalla. I think it’s the venue.

I think you can vividly see how close he felt like he was to getting that one, and that’s going to be a really convenient sort of mental and then actual image that people can draw on.

CURTIS STRANGE: He’s exactly right, and no disrespect to Valhalla, but I’ve always thought that there’s a large portion of the audience watching majors because of the venue: Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Winged Foot, the historical, traditional, Augusta National courses. This is a young golf course but a good one.

Curtis, when you played Valhalla in 2000, that was the last time the PGA sent everybody off on the first tee, and since then they’ve gone to a two-tee start, which seems like a really, really long time ago. What do you think is the reason for them having to go to a two-tee start, and can you ever go back to it? How much of it is players? How much of it is green speed? How much of it is players having to walk 100 miles from green to the next tee?

CURTIS STRANGE: I think it’s a combination of fairness, which includes daylight, getting everybody on and off. We’re in some springtime of the year that storms are going to pop up. I think it’s just trying to accommodate four days of golf played outdoors.

It is fairness —

Did it not rain the 40 years before that?

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, but I’m trying to think — I don’t know. I don’t go back that long. But I don’t know what kind of issues we had to try to catch up if we got delayed when you’re going off one tee.

I think everybody is going that way. Well, I know they have. It’s just the right thing to do. It’s the fair thing to do. It’s the right thing to do.

It’s a business. We’re trying to get this thing through on Sunday night, and nobody wants to go — from TV to players to fans to volunteers to officials, nobody wants to go Monday. It’s just — the TOUR evolved into this. The U.S. Open evolved into this. The PGA has.

Scott, you touched on this earlier, but I’m wondering, as so many people are kind of speaking now about how to improve golf on television, truly it feels like everyone is spewing it at players, executives, fans, everyone. I’m wondering as someone who’s sort of fortunate to enter the golf TV space at a time when it was innovating a little bit on the PGA Championship coverage for ESPN, how would you go about innovating golf as a TV product, sort of acknowledging the fact that there are some business restrictions there, as well?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I don’t know that you can ever show as much golf as people want because the second that a shot is not being shown, someone is angry.

The thing that people just — I always ask folks to understand this. Particularly Thursday and Friday, there are 18 holes; there’s a tee, there’s second shots, there’s greens. So you’ve got however many different things happening in real time. You’re trying to produce one cohesive story involving all of that.

It’s not like when the Ravens play the Chiefs; two teams, one field, here’s the game.

Trying to do “RedZone” but there aren’t 18 games going on at once. This is where I tip my cap to like in our case a Mike McQuade and this nerve center with a billion options in front of him. I don’t know how you ever are able to do it where each shot is live of each person. It can’t be done. There are too many things happening at once.

I think as long as you make an earnest effort, which we do, to focus on live golf as you can, let’s make sure we’re not missing the storylines. Sure, there’s big-time players that people want to see, and we know that, but if a player that’s not as big a name as having a great round, let’s not just see them tap out on 18 or 9.

You’re asking about innovation. I don’t think that that’s an innovative idea, but it’s a challenge that I don’t know that people — and you all do, but I don’t know that maybe a casual consumer would grasp just how challenging that is to do.

But in terms of new things, wind direction and where the balls land and where do people make birdie or eagle or not, I don’t know what the next big thing is. In football it was first down lines, or Score Bug, and if you don’t have it, you’re like, what are we doing. I don’t know what that thing in golf TV is, that thing that you’ve gotta have. Probably TrackMan. If you don’t see that ball flight from behind the tee on the tee shot, you’re like the where the hell is the ball. That’s become, I think, sort of the first down line for me like in football.

But I don’t know. I’m just the guy that says, “to 13.” I’m not the guy figuring out the new technological advancement. I’m not that smart a guy, unfortunately.

Can I take you back 10 years to the last PGA with Rory winning it in the dark, what your memories of that event were, and what you thought then Rory would go on to achieve and how you see where he is now after turning 35 last week.

ANDY NORTH: Well, I’ll take that one. I thought at that point in time that we might see Rory win 10 major championships. He had limitless ability, unbelievable length, could do everything, and was making it look really easy.

Life changes. You get married. You have kids. You have other business obligations. Your focus becomes not as singular on golf as it should be, and every single good player has gone through that.

Rory has had an amazing career. I personally thought that he might win more than he has, which that’s scary because he’s won plenty.

I’m sure that — it looks like his game is getting a little bit better. He played nicely in the team that they won. He’s off to a nice start this week. I would think that he’s trending really nicely to being ready to go next week.

CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I hate to say that he was going to win so many tournaments because it tends to me sound like he hasn’t reached potential, which I would say is — I would tend to agree with that because we thought so much of his game, which to me is a compliment. We just thought he was going to be spectacular. He has been spectacular at times but not as consistent.

We never thought he was going to be as consistent as Tiger Woods the way he played. He played full throttle. He was all out. Not that Tiger didn’t play like that. And he has been a little bit more inconsistent and hasn’t won the majors that we had thought he would or hoped he would. Why? Only he can answer that.

But he’s been phenomenal. Let’s not think that his career is over. I think this week is a big week for him in Charlotte this week and then the PGA next week because at 35 if he could win a major championship, then the energy that it would create within him to do more might be phenomenal. Who knows.

But I just respect and admire his game so much and the way he’s gone about it and the leadership role he’s taken, which has taken a lot out of him, I’m sure, the last couple years. It’s all a part of life, and it’s all a part of — as Andy said, life gets in the way sometimes.

There’s been obviously so many new stats brought into golf broadcasts, whether it’s apex, ball speeds, skeleton tracking now. I’m curious what numbers you look at when evaluating a player’s game and what impact you think all these numbers have had on the way fans watch golf at home?

ANDY NORTH: I think, one, there’s a lot of positives to all this information. Some of us probably don’t use it as much as others. I like to look at proximity, greens in regulation, that sort of thing that is very standard that I think most everybody who watches golf understands it. I think there’s some of this stuff that — the shots gained stuff is very valuable, but I don’t think 90 percent of the people understand it. I think a lot of the players don’t understand it.

I think you’ve got to be careful not to get so much information to the viewer that it gets in the way of trying to explain what the players are trying to do, if that makes any sense.

CURTIS STRANGE: What Andy just said last was exactly what I think. I think we — when I start talking golf on TV, you never want to talk down to anybody, but you also have to realize at the PGA, one of the four majors, that you have a lot of viewership that don’t watch a lot of golf, so you want to explain a little bit of that.

But I go back to the basics of fairways hit, greens hit, percentage up-and-down, putts per round, and I look at all of the other stuff, all the other stats. If something really stands out, then I might try to get it in there. But if I don’t understand it, I’m sure as hell not going to talk about it.

I think it’s a lot of information, and I really think that the players look at what they want to personally look at, but I try to keep it basic, simple. Fairways, greens, up-and-down percentage. That tells pretty much the whole story.

SCOTT VAN PELT: It’s not unlike what I always call the back of the baseball card stats. For those of us that are older, what was your batting average, how many home runs and how many RBIs did you have, and of course baseball, more so I think than any other sport, has taken analytics and changed the way the numbers matter.

Golf I think has — strokes gained clearly can give you a different picture than just fairways and greens, and in a sport where the differences are so fractional — it’s a stroke over the course of four days, and over the course of a season the difference in stroke average is even less than that.

I think there’s useful ways to do it, but I agree with Curtis, and maybe this is just the old-school idea of — particularly when you go to a place like Augusta, you know the winner is going to be high in greens in regulation. There’s just no other way around it.

But I think you can arm yourself with information, but again, for our purposes, the key is to use it in a way that if you’re trying to explain something to viewers, it’s digestible as opposed to just a bunch of numbers that might cloud the understanding of something.

But it can make you smarter and maybe you can describe it in a way where you’re using — you’re armed with that information and then you can give it almost like a Cliff’s Notes. Does that make sense?

CURTIS STRANGE: I think that Scottie Scheffler is a great example. When you say he’s No. 1 in six or seven categories, you almost don’t even have to mention the categories. That tells you how damn good he’s playing right now. You can say, well, the only guy doing that in recent history is Tiger Woods.

The viewership wants to watch golf.

I wanted to ask a little bit of a follow-up to what Doug was asking about Jordan. To Andy and Curtis, from a player’s perspective, and Scott, from a big picture fan perspective, I’m curious what you feel like is going on with these players who are very involved in the TOUR politics and all the boards and subcommittees, kind of in their prime doing this. Your thoughts on how that impacts their game and also as sports fans, too, the impact on the perception people have of them?

ANDY NORTH: I think it really does affect their game. You don’t have your normal time on the range where you can work on something specifically that you need to work on without somebody coming by and asking you a question.

I was on some of the PACs over the years, and it does take a lot of time and energy away from you.

As we’ve talked about for years, to be really super successful in our business, you’ve got to be awfully selfish in your time and energy that you control, and when you lose control of that, it truly affects. It’s not just the physical preparation, it’s the mental drain of spending so much time and energy trying to make this work.

I give the players an awful lot of credit. We’ve had an awful lot of players over the years that have gotten on the board and have quit in the middle of their terms because it affected their play enough that they needed to get that back under control.

A lot of credit to these guys for trying to do the work they’re doing, but it’s definitely affected. You can actually go through the list of guys, and a lot of them haven’t played quite as well as they normally do.

CURTIS STRANGE: You can go down the list of board members right now, and it’s proof of what Andy just said. I know for a fact, one board member talked to his agent yesterday afternoon and all this other stuff appeared about who’s on the board and who’s not, who’s involved in negotiating, whatever. He said, my guy is exhausted. Exhausted.

That in itself takes away from your playing. I don’t care what they say. Rory, Cantlay hasn’t played very well, Webb, any of them. As Andy said, I commend them for it, but I personally never wanted any part of the board because it would bother me because it would take away from my golf. Now, is that selfish? Maybe a little bit. But I put my trust in the commissioner and the board itself.

I think this whole thing is — and when you ask a question like that, this whole problem of what we’re experiencing right now with golf goes deeper than just tours and money, money, money, money. It goes deeper affecting people’s play, affecting sponsors, affecting fans’ likeability to the game, TV coverage, TV ratings. It’s affecting everything.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Andy and Curtis would clearly understand far better than I having lived it and tried to figure out what you can afford to put on the scale and how it impacts your ability to be focused on the game. I just think it’s been fascinating in the years I’ve followed the sport just how fluid the confidence is. When you have it and you’re riding high, and Spieth certainly had times when he was, you’ve got to protect that at all costs because it’s so — it comes and goes with the wind seemingly, and in this sport more than others.

It’s obvious that where the game is at the moment and the challenges that this existential — I don’t want to call it crisis, but what are we doing. I think it’s a lot to put on the shoulders of players, and it seems to have had its impact, and you understand why, to Curtis’s point, a player might just tap out and say, look — in Spieth’s case, I’ve got a brand new baby, I’ve got a couple young kids, I’m trying to figure this out. I’ve got enough, man. Let somebody else figure it out; it’s not my job.

If he said that or if anyone said that, I wouldn’t blame them. I understand wanting to be a stakeholder, wanting to have agency over yourself and try to help guide because he’s a bright young man, a lot of bright people. But how much bandwidth do you got to sort out those issues and then figure out how to hit the fairway. You talk about these stats, I’m 120th in proximity. I’ve got to sort that out. Let somebody else figure out what’s going to go on with us and the LIV guys.

CURTIS STRANGE: I can’t help but think the players are much, much, much more involved than they ever were on the board. Obviously now because they have the voting majority. It sounds like as you hear the same thing I hear that they have taken control and they’re trying to reinvent the game. Is that good or bad? I don’t know yet. But they are very much involved, whereas before, you hear about people on the board, and Andy can probably speak more to this than I can, but players would defer to the four independent directors because they’re the smartest guys on the planet, and they’re on our board because they love this game.

I know we’re getting off sidetracked, but yes, it does affect the players’ play. It affects a lot of people.

Scott, I want to ask you about Scottie Scheffler because I know you’re a golf nut so you appreciate the domination that he’s had recently. You also have a good idea for what gets a casual golf fan more interested or just a general sports fan even. In your estimation, for a golfer when it comes to these major championships with larger audiences tuning in than on a week-to-week basis, what is it that makes a golfer most interesting? Is it the domination of winning? Is it a certain type of personality? What is it that makes people tune in?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think people appreciate excellence. People like to watch greatness.

Tiger, I’m always hesitant, and I say this often, to compare anyone to him just because it feels patently unfair. He’s singular.

I’m willing to make the comparison just in terms of the dominance on course because the numbers stack up. Not many people have won at the kind of clip that Scottie is currently doing it.

But he has this just — he’s a totally different human. There’s this sort of Zen, this calm. He’s very unimpressed by himself, and he’s just outwardly not a guy that’s — he’s not screaming “look at me” with the personality that he brings. It’s almost the opposite. He’s content to not let you watch or pay attention at all until Sunday when he slips on a jacket or gets another trophy.

But I think that’s the genius of him. I think he understands exactly who he is and who he sees himself as is just the same guy, which is just remarkable, given the level that he’s played at.

But you ask what do people want to watch. I think people like watching greatness in whatever it is. We’re coming on nightly following the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NBA Playoffs. You see a young guys like Anthony Edwards; he’s getting compared to Michael Jordan; he’s like, man, stop doing that; don’t compare me to that guy. It’s the best compliment you can be paid, but he’s just not comfortable with it. But we’re always looking for that person that we can say reminds us of this person.

No one is going to remind us of Tiger, but the genius of Scottie and the excellence of Scottie, he wins another one, man, he goes to Valhalla and wins, what would we be willing to say when they go to Pinehurst? You can say anything you want, and none of it would seem like hyperbole.

I think greatness in whatever form it is. That’s like Koepka last year; dude shows up at the majors — he loves big events. Likes to show off in big events, can do it. I think people love stuff like that, man. That’s what people want to see. Greatness in the moments when greatness is absolutely required.

I wanted to pick up on that Brooks Koepka thought there. Andy and Curtis, you guys had some chances to win majors and then where you didn’t win them and you learned how to do it. What do you think Brooks took from last year’s failure at the Masters and then was able to win, just come back the very next major and win, and why do you think he’s so strong at the majors?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I think, and I’ve actually said, he’s a contract killer, simply. He shows up at a major championship, opens his locker, and there’s like the “Mission Impossible” thing: “Here’s your assignment, go kill somebody this week.” That’s how he approaches golf at major championships. I love it.

I don’t think he probably learned anything from the disappointment at Augusta. I think he knows who he is. He knows what he can do at majors. I think he believes he can win every single major he tees it up in.

I sure as heck don’t want to bet against him. It looks like he’s figured out something on the greens. He won a week ago. I think he’s going to be tough to beat this next week. But he’s a completely different player four weeks a year than he is the other 48 weeks a year, and I love that about him.

I think the fact that he can raise his game at majors where most people’s games go the other way, that’s really a huge testament to him and his mental makeup and how he just determines that he’s going to beat everybody once he shows up at a major.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, completely agree. But it’s a hard game. You can’t play well every time you want to play well.

But I think that last year possibly, this year possibly when you disappoint yourself and don’t play well, it instills maybe a little more hunger to do better the next time. Everybody is so different mentally, and the one thing we can say about Brooks is that he’s very, very strong mentally.

Who knows what goes through his mind. But I’ll tell you this: He’s not scared. He’s not scared to get on that stage and play well because when he has won majors, he has really, really played well and looked very, very comfortable, more so than most.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I saw him that Monday at Oak Hill, and I know you didn’t ask me, but I think this anecdote is pretty good because I saw him Monday, and that was after the Masters got away from him, and he was still pissed. He’s like, “I’m never going to do that again.” I said, “meaning what?” He felt like he got conservative and then Rahm got him, and when he tried to put his foot on the gas, there was nothing there. He didn’t have that.

I think that he just mentally felt like he had let himself down in the approach. Andy said he doesn’t know if he learned something. I think he did. That was what I took from it, that he just felt he had to have a different approach and be more aggressive if he was in that spot, and then the very next opportunity, which was there, I don’t know if it was aggression or a different approach or what, but as all those guys just said, he just has a different approach for these weeks and an appetite and an ability to deliver in that moment that very few have.

Regarding Justin Thomas, I’m curious, obviously we haven’t spoken about him yet on this call because his form hasn’t been great in a number of months, but what’s your fascination about that storyline, being basically in his backyard, all that kind of thing? He just was honored with a big mural downtown, was very emotional about it. What’s your take on that storyline and what do you think his chances are with probably a lot of pressure on him?

ANDY NORTH: I think, first of all, there isn’t going to be a lot of pressure just being the local guy. Guys usually handle that exceptionally well or they don’t. There seems to be no middle ground at it.

I think the fact that it’s the PGA, it means so much to him, I think the fact that he’s going to probably come in as focused and ready to play as he’s been for a while, I’m guessing he’s played this golf course quite a bit over the last couple years, which is always a positive.

But I expect him to have a good week. I really do. I think that he’s deep enough into his new caddie, he’s got a better feel for what’s going on, and I just think that he’ll have a great week.

CURTIS STRANGE: Sometimes you need something to get you out of your funk, physical or mental. You need something. Coming back home, so to speak, playing this week at Valhalla might be just that recipe. Go play the game, forget about the last year or whatever, and let’s play for ourselves, our family, our fans, and get excited, get energized in a positive way. It could very well work in his favor.

I think likely more than not that it will work in his favor.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think it will, too. He feels better than his results looked, and that was at the Masters, and then he just had a horrific five-hole stretch there on the second nine, missed the cut, and went out the very next week and finished I want to say top 5 at Harbour Town and had a nice start at Quail Hollow yesterday. I know that he’s more confident than his results have shown. How you handle all of the — how you get it home is a question I don’t know the answer to, but I know he’s more confident than his results have shown.

Yes or no, if you’re giving me a prop, I’d say he plays well the next week.

We haven’t mentioned the elephant in the room: Tiger Woods. This course compared to Augusta National has, as I remember it, two nasty hills, the one where you go up 17, and then 18 is a little bit more gradual but it’s still pretty uphill. The rest of it I don’t remember being awful. Do you think Tiger has a better chance to do well at Valhalla compared to Augusta National?

ANDY NORTH: I think every one of the majors he plays he’s got a better chance. I think they all become easier walks for him as we get into the season. But I think he’s played well at Valhalla. He’s got some great memories there. He’s got a lot of great shots he can step up on tees and remember hitting. I think that’s really important.

Where is his game in the last month? How much work has he been able to get in? I think that’s what it all boils down to.

I think, again, short game will have a huge determining factor on what he does, and hopefully he can get around physically. This could be maybe the first major in a while that it’s going to be warm. I think he needs the warm weather as much as anybody, and so many of the majors he’s played in, the weather has been awful. Obviously he doesn’t need a whole bunch of rain delays and stuff potentially this next week.

I think it’s a lot weather determinant and it’s a lot on his short game, and I think physically he’s getting better at being able to get around every time he plays.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, I sense the same thing as what we said before the Masters is that we know he’s going to hit the ball well at times, we know he’s going to make some putts, but when that energy and that adrenaline wears off either sometime Thursday or Friday, what does he have after that? Therefore getting off to a good start, playing — just kind of keeping the energy up is so very important to him right now. It’s important to every player but so important to him. He’s got to keep in the game. We saw it a little bit at the Masters, the energy wore out, and there’s not the goal of winning, so what else is there for him.

Let’s not forget, he changed the game a long time ago when he came into every tournament and said that I’m here to win and that’s it. Second sucks. He changed the game mentally because that’s the way everybody goes into it now, whereas before it wasn’t so much.

That’s the way I look at it. I think he’ll hit a lot of good shots and make some putts, but can he do it over four days.

Is he dependent on getting the early-late tee time? Is that going to help him a lot?

ANDY NORTH: I think the more recovery time he has is obviously important. I think the key is coverage-wise we want him Friday afternoon.

So early-late works for you?

ANDY NORTH: It works great for us.

CURTIS STRANGE: It keeps my energy level up.

Andy and Curtis, can you speak to what you may remember about the reception that players got from fans in Louisville in the previous tournaments at Valhalla? Scott, I’m curious to know what the national TV audience thinks about Valhalla and Louisville as a host city for a major championship.

ANDY NORTH: From what I can remember, the golf fans in Louisville were fantastic. Obviously Ryder Cup was a little different atmosphere than the PGAs have been, but they’ve always supported good golf. They’ve always supported greatness.

I think that’s really important.

There’s going to be a lot of interesting things that happen over the course of the week. There’s going to be a lot of great shots, and I think that the players — we talked about this a little bit in COVID. The players love to show off, and it was really difficult when there weren’t people out there watching.

To show up and have a whole bunch of people there, 30,000, 40,000 people, they love that. I think Louisville will not disappoint.

CURTIS STRANGE: What I remember is the support and the fans and going to a market that we don’t go to on an annual basis, which is huge. Smart by the PGA of America.

The three PGAs I’ve seen there have been huge successes. I hear they’re sold out in everything they can possibly sell. Let’s not forget about the Ryder Cup, which is one of the biggest events in golf.

I expect nothing less from the people of Louisville.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I agree, and I think from the perspective of somebody whose job it is to try to frame it and be a scene setter and a reminder of what’s happened here, you have already in a short period of time — it’s a young course in perspective of games where you’ve got the Old Course or something. This is a young course.

If I say Valhalla, people can picture Tiger Woods running and pointing at a ball. They can remember he and May dueling. They can remember Rory in the dark. They remember Zinger and the 13th man and the way that they rode the absolute passion of those fans.

In a way, that was one of the very early times when it was just like, look, home-field advantage is going to really be a thing in this venue, in this event, and we’re asking you to be that. Louisville stepped up in a massive way.

I think that all of these helped frame what we’ve seen here in the past, and I expect that area to absolutely show up and show out.

Golf is one thing, but the grandstands and tens of thousands of people going bananas, that helps tell a more fun story, and I’m counting on the folks of Louisville to give us that. I know they will.

You might recall a few weeks ago when we had a Masters chat, the first name mentioned to you was Ludvig Åberg. He’s not been mentioned today. How much confidence is he going to take going forward in the majors after that performance?

ANDY NORTH: He’s a star. He’s a superstar. He withdrew because of a knee situation this last week. We’ll have to see how that is. I’m guessing it’s just a precautionary situation.

But this kid is a — I mean, I just absolutely love the way he plays golf. I love the attitude he has, the way he goes about it.

It’s never a shock if he’s there at the end of an event. I expect him to win a major and when he does, there’s no telling how many he’ll wind up winning.

SCOTT VAN PELT: He was a guest on SportsCenter, my program, last week. He basically just said the knee has been bugging him a little bit. They thought it made the most sense to not play to get ready for next week.

But I find him to be just unbelievably composed. I was kidding with somebody, he seems like the kind of guy that would turn up in a bond film in a tuxedo. He’s just impossibly handsome, he’s impossibly composed, and then he steps on a golf course, and he’s impossibly talented. I asked him about those smiles we saw around Augusta. He looked calm. He said I didn’t feel calm, but he finished second.

I asked him about recalibrating goals because he’s done so much so quickly, and he said goals are important, and he said to a degree maybe yeah, that he’s been willing to look at maybe getting to some of those things that he hoped to get to sooner than maybe even he thought.

If he wins next week, it will surprise no one in the game because this is a dude that is absolutely — I wouldn’t say he’s coming. I’d say he’s already here. We joked with Curtis calling him a long shot because he was ninth in the world, and now he’s sixth. That’s in a month. Where is he going to be by the time you get to the Open Championship? Who the hell knows. He’s incredible.

CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, he certainly is. Talent like this, the entire package doesn’t come along very often in any sport. He is the entire package.

Do we put too much on him talking about it? Maybe. But when you’re that good and swing it as well as he does, personable and the entire package, that’s what you’re going to get. He seems to be able to handle it all.

But the world had better get used to this guy because he’s going to be around for the next 25 years.

Scott, what are your thoughts about Jason Day and his chances of winning this tournament, and what has been your favorite moment or memory with covering this tournament?

SCOTT VAN PELT: Wow, Day is a great name. He’s had moments this year. I think I’ve just been trying to figure out his trouser game. I don’t know what’s going on with his gear.

He’s had moments where — obviously I’m a consumer of the sport, and very early yesterday I see — in a hurry, he’s 4. I feel like a breakthrough for him to the victory circle is imminent. If it came next week, would it shock anybody? No.

But I think — it’s crowded. Like there’s a crowded list of people like him that if they won, it wouldn’t surprise you, but it’s got to be more than just moments. He’s got to string together those moments and make it a week’s worth of play.

In terms of my favorite memory coming this event, wow. I go back to 100 years ago at Medinah when Sergio was El Niño and Tiger won. It was a time before Tiger had become what he became, and that was the second. That was a blast.

This event when it was in August I think got — how do I frame it? It didn’t get as much attention even though it typically was as good as any of the majors in terms of the drama.

I love this new spot for it just because I feel like it just creates the perfect April, May, June, July sequencing. That Medinah year was cool because it was a long time ago. We didn’t know then that Tiger would end up becoming what he became. But that was a whole lot of fun. Also I still had hair, so it’s fun to remember that.

CURTIS STRANGE: Can I elaborate on that a little bit? The PGA has had some great finishes, unbelievable finishes, and I think in August, yeah, everybody is a little tired from the season. The new date is fantastic.

But I can’t get over, when you talk about memories here, can anybody get over Tiger and Bob May at Valhalla back in 2000? That’s as exciting a finish as I have ever seen. I was on the edge of my chair. It’s the one tournament I think Tiger Woods probably should not have won but he did, not because of mistakes by Bob May but because of Tiger’s great play.

I hope we see a lot of it this next week walking down memory lane and talking about Tiger and championships here because it was fantastic.

When you talk about Valhalla, it’s had some great history already with their finishes. Hopefully this next week is another one.

This year the PGA TOUR moved the Wells Fargo back a week so it was right before the PGA. I’m curious to hear your thoughts about playing a major championship venue like Valhalla as prep for these guys going into next week. Speaking on the Wells Fargo, I’m also wondering what you guys make of Xander Schauffele. He’s played so well, 12 top 10s in majors, and what’s it going to take for him to get over the hump?

ANDY NORTH: Well, I’ll start with Schauffele. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve picked him to win a specific major.

SCOTT VAN PELT: We both have.

ANDY NORTH: He does everything well. His game surely looks like it fits major championships so well. It is more of a shock to me that he hasn’t won. He’s been in position a lot of times, and it just hasn’t happened for him.

But if he won this next week, would you be surprised? Absolutely not. I would think he would be one of the guys an awful lot of people would continue picking. But he’s surely got the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can polish one of these off.

[On moving the Charlotte event] they’re still trying to figure all this out. I know there’s been a bunch of majors where the week before or the week after has been one of these Signature Events. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Players are trying to figure it out. There were some times I wanted to play the week before and there was other times I didn’t want to play the week before. The players have got to figure it out, and they will.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I’d say it’s two pretty hard tests in a row, though. When I lived in Hartford, that event up there, fifth major, shout-out to our guy Chris Berman, they do an amazing event it hospitality and all of that. Just tip of the cap to the folks at Travelers.

But the reason guys love it so much is someone is going to shoot 18-under par. You’re going to — it’s a playable course. After getting your brains beat in the week before, you go there, it’s like, all right, I can shoot 67 today. I can shoot 62 today maybe. I wonder about playing Quail Hollow and then playing Valhalla. That feels like some pretty advanced level coursework to take back-to-back weeks. That’s why when I saw Xander at 7 yesterday, I was like, man, if he gets a chance to win, obviously of course you want to win. You can’t ramp it back. Why would you? No one would do that.

But Tiger always talked about trying to get your game to peak at the right time. Well, I mean, everyone wants that. How do you make it happen? It just seems like there’s a lot on the plate this week and next if you’re in both those events.

I wanted to ask your thoughts on Michael Block returning. He was almost a big a story last year as Koepka was, and any intel you might have on a possible Cinderella this year, Tracy Phillips, 61, club pro who qualified for the PGA for the first time at 61?

CURTIS STRANGE: For anybody to do what Michael Block did last year would be phenomenal. Michael played exceptionally well, and he played even better than that. Then when he got on the big stage Saturday and Sunday, he continued to play well. Then we learn about this guy, he’s a hell of a player, and he played well, playing with Rory on Sunday. It was phenomenal. I’ll never forget the 4 he made on the last hole. He hit it left in the mud. I’m thinking, he might make 7 or 8, but he flipped it up there and made it for par. It was tremendous, and the story and all year long, I was just reading about him this past week. It doesn’t happen every day, but he plays a lot of golf. He plays a lot of tournament golf, which helps him.

But you never know. I’m looking at the list now with Wyatt Worthington. This is his sixth or seventh PGA, and the more you play in the PGA, the more comfortable you’ll get.

But it’s a great week for these guys. I completely agree with and look forward to seeing some of these guys for the week. They deserve it. They’ve qualified. Being a PGA club professional is not an easy job, and to try to do that job and play as well as Michael Block did last year is a tough ask.

But Michael did it last year, so let’s go see.

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think it was a one-off, just for that level. You know what I mean? It’s the kind of thing that we can look back at, and the more I look back at it now, I marvel that he was able to have that level of game. I always think of the Azinger line: Everyone wants to be noticed, not everyone is comfortable being watched. Well, everyone was watching that dude, and he was comfortable. He showed off, like Andy said. That 1 was insane and the up-and-down on 18 is insane. But that was high-level stuff for anybody.

I think to — we love the story and we loved what it was, but I just feel like we’ll love it even more because we realize how rare it is, and to think anyone is capable of that — I suppose anyone could — you’re in the field, you’re capable, but how likely is something like Block again? It feels very unlikely to me. That’s why I think we enjoyed it as much as we did.

Scott, next week is a legendary week as we approach the PGA Championship with household names such as Scheffler, Rahm, McIlroy to name a few. What other participants should we have on our radar that could possibly make a huge impact in this year’s PGA Championship?

SCOTT VAN PELT: I think we covered over — I like Collin Morikawa. We haven’t said his name yet. This is a guy that won out at Harding Park. I think he’s someone that could absolutely have a great week and win.

I mean, it’s always the usual suspects, but I don’t know, somebody like Sepp Straka, somebody like that. If he went out there and played well enough and won — why did I mention his name? Just because I picked it out of thin air. Someone like that who has won on TOUR that isn’t on our list of people that we’re necessarily going to talk about in a preview show could go out and win this tournament, and it wouldn’t be a shock to anybody.

But I think Valhalla will identify a star name, a widely-known household name. Morikawa I feel like is a name that’s trending in the right direction.

But I think you could flip down through your list of players and you could just point at a name, and if they won, it wouldn’t be a shock to me just because that’s the kind of depth of field we’ve got.

CURTIS STRANGE: I think the guy that — of course Scottie Scheffler is by far the favorite, but we don’t know what the baby situation is going to be next week. But the guy that jumps out at me is Brooks Koepka. This is going to be a big-boy golf course, and he is not scared.

I think he’s comfortable in the PGA, obviously. He just won recently on his tour.

When you say a guy like Sepp Straka, I love the guy. I think he’s got the best backswing in golf. But as Andy and I know, it’s a different stage, platform, atmosphere come the weekend at one of the four majors than it is other events.

Can they handle that? Yes, they can. But it’s going to be different than what they’re ordinarily used to.

Andy and Curtis, what do you think Steve Stricker’s chances of playing well are and possibly making the cut? He finished tied for seventh in the 2014 PGA but of course that was 10 years ago.

ANDY NORTH: I think Steve, what he did last year was absolutely amazing. He played as well as anybody last year. He hasn’t been at that level yet this year.

But it’s a golf course that he’s played well there. It’s a course that I think you have to put the ball in the fairway and just kind of get it around, and he can get the ball up and in as well as anybody. There’s some difficult up-and-ins around that golf course.

I would think that making the cut is a good possibility. I don’t think it’s as high a possibility as it would have been a year ago.

CURTIS STRANGE: Like I just said, it’s a big golf course. He really, really has to chip and putt well, which we know he can do that. But Steve has been an anomaly in that he’s played so well as he’s gotten older, and last year was phenomenal the way he played, but different golf courses.

Can he make the cut? Absolutely. Can he play well here? Yes. But his playing well is so different than playing well enough to be in contention on the weekend.

You hate to speak like this because it seems like you’re not giving the guy enough respect. But there comes a point in time in your career — there’s a reason why you’re on the Champions Tour, you’re not out here playing on a regular basis.

But Steve, what a phenomenal career he’s had. I’m sure it’s a privilege and joy to be in this field. His family will be involved, as they always are. You never know.

On a lighter note, to finish up, we’ve talked about some of the great memories and moments and finishes at Valhalla. As a Kentucky kid, I was there for the Ryder Cup and watched Anthony Kim get so caught up in his beat-down of Sergio that he didn’t even realize he had won and headed off to the next tee. Is there a storyline that maybe might be just the most fun for you guys to cover if it were to happen, whether it’s — we mentioned JT winning in his hometown, could Rory complete the Grand Slam? Maybe not necessarily the most likely, but what would be the most fun storyline for you guys to see next week?

CURTIS STRANGE: Well, I think you just mentioned a couple fun scenarios we would enjoy chronicling.

From my standpoint, I root for the story now. I always have in TV. Those are two good stories.

There’s so many — look at Michael Block last year. Look at Brooks coming back last year. It’s too early to really get involved, but whatever storyline it is, me personally, I get behind that, and I enjoy that. I enjoy trying to do the best job I can bringing that guy closer to the viewer.

I hope I’m making sense, but I don’t root for and against anybody when I’m in the booth. I feel like I shouldn’t. Now, you have underlying affection for somebody, but — Scott, am I making sense?

SCOTT VAN PELT: 100 percent. The stories which you pull for, whether it’s Spieth and the Slam, JT in his hometown — look, we haven’t seen it, but I’ll say it was the most obvious thing. If the old guy with the bad back and the bad leg that stared down Bob May 24 years ago is able to carve it around and be in the mix — we saw it in ’19 at Augusta. There’s nothing, nothing that makes people — moves people like that. Nothing.

Maybe that’s a bridge too far at this point. You hit on it earlier. He was able to stay in that shot-at-a-time mentality that got him through the cut at Augusta, but two days is only halfway to what your check is going to become Sunday, and it’s a lot.

But the beauty of this conversation on a Friday the week before is that these storylines will make themselves clear. No one on this call last year asked us about Michael Block. No one. And then there he was.

What’s fun about turning up and walking the course, trying to learn a little bit about what we’re going to talk about come Thursday morning is that by Sunday these things all come into focus, and you know for a fact that whatever the story is, it’ll be a hell of a story.

JT-Zalatoris was amazing a couple years ago at Southern Hills. It looked like JT was done, and Bones talked him into staying in the fight, and then he wins in an incredible playoff. Koepka last year was tremendous.

Whatever the story is, it’ll be a treat to cover it, and as I say, if the old guy with the balanced spot and the bad back and the bad wheel, if he’s in the mix, I promise you, that would be the best story.

CURTIS STRANGE: It would be a hell of a story, but I’ve got one other for you. What if Scottie Scheffler comes in here and wins? Now we talk —

SCOTT VAN PELT: Now you talk Slam?

CURTIS STRANGE: Now we talk Slam. If there’s a guy since Tiger Woods that could do that, we start talking. We can’t wait until the U.S. Open.

SCOTT VAN PELT: Yep, that’s — sometimes the most obvious is the right answer. That’s probably it. He’ll probably win if he doesn’t have more important thing to go get to, which would be more important.

CURTIS STRANGE: How about Scottie versus Tiger coming down the stretch?

Click HERE to visit ESPN Press Room’s golf media kit for announcer bios, photos, programming schedules and more.


Media Contact: Andy Hall, [email protected]

Andy Hall

My main responsibility is PR/Communications for ESPN’s news platforms including the Enterprise/Investigative Unit, the E60 program and SportsCenter. In addition, I’m the PR contact for ESPN’s Formula 1 coverage, golf majors (the Masters and PGA Championship) and TGL golf. I’m based in Daytona Beach, Fla., and have been with ESPN since 2006.
Back to top button