Ever wonder what the members of the world’s golfing elite really think about some of the game’s hot-button issues? Sick of the clichéd answers they sometimes trot out in the effort to not make any waves? You’re in luck.
We took the occasion of the 2012 Tour Championship to pose an anonymous survey to 10 of the PGA Tour’s elite players, making sure to get a mixture from around the world, to find the unvarnished truth. Do guys prefer the company of Tiger or Phil? Is it truly time to ban the anchored putter? What, if anything, intimidates the best in the world?
Below are the answers we received. You’re welcome to try to guess who said what, but be aware that this material is presented in no particular order.
Question: Have you ever been intimidated on a golf course?
Eight of the 10 players we talked to admitted to feeling intimidated at times in their careers, although not all wanted to mention the specific moments. Others were ready to admit that there have been times when their insides were churning.
• “There are times you are out of your comfort zone for sure. The first time you play with Tiger Woods, I’m sure everyone felt intimidated then. I played as an amateur at The Masters and that was also intimidating.”
• “My first time playing with Greg Norman when I was younger was very intimidating. He had an aura around him and having watched him growing up as a golfing hero and then all of a sudden having to show you belonged on the same course as him … That was very intimidating.”
• “Many times. As a kid you build up the stars so much and you can’t help but feel a little intimidated around them in the beginning. I remember as a junior I was pulled out of a clinic by a star player, my grandpa pushed me forward, and having to hit in front of him and a crowd is still one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done.”
• “The first time I teed it up on the PGA Tour I had plenty of nerves and felt totally intimidated. Thankfully, though, once you get a shot or two away, you calm down.”
Question: If the line is set at eight majors, do you think Rory McIlroy will finish over or under the mark and why?
Rory’s competitors are feeling the love. Six out of 10 guys think the current world No. 2 can become only the sixth player in the history of the game to win more than eight major championships along with Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Walter Hagen, Gary Player and Ben Hogan.
• “He’s got a lot of talent, and he’s such a young guy so he has a lot of majors to play in.”
• “I was talking about this with my caddie recently actually. It’s something many out here talk about. I’ll say over, based on the fact he already has two and he won them both by eight shots.”
• “He’s got two already, and he’s off to a flying start. And seriously, look at him; he’s got boundless talent.”
• “He hits it really long and consistent. He has the short game. He’s the world No. 1, and I think the odds are he could do much more than eight.”
• “It just has to be over. He’s just 23 and has two already and he got them easily.”
• “He has two really quick, and I see him going to 10 or more.”
• Another thinks he’ll finish on the number, right along with Tom Watson: “Eight seems right on. I think eight is a good number and that’s where he’ll finish. Not a bad career … Can I have that?”
But some say he won’t get to the mark.
• “It’s really hard to win majors, and the competition is getting tougher and tougher. He is young and has two already but so many factors could change — friends, family, babies. … They’re not easy to win.”
• “Under. People forget there are only five guys, and only three in recent times, who have done that in golf. It’s not like it’s easy.”
Question: If you had the choice of a practice round with Tiger or Phil, who do you take and why?
Nothing quite polarizes the players on Tour like a Tiger/Phil question. Most guys are either in one camp or the other, although some are lucky and get on well with both. Our answers here, similarly, are split. Some want to get out with the mostly intense 14-time major champion, while others would like to get out with Lefty and play in his notoriously big-money but good-natured games.
• “Give me Phil, because he likes to gamble, and it gives me a chance to win some money off him and get some good practice under pressure.”
• “It’s got to be Tiger. He’s the guy I watched growing up. I want to watch the greatest player who I’ve ever seen up close and personal as much as possible.”
• “I’d take Tiger. I think I could learn more from him as he has as much creativity as Phil but you could really pick his brain on ball flight and swing and even the mental game.”
• “Phil for sure. Why? Isn’t it obvious? Because I might win some money!”
• “Tiger. He’s fun to watch and because I actually like hanging out with (instructor) Sean Foley.”
• “You really have to ask? Phil, for sure … He’s a lot more fun.”
• “Give me Tiger. I like spending time with both of them, but I’d take Tiger because I’ve had a little bit more time with Phil already. So just to even it out maybe.”
And then there was this answer…
• “Can I have a threesome with both of them? I’ll take that,” one said with a grin.
Question: What if it was a dinner invitation? Would this make things different?
Changing the venue away from the course tipped the ledger squarely in Mickelson’s favor. Only one player chose Tiger outright when it came to the notion of a night out with one or the other.
• “Phil — there would be a higher entertainment value.”
• “Phil. He is more of a people person, and it would no doubt be a more enjoyable night.”
• “Phil. I hear he buys the wine, and that might make for a better night out.”
• “Phil. I know Phil is a more entertaining guy so I’d have to say him.”
• “Phil. More fun night for sure.”
• “Phil. I think he’d pay and Tiger most surely wouldn’t.”
• “Tiger. It would be a toss-up, but I like both of them and like getting to know both of them. I probably know Tiger a little less so I’d take the chance to be with him.”
One refreshingly honest answer:
• “Whoever is buying.”
And then one guy wanted to throw the cat amongst the pigeons.
• “Can I bring both? I think that would be an interesting night. No reporters, though…”
Question: What would you change if you were commissioner for a day?
We certainly got some variety here. Some of the guys are happy to leave well enough alone, while others have multiple ideas they’d like to implement. Here are a select few.
• “I think the commissioner does a good job, but I’d like to see a lot more access for younger guys. Guys coming from Q-School or the Web.com tour need more access to events and more opportunities to keep their cards.”
But then the complete opposite by another:
• “It’s a long list, but I’d change field size. I’d bring them down which also means I’d reduce the number of cards given out each year.”
• “Request changes to the World Ranking system. Young players straight out of college who get 10 invites and play well in their first few events grab a whole lot of points and make early strides up the rankings. I think there needs to be a longer period of time before the numbers count and the ranking kicks in.”
• “I’d allow players to wear shorts and see if the fans had a problem with us wearing them. There might be a few guys who will still want to hide their legs, though!”
• “Everything is pretty good in my eyes. But perhaps I would have kept the chance for people to get on Tour directly from Q-School.”
• “I’d bring in shorts and carts.”
• “Pro-Ams need to have less amateurs. It would benefit them and the golfers as they’d get more time and the practice round would go more smoothly. Two amateurs would be perfect.”
• “It’s got to be the slow play policy. It’s time to penalize players and penalize with strokes.”
Question: If you have to hand off to someone else a 10-foot putt to save your life, who gets the call?
Most of our guys are calling on Tiger Woods to save their lives. The train of thought is that he’d welcome the challenge and has proven to be so clutch time and time again.
• “I’d give it to Tiger Woods. He’s proven to be the best in the crunch.”
• “Tiger. He’s been a proven performer under the gun and has made the most putts that mean something.”
• “Tiger. He’s been there and done it so many times.”
• “Tiger Woods. I think he has proven to be a clutch golfer.”
• “Tiger. He’s made so many for so long and you have to feel odds are in your favor.”
But then a few others turned up, including FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker — and the question was posed before the Brandt putted lights-out to win the Tour Championship. Someone in this group was a bit prophetic.
• “Sneds. Brandt Snedeker. From 10 feet, he’s the guy. Actually from any feet — he makes them from everywhere.”
Others to get a jersey…
• “Steve Stricker. I think he gives a lot of putts a great chance to go in and hopefully he likes me.”
• “I’d have to say Jack Nicklaus. He’s the greatest golfer the game has seen, so he seems a simple choice.”
• “Rickie Fowler. I believe he’s a good putter, and I’ve watched the pure roll he can put on the ball. And I think he’d live for a moment like that.”
One guy gave the answer you’d expect from a confident, competitive player:
• “I just wouldn’t give it to anyone else. I want to control my own destiny.”
Question: Should anything be done to rein in the golf ball?
Most of the pros are happy with how things are right now, although a few are concerned. Almost all suggest it can’t go any farther — otherwise, the game and its traditional courses could be lost for good.
• “I think its pretty fair for everybody the way it is right now. I think everybody is used to the same technology, and while it’s different from the past, it has advanced the game for many and that’s a good thing.”
• “No, not really. I think it would hurt the game to do so, particularly from a marketing and financial point of view. The game is easier because of the ball, no doubt, but that’s not a bad thing.”
• “No. I don’t think you should shackle technology too much. I certainly don’t want them to go back to an old-style ball.”
• “No. I think they should rein the clubs and not the ball. They certainly shouldn’t do both.”
• “No. I think they’ve capped it, and that’s good. There is no reason to take it backwards. We shouldn’t be afraid of good athletes playing golf.”
• “No. It’s a scenario that can be explored, but I don’t think something needs to be done at the moment. However, in the next 10 years it could become an issue, so it has to be monitored.”
• “Yes. Although I would say right now it’s very playable. The good combination between the greens being firmer and faster and how far the ball is going is playable. But if we get another leap forward because of equipment, we are going to not be able to play courses like Merion (the 2013 U.S. Open venue), and that would be an absolute shame.”
• “Yes, it is at that point. They need to do something with the driver also, because every year it’s going two or three more yards, and it is becoming an issue on courses.”
• “If they ban the long putter, which it seems they will, they should also make further changes to equipment, which could include the ball.”
Question: So what about the long putter? Ban it?
This is a polarizing issue in golf. Some guys are adamant it should be banned. Others are adamant it should be allowed. And some are just happy to sit on the fence. Note: We asked the question prior to the announcement from the USGA and the R&A that they would entertain banning the anchored putter as early as 2016.
• “I think it’s fine. I don’t think they have proven that there is a huge advantage statistically for guys who use it, so I have no problem with it. It’s just a different way for guys to do things.”
• “Let them use it. I’m fine with it. If a player needed to use it to stay on Tour, I think most would.”
• “I’m yet to find a good reason for them to ban it. The arguments so far aren’t really valid.”
• “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s true to the original ideals of golf. I’ve used one before but just don’t think it’s right. I’d be glad to see it gone.”
• “I’m against it just because I’ve always worked so hard on my own short game without going there, and I think that’s how golf is supposed to be. I’d like to see everyone else struggle and work harder like I’ve always had to.”
• “I think it’s cheating and should be banned. It goes against the spirit and rules of golf.”
• “Anchoring has to go. Just because stats don’t say long putter users are better doesn’t make it right.”
• “I think it should be outlawed. I want guys to have to hold a putter in their hands when they have a five-footer to win, to feel those nerves, not to anchor it to their body to take that away.”
And the fence-sitters…
• “I’ve tried it, it still is something you still have to learn so I don’t really care one way or the other. I don’t need to use it so it doesn’t really affect me.”
• “I don’t really care. But I know there are more out there that don’t want it. I think if it is banned there will be guys who will be gone from the Tour, some really good guys. But banning anchoring is probably fair.”
Question: How important is the FedExCup to you, and is it good for golf?
To a man, everyone loves the concept of the FedExCup. It has modernized the sport of golf and given fans something to keep track of at the end of the season, just like football, baseball, hockey, basketball or any other major sport.
• “It’s great and a huge bonus for us as golfers. The playoffs especially are four events with great fields and great purses, and if you are lucky enough to win it all it’s a huge payoff.”
• “It’s really given the Tour a lot of credibility. It’s given the players more to play for all season and towards the end of the year and the fans something to be excited about and talk about.”
• “It’s such a good concept. TV Ratings is the big measure in the sport, and if you look at this Tour compared to the others around the world, this Tour is by and away the only really successful one. Others are struggling to get good sponsorship, but FedEx has been incredible in that perspective. The fans have really bought into the concept, and you just have to look at the leaderboards in the playoffs to see how great the golf has been. People are watching in primetime all over the world. Internationally it’s huge.”
• “It’s great for the game. It makes it easy for the average fan to follow, and non-golf fans can follow it also. It creates excitement for them. Obviously, as a golfer, FedEx has given us a crack at some great bonuses, so it’s hard to fault it.”
• “I think it really helps in forcing players to be more consistent.”
• “I love the concept. It makes the season interesting and it gives everyone a chance to have a big year.”
• “It’s a great thing to drive ratings and separate the best golfers of the year.”
• “It makes the year more interesting, there is no question about that. It pulls in the big names at the end as well. Before this, the back end of the year wasn’t the drawing card it is now.”
Question: Is the FedExCup format the way you want it? If not, what changes would you like to see?
Most guys feel the balance of the current concept is pretty good and are happy. But there have been some minor suggestions.
• “I would like to see a break between the first two and the last two playoff events ideally.”
• “I think they have it right. I think there is just enough movement in the playoffs to give guys a chance and still be rewarded for a good year.”
• “It could never be a perfect system, but it’s pretty good. If you’ve had a really good year you are still pretty protected when it comes to making the Tour Championship, and I think that’s important. But guys have a chance to salvage a season if they play well in the playoffs. That’s a pretty good balance. Everyone has an opportunity.”
• “I’d maybe just change the amount of movement in the first playoff event. There seems to be a lot at the Barclays. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s getting close to it.”
• “I think the scenarios it throws up are great. It promotes discussion. No system will be perfect, but this one is pretty good.”
Only one player was more forthright for change…
• “It’s not reflective enough of the whole season. I don’t think a second place in the first playoff when you’re 125th should get you through to the Tour Championship. You should be asked to do more. But otherwise I like it. I think it’s great all 30 are mathematically able to win in the Tour Championship.”
Question: What is the hardest major to win? Why?
This question came with a variety of answers, all valid in their own right.
There were votes for the Open Championship:
• “I think for Americans the hardest to win is no doubt the Open Championship. We’re not used to the style of golf and conditions get pretty severe over there.”
• “The Open Championship. It is different conditions and the draw is critical. You can be out of it because of the weather.”
• “Probably the Open Championship. I think of all four it’s the most open to all competitors, so that makes it harder to win. Tom Watson almost won it at 60 years old, so it shows plenty of guys in the field have a chance. It goes deep.”
For some it was The Masters…
• “I’ll say The Masters because no one from my country has ever won it. The weight of that history makes it tough.”
• “The Masters. It’s the type of tournament where there is such a fine line. At the U.S. Open you just hang around, the Open Championship the draw plays a big part, and the PGA is kind of like a regular event, But The Masters always has the cream rise to the top, so you’re battling big names.”
The U.S. Open has its fans…
• “By far the hardest test is the U.S. Open. It’s the toughest week.”
• “The U.S. Open. There are mistakes to be made everywhere and very few opportunities to get shots back.”
One guy gives a shout-out to the PGA.
• “US PGA Championship. I think 100 guys turn up there that can win it, and it’s not really like that at The Masters, or the Opens. It is the widest-open of all the majors and therefore the hardest.”
And then there were two pretty clever answers….
• “Your first one.”
• “They are all very hard to win, but the simple answer would be the one you want the most.”
Question: You’ve told us what you think is hardest, but what major do you value the most? If we could hand you one right now, what do you take?
The tradition of The Masters and the Green Jacket wins out here. Both Opens have their fans, but the dream of returning to Magnolia Lane in a green jacket is one many golfers want.
• “The Masters. The tradition. The prestige. The mystique. It would just be brilliant to win.”
• “I’d take a Green Jacket. Everyone dreams about wearing one in this sport.”
• “The Masters. The tradition and to be part of that club would be nice.”
• “The Masters. Where I grew up The Masters is king. It is golf Mecca.”
• “The Masters. If I won it I’d be the first from my country to do so and that would be great.”
Others value national championships.
• “It would be the U.S. Open. It’s the national championship, and a lot of my early memories of golf revolve around great U.S. Open moments.
• “The U.S. Open. A national title and a real hard test of golf. You have to play amazing to get it.”
• “The Open Championship. It is the Holy Grail of golf in my eyes. I enjoy playing The Masters the most, but to win the Open Championship would be the ultimate.”
• “I don’t rank things, just give me any of them. A major is a major.”
• “I’ll take all four thanks. What? Is that too greedy?”
Question: What is your typical pre-tournament round practice routine?
You can get a real sense of a personality here. Some guys are very particular; others, more laid-back. But they all know the importance of a good warm-up.
• “I get in the gym two hours ahead and do 30 minutes of work. Then I eat really quickly before heading to the range to hit wedges, 9-iron, 7-iron, 5-iron and then hybrid through driver. I just try to get the body loose.”
• “I have 45 minutes of warm-up time where I always hit 36 balls and then I always putt before heading to the tee.”
• “I start with putting, then the range and go from wedges to the driver, and then back to the putting green before heading to the first tee.”
• “I try to make it similar each time. Nothing special. But I always have a cup of tea on the way to the golf course, though.”
• “I hit balls for about 30 minutes, chip for 20 minutes, putt for about 10 minutes and then hit the first tee.”
• “I do the same things each time, but not necessarily the same order. It depends on the facility.”
• “Hit a few balls, 45 minutes to an hour of warm-up. We have some routines, some might think they’re quirky, but it’s just keeping things normal. Everyone out here could be considered quirky.”
• “It’s very regimented and typical. I need an hour to warm up. Light stretching, putt for 10 minutes, hit balls for 30 minutes and then back to putting before I head out.”
• “It varies for me. Depends how good you are playing. I seem to be doing much less time hitting balls and more time putting these days. There was probably a time where I had more superstitious stuff, but I’ve tried to take that away so I’m not a basket case.”
Question: What’s your favorite golf movie, and why?
Did you really think it would be anything other than “Caddyshack”? A few others get a vote, but Bill Murray and the boys continue to be the benchmark. Remember — a donut with no hole is a Danish.
• “‘Caddyshack.’ There is a lot that relates to us as golfers in it. Bill Murray and Rodney Dangerfield are brilliant, and it has some great one-liners that a lot of guys are always quoting on Tour.”
• “‘Caddyshack.’ There are so many one-liners that people are still quoting this many years later so that’s the sign of a great movie.”
• “‘Caddyshack’ for sure. It’s a classic, and it has the great one-liners I love to rattle off.”
• “I’m not a ‘Caddyshack’ guy like most out here. I like ‘Happy Gilmore.’ That was pretty funny. I am also waiting for the day a pretty girl asks me to sign her chest!”
• “‘Happy Gilmore.’ It’s just a fun twist on golf and I like that.”
• “‘Tin Cup.’ It’s more of an actual movie then the others.”
Compiled by Ben Everill