ESPN golf analysts Andy North and Curtis Strange and host Scott Van Pelt participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. For the 10th year, ESPN will have live telecasts of the first two rounds at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday, April 6-7, as well as extensive coverage on SportsCenter, ESPN.com and other ESPN platforms.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
SCOTT VAN PELT (on moving into the host role for the first time this year): Well, obviously, just the opportunity to do this is amazing and I’m thrilled to do it. I’ve never set foot in Butler Cabin and the idea that the first time that I get to walk in there is to sit down and welcome people to the event is pretty remarkable. This is 20 years that I’ve been coming, which isn’t nearly as long as Curtis and Andy, because they’re much older than I am, but I figured I would set the tone early, right fella’s? No, in all seriousness, 20 years I’ve been coming, the first one I got to see was Tiger in ’97 which was in and of itself obviously a remarkable thing and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would have any type of role like this and certainly on our end of it I’ve seen Mike Tirico do a wonderful job and the job of the host is, I think much like an official in basketball, do it well and you’re not necessarily noticed, just don’t screw up the proceedings. So, I’m — I would say that the preparation is much like any other. All you’re doing is watching golf as a fan of the game and keeping tabs of the story lines and we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of the actual hosting when we get up there to Augusta.
CURTIS STRANGE (on any advice he might have for Van Pelt about working in Butler Cabin): I think I would be the last guy to start giving advice to professionals of this industry. It’s just nice to be there again. It’s always nice to go back and after being part of the tournament for so many years playing and now so many years broadcasting, being part of it on the ESPN team, it’s nice to go back and nice to work with Scott. He and I worked together on Sportscenter with Andy for years now and he’s a talented guy and I can’t go without mentioning that coming from the Golf Channel when he started to now hosting at Butler Cabin, it’s got to be special. It’s where it’s all happened is where we all have memories, many many years back with the champion and runner-up and Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. So it’s a special place.
ANDY NORTH: Well, I think the thing that always is so special about the Masters is that it’s the first Major of the year. What’s a little bit unusual now is that we have already had 18 or so events already with the fall schedule, so we have had an awful lot of golf under our belts already coming into the Masters, but, again, it’s the first Major of the year, people are able to sort of put it on their calendars and know that this is the start of the golf season in a lot of parts of the country, particularly in the northeast and midwest that this is kind of when you start thinking that the golf season’s actually going to get here as the snow melts and stuff. So, it’s a fun week, I think the fact that the Masters is played on the same golf course every year really gives a person at home a lot of insight and they remember all these great shots that the great players have made over the years. Tiger’s chip in at 16, Phil’s putt at 18. Nicklaus’s eagle at 15. I mean, we remember all those shots and I think that’s what makes the event so special.
Question for Andy and Curtis. This is going to be the first Masters in, I think, 63 years without Arnold Palmer. Do you guys have a specific memory of Arnold at the Masters, whether it was advice he gave you about Augusta National or something you observed or something he said or did for you or just any anecdote about Arnold and the Masters?
ANDY NORTH: Personally, Arnold meant so much to all of us. Curtis can speak a little bit — I mean Curtis actually went to school on an Arnold Palmer Scholarship at Wake Forest, so he has a totally different look at it than I do. But I think what Arnold did — I remember as a kid really the first time you ever saw golf on TV, or at least I did, was Arnold. That changed the way we looked at our sport. The last year he played there, I’m one of those guys that I used to go out on Thursday morning and love watching the guys hit those first tee shots. That was always special. And there’s going to be a big empty spot at the Masters this year because Arnold’s not there. But he’s done so much to make it the event that it is, I think that I would suspect that there will be some neat things that happen during the week because of it.
CURTIS STRANGE: Yeah, it will never be the same. The Tournament will go on and players will come and go, but there will be a void there, especially this year. My first memory was more of the big picture. I grew up with kind of Arnold Palmer in my household and as everybody did and as Andy said, on TV, and then the first time I played the Masters was in ’75. I went down there and saw really what Arnie’s Army and Arnold Palmer and the people were all about. It was the first time I had ever seen him in his world. And it was spectacular. There was a connection there between Arnold and the people and the people and Arnold that was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life before and since. So, the way he reacted to them, the way they reacted, he reacted to them and them to him was something special. And that’s what I take from the Masters and every year he’s gone back of since then it was the same. And even last year, when he wasn’t doing well and just for him to make the effort to go and be a part of it, something he loved so dearly, it showed me that it really was a connection there over the years and that they truly loved each other.
I wanted to ask you about Tiger Woods in ’97. What do you all, even all three of you, what do you remember about ’97, what stands out about that, and also what do you think the I guess the Tiger Woods impact has had over the last 20 years? I know that’s a pretty big question, but maybe you can tackle it for me.
ANDY NORTH: I’ll be happy to start. I thought what, in 1997, what Tiger did was so unusual in the fact that he was able to overpower the golf course in a way that we hadn’t seen by anybody, other than Jack Nicklaus. The fact that he got off to a poor start and then got it going and then once he got it going, it never stopped that year. The way he played the par-5s that week, it was a ridiculous amount of strokes under par. He hit driver, wedge, driver, 9-irons, driver, 8-irons literally to every single one of them. He just completely overpowered it. And this was a signal that the rest of the golf world was going to be in a lot of trouble if they expected to beat this guy. I think that in itself is the one thing that stuck out to me that, the way he made the golf course look so simple and indefensible. And then the impact over the last 20 years, I mean, he changed so much things in the game and then outside the game in much the same way that we saw Arnold do it back in the late ’50s and early ’60s, with television. The television contracts exploded. Off the golf course, income for these guys exploded because of Tiger. He made golf cool for a lot of younger kids. I think that’s — did he bring hundreds of millions of people into the game? No. That wasn’t going to happen. But he made golf cool. If you were a kid playing in high school golf team back in the late ’90s and early 2000s all of a sudden now you were proud to walk through the front door of the school with your golf clubs to put in your locker, versus trying to sneak them in the back door. Now, all of a sudden people recognized that golf was a sport that meant something.
Curtis, let me ask you this: Do you think, I mean, a little crystal ball, but do you think Tiger, Phil, will they be as revered 10, 15 years down the line the way Arnold and Jack are today?
CURTIS STRANGE: Wow. Probably, it depends on the generation I think you speak to. Our generation, it’s hard to replace Arnie. We’ll never replace him. Jack, we’ll never replace him as the greatest player of all time, as we speak right now. My generation, probably not. But you certainly can’t underestimate the impact both of those guys have had on the game. We talk a lot about Tiger Woods and rightfully so, but let’s not ever forget about Phil Mickelson and the role he’s played for the last 26 years on TOUR. Still continues to do that. I got to — I watched both segments of his Feherty and I sit down there and giggle to myself. I think he’s fantastic. But the younger kids, it will certainly be all Tiger Woods and rightfully so there, too. To answer, to just kind of answer your previous question, I think what Tiger did for the game and the big picture of the game and outside the game was fabulous. It wasn’t so much him hitting the golf ball and making putts, it was what he did outside of the game. He brought people to the game, doubled TV ratings, increased the purses, just by being the dominant player.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Sure. Well, I met Tiger in ’95 when I was starting at the Golf Channel and his ascent — and he has loved to remind me this over the years and he’s 100 percent correct — his career sort of brought me along in the wake because I was there covering him and ’97 he, obviously, did what he did and we sat down for an interview not long after that when I was at the Golf Channel and it was supposed to be five minutes and 45 minutes later he we were still talking going through the round shot by shot. And his representation wanted to kill me, but it was just obvious that it was the first time he had done what he was doing, which was going through it shot by shot. Just being there for the first time, obviously, I knew this wasn’t how it normally went, I just, I remember just being amazed at what we were seeing and then what he did on Saturday, when he just gave it to Montgomerie and then it just became a question of how many would he win by. But in a little ways, fellas, don’t you think there’s some revisionist history with that, because the year before Greg Norman had a gigantic lead and let it slip away with Faldo. And there’s still this idea in your head, well, it could go all wrong, but then it was very effect that, well, no, this isn’t going to happen, it’s just going to be a question of how many.
CURTIS STRANGE: Weren’t the TV ratings almost doubled in ’97? That’s the one stat I haven’t been able to satisfactorily find out.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Yes, the Sunday ratings is the highest that there’s ever been. Like 44 million people and the second highest rated Masters there’s ever been was 2001 when he won. But this event we did at Maryland last year was a symposium on the impact that he had for over the course of 20 years and whether it was ratings things or whether it was money, I mean you can show a direct correlation and I think that you couldn’t ignore that the three guys that were No. 1, 2, and 3 at the end of last year whether it’s Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth. You got a guy from New Zealand, a guy from Northern Ireland, and a kid from Texas. And all three of them, whether it’s fitness, whether it’s the idea that they didn’t want to wait to win, whether it’s this drive to be great, you can draw a direct line to Tiger Woods as the influence on them. And you’re talking about three different parts of the world. And so his fingerprints are all over so much of what has happened since and it’s — I don’t know, it’s 20 years is a long time and it’s amazing to take inventory of all the things that have happened.
For Curtis or Andy. You guys can do paper, scissors, rock to see who wants it. Nicklaus said back in, I think it was ’96, and Jack said he was kind of exaggerating here when he played that practice round with Tiger, and said that, with his fundamentals, he’s got the game to win more than he and Arnold combined. My question to you, was there ever a point when you thought that might actually happen, 10 green jackets and at what point did it become, no way?
ANDY NORTH: I think that you and I probably talked about this at some point in time, but I think that there was a point in time that you just figured that he was going to win there pretty much every year. Or if he didn’t win, it was an upset. The golf course is perfectly built for him, and then they went through the process of “Tiger proofing” the golf course. That just made it better for him. Because it eliminated all the guys that couldn’t hit it like he did. So, there is that stretch where — Tirico and I used to laugh about this — but we had a little bet for dinner that I took Tiger and he had the rest of the field and I won seven out of 11 Majors at one stretch with it. I mean that’s ridiculous. That kind of stuff is ridiculous. But there was a point that you were surprised if he didn’t win. We have never seen that in this sport before and we probably will never see it again. There’s a guy that was such a prohibitive favorite every single time he teed it up. Obviously, the last five or six years has not gone that way, but yet even in some of the periods where he would come into the Masters maybe not at his best or coming off an injury, he still had a chance to win a bunch of them. You can go back over the last 10 years and probably could find five or six of them that he could have won as easily as he didn’t. So, his game was the perfect match for the golf course and anything he did there, even in the future wouldn’t surprise me.
CURTIS STRANGE: I have nothing to add. I completely agree. Other than when did we not think he was going to win 10? You know, who knows. Can’t answer that one. Go back through his career.
Let me ask you this, since it’s unanswerable, what kept Tiger from winning more Masters? Was it the golf course or was it injury or other?
CURTIS STRANGE: I would have to go back through the career and really remember which came first and when he started not to make all the putts or — I think it’s probably injury, Andy, isn’t it? When he started coming back to the field, when he stopped lapping the field, like I like to say, I don’t remember, do you Andy?
ANDY NORTH: Well, there’s been all the stuff that he’s struggled with, injury-wise, that you just lose, you lose your sharpness sometimes because even though the, a surgery might work out perfectly, you spend so much time rehabbing and doing the things to get back to playing that you lose some of the sharpness of the front nine tuning of your golf game. I think we have seen that with him over the last six or seven years in different multiple times. But you just can’t stay at that level — I mean most players, let’s go back to Jordan Spieth for example. A couple years ago, when he had a chance to — literally he contended in all four Major Championships. And you’re thinking, this is amazing what he’s doing. Basically Tiger did that for 10 or 12 years in a stretch. And it’s been very hard for Jordan to come back and repeat that the last year or two, as well as he’s played, it’s just, it’s almost impossible to get yourself in that kind of position at the tournaments that matter all the time. Tiger was able to do that over an incredible stretch.
CURTIS STRANGE: Jordan doesn’t have the length that Tiger had. Tiger was, other than John Daly was really the first good player to have the length and to dominate off the tee. Let’s not forget how sharp you have to be, as what Andy just referred to, how sharp you have to be to contend in any major any tournament. And to be that sharp, you have to play golf. Now Tiger has been away from the game for pushing two years, more or less. And you just, unless you’ve done it, you just don’t understand how sharp these guys are on a day in and day out basis because they do it every day. When you’re away from the game, the longer you’re away from the game, the harder it is to come back, simply because of the sharpness, every swing you have to have. And you might say, well maybe he’s overstating it. I don’t think so. You take it for granted when you’re Jordan Spieth or D.J. now, guys that are in their prime, but when you leave the game a little bit, I think Tiger could relate exactly to what I’m talking about, because he’s the one experiencing it. He can go out and hit a lot of good shots tomorrow, but he’ll hit some shots that he never once hit in that 10 or 12 year span. And because he’s not sharp. And is that physical? Yes. Is it mental? Yes. It’s everything. And I guess that more so than anybody I have seen, since Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods can stay in a shot and be in the shot more so than anybody else. And I think that was a big, strong part of why he could contend and play well every single week.
Two completely separate topics to hit you with. I think maybe Curtis and Andy for the first one and SVP for the second. On the first, obviously we have seen incredibly low scores and yet Augusta has been has yielded only a couple 63s. Could this be the year that somebody shoots 62? It sounds like the course is going to be maybe somewhat wet because of some weather.
ANDY NORTH: I think the one thing that, no matter how soft it is and how perfect conditions Augusta National would be in, you always have the greens to deal with. With the SubAirs, they can get receptive, but they probably aren’t going to get as soft and as receptive as they used to years ago when it rained. Because of that, it just is so hard to make enough putts to shoot 10-under par. I mean it’s just, to me, 63 at Augusta is an amazing score in itself, because you could go out and put your ball 10 feet from the hole on 18 times, and you could have days that you might only make two or three of those putts because of where the holes are located or the slopes around the holes. So, getting the ball in the hole there is the whole deal and will there be a 62? I’m sure there will be at some point in time, but, boy, you got to make so many putts and/or do some unbelievable things to make that happen.
CURTIS STRANGE: Agreed. Fastest greens we putt all year long and with some of the most severe slopes we see all year long. Tough to make a lot of putts.
Were either of you out there when Nick or Norman shot the 63?
CURTIS STRANGE: I was. Both of them.
What do you recall?
CURTIS STRANGE: And, oh, probably that I wasn’t going to shoot 63.
ANDY NORTH: The key is you were shooting 63, but you weren’t finished with the 16th hole yet, that’s the problem.
CURTIS STRANGE: Hey, hey, easy now. I’m sensitive.
Actually, I don’t usually say these things, but I actually had a real good chance of shooting 63 one year in 1985 and the problem was I started thinking like that and I kind of threw up on my shoes shortly after that. But, yeah, you can get it going. But therein lies — I had a really good chance to shoot a really good score there one day and I didn’t. Why? Well I put it on the wrong side of the hole on 15, 16, and 17. So there you go. So to do that in one day, you have to play such precise golf, make your putts and be damn lucky as well. So.
Is that round what did you end up shooting and did you 3-putt 15, 16, or 17 or any of those?
CURTIS STRANGE: No, I ended up shooting 65, but I 3-putted 15 and I, which I 3-putted 15 and going on 15 after a good tee shot thought I was going to make four and that would have added up to 63. But I ended up 3-putting for a bogey.
Wildly different topic, but I’m doing something on the pimento cheese sandwich. Do we have any people who particularly enjoy it or maybe who avoid it?
ANDY NORTH: No, that’s got to be Van Pelt’s area of expertise.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I actually have a thought on the 63 that’s far more important. I think the way guys hit the golf ball now, guys were driving it 430 yards last week in Austin — I know it’s downwind and whatnot, but I do wonder if some of the length of these guys is going to give them an opportunity to hit lofted clubs in there and obviously these guys know better than I about the greens, but I wonder if somebody isn’t capable of shooting a number like that. And it is entirely up to where they put the hole locations.
But as for the pimento cheese, I took a bite once, because it seems like it was obligatory, it’s like, you know, when in Rome, and it’s not my thing. They have an unbelievable — I mean, I think you’re allowed to say that.
CURTIS STRANGE: This will be your first and last appearance in Butler Cabin.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Yeah. You know what? It’s just not — I was just going to say though they have a wonderful fried chicken sandwich that I can eat about 14 of. So, I just, it’s not that I don’t enjoy the cooking, it’s just that it’s not particularly my thing.
Did you finish the sandwich?
SCOTT VAN PELT: Andy, what am I obligated to answer here? Like am I allowed to invoke my right as a citizen?
ANDY NORTH: If the answer is no, yes.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Yeah, I did, and it was wonderful. No.
I don’t recall, I don’t recall, I took a couple bites and said, no, I’m all set here. So, I don’t believe I got to the end of that one.
Appreciate your story there. Thank you.
SCOTT VAN PELT: Thanks for the end of my career there, man.
For any or all of you to answer. Regarding Jordan Spieth, he’s shown really good ability during his young career to bounce back. Wonder if you guys feel like he’s completely bounced back from what happened at Augusta last year or is that to be determined next week, especially in regard to the 12th hole.
ANDY NORTH: I think an awful lot of that is going to be how he, what he does once he gets there. I completely believe in Jordan Spieth, I think he’s a player that is going to be a really, really good player for a long, long time, and but, yes, there’s going to be some demons in there when gets to 12 for the first time in the tournament, I guarantee it. He’s played the hole, I notice he was down there a few days ago playing, but I think, you know, we saw what he did after the bad rounds other places, he’s got an unbelievable stat over the last three years of birdieing the hole after he makes a bogey. But his game, he doesn’t have the length that some of these other guys do around the golf course, but he does have a short game that’s amazing and I would suspect he’s going to be a guy that does exceptionally well at Augusta every single year he plays there, because he can make putts and he understands putting, he understands speeds, he understands the imagination of putting those greens, so I think that he is going to be very successful there for years and years to come.
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I don’t disagree with Andy North very often, but I’m going to disagree a little bit here from the standpoint that I think he’s such a cerebral player, he’s such a solid player, and even if he gets up with a one-shot lead next Sunday, and the pin is in the same position, he’ll learn from what he did last year and he’ll hits the proper shot. And when do we ever learn? On mistakes we made. When we screw up. So I think that there’s nothing wrong — the way I look at it there’s nothing wrong with remembering when you screwed up the year before or a couple years before, because you learn from that. You say, I’m not going to do that again. I bailed on this one or whatever happened, you know, if you have to pitch it from the same position again, whatever it is, you learn from it and you don’t do it again. The first time is their fault, the second time is my fault. And I think it’s okay, it’s not a negative, it’s actually a learning experience. And we have all gone through that. If he says, I’ve forgotten about it, well, you never forget about situations like that. Let’s not forget, he won a couple weeks after last year, too, so it’s not like he went in the dark room and stayed for three days. I think he’s just — that’s part of golf. That’s part of we golfers, we have to have these short memories. We have to be kind of halfway idiots in the respect that we have to take a lot of the bad and very few good times and we learn how to do that. I think he’ll be just fine.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I was with him last year at an event about a month after it happened and it was a, it was a function for one of the companies — it’s for Under Armour, there’s no need to be coy about it, there was just an Under Armour function and it was a big thing up on stage where I, I made, like I made a joke about it and he, I mean he was in on the joke, and I guess the reason I bring it up is just because he was able to take what was a, you know, this horrible moment and just kind of shrug and say, I mean the thing I said is, hey, man, we have all hit it in the water, you know, it’s, a metaphorically speaking, we have all had that moment in our life. And to the point that the guys are making, I mean obviously he’s won since, won at Pebble this year, having said all these things, I believe that he’ll win there again because he clearly understands how to play there and yet I’m fascinated to see him stand on the 12th tee, particularly on the weekend, if he’s in the middle of the leaderboard, you know, ahead or just behind. As a human being, you have to wonder, what is it like to process that. And I’ll never know, Andy and Curtis know because they have done it, how do you handle that moment when it comes. And it will come for him again. Because he’s not done contending at the Masters. He’ll be there on the second nine on Sunday and what happens when you stand on the 12th tee? Well, we’ll find out Thursday. But then you really don’t know until Sunday whether it’s the shot. Could it be the shot. But I believe that it will not, it didn’t defeat him, I think it was just anybody that he’s ever played has had a swing they would like to get back.
CURTIS STRANGE: And that’s exactly my point, Scott, is that a couple things: One is that he won’t see that hole location until Sunday afternoon. So he’ll have three days prior to then to hit easier shots. But, hey, you know you got to stand up and say, okay, I know what I did wrong here last year, let’s not do that again. It’s the positive, it’s not the negative, it’s the positive coming out. Let’s put a good swing on it, hit it 12 feet left of the hole and move on.
For Scott and Curtis, I’m wondering, Scott, you made kind of a joke about the pimento sandwich, but I can imagine doing what you guys are doing live and without a net that it must be a little difficult sometimes working this event compared to others, just because it seems like you have to walk around on egg shells a little bit. And that big brother might actually be standing in the room, in your guys’ case over in the corner of Butler Cabin. I’m just kind of wondering how you work around that. There’s an element of spontaneity involved in what you guys do and professionally as broadcasters how you deal with that element.
CURTIS STRANGE: Scott hasn’t been in there yet, but we certainly do have Bobby Jones looking over our shoulder with the portrait. You know, Scott Van Pelt is a complete professional. I try to do the best I can. So I understand the question, but it never comes up, that type of thing. Because we’re trying to represent ESPN and the Masters tournament and bring the viewer closer to what they’re seeing on television and it’s a big event, so, no, I get that question a lot. Hey, do you have a three second button or do you really have to watch what you’re saying? No, you don’t, because you’re trying to represent those who came before you, too. I mean I’m trying to represent Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus and try to do what they would do. So, Scott might have, I’m sure Scott would answer the same way, but it’s just, you’re trying to be a professional and represent yourself and your company and everybody else and do the right thing.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I have always said that when we would cover The Open Championship, which I enjoyed doing, that there they refer to the groups as games, right, Steve? It’s this game. The 34th game, you know, and so we would refer on the air to the game, right? And whatever the local, the local description of things, I would use, I think I would use them simply because that’s what they call it. People here call it the British Open. Well we called it The Open Championship, because that’s what it’s called. Well at Augusta they refer to the first nine and the second nine and they refer to the fans as patrons and they refer to the first cut and whatever, and I think that when you use those, people can, I think, mistake that for you’re being told what to say. I look at it much like The Open Championship, I just use the language that they use, because that’s their event. And if you see a sort of reverence from the folks that are calling it, whether it’s us or Jim Nantz and the folks at CBS, I think people are only reflecting — and I can only speak for myself — but I think people are reflecting how they genuinely feel about that place. Anyone that’s ever been there knows, it’s unique, there’s something that’s special, it feels different about that week than any other week. So whatever you hear me say is just a reflection of how I feel. I understand what you’re asking, but I feel very comfortable there, having gone for 20 years and getting to know the membership and how they treat their guests and we’re their guests, but I don’t feel like I’m ever, I don’t feel like anyone’s ever standing there sort of wagging their finger saying, well, you better not say this, you better not say that. I mean, is it different, is it different than me at midnight yelling about a highlight? Well, of course, it’s a different venue. But I don’t think it has, I mean I know for me it has nothing to do with any worries about stepping on an egg.
Pretty simple question for you, just curious what your personal tradition like none other during Masters week, something that you make sure you always do when you’re in Augusta kind of maybe away from the course.
ANDY NORTH: Well, to me the one thing away from the golf course we don’t have any time away from the golf course, we’re just trying to function during the week because it’s a long week that’s very enjoyable. The one thing I tried to do for years and years and years and even as a player, when I was competing in the Masters, is to watch the guys hit the first tee shots on Thursday morning. I always thought that was really, really a neat event. And I started back when Sarazen and Nelson and Snead were doing it and it was just so cool to see these guys up there and it gives you such a sense of the history of the place.
CURTIS STRANGE: Oh, well, you asked me a question I’m going to be very honest with you, I can’t wait every year in the past to go up to the, I believe it’s the Firestone cabin and have a drink with Arnold and Johnny Harris and Bev Dolan and a few other members up there and sit in the corner and listen to them tell stories. And it’s the highlight of my week and I would go in there three straight nights in a row and it’s about the history of Augusta and the game and solving all the world’s problems and it is a ball for me. And it’s something I look forward to every year and certainly Arnold not being here this year will be different, but they will be pontificating about issues and I’ll sit in the corner again and listen to every word.
SCOTT VAN PELT: I walk from the television compound to the golf course and I walk from — and it might not make sense because it’s not necessarily a place anyone would have been, unless you’re working television — but it sits back behind the par-3 course and I walk every day from there up to the 8th tee and I’m just — this is going to sound odd, but this is what I do — I walk and I just stand on the 8th tee and I just think about life. I think, I don’t know how any of this happened that I got to do this, I don’t know how it happened that I get to come to this event, I don’t know how it happened that I get to come cover this event, and I just stop and I, it’s like my once a year to truly be alone with my thoughts and be appreciative of the way things went for me. And there are a lot of places in the world where you can do that and I find that I do it every single year at Augusta. And I look forward to doing it. If you ever have a chance to go to the event, Wednesday’s my favorite day, the par-3 contest, the fact that everybody just takes a deep breath and kind of relaxes, but Wednesday, that golf course is filled, but every other day of that week it’s empty and you go stand on that 8th tee and take a look around and there’s, that, I look forward to going to do that again.
For Curtis and Andy. You guys have won Majors, when you look at Dustin Johnson and he comes into Augusta playing so well, but he also has that monkey off his back, he’s finally won one. What do you think that will do for him and is that an advantage for him as he comes into this week?
ANDY NORTH: Well, I think it’s great that we finally have a question about the No. 1 player in the world. I mean, after we’re 48 minutes into this and we finally talk about the guy who’s been playing golf like no one around for the last 10, 12 months, whatever. I think that once Dustin won the U.S. Open, we knew he was an unbelievable player, he’s shown that over the last seven or eight years and particularly the last couple years. We, I think we all, we as in all of us covering and being around the game felt like he was going to win a Major Championship. Well since he’s won the U.S. Open, he’s been almost unbeatable. I think he’s won six times since winning the U.S. Open and I don’t think he’s been outside the top-10 but maybe twice in his last 15 starts or something. He’s on an incredible run right now. And so the fact that now he’s coming to the Masters, a golf course that I’ve always wondered if this is one that he can play really well because he’s, he really does like to cut the ball, but he hits it so far in the air that I think it’s, a cut’s not a big deal, he can hit it over the hills and get the extra run and that sort of thing. But right now he’s playing with so much confidence, his short game’s improved dramatically over the last couple years and I mean he’s won, he’s won a couple of the last starts, I think he’s won three in a row, his last three starts but the key is he hasn’t even putted great in a couple of those. If he putts well, I don’t know how guys beat him right now.
CURTIS STRANGE: Couldn’t agree more. I think that he is, when you get playing like he is, it’s almost like you’re playing with house money. There’s no down side. And he is arguably, in my mind, the best driver of the golf ball of all time, other than Tiger Woods in 2000. And when you put length and his accuracy together, certainly there’s been straighter drivers of the ball, Calvin Peete was the straightest of all time, but he was short. Jack Nicklaus was a great, great driver of the golf ball. Arnold later years. Greg Norman. You know there’s been a lot of great drivers. But when you put length and his accuracy together, and he’s hitting wedges to every hole, how do you beat the guy? It’s like when John Daly came out and he was by far longer than anybody, how do you beat the guy, if he makes a few putts? And then you put his confidence — and that’s something we can’t speak enough of, not only physically is he hitting on all cylinders, but he believes in himself now, too. That’s probably the biggest improvement of the last year of anything. He’s forgotten about some of the missteps, he’s learned how to play the game under pressure, he’s learned how to play the game, Butch has worked with him on certain things, and he’s improved. And then personally he’s a much more mature young man and I think you got a guy who is a heavy, heavy favorite next week.
Can I take you back to Tiger Woods with a question for Curtis and Andy. What do you think was more impressive, winning a first Major in ’97 by 12 strokes or winning the U.S. Open in 2000 by 15 strokes?
ANDY NORTH: Well, I mean the fact that he was able to do that in any tournament’s amazing, but do it in a Major and he did it in every one of them at some point in time. I mean, I thought that the way that he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach was probably the most dominating performance I had ever seen in professional sports, because I think that to win by a lot of shots at the U.S. Open is maybe more difficult than winning by a lot of shots at Augusta because there’s just so many other things that seem to go into it and it’s so hard to get low enough to do that. Where at Augusta you can see a guy having a great week and going really low and being able to win by a lot. But I thought the performance at Pebble Beach was the best performance I had ever seen.
CURTIS STRANGE: I think the performance at Pebble Beach was probably the best performance of in the history of the game, to be honest with you, at least over 72 holes, to do what he did against the best players in the world. But which was better? Well, I guess the U.S. Open was better by saying that, but you know, they’re both pretty damn good. The U.S. Open to do what he did there was fantastic.
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