Golfing Magazine was recently able to catch up with two-time U.S. Open champion and ESPN golf personality Andy North to get his thoughts on the game today. He offered us some strong opinions on today’s top players, the state of senior golf, drug testing, the effect of caddies on the game, and much more. You may be surprised by what he has to say!GM: As a former player, what do you bring to the broadcast booth?
AN: I hope I can bring some insight and knowledge of the game, to show people what’s going on with the player and what he’s thinking about, how he’s trying to react and how difficult it is to react under different circumstances. These are the things that people who haven’t been there probably don’t understand.GM: What do you think winning the U.S. Open two times says about you as a golfer?
AN: I hope it says I had some abilities and that I could figure out a way to raise my game in events that mattered. The majors are what mattered to me, the Open in particularly. That was my goal from the time I started playing golf, to be the national champion and I was lucky enough to do it a couple of times. That style of golf fit my game and my mentality quite well and I was lucky to get myself in a position to win a couple of times.GM: Was it harder to win the first or the second?
AN: Probably the second one, because when I won the first time I just figured I was going to win 10 of them. Going into the first one, I had improved every year as a player. I had won the year before, and I thought the next step was winning a major. I played exceptionally well that year going into the Open. I guess I had four seconds that year and a win six or seven months before so I really thought that it was the next step. I just expected it. The second time, I had had some injury problems and a couple of years where I didn’t play very well. The second one made me appreciate the fact that it was tough to do.GM: Do you think the USGA has changed its set-up conditions since you played the Open?
AN: I don’t think so. I think they’ve tried to make it consistent, the only change that I can see is that maybe it’s manicured a little more and it’s got some chipping areas around the greens, which they didn’t have very often. But it’s still set up very, very difficult. They’d like to have it firm and fast. That’s hard to do sometimes for venues we play in June if it rains, but they want to test the player in every way they can.GM: Do you think the Champions Tour is viable in the long-term? Is it still interesting for the fans?
AN: We went through a period of time in the mid-90s when it was just exceptional. Jack was playing and Arnold was playing and Chi Chi and Trevino and Floyd and Irwin. There were so many great players that people liked to see. It’s changed. We’ve got a lot of really good players but are they the kind of players that you would knock down people to go across the street to watch? They’re wonderful players but they aren’t Arnold, Jack, Chi Chi, or Trevino. We had the same problem on the regular tour when all those guys quit playing. Then Tiger came along and things changed. It’s a wonderful tour. The quality of play is exceptional. I don’t think the public understands how well our over-50 set still plays.GM: Rounds have been flat in the past four or five years. Why do you think that is, and what could be changed to increase participation?
AN: The game is so difficult. We still have a lot of new people joining the game every year, but we have an equal amount quitting. How can you make the game easier for the average player? I think we should experiment with maybe putting two holes on every green. Put one 8” hole and one 4” hole and let the player pick where he wants to go. That will make it easier for the player to shoot a score and enjoy the game. The game is so hard when you first get started, but it looks so easy—that’s the hard part. There are a lot of great athletes that have played golf for forty years and they still can’t figure it out.GM: Besides money, what’s the biggest difference on tour compared to when you played?
AN: There are a lot of differences. The quality of golf courses, how the course is manicured. The ball doesn’t spin as much and the guys hit it so far, so it’s really changed the way they play the courses. Good players never have to hit a 3- or 4- or 5-iron. When I played, the ball was short enough that if a guy came to a 440-yard hole, he might be hitting a 2-iron for his second shot. In the old days, the ball spun so much, so you could hit it so much farther off line.GM: What do you see as the biggest difference in today’s players and players of your generation?
AN: Players today are softer. I don’t know how we were ever decent players, without the caddies telling us how to do it, without a coach with us 24/7, without a nutritionist, a trainer, and a psychologist. It’s become a joke. You watch them check into a hotel and there are 10 people. How did we ever learn how to play golf? How did Nicklaus win 18 majors? He never had any of these people with him. We have created a generation of players who cannot think on their own and I think that will hurt our business. Now Tiger is not this way at all. Tiger is old school. The reason Tiger beats all these guys is he has the year 2000 technical makeup but he plays more like old school guys. He works the ball, he is tough, he relies on himself—he is more out of our generation and I think that is why he beats these guys.GM: Tiger or Jack?
AN: Tiger is getting close to it. If he goes on another three or four years like he’s done, he is going to pass Nicklaus and have more majors and have won more tournaments than anyone. Jack, in my opinion, is still the best as of right now. If something happened to Tiger today and he couldn’t play anymore, Jack, in my mind, would be the best player ever. But they are so similar in the way they play, in the effect they’ve had on the rest of the tour. In their scheduling, it’s eerie how they do things so much the same. What Tiger has done is absolutely astounding. He has won 60 golf tournaments by the age of 31. That’s ridiculous. There are a lot of really good players that never win more than two or three in a career. Nicklaus’ record in majors is amazing. Everyone talks about 18 wins, but he finished second 19 times and third 18 times. He has 55 top-3s in majors. If you go back and look at Jack’s record from 1962 to 1979, he won at least two tournaments a year for 17 straight years. And this is when he played between 15 to 17 events a year. He was first or second on the money list 15 times in that 17 years. And this is what Tiger is doing now. It is special and you should appreciate it. He is an astounding athlete, and mentally, he is the toughest guy since Nicklaus. There were three players in my time that never gave in to a shot or gave it half their effort: Nicklaus, Watson, and Woods. By the way, they have done pretty well for themselves. Tiger is just like Jack. They are so similar in the way they dominate the sport, the way they approach the game, their approach to major championships. Their whole schedule is geared around four weeks a year. It is not geared around the Ryder Cup or Fedex Cup. It is geared around the four majors and I think that is cool.GM: How do players today handle playing against Tiger?
AN: Let me put it this way. It is one thing to know you can’t beat the guy, it’s another thing for him to know that you know you can’t beat him. That was not the case when we played against Nicklaus, even though Nicklaus was in the same place in the
world of golf and probably looked unbeatable. I don’t think any of us thought we could not beat him, but I am convinced that most of these guys think they can’t beat Tiger. In the last rounds in major championships over the last 10 years, that’s 40-something majors, Tiger has beaten the guy he has played with by three shots. There is a reason for that. The guys are scared to death of him.GM: Caddies today seem to be more noticeable than in years past. How much do they really help?
AN: I think the caddies today spend about 10 times more time talking to the players and telling them what to do than they need to. A caddy is like a good assistant in business. Things get done without you having to ask them. Things are in the right order. A really good one can help you, a bad one can be a pain in the rear end. I think that this generation of player relies too heavily on their caddies. In my generation, give us the number, we pick the club, hit it, and let’s go play. Now they talk about 800 different things. It has absolutely ruined women’s golf. This year, we did eight or nine LPGA events and they have a good thing going out there right now. A good mix of great veteran players, these cute younger American girls that can really play. They stand out there and talk to the caddies forever. It takes five hours to play in twosomes. The caddies may as well be playing and the players carry the bags—that’s how much input they have. It’s nuts what is happening on that end of golf. Someone needs to step up and take a stand and say let’s start playing again.GM: What are your thoughts on the FedEx Cup?
AN: I really don’t know what to think about this yet. There are a lot of players that haven’t been very happy with it. I would think there would be some changes made. I’m not 100% sold on how it is being done. If you have an elimination playoff situation, people should be eliminated and that’s not the case. They’ve taken a couple of great events like the Western Open, which is the longest tournament we have on tour, and now they’ve changed that. A lot of the people aren’t very happy about that. But it’s a way to get the players a lot of money, not that they need any more. Our commissioner wants to control golf and he can’t control the four majors. Those are the four tournaments he doesn’t have any control over, and those are the four events that everybody cares about. So he’s constantly coming up with new ideas, trying to create a way they can have control over big events. It started with The Players Championship about 25-30 years ago and then The Tour Championship, then they went to some of these World Golf events that no one really cared much about, and now this whole FedEx Cup thing. It will be interesting to see if this lasts. FedEx put a lot of money in and if they decide in two years that they don’t want to do it anymore, they will change the name to some other company for this big season ending thing, I don’t know. So we’ll wait to see what happens.GM: How do players get assigned to pro-ams? Do the bigger sponsors always get the bigger players?
AN: Not necessarily. Some weeks they do and some weeks they don’t. Most of the tournaments are pretty much up and up. There are a lot of weeks that they pull a team number and that team gets to pick who they want to play with, which I think is a cool way to do it because then you don’t have any complaints about who you’re playing with. If you get unlucky enough to draw last, then that’s the way it is, but if you pick first and are lucky enough to draw Tiger then the guys won’t sleep very well for the next couple of days and might be wearing rain pants by the end of the day! Other than that it is OK. The thing that the players today don’t understand is the reason that they’re playing for so much money is that players 25 years ago played in all the pro-ams and did all the corporate days and did all this other stuff. A lot of the younger executives then are now the chairmen of these big companies and they’re willing to spend money in golf. It’s really important that some of these younger guys understand that they’ve got to keep greasing the wheel for the guys that come along five or 10 years from now.GM: Which tournament is the most prestigious to win?
AN: Obviously the four majors. I think for the American players, the U.S. Open is the top event to win. You are the champion of your country. From the time I was a little kid that’s all I cared about and I think that is true of most players today.GM: How do the players compare the majors to the Ryder Cup?
AN: It is a great thrill to represent your country. I was lucky enough to be on the 1985 Ryder Cup Team. We’re the team that lost and started this whole mess! I was the guy that lost the point that cost us the Ryder Cup. So I understand what this is all about. It took me 15 years to get over that, honestly. It really affected me. The Ryder Cup is a big event. It is a great honor to be on the Ryder Cup, it’s a great thrill, but would you rather be on a Ryder Cup team or win the U.S. Open? Not even close. I mean would you rather be married to Tiger’s wife or Roseanne Barr? The Ryder Cup is great but it’s not like winning your national championship.GM: What do you think about the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup ?
AN: For the top American players, it’s hard to do events like that every year. The Ryder Cup every two years is special, now they added the Presidents Cup in that one year in-between, so guys like Tiger and Phil and Furyk have to do that every single year. It’s a big commitment on their part and it’s a tough, physical, emotional week. It is great to represent your country, but it is a tough week and the Tour keeps coming up with all these things that they expect the top players to play in. There is going to come a time when the players are going to say enough and not do all these events any more. We saw a little bit of that out of Phil when he won at the Deutsche Bank in Boston and said he was not going to play the next week, which is OK. A guy doesn’t want to play, he does not have to play. They are independent contractors, and they make enough money to do whatever they want to do. That is the beauty of our business—you make what you earn. Yet, you still feel like you want to support the Tour and that’s good.GM: When Sergio first came to the Tour he captured everyone’s imagination, but he never met the expectations. What do you think of his progress?
AN: Let’s not throw him under the bus yet, because he’s only 27 years old. There are a lot of guys that don’t come into their own until their 30s. Sergio’s a great talent. He is a bit emotional and runs a little hot at times. I thought at the British Open this year was the best I have ever seen him play and the best I have ever seen him control his emotions. I think that hopefully he learned something that week—the fact that he was able to control himself will allow him to become a better player.GM: What do you think about Gary Player’s comment about steroids?
AN: It just happened that Gary had a book coming out that week. I think what he said is absolutely asinine. If there are some guys taking steroids and you are going to pop off and start talking about “a player told me that he is taking them,” you can’t throw everybody else under the bus because this one guy is taking them. Gary says a lot of stuff that we just don’t pay any attention to. The fact is we are going to start testing, which I think is great. I don’t think we have any problems. If they don’t test for Advil, everyone should be fine. I do not think steroids are an issue. There is one drug that I think could be an issue and that is beta-blockers. These slow you down, slow down your heart rate, slow your blood flow, and lower your blood pressure. It just happened that Nick Price was a really good player and then he went in and had some heart issues and the doctor put him on beta-blockers and he turned into the best player in the world for the next three or four years. There are lots of people that say there are already guys taking beta-blockers, so maybe that is someplace to start.GM: What is your take on John Daly?
AN: Oh my, poor John. Talent-wise, John is in the top five players on tour. Incredible talent and he has a big heart. John is a great guy, he just has more demons inside that body than any human being ever should. Every issue he has, from alcoholism to gambling to driving too fast to abusing wives—the guy is a total mess. But he is also the kind of guy that if your car broke down 100 miles from his home, he would be there in an hour. He might drive 140 mph to get there, but he would help you out. He would have a case of beer and it would be a great ride back. But John is the kind of guy that if he had gotten some real help early on, he could have been the best we had ever had on tour. There are the times he can also be the worst for our business. People absolutely love him. He is truly the second biggest draw to Tiger. If he is playing well, he is a bigger draw than Mickelson. When he and Tiger played together and they had a chance to win the American Express out in San Francisco two years ago, we were out there doing that event. It was unbelievable. There might have been more people pulling for Daly than Tiger. When he does get going, he is scary good. Unfortunately, it might be a year and a half between good tournaments. He is an interesting character.GM: Do you think that Mickelson will really be helped by Butch Harmon?
AN: What Phil did at the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in the Open is the damnedest thing I have ever seen in golf. I almost jumped out of the booth to pull his driver out of the bag. He could have won that tournament 75 different ways and not one would include the driver. He could have hit 3-iron, 5-iron, and two putts to win the U.S. Open, but Phil just can’t do that. Phil gets caught up in having to look good and be cool doing it. He didn’t have to hit the best tee shot, but he tried and that is his demon. I think Butch is going to help him. Phil has sunk to such a low that he has to listen. He went to Butch 10 years ago and Butch told him what he needed to do and Phil’s response was, “I can’t do that,” and walk out of the room. Now he will listen. Butch is a tough guy. He might make Phil a little tougher and make Phil understand what he needs to do. I think the fact that he can tell Phil things about Tiger will help Phil get better.GM: What impact have the changes in equipment had in the past few years?
AN: It’s changed golf completely. You see the difference in how the guys are hitting the ball and how straight the ball goes. Can we go back? No, we can never go back. I think the average players have been helped dramatically with the equipment. I think it’s made a lot of players better whereas I’m not so sure it’s made the top players much more dominant.GM: Do you think it impacted the average player more than the tour player?
AN: No, I think it’s impacted the average tour player probably more than just an average player. I’m not so sure it’s helped the average player all that much because they can’t hit the ball that hard to get the benefit of the new golf ball. I think it’s probably helped the average tour player more than the average player.GM: Thanks for your time, Andy. We look forward to seeing you again next year.