FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, May 5th, 2016
TRANSCRIPT: THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP CONFERENCE CALL WITH JOHNNY MILLER AND MARK ROLFING
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Or good morning on the West Coast. Thank you for joining us today. We are here today to preview THE PLAYERS Championship next week where Golf Channel and NBC will have more than 80 hours of combined news and tournament coverage on-site from TPC Sawgrass.
Joining me on the call today is World Golf Hall-of-Famer Johnny Miller who will serve as lead analyst for NBC’s coverage of THE PLAYERS next week and Golf Channel and NBC analyst Mark Rolfing who will serve as a course reporter for both Golf Channel and NBC’s coverage of THE PLAYERS next week.
As you look ahead to next week, what are some of the story lines that you’re looking at as we go into THE PLAYERS?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, obviously you’ve got to give some respect to Rickie Fowler who had that amazing finish last year, finishing holes 15 through 18 3-3-2-3, which is the greatest finish ever at THE PLAYERS Championship and of course won the three-hole aggregate playoff with a sudden death. You’ve got to look at Rickie, who’s obviously got some great vibes coming back. Got to look pretty much at the same crew, the Stensons and McIlroy and Spieth missed the cut last year, but maybe he can figure out how to play it. All the top guys pretty much, Justin Rose or whatever — Mark, you’ve been there for a while. I don’t know if you’ve got any Kisner-type predictions, who was, of course, in a playoff with Sergio, but Sergio has won here in the past, could have won last year. He’s a good pick.
I think this course, as they say, favors no one, and no two holes play in a row in the same wind direction or the same direction. It just takes no prisoners, so to speak. If your game is not on and you get a little unlucky, you can miss the cut in a heartbeat, so it’s a very difficult course to predict. But you think a precision straight player would be pretty tough, a good ball striker especially. Kaymer won here in the past in 2014; Kuchar was in his sort of heyday in 2012; K.J. Choi, another straight hitter; Tim Clark. Those kind of guys are pretty tough on THE PLAYERS Championship at the Stadium Course.
But there’s no gimmes when you play this tournament. You really have to have your A game and use your head, and actually play pretty conservatively on half the holes.
You know, this course is full of birdie holes, about nine birdie holes, but there’s nine other holes you’ve got to be real careful about.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I’m with Johnny. It’s kind of interesting, when you look at the Stadium Course, it’s overshadowed in a lot of ways by so much emphasis being on the 17th hole. It’s got some really good golf holes. In fact, I’ve heard Johnny say a number of times that No. 11 is one of his favorite par-5s in the world, and I totally agree.
It’s very much a navigator’s-type course. You’re not going to overpower the Stadium Course. It’s a lot of holes like you might as well have water hazards down both sides because you have to play it like you’re navigating down a canal in a canoe.
Pete Dye typically loves to alarm you by showing you what would appear to be danger on one side of the hole, and in fact he wants you to go the other way because there’s way more trouble over there.
I love the course. It’s all about angles, and as Johnny said, it doesn’t feature any player. I really like where THE PLAYERS is sitting this year in the schedule, because as everybody knows, it’s going to be a very crammed major championship schedule in the summer, and then you’ve got the Olympics, of course, and the FedExCup Playoffs and then the Ryder Cup. So I think THE PLAYERS is really going to stand out because it’s coming early this year.
You also have some great stories and great anticipation as to how is Spieth going to recover from the Masters; what is the McIlroy situation. We’ll get a little bit of a sense maybe this week in Charlotte, but you’ve got all these big players. Jason Day, what is he going to do. So there’s a lot of great stories, and I’m really looking hard at the Garcia one. I was with his group last year. It was a painful Sunday because it was a very difficult atmosphere for him out there. There was a lot of heckling going on, yet he persevered, nearly won, could have won. He was second last year, third the year before. This could be the year Garcia wins it again.
Q. How would you guys assess Rickie Fowler’s play coming into this tournament? He seemed around the Phoenix event after Dubai to really maybe be moving toward playing as well as anyone out there and really hasn’t done much since then.
MARK ROLFING: Well, Rickie is starting to be aware a little bit about making big mistakes in situations where he shouldn’t be making them, including, I think, hitting that driver at the 17th hole in Phoenix where there was nothing good that could happen with that club off the tee. For a while there, he toned it down. His reputation has always been he’s got a double bogey or triple bogey somewhere in his game, and he eliminated that and started playing better, and the question is now can Rickie find that sort of thought process again where he isn’t making some mistakes. If he can, he definitely could win this thing again, because he is putting great right now.
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, last year he was hitting the ball — I don’t know what he had in his driver face, but he was hitting the ball so far. Those drives that he hit on No. 18 that were over 330, I never knew he could hit the ball that far. He just seemed to be in his groove. He’s the kind of player that is a bit of a streak player, and I think that if he can get a good first round — I think a lot of the Stadium Course is hard to come back from a bad first round. It’s a lot like the major championships. If you’re going to win, you’d better have something below 72. You’d better start with 71 or lower, I think, and get in the mix, because otherwise the course will just chew you up and spit you out.
Rickie is obviously a good pick because of what happened last year, but historically you don’t see guys win this tournament and this championship two years in a row. I can tell you that. It hasn’t happened — I can’t even remember how far back, but since 2000 it hasn’t happened.
You know, it’s pretty hard to pick him when you look historically. But he’s a good pick. He’s sort of a people’s favorite, no doubt about it.
Q. On that note, what can Rickie Fowler getting in the big four – all this stuff that’s been talked about – what can that do for the game if he were to legitimately become like a fourth member of that group because of his popularity and the eclectic group he seems to draw to golf?
JOHNNY MILLER: He’s a little like Phil Mickelson, Tony Lema, Arnold Palmer type, where people really root for him. He’s just very likeable. Just the way he plays, he plays quickly. He doesn’t complain. Everything about his mannerisms is positive. Even when he has, like Mark Rolfing is talking about, a double or triple, it seems like, no problem, I’ll get a birdie on the next hole. He’s not like pouting and facial gestures, a little bit even like Spieth who gets down real quick but then he rebounds, but Rickie doesn’t even seem to get down. I think he enjoys the TOUR life and he enjoys the opportunity he has to excel. He’s just really got good vibes about him, and people are attracted to good vibes.
Q. In general terms, the atmosphere during the final round, especially when Rickie went on his run and then afterwards when you had another four or five guys who had one hand on the trophy, so to speak, compared to past events you’ve been in the middle of on Sunday, where did this rank?
JOHNNY MILLER: Obviously the Rickie Fowler finish was out of this world, but go ahead, Mark.
MARK ROLFING: Well, it was one of my favorite PLAYERS ever. I was with the Garcia group, who I literally thought with — when we made the turn, I think he had a two-shot lead maybe at the turn. I remember walking over to the 10th tee thinking, this guy is going to win THE PLAYERS. And even a couple of holes into the back side, into 11 and 12, Rickie was a couple of groups ahead. I don’t remember exactly how far. But then we started hearing these noises up ahead from Rickie’s group, and you just knew what was happening up ahead.
And of course out there there’s so many scoreboards everywhere that that last hour and a half was just electric out there. It was one of my favorite PLAYERS.
And even with the problems Garcia was having with the crowd, to me that added a little bit to the drama. If you think about it, when Garcia holed that putt, that 50-footer at 17, there wasn’t any jumping around or fist pumps. He just kind of turned around and looked at the people behind the lake and at the people on the side of the lake, and it was sort of an in-your-face reaction, which was a typical Garcia, and there was just a lot of elements of drama that day. That was one of my favorites.
JOHNNY MILLER: I mean, it’s not too often that a guy finishes 5-under the last four holes like Rickie finished, which is incredible, and then we got introduced to Kisner, who ended up being the real thing, not just sort of a one-time wonder, and Sergio is always fun to pull for or see if he was going to fall apart and lose a close one again. I don’t know, just all in all, I would put that one — without having the top, top marquee, everybody was looking towards the Spieth-McIlroy match-up and possibly a Phil Mickelson or that kind of thing, they were hoping for probably that type of Sunday finish, but as it turned out, I think Rickie, that win was — that changed his whole — remember Rickie Fowler, everybody was saying he was overrated. I think there was a poll, wasn’t there, Mark, that said he was the most overrated player on TOUR?
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, that came out on Tuesday of tournament week or right before or sometime.
JOHNNY MILLER: And then he made the comment when he won, well, this is a pretty big one, I guess. He was sort of mocking — I think it was important for Rickie, because like I said, Rickie has a tendency to have this thing, all is well, all is well. I think he needed to lengthen his stride a little bit and needed to maybe push it a little bit more and expect a little bit more. You know, he’s young and he’s unmarried and everything is going his way money-wise and glamour and enjoying the whole circus, so to speak, and he needed to realize you need to win, not only tournaments but you need to win championships. So I think that that poll actually was a blessing. That was part of the run of the event was because of that poll on Tuesday made it like a perfect setup. It was like something you see in Hollywood, so it was great for us.
Q. Johnny, as a commentator you have to make very quick reactions, but given the time, how would you describe what happened to Jordan Spieth on the 12th hole at the Masters?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, you know, I probably did what half the viewers did. After the
9th hole, all those birdies finishing up the front nine, I was thinking, well, I think I might take a walk up the mountain a few miles away from my house, and it’s over, and then I’ll watch the last three or four holes, and then — so I figured he was going to win by five or eight shots the way he was going.
Then when he bogeyed 10 and 11, it’s like, well, I’d better not go for a walk yet. And then when he hit it in the water at 12, it was like, you’ve got the lead, and he still had a three-shot lead or something at that point. I mean, to aim — I guess he pushed it but he must have been aiming reasonably aggressively to hit it that far right, and must not have hit it totally flush. That one was inexcusable, and then the third shot that he hit with the wedge, he’s never hit a shot that fat with a perfect lie at Augusta probably in his life. He didn’t just hit it a little fat, it barely got to the creek. Then what did he say to his caddie? I think we might be falling apart basically is what it amounted to. That one is going to haunt him for a long time.
I shanked one against Jack Nicklaus at the Bing Crosby on 16 on Sunday, and I’ve never won a tournament since then that I didn’t — and there have been 30-something tournaments I’ve won. I never have not had the thing come into my being on the back nine on Sunday; you’re not going to shank it like you did back in ’72, are you? So, I mean, you can imagine what he’s going to have to overcome every time he gets a chance to win. He’s going to be thinking with the lead on the back nine, I hope I don’t fall apart like I did at Augusta.
It’s significant. Not that he can’t overcome that, but he’s going to have to go through that thought that will haunt him for a long time.
It was an amazing meltdown. It really was. Mark, you probably were like, you’ve got to be kidding me, you know?
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, you know, I really didn’t have a huge problem with the tee shot he hit at 12, but I remember watching him walk over to that area where he ended up dropping and playing his third from, and I was just thinking to myself, what is he doing? Why in the world would he go over there to a place where it’s likely he never has hit a shot from and drop a ball over there which really doesn’t give you, I don’t think, any better angle at that right hole location. It’s like sitting on a little volcano. I think he would have been so much better off just putting the ball on the tee again at the 12th tee and playing the shot over the bunker like he did the first time.
I just wondered — it seemed to me he kind of lost track of what he was doing.
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, he was trying to get back where he could hit a spinning wedge shot instead of a pitch shot if you dropped it near the water where you’d have to get the first big hop and then another hop and then bite. He was trying the aggressive route, to throw a high one in there with spin from a spinning distance.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I felt if he re-teed it and thought I’m going to make a 5, I’m not going to try and get it close, I’m going to make a 5 and I will win the Masters.
JOHNNY MILLER: Talking to Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial lunch, he said, you could not be aiming at that flag when it’s right. It’s absolutely crazy to think you’d even think about that. You aim at the left edge of the middle of the green over that left edge of that bunker, and if you push it, fine, you’re a hero, you’re stiff, but you don’t even think about going near that flag.
But sometimes guys when they’re after two bogeys, maybe it’s a thought, well, I’m going to birdie this hole, instead of he should never have been thinking birdie. I’m not sure what he was thinking, but he has a tendency with that bent left elbow to come down with that face open. He’s been doing it quite a bit this year, and he really did it there, there’s no doubt about that. So that was an amazing miss in the water and an amazing fat shot in the water again, and after that, I thought, wow, who knows who’s going to win now.
Q. For both of you, this will be his first appearance since then. What will you be looking for from him?
JOHNNY MILLER: He missed the cut last year, and he had that tremendous start last year. And of course he had won the Masters. I’m not sure, like Phil, I think he feels a little bit like Phil – looking back on his win in 2007, Phil I think said in the last year, I can’t believe I actually won this championship because the course does not suit
Phil’s mentality, except for in 2007. I don’t know why he doesn’t think — remember, he was hitting those little chip cuts out there off the tee and keeping it under control, and it’s like, Phil, why don’t you just go back to that shot. You’ve got to change your thinking at THE PLAYERS a little bit off the tee if you’re a wild driver of the ball.
I don’t know, that’s my feelings on it. I don’t know what you think, Mark.
MARK ROLFING: I’ll be looking forward to the first hour because Johnny’s point on Thursday for Jordan, because Johnny’s point about it being difficult to come back at the Stadium Course is a really good one, and I’ll tell you, that first hole is one of the sleeper opening holes in golf. There are more bogeys made there by key players at the wrong time, and as Johnny said, if Jordan gets off to a bad start, that’s going to be an indicator. It’s so hard to come back on that course, but if you play those three first holes say in one or two over par, you’re in trouble already.
JOHNNY MILLER: I’m looking forward to seeing, Mark, if he and his teacher, if they addressed that bent left arm. It seems like it was more bent at impact and after impact than last year, and it’ll be interesting to see if we see a little swing change to eliminate that shot to the right. Could be he’ll have it all straightened out and his putting will be better.
He’s off. Most of the year after the win at Kapalua, the great win there, I don’t know what happened, but he hasn’t done too well since then.
Q. Four months into the calendar season, what are your biggest surprises about the season so far and what are the biggest disappointments, for both of you?
MARK ROLFING: Jim Herman is the biggest surprise of the season by far, I think. He’s hit a couple of the greatest drives I’ve ever seen in all my years. I think that 18th hole where he hit it in Houston there after about a 12-minute wait on the tee, to hit his longest drive of the week there right down the middle, that was just an incredible performance. I had seen Adam Scott play in a couple of tournaments, just some really great stuff throughout the Florida Swing, but that performance by Herman to me was the best performance of the year I’ve seen.
JOHNNY MILLER: Maybe looking on the slightly negative is you look at the last 10 or so winners of THE PLAYERS Championship and Rickie and Kaymer and Tiger, Kuchar, Choi, Clark, Stenson, Sergio, Mickelson, Ames, Funk, Love, all those guys, nobody has done anything. Nobody has won. A lot of the guys, the top guys have not won, and of course it’s — I don’t know if it’s a big surprise, but I think Rory also is a bit of a surprise in that as good as he is, he just hasn’t shown too much. He just hasn’t quite done it. He hasn’t really — Jason Day really is the best player in the world right now I think without a doubt, and when he’s on, he sort of can separate himself the way McIlroy used to.
But it’s interesting to see the different players and how they — it’s hard to back up a year or two of hot play. It really is. It’ll be interesting to see what Day does. But yeah, there’s been surprises, but there’s a lot of good players that are moving into the mix. There’s no doubt about that.
Imagine our next three tournaments, championships, and we’ve got THE PLAYERS Championship, then the Open, the British Open, and then we’ve got the Olympics. I don’t think getting that work has ever had three tournaments of that magnitude in a row. I don’t know what you think, Mark, but that’s a crazy schedule coming up for NBC golf.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I think it’s going to be an epic summer, and it’s going to be really interesting. The one thing that I’m starting to really focus on is I’m kind of getting tired of this talk about the big three and is there a big four with Rickie. I mean, you’ve got to include Bubba Watson in conversations amongst the best players in the world. You’ve got to include Dustin Johnson. I don’t think there will ever be a big three again. If you take a look at this PLAYERS, there’s 30 guys that can win.
Q. One follow on Rory; what do you guys think about Rory? I was struck by how kind of subdued he was at the Masters just in talking to us, and he just seemed a little bit off or a little bit different. What do you guys think about what you’ve seen from him so far?
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I think he wants to win the Masters too much. He’s got to somehow change his mentality a little. He wants to win it so badly that I think he’s really almost trying too hard in his mind.
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, it’s interesting, when you’re trying to win something so badly, a major, you try all different kinds of techniques, showing up early, playing a lot of practice rounds, not playing too many practice rounds, being very open and excited to the press about your prospects, or going super low-key. I tried it all at Augusta, and it looked like to me that — first of all, Rory is a lot like I was in that I don’t think he jumps up and down with all the adulation and all that goes with being No. 1 or whatever position he’s in. I think he likes to — he would like to just have a good time, and he’s very friendly, but he’s not really driven like a lot of players. He just isn’t.
His talent was so good that he would get the results, but it’s not like he was do-or-die like Spieth and Phil Mickelson and Tiger, every shot, so much. It seemed like to me that Rory does it more with, again, sort of like myself, with quite a bit of natural talent and that ability to separate yourself but not necessarily love close finishes.
He’s a different kind of player. That’s all there is to it. Just sort of a friendly superstar, so to speak.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, and he just simply — the thing with Rory is if you take a look at Spieth, Day and Fowler, they are significantly better players, I believe, than Rory McIlroy. Rory is a better than average putter, but he certainly is not nearly in the category of those other three players, so his ball-striking has to be so on because he really can’t make it up as much on the greens as those other guys do.
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, another similarity to me.
Q. I believe the 12th hole is going to be renovated after this year’s tournament, and I’m wondering what your feelings are on that, if it is time to make it something a little more dramatic with water and all that, or if you’re against the change.
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, aren’t they going to renovate — I don’t know how much of the course, after the championship, isn’t it, and finish it up by mid-November? Is that true, Mark? Have you heard that?
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I don’t know the exact time frame, but the most significant change and the one Geoff is talking about is at 12.
JOHNNY MILLER: I mean, 12, it would be a great drivable par-4. Right now it’s blind, and so you just lay it up and it’s really just a very — it’s a fairly — I can’t say tough lay-up, but it’s really just a birdie hole. They’ve taken all those humps and bumps and the penal bunker short of the green keeps guys from going for it, so I think it would be great if you could see the green and you could fit it through a narrow opening with trouble left and right, whatever they want to put short of the green, and tempt the guys to give it a shot.
But we’ll see what Pete Dye ends up coming up with. But I think the fact that it’s blind really eliminates guys trying to be more aggressive. Occasionally you’ll see a guy try to blow it down there into the bunker short of the green, but yeah, they could make that hole much more exciting, no doubt about it, if it was possibly drivable.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, Geoff, you are so avid about architecture, you’ll understand this as well as anyone. I don’t really think it’s going to matter as much what they put between the tee and the green on 12 as to what the shape of the green actually ends up being, because THE PLAYERS Stadium Course is all about angles, and there are holes, particularly a hole like No. 2, where if you’re hole high on either the right or left you have no shot at No. 2. You have to play into that green from in front of the green.
And I think it’ll be the same thing with 12 if they create tough angles. I don’t think players will stand back there and try and hit it hole high right of the green, let’s say, if the green is too difficult.
So I’m hoping that they can put all kinds of trouble between the green and the teeing area, but they’ve got to make that green receptive from angles that are going to cause the guys to want to take a chance. If there’s no way you can get it close pin high right of that 12th green because there’s water on the left, then guys aren’t going to hit driver.
Q. I just wanted to revisit what Johnny mentioned about the course being precision for a straight player and also a good ball striker kind of course, and Mark, you mentioned it’s a navigator’s type of course. When you look at a player like Zach Johnson who’s got seven top 25s in 11 starts, how does he match up to Sawgrass in your opinion, and lastly, who’s a dark horse we should keep an eye out for?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, the golf course is set up where there’s sort of equal doglegs right and left, and like Mark said, the angles — I don’t know if it sets up great for a 10-, 15-yard draw that he hits. Some of those holes that just — like a good example is 16. Good on the tee shot, but that second shot, you’ve got to fling that over the water hoping it’s going to draw back, I just don’t think a lot of those holes — he really is a one-shot amazing wonder, but possibly even a Hall of Famer with little more to his — if he wins a few more good ones.
But I don’t know, you’d think he would be — he still can manage his ball around there, but I don’t know what his feelings are about the course. You have to know that some guys just do not like that course. They won’t tell you that, but I remember playing with Trevino, and he just hated that golf course, and I don’t think Tiger ever liked the course, even though he could win everywhere down Highway 80, but it wasn’t his kind of course. Same with Phil. Of course he did win, but it’s not his kind of course.
A lot of guys love the championship, the way you’re treated, amazing purse, biggest purse in golf. Just the whole scenario, they love all that, but the course is not their best friend, and I think Dye loves that, doesn’t he, Mark?
MARK ROLFING: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. If I look at the makeup, a prototype player for THE PLAYERS, the first guy that might come to mind might be Justin Rose, who isn’t a guy that’s going to try and overpower the course, but a good player, a good thinker. I like that kind of player out there.
Now, having said that, Mickelson won it, and Rickie Fowler won it last year, but to me it is more of a navigator’s kind of course, like I said, and I think Zach would be perfect. A Jim Furyk, he’s not — he’s only now just coming back from his injury, but in his prime, I would have thought that would be a really good place for Furyk.
JOHNNY MILLER: I think he just wanted to win it too badly living there.
MARK ROLFING: I think you’re right.
JOHNNY MILLER: Even though McCumber pulled it off and Funk pulled it off. Yeah, I just don’t think it’s — I don’t think anybody goes to that course and says, this is my course, man; I’ve got this baby pegged. It just doesn’t seem to be the case.
Q. Is there a dark horse we should keep an eye out for?
MARK ROLFING: Kevin Na, if you consider him a dark horse.
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, remember we were showing him with all the back-aways a few years ago? Yeah, you might want to go back to like a Georgia boy like Kuchar who hasn’t played that great, but he’s a fast winner in 2012, that kind of a player, and I think Stenson — of course he’s not a dark horse, but he’s due to win. Man, how many seconds does he have, six or seven or something since his last win? Some crazy figure.
MARK ROLFING: I’ll give you another Georgia boy, too, Chris Kirk. How about that?
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, I’d really go with a southern boy, somebody that’s out that way. Not too many Californians have won THE PLAYERS.
Q. Jason Day being No. 1 this season, what do you think his chances are going into THE PLAYERS Championship?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, he’s the best player. I think when he’s on right now — he was where McIlroy was where he can win by several strokes. Mark was saying, he not only hits the ball totally pure and high and long, but his short game, those years he was finishing second in the majors without really winning, he couldn’t even hit a green in regulation, but he just kept getting everything up and in, and he’s such a great putter. He’s in the same realm as Tiger and Phil. When he’s off, he still can score pretty well.
I think that Jason is a really good pick if he just dials down off the tee a little bit and gets the ball in play. I don’t know what you’re thinking, Mark.
MARK ROLFING: He is. He’s the favorite. I think he’s got the best short game in the world right now. We had him on the set from the Arnold Palmer Invitational after he won there, and Brandel was rattling off stats about how he’s improved every single aspect of his game, his driving, his iron game, but the one that really stood out to me was the scrambling. He was a great scrambler going into this last off-season, but when he took his three and a half months off, he worked really hard coming back on his scrambling, and he’s got the best short game in the world right now.
Q. Tiger, obviously there’s been a lot of speculation on the competition. I’m just wondering if you guys would be surprised if it’s next week, and what do you think is the best approach for Tiger’s return and your expectations of him?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, I surely wouldn’t think that his best championship back would be THE PLAYERS because that course is just so hard for him. It doesn’t really match his ability to hit fairways too much. But the bottom line is he can come back anywhere he wants to, but I really think he needs to start coming back — if I gave him any advice, when he comes back, he should say I’ve been working really hard on my golf and it feels good in practice, but I really can’t tell what I’m going to do when I tee it up. I hope to just make some cuts and build from there and see if I can get my game inching back to where it used to be, instead of, I came here to win. I really think that that puts too much expectation on him. If he could just go the other direction, which is not in his makeup, by the way, but it would be good just to say he makes the cut, tries to do well on the weekend, and like I said, build and get your confidence back, because going that other route sounds heroic, but it’s just so much pressure.
The eyes on him are there every possible minute, and it’s just so hard being Tiger Woods. It was not that hard being Tiger Woods when you’re at the top of your game and you’re winning everything and you’re outdriving everybody and outplaying and out-chipping and out-putting and gutting it out in the finish and making the pressure putts, that was probably fun to be Tiger then, but it surely isn’t fun at this stage coming back because it’s just too much pressure.
I think that for Tiger, I would think that the Open Championship, the British Open might be good because you can play it so many different ways, and that kind of a course where it’s a little more wide open, I don’t know if you feel, Mark –
MARK ROLFING: I was going to say Open Championship. That’s a perfect place. I don’t think THE PLAYERS is the right place, and I’m not sure Oakmont is the right place, either. But I don’t have enough information to give him any kind of advice, but I would think the Open Championship might be a really good place for him to start.
JOHNNY MILLER: You know, in the back of his mind, he’s thinking, I might really embarrass myself. I know that thought never went through his mind, but the chipping yips he got earlier, I mean, if you would have asked me who in the world will never get the chipping yips, I’d say, well, I’ll talk about two players, it would be Phil Mickelson and
Tiger Woods will never get the chipping yips. I mean, he’s starting to do things under – in tournament play that you would have never guessed he’s going to do, and those things haunt you. When you get the chipping yips it’s sort of like always in the back of your mind, oh, I hope I don’t skull it or chunk it.
There’s a lot going on in his head, and he’s so darned smart that he never forgets all the great things he does, but conversely, he never forgets all the things he does poorly. So where a lot of guys, they don’t hardly remember what they ate for breakfast two hours earlier, it’s hard when you’re really smart and you remember all the tire blowouts and things, and he does do that. He can’t get them out of his head.
Like I said, he needs to drop his expectations and just get back on TOUR and in the groove and start building and see if he can – like he’s almost like he’s 16, 17 years old again. He’s got to almost like say, okay, I’ve got a new career. This is a new career. He’s starting a new career. There’s no doubt about it.
Q. Last year’s PLAYERS, was it refreshing in a way to see the tournament besotted more by good shots rather than disasters at 17? The five guys who had a chance to win made eight birdies in the last three holes. Martin was the only guy that made a bogey of any of those guys on those last three holes, and there were no bogeys during the four playoff holes. Was it fun to see somebody win because of what good happened down the stretch rather than anybody blowing up?
MARK ROLFING: I think absolutely. To me, I love the three-hole aggregate playoff, and I think those three finishing holes are really three of the best as a group in the entire game. I love having a par-5 like 16, and as hard as 18 is, to see those guys hit the drives that they did, particularly Rickie, but yeah, it’s a whole lot more fun when guys are hitting good shots to win as opposed to train wrecks.
JOHNNY MILLER: Yeah, Rickie played that 17th hole six times and he was 5-under par if I remember right. I mean, he just took it to that hole. That’s all there is to it. Of course that finish we talked about earlier, 5-under the last four holes in regulation, was the best finish in history, regardless of whether you were winning or in a playoff, just counting everybody that’s played it.
Kisner came back after sort of a lull and Sergio made his run after messing up a little bit early in the back nine.
There was a lot of good — you want a good and bad, so to speak. You want more good than bad, but that’s the thing that the back nine at Augusta does, also the back nine at THE PLAYERS Championship. There are actually a lot of birdie holes if you drive the ball well. I mean, really, 10, 11 and 12 are birdie holes, and then 13, 14 and 15 let’s say not, but then 16 is definitely a birdie hole, 17 you hit a good shot, it’s a possible birdie hole. And then there are bogey holes. Like I said, 18 is a bogey hole, and there’s a lot of — there’s a lot of this and that, but there’s not a lot of boring in-betweens, which is the mark of a great championship course, and that’s what THE PLAYERS course has with all the tweaks they’ve done. They’ve ended up having that situation and scenario, which makes it very exciting for the viewer.
Q. And as a follow to Mark, if Sergio had won that tournament, from then to now, would we be talking about that putt on 17 a little bit more? Did that putt he made in regulation get overshadowed a little bit?
MARK ROLFING: Well, yeah. Tiger made that putt on a Saturday, and it’s one of the most famous putts in golf, the “better than most” putt, and that was only in the third round. Sergio’s putt, if you really look at it and dissect it, it was a big double breaker, it was just as hard a putt as Tiger, and that would have been — had he won, would have gone down as one of the greatest putts in championship history, but I don’t even think most people remember it anymore.
Q. And your previous thought about Sergio and the heckling, I did ask him whether that look back up in the crowd was a little bit of a message, and he said, “Just a little bit.”
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, Sergio has got this love-hate relationship with the fans, and that was a tough afternoon. There’s no question about it. But when you watched him, he gave it that look both directions, and then he gave it a little mini-fist pump, but it was definitely an attitudinal in-your-face sort of reaction.
JOHNNY MILLER: I mean, golf is that way that you can be a Kisner and 90 percent of the golf viewers will remember Rickie winning forever almost, and they’ll maybe remember a little teeny bit of Sergio, but they’re only going to really remember Rickie. If Sergio would have gone on to win, then you would have really remembered that putt, but the fact that he didn’t go on to win and actually dropped out of the playoff after three holes, actually that was an aggregate playoff, and then the sudden death with Kisner and Rickie. He dropped out a little early in that, too.
Yeah, it was a great putt, no doubt about it. Like Mark said, double breaker, moved left most of the way, which is hard to believe it would break toward the back of the green, and then down the hill moving back a little toward the right, so what a wonderful putt. Most guys would three-putt that, let alone ever make it.
Q. You said you had an early shank against Jack that you thought about the rest of your career. Is there anything that you were able to do, any mental exercises or anything, that helped you get around that, or like you said, it just was something that was always there?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, I did address it because I used to use these little Tourney Custom MacGregor irons that were like so short from heel to toe, and the sweet spot was right near the hosel is the way they were designed, and after that shank, I found an old set my dad had from World War II, believe it or not, 915T Stainless Tommy Armours. They were much longer from heel to toe, and then I went down to the Orlimar factory and reground the top one and the bottoms and added lead, took the hosel down about an inch and a half, and that was the start of my run was those old magical 30-year-old-plus irons. But I had addressed that shank because now the sweet spot was quite a ways away from the hosel, and it freaked me out so bad. I mean, like I said, I still had the haunting on the back nine of every tournament I ever won, and I was good with the lead on Sunday. I won 74 percent, which was higher than Nicklaus, who was third best – second best. I was No. 1, even with a crappy putter, until Tiger. But I did have to address that, and people have to address am I going to totally lay the sod over it on the back nine in a big championship like I did at Augusta this year. All those things — that’s why golf is such an amazing game because you have time to have all these good thoughts and hauntings.
Like when I would get that thought about the shank, I would say, no, I never even hit it near the hosel now with these irons with the bigger blades; there’s no way I can shank it. So you have to trump the bad thought.
In fact, over the last hole of that — when I was a grandpa in ’94, over that two-and-a-half-foot putt, and the nice little voice says to me, boy, it’s going to be really embarrassing when you miss this putt.
So you can imagine having that thought right before I take the putter back, and then I had to say, no, I haven’t missed a short putt all week. You have to trump it. You can’t just take it back after that first thought, that’s for sure. There’s a real knack to winning and closing the deal, and a lot of guys never do — they’re just not made up to be closers, and even to deal with the bad thoughts that come, they’re just not able to deal with it. So there’s a real trick to being really good under the gun and knowing, like Clint Eastwood said, a man has got to know his limitations. You need to have a thorough understanding of who you are and how — like I used to hit the ball shorter under pressure with my irons on purpose. I would just guide it with the face dead square at impact and slow everything down, but I knew that was a very effective technique. A lot of guys, they don’t really know what to do. They just basically win by accident.