FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
TRANSCRIPT: NBC SPORTS ANALYSTS PREVIEW SIX-WEEK STRETCH LEADING UP TO THE MASTERS
Below is the transcript from today’s media conference call with NBC Sports and Golf Channel analysts Peter Jacobsen, Justin Leonard and Frank Nobilo, previewing the six-week run of PGA TOUR events on Golf Channel and NBC leading up to the Masters, beginning with The Honda Classic on Thursday, Feb. 23.
The call also was recorded, and is available for replay via the following access:
Telephone #: 800–475-6701
Access Code: 418804
NBC Sports Group Media Conference Call
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
PETER JACOBSEN: I guess I’ll start, being the old guy. Well, first of all, Dustin Johnson, I think we all knew last year, I remember working with Frank Nobilo at the Hyundai at Kapalua. We were talking about what to look forward to, and I remember saying that we all thought that Dustin Johnson was going to win a major in ’16, and he did just that at the U.S. Open, and I think we’re seeing the talent of Dustin Johnson start to emerge. It almost seems like he’s in contention every week.
Obviously our eyes are now on world No. 1, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Jordan Spieth. Jordan Spieth is really starting to round into form, and I know Rory is injured, and Rory is dealing with a rib injury, and we all know, as players who have been injured in the game, it’s tough when you’re trying to fight back through rehab and get back to that No. 1 position. But I think if there’s anybody that can do it, it’s Rory McIlroy. He’s got so much talent and he’s got so much drive.
There’s so many story lines, and I think probably the other one would be the young players, so many great young players on the world stage; Justin Thomas, who won the first two tournaments of this calendar year in 2017; Hideki Matsuyama. Just so much young talent emerging around the world that I’m going to keep my eye on.
JUSTIN LEONARD: I mean, Peter, I think, just summarized these next six weeks. Just so fun to watch the youth, and nice to not be competing against them now being more in an analyst’s role. Just so interested to see how these young players handle situations that they’ve never experienced before, to see how they handle the heat of battle against each other, against, you know, the likes of Phil Mickelson as he seems to be getting healthier and healthier.
I think it’ll be interesting to watch — it seems to me like these young kids are inspiring one another. They’re feeding off each other. I think a lot of the reason Jordan played so well at Pebble Beach is watching his good friend Justin Thomas play so well those first two weeks of the season. And seeing how these guys are — there’s no real rivalries as far as personality-wise. I think these guys are just inspiring each other, they’re feeding off each other, and it’ll be interesting to see how they prepare and how they handle the pressure leading into Augusta National over these next few weeks.
FRANK NOBILO: Just to add to that, the top six in the World Rankings is very compelling. They have separated themselves from the rest of golf, and I think what Peter alluded to, Rory’s comeback, that makes that even that much more compelling. We won’t see him until Mexico. But you know he’s just chomping at the bit.
A lot of people are always confused with the wraparound season, but once we start to get into the West Coast Swing and the Florida Swing, everybody, whether they’re sort of casually involved in golf or hardcore, they get the gist of what’s going on and they get the gist of, to Justin’s point, how well Justin Thomas is playing and the other people, Tony Finau slipping through, you saw Thomas Pieters last week, so they start to get an idea of the collision that we’ll get through the course of 2017.
Plus the new venue, Mexico City. Ideally I think it probably would have been better if it was just on the back of Riviera because I think that probably does affect the Florida Swing a little bit, logistically flying from California to Jupiter, West Palm, and then having to go back to Mexico and adjust for altitude because I doubt very many of the field would have played at that sort of altitude. It’s akin to flying in a plane.
And just a little bit of synergy, I guess. I was covering Golf Central last week with Dustin Johnson, just added in, and Fred Couples won Riviera 25 years ago to get to No. 1 and went on to win Augusta, and that’s pretty much what Dustin Johnson has just done.
He’s going to be tough to beat.
Q. It’s obviously going to be an emotional Bay Hill without Arnold Palmer there. I’m wondering if each of you can maybe share a personal memory of Arnold Palmer, an interaction, a note you received from him, some encouragement along your career or something like that.
PETER JACOBSEN: I’ll start again. I did a lot of things with Arnold, had a chance to compete with him a lot in best ball events and exhibition events, as we all did, and it is going to be a sad week, but it’s also going to be a fun week. I know that being involved in the tournament at the Bay Hill Arnold Palmer Invitational, if Arnold were still here, Arnold would want everyone to have a good time. He would want everyone to be enjoying the game of golf, the love of the game, and he’d also like to — I think he’d also like us to remember the lessons that he passed along to us, and that’s really the key is keeping his legacy and his lessons alive.
I know they’re starting a foundation, the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation, in his name, but I do remember one great story, one great time. It was Arnold’s last Arnold Palmer Invitational, and I actually played with him the first two rounds. Jay Haas and I played with Arnold, and he missed the cut, but he got a great standing ovation on every hole. I made the cut, played horribly on Saturday and shot like 78 or 79, so I was out alone, by myself, in a onesome on Sunday morning.
And I don’t know, it’s not much fun to play by yourself in any round of golf, so I asked Arnold if he had a friend or committee member that he wanted me to play with, and he said to me, how about my 13-year-old grandson Sam. I said, let’s do it. So we got out at 7:15 or some crazy time on Sunday morning, walked out on the tee expecting nobody to be there, and there were about 400 people there, and I knew they weren’t there for me, they were there to watch Sam play, and Arnold was right there.
Sam got up and smashed it over the corner, and I think I hit one of my best, and I got it about two inches past him. That was really the first indication that we knew Sam was going to be a really good player, and we saw him leading the Genesis Open last week after the first round.
But Arnold drove his golf cart down the middle of every fairway right behind us, making it kind of a threesome. It was Sam and I playing and Arnold following along, and we were sharing stories and laughing and joking, and Arnold was keeping an eye on his grandson, and we got done, I think Sam shot 74 or 75 that day from the back tees at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, one of the most difficult golf courses we play, with his grandfather watching every shot, and I’ll never forget that because that was really a special time to share with not only Arnold but with his grandson Sam, as well.
FRANK NOBILO: Being with the Golf Channel for 14 years, obviously you’d rub shoulders with him, but I remember Jake was talking about playing on your own. Actually I remember I was meant to be playing with Peter in the ’96 Masters, and Peter pulled out there with a bad back, so I know what it’s like to play on your own.
But I’d played with Arnold the year before, and that’s the first time I’d really got to know with him at Augusta. But I guess once you move into a different sphere, i.e., TV, watching the channel grow and watching how proud he was, and plus living in Orlando, the advantage I have over the other two there, every now and again, my wife and I, we’d go with some friends to Bay Hill because people would want to come and they liked Bay Hill obviously because of Arnold.
And more often than not, Alastair Johnson, Arnold’s good friend and manager over the years, would be there for dinner, and they would always come up and introduce themselves to your friends. So it was – as I’ve said 100 times, Arnold Palmer never met a stranger, and then to top it off, too, he would always come up to the tower at Bay Hill and would always sort of rub my cheeks and say, you’ve got to shave. So I’ll miss that this year.
JUSTIN LEONARD: I won the U.S. Amateur in ’92, and received an invite for the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 1993 to play as an amateur. It was over my spring break. It worked out great with our college schedule. I remember flying to Orlando and checking in on Monday, registering at the golf course, and the head golf professional there came over to me as I was registering and said, “Justin, I have a small request.” I said, yeah, anything. He said, “Well, Mr. Palmer would like to play with you tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m.; would that be okay with you?” And I don’t know that I took a breath between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. I was so excited.
Mr. Palmer and Len Mattiace and I played a practice round at Bay Hill and just spending time with him and hearing him talk about the golf course and how much he wanted Len and I to both play well. It was just an amazing experience, my first professional PGA TOUR event, and played a practice round with Arnold Palmer, something I’ll never forget.
Q. This is a question for Justin, though if Peter or Frank wants to take a stab at it, great. The last two weeks have seen former world No. 1s play with President Trump. This intermingling of the PGA TOUR and the presidency, what do you think it does for the game?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Oh, I think it raises the game to a level and brings attention to it that is very much needed. As we know, rounds have diminished over the last few years, and it’s an expensive game to play. I think seeing the President take time out of what we can only imagine being such a busy schedule and placing importance on golf from a business and social level, and for guys like Rory to take time — obviously he’s been battling an injury, but that’s a call that you don’t turn down.
I think it’s great for the game of golf. It’s great for the TOUR, and I hope the President will continue to reach out and show just what a great game it is as he continues in office.
PETER JACOBSEN: I would just say that — we were just talking about Arnold Palmer. Arnold Palmer spent a lot of his days playing golf with President Eisenhower. We’ve seen everybody from both President Bushes all the way through President Clinton, President Obama, and now President Trump. I think it legitimizes the game. It just goes to show how popular the game is, and I think as Justin said, it’s a lot of fun to be able to have a chance to go out and play with a president, whether he’s a sitting president or a past president. It’s an honor.
Q. Peter, how many presidents have you played with?
PETER JACOBSEN: Oh, my gosh. I played with both President Bushes, President Ford, and I played with Trump before he was President. I played with him – he played in the Bob Hope Desert Classic a few times. I played with him and had a couple other rounds of golf when he was just Donald Trump. Now he’s President Trump. It’s just fun. It’s a great honor to have a chance to be with a president.
I played with Quayle a few times when he was vice president, too. It’s a great honor. It’s hard to get around the Secret Service because I usually spend most of my time hitting my tee shots into the trees, so you’ve got to make sure you avoid the snipers in the trees.
FRANK NOBILO: Just to put a button on it, too, as obviously someone that wasn’t born here, and not to get into the political realm, but conservatives and democrats don’t agree on a lot of things. Maybe they can all agree that golf is still a great game.
Q. Just curious, with the Match Play coming up, how much did you change how you prepped for that event, change equipment? And then secondly, how much do stats and TrackMan data, do you think that’s changing the way players prep for an event like that and other events? And for those of you for whom some of that stuff is kind of new, would you have used it if it was available back in the day, Peter and Frank?
PETER JACOBSEN: Yeah, absolutely. I remember years ago when Ben Hogan was alive and he had his Hogan staff dinner every year. I heard him — I heard this story third hand, but he was talking with a couple of players on the Hogan staff, and he happened to mention to one of the players, he said, do you use video, and the player said, yes, I use video, and Hogan said, man, I would have been really good in my day if I’d had the ability to use video, which is pretty interesting, because I thought Hogan was pretty darned good on his own.
The answer is yes. I think we’re seeing an explosion, obviously, of technology with clubs and balls and shafts and everything, but the analytics that the players are using now to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their game as it relates to each golf course, and I think the story of Brandt Snedeker, as everybody knows that story about how he hired a guy to do some analytics for him to where he could match the perfect golf course for his game, and then that’s when you saw Brandt Snedeker start winning on the West Coast so much and the FedExCup.
I think technology has had a huge impact on the game, but the bottom line still remains, you’ve got to have what it takes, obviously between your ears and in your heart and in your gut, to win, and that is the most — that’s something you can’t teach. That’s something you can’t find in TrackMan. You can develop a perfect swing and perfect ball flight numbers, but the bottom line is you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the hole and win.
FRANK NOBILO: It’s a tough turn on that. I think it’s amazing that launch monitors have been out for nearly a dozen years, and there’s still resistance to them. The last time I checked with FlightScope or TrackMan people, I think it was 390 of the top 400 players in the world either have one or have access to it. So number one, if the best players in the game today are using it, then there’s got to be something right about it and maybe the rest of us should catch up to speed.
With regard to Match Play, no, I don’t think you’ll be changing equipment. You would have seen that more when it was at Tucson. And speaking of Tucson, I remember when I was covering Tucson, you would see guys, because it’s above altitude, have their TrackMan or FlightScope on the range trying to get the distances, whether it be first thing in the morning when it was cold or later in the day when the air was a bit thinner.
You’re going to find that with Mexico this year. Mexico is about 7,500 feet. It’s more than 2,000 feet above Denver, and what you can do with some of these launch monitors, you can literally dial in an altitude, so you can be in West Palm Beach and you can find out exactly how far your clubs would go at 7,500 feet.
That’s essential today, and that’s why we’re seeing — you saw Dustin Johnson make a driver change last week, no hesitation. If they get better numbers off a driver, they know it’s better. And yeah, to Peter’s point, you struggle to get the ball in the hole. You’ve still got to play. But these players have access to a lot of things, whether it’s training — I know there’s also criticism there. They’re athletes. They’re better, they’re faster, quicker, and in a weird way they’re actually more knowledgeable.
I think it’s essential.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Frank brings up a great point, talking about technology and being able to play at altitude. I live at 8,000 feet, and I know that if I played here every day and I didn’t go to sea level, my equipment would look completely different, and I think you will see guys making adjustments at altitude, especially with driver, possibly with the golf ball. The golf ball doesn’t spin as much, doesn’t curve as much.
Guys are going to want to get things dialed in, and through technology like TrackMan, they’re going to be able to do that.
I always — I don’t own my own TrackMan. I know that probably the majority of professionals do. But when I was at a tournament, if I was working with a manufacturer, it’s so much easier to have confidence in making a change with the technology that’s available because you see the numbers there and you can compare it apples to apples, whereas 15 years ago, I always felt I had to give it a couple weeks on a golf course at home and adjust to things, and when you’re able to sit there and see the numbers, the data doesn’t lie.
And I think at times there’s probably too much reliance upon it, but I do think it’s a tool that if you don’t use it properly, you’re at a big disadvantage to the rest of the field.
Q. Peter, I see they’ve got you down as one of the four co-hosts for Bay Hill. I was wondering is that sort of a daunting proposition for you? Those are snowshoe-sized shoes to fill there on the charisma standpoint. I’m wondering, do you know yet what they’re going to have you do, and how did that come together? Did Alastair ask you, or how did that sort of take shape?
PETER JACOBSEN: Well, you’re right. It’s five of us, actually. It’s Curtis Strange, Annika Sorenstam, Graeme McDowell, myself and Tom Ridge, who was Arnold’s best friend, so four pros and then a distinguished dignitary. It all came about, I think, when we were at Arnold’s service and talking with the family, and they’re very concerned about making sure that Arnold’s legacy continues at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. As I said earlier, his life lessons to continue on.
I got a call from Amy Palmer about three weeks ago asking me if I would help with some hosting duties, and of course I jumped at the chance. It’s a great honor, and you’re right, nobody can fill Arnold’s shoes.
Probably not even five of us can fill one of his shoes. I know in talking with Curtis and all of the five of us, we’re going to be spread out trying to touch all the bases that Arnold touched during the Arnold Palmer Invitational. As we all know, Arnold was around the golf course — one of the things he loved to do, he spent time at his office, but probably five or six times during each day, he and Kit would get out in his golf cart and he would drive the golf course saying hello to the fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, and talking to the players, thanking them for being there and waving and things like that. Arnold is irreplaceable. There’s no question about that.
But there are some duties, the pro-am draw party, the pro-am awards party. They have a couple of special kickoff announcements for the Arnie’s Army Charitable Foundation that we’re all going to be involved with, and as I said, it’s a great honor. I’m humbled by the fact that they’ve asked me, and I will be doing everything I can to fill maybe one of the eye laces on his shoes.
Certainly can’t fill his shoes, but it’s going to be a great week. It’s going to be one that hopefully sets the tone for future Arnold Palmer Invitationals.
Q. I think you played there every year you were eligible when you were playing that Tour. I’m kind of interested, I’m sure some other people are, to see what happens with the field given what happened at the Byron Nelson after he passed. Are there any concerns on that front among the Saunders family in terms of the potential dropoff, or is there anything that can be done to try to get these guys to show up and play? Homage to the King was the reason they came before. I wonder if they’ll still keep coming.
PETER JACOBSEN: Well, I would hope so, and that’s the one thing, when you have your name on a PGA TOUR event, you know that the player or that legend has had a huge impact on the game. You go back to the Byron Nelson, obviously Jack Nicklaus at the Memorial Tournament, and Arnold Palmer at the Invitational, and I would hope that the players would recognize the impact that Arnold has had on the game, the positive impact.
We wouldn’t be doing phone calls like this. We wouldn’t have what we have in the game of golf, I don’t think, without Arnold Palmer, and that’s the one thing that I hope the players recognize.
I’ve always been pushing the TOUR — when Finchem was commissioner, I kept pushing Tim to make sure that we put down these great players and their legacies on film because they leave us. We’ve seen that. And that’s the one thing that I know a lot of the kids today, 20-, 25-, 30-year-old players, maybe they never met Arnold, they never watched him play, they don’t really appreciate the impact that he had on the game, but I know that Frank and Justin and I do and a lot of the older players do. So it is my hope that we can continue Arnold Palmer’s legacy through the Arnold Palmer Invitational with strong fields for the next 30 years.
Q. I wanted to ask about, as we get into these six weeks of PGA TOUR events, the stretch coming up, when we look at younger guys, I know, Frank, you touched on Finau and Thomas Pieters and Justin and Peter, you guys talked about Spieth and Justin Thomas, but who are some younger players who are maybe non-household names for the golf audience that we should really kind of keep an eye on as we get into Florida and the lead-up here to the Masters?
PETER JACOBSEN: Well, how about Jon Rahm? We saw him win — I remember watching University of Oregon, my alma mater, win the national championship — Justin, what was the team they beat in the finals? I can’t remember. Was it — oh, you went there, the University of Texas. Was that who they beat?
JUSTIN LEONARD: Yeah, I don’t remember. I wiped that one.
PETER JACOBSEN: Anyway, Jon Rahm was there playing for Arizona State. I was there during the week, and I watched this kid, and there were probably six or eight kids – Aaron Wise, another one who played for the University of Oregon, that have the kind of talent that we’re going to see on the PGA TOUR, and we talk about Thomas Pieters, you mentioned his name. He played for Illinois, won the NCAA individual championship a couple of years ago, and Jordan Spieth when he was at Texas and Justin Thomas at Alabama.
What’s amazing to me is there are so many kids that could burst into that spotlight at any moment. In fact, when I’m watching the Web.com TOUR, it’s incredible to me, I see guys winning out there that I’ve never heard of, and that makes me jump right into my Wikipedia or Google and start learning more and more about these players.
But it’s really hard to know who’s coming next because so much focus and attention is on players like Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm that it’s really hard to be able to identify these players because players today can win as rookies. It wasn’t that way when I first started back in the late ’70s, and I can’t speak for Frank, but it always took four or five years to really get your feet wet before you could win. The kids coming out today, they can win right now.
FRANK NOBILO: I think one of the things that makes it a little bit difficult now to sort of answer that question truthfully is the top six players in the world are about to hit their prime or in their prime. We don’t have like a 40 year old there. All six of those could become world No. 1 again. They’ve still got plenty in the tank. We don’t have someone like riding into the sunset in their career, and then really the next — there’s another wave behind that, and you’ve got to go down again before you start to get to players like Phil.
So I think Pete is right. Jon Rahm, that’s why we look at players like that, it might have been a Bryson DeChambeau, who seems to stall a bit. The reason I threw out Thomas Pieters, he’s not even a member yet.
But we all know, and Justin, I think, can speak very well about it because he’s already talked about that on TV, about the length factor with some of these younger guys, and the fact that you have to have that extra gear now, the way in which courses are set up, plus with some of the technology that we alluded to. If you get a long hitter with a half decent golf swing, they putt on perfect greens every single week, you’ve got to have that extra gear in the bag.
You’ve got to start going outside the top 100 players in the world, and then you’re looking at very inexperienced players. I think right now, we have a bunch of players that you’re probably going to see certainly for another five years at the top of the game.
JUSTIN LEONARD: I served as lead analyst on Golf Channel coverage of Sanderson Farms back in the fall, and there were a lot of rookies that played that week. Being able to talk about players with Jim Gallagher, Jr., who covered a lot of Web.com events, Phil Blackmar, being able to pick their brains about some of the young guys coming up, guys like Seamus Power, Grayson Murray; all these guys are so impressive with not just their golf swings but the speed at which they really attack the golf ball, and I think that’s the direction of the game.
If you look at those top players in the world, you know, Jordan doesn’t have quite the firepower, but he’s certainly added some length in the last year. But those are the kind of guys that they’re not household names, but I think that they will be soon.
Sitting here looking at the field for the Honda Classic this week, and a guy that a lot of people here in the States may not have heard of, Matthew Fitzpatrick, great player from Europe. He’s won European events.
I just — I think the game is in such good hands, and we put so much focus on those top five or six players, but there’s a lot of other players that — like the guys that I mentioned earlier, that are being inspired or played junior or college golf against some of the people we’re talking about, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see those kind of guys step up and start getting in the mix, especially here in the Florida Swing after they’ve had a few TOUR events to kind of get their feet on the ground and kind of learn the routine of things. I think we’ll see some guys starting to get comfortable and reach their potential.
Q. This is for whoever wants to take it: From the TV tower, does anything strike you guys about the on-course collaboration between Dustin and his brother? And I’m just curious if anyone has any thoughts on why they have worked so well together.
FRANK NOBILO: Good question. I think it’s experience of the two. You know, Dustin – he even talked about it last week on Golf Central. The penny seems to have dropped over the last 18 months, and whether it is being a father — I think part of that is — that is part of it, taking the responsibility of realizing his talent won’t last forever. Once again, I think going back to the World Rankings, when you look at the top, they’re all doing it slightly differently, but they’re all pushing the pedal. So I think Dustin, he was continuing to win every year 10 straight years, and it’s only since 1960, that’s only been done by Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, so that’s pretty rare company.
I think he realizes there’s an obligation now that goes with that talent. Every now and again he’s gone off the rails, and I think normally having a brother or family friend wouldn’t work, but I think that’s just Dustin’s personality. He wants someone that he’ll always be able to trust right there.
He’ll take the blame now. I think that’s the other thing. Dustin Johnson seems to be a little bit more responsible now, and he’s more than happy to take the blame for a bad shot. His brother is just being there by his side being very, very supportive.
I think it’s a case more of Dustin stepping up a little bit, and now the caddie taking the subordinate role but just doing his job.
Austin actually does a good job. If you watch him, he doesn’t muck around. He makes sure he gets exactly what Dustin wants. If you look at his yardage books, it’s not just a couple of basic numbers. He does what every other caddie does out there.
PETER JACOBSEN: Just to add to that, the one thing I’ve noticed about Dustin Johnson in his career so far is that he’s not high strung. He’s not like a skittery player out there. He is so relaxed. All you have to do is look at what happened last year at the U.S. Open when his penalty was being analyzed. He didn’t know whether he was leading by one or two or three, but it didn’t bother him. And that was probably the most impressive thing I’ve seen.
I think when you look at a player who is unflappable, you think of someone like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer and Trevino. Everybody has different demeanors on the golf course, but you’ve got to do it your way, and Dustin Johnson with his brother, they do it their way, and obviously it’s very successful. But I think it also, as Frank just said, I think Dustin with the responsibility now of being a father and knowing that it’s – – he’s in the prime of his career and he really needs to step up, I think he recognizes his talent as opposed to everybody else out there, and as I said, he’s not a high-strung guy. He lets things roll off his back.
As we all know as TOUR players, boy, you’ve got to be flexible. You can’t let the little things bother you. You’ve got to take it, analyze it, assess it and move on, and right now nobody is doing better than Dustin Johnson in that area.
JUSTIN LEONARD: I’ll chime in. I think different players need different things from their caddie. And I think sometimes Dustin, with maybe more experienced caddies or — he was probably trying to be something that he really wasn’t, and I think with Austin, he’s able to be his true self. And I also know, I talked to him a couple years ago about it, and he’s inspired — he wants to play well for Austin. He wants to show his brother, you know, how great he can be, and there’s no better place to do that than to have him right by his side. And so I think he’s inspired having Austin there. He’s found a comfort level with him that is unattainable with another caddie.
Q. How much is the Doral stop going to be missed this year by the players and just by the TOUR?
PETER JACOBSEN: Well, I think it’s going to be missed quite a bit. First of all, it’s an easy transition driving from the Honda Classic right down to Doral. It’s a big change getting in an airplane and flying down to Mexico, so that’s an inconvenience of travel.
Also it’s a brand-new golf course. The players, I think, have to — the [Doral] redo by Gil Hanse, I think the players had gotten comfortable with the golf course after being there a couple of years, but there’s also something very exciting about going to a new golf course. Some players, maybe the golf course at Doral didn’t suit them. I know that from my career, there were some courses that didn’t suit me, others that did. Whenever we left a golf course that didn’t suit me, I was always looking forward to the new challenge because this may be a course that suits my game.
But it’s a World Golf Championship, and I like the idea that it moves around the world. That’s the whole point of it. But I do know that basically the inconvenience of the travel and the unfamiliarity of a new golf course, those would probably be the two concerns of mine if I were still playing.
Q. Do you feel like it impacts the Florida Swing in a way? And do you feel the Honda been impacted by the fact there’s not that convenience?
PETER JACOBSEN: I agree, and I think Frank touched on it earlier. He said it might have been better to go to Mexico this week right after LA as we transition over to Florida. But we’re all big boys, whether we’re doing television or whether we’re playing, and they’ve got — that’s part of the life of a PGA TOUR player is a lot of sacrifice, a lot of inconvenience when it comes to different travel and changing of time zones and different places you play.
I think everything is going to be fine. The field may be impacted, I don’t know, because of the uncertainty of the golf course and all of the travel, but we will see.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, like Peter said, you see a lot of guys that live in south Florida that are able to drive, and they’ve played Doral for a number of years, even since the changes, and so they’re able to drive down on Tuesday night. Playing a new golf course where obviously you’ve got to get on an airplane, it’ll change travel plans by a day or so. I think the biggest change is just going to be going to altitude. The whole Florida Swing, you kind of get used to how far the ball is going, the conditions of the golf courses are — they’re all pristine. But you’re playing on the same grasses.
And going to a golf course that’s 7,500 feet is going to have a great impact on that. Guys are going to need to go and figure out a new golf course. For the young players that are all near the top, they’re used to playing new golf courses because they haven’t seen all these golf courses yet, and so getting used to the golf course I think is relatively easy, but the change of travel plans, and then just adjusting to that kind of altitude, you’re going to see guys putting in quite a bit of work Tuesday and Wednesday before the WGC in Mexico for sure.
FRANK NOBILO: To Justin’s point, too, I think that’s why it is impacting Honda. It’s still a good field. I don’t think there’s ever such a thing as a bad field these days. You’ve got half of the top 25 in the World Ranking there, so it’s an excellent field. But I’ll tell you, we have the same problems with the wraparound season, trying to get our teeth into that. That’s taken a while. If you played in Europe, that’s pretty much the way I’ve done it for many a year.
But I remember Doral when it used to be a regular TOUR event, and they used to have a pro-am, and there was a carnival. So I think Peter could speak to that, too. Wednesdays there, it was a huge deal. So when it changed to a World Golf Championship event, even though it kept the same place in the schedule, the event itself changed by nature, and that’s why I think when you look at the schedule, also the fact that Tiger Woods’s foundation has taken over Riviera and he made the call to get a lot of the Ryder Cup players out there – I think with the exception of Rickie Fowler they all played – so that is always going to impact the following week.
But I think consequently because of that, having Tiger’s foundation at Riviera, it might have behooved them to go straight to Mexico and then allow the Florida Swing to have more of the flow it used to have. But that’s a minor criticism.
Q. Kind of a fun question. I was just looking at the rankings website. It’s been four different guys ranked No. 1 over the last 17 months, including DJ here for the last couple of days. I was wondering if each one of you could explain who you think is the best player. You’re talking about Rory, Spieth, DJ and Day, who you think individually is the best player and why, and I’d like to start with Justin since he’s the new guy and I don’t know his answer to this one already.
JUSTIN LEONARD: Well, I think DJ has proven over the last 12 months that, in my mind, he’s the best player in the world. I think the rankings obviously reflect that. But I feel like he has been the most consistent. He’s won big golf tournaments, and just seems to be in control of so many aspects of his game.
You know, Jordan has a different style of game, and he’s played, you know, extremely consistent and had a huge lead just two weeks ago at the AT&T, and there’s a reason why he’s one of the Masters favorites. He’s finished second, first and second there in his only three appearances.
But he does go about it a different way. He’s a little more reliant on the putter. His ballstriking has been superb these last few weeks, but he’s still — he’s got to make putts. He can’t really overpower a golf course the way that those other guys can.
I think with Rory and Jason Day, Rory obviously has his health issues, Jason Day has had health issues. He took the whole fall off for injuries, and I’m not sure he’s back to 100 percent yet. So I would have to give the nod to Dustin at this point.
FRANK NOBILO: You were saying that you knew who I was going to say. You knew I was going to say Rory, right?
Q. I think I’ve heard you say that before, but if you’re going to go that route, you need to defend it.
FRANK NOBILO: Yeah, I do. He was out of golf effectively for 12 months with the ankle injury. I spoke to his trainer, Steve MacGregor. That type of injury, as silly as he might have done it playing soccer, it takes a full 12 months. We saw what happened when he was vaguely healthy on the ankle, and to win the FedExCup so quickly, especially in emphatic fashion. I think he’s got the X factor, not diminishing what the other guys do, but if you look at driver, DJ and Rory out of those top six, they’re in a different league.
I’d stop Stenson down because obviously he hits 3- wood so much. Stenson by being 40, even though he won the best major last year in the Open Championship against Mickelson, I still think four majors trumps two, which trumps one, and Dustin Johnson right now is in a sweet spot. He’s done nothing wrong.
But when Rory lights it up, we’re just seeing what he’s done. Dustin has touched that, but Rory has done it more than once, and at the moment we haven’t had a fair fight. I think that’s what’s compelling about those top six. Matsuyama is still learning. Stenson, if he plays anything like last year, it’s going to make it really good. Jordan, I think, has a great brain, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. Dustin continues to get better, but in full flight, I think it’s still Rory.
PETER JACOBSEN: Yep, I’m in Frank’s camp. I’ve said it many, many times. I think that Rory McIlroy is the most talented player in the game today.
Now, we’ve also seen every one of these players has a start and stop in their career. You look at Dustin Johnson, he had to take the time away for personal issues; Rory with his ankle, and now with his rib injury; you look at Jordan Spieth, he comes out, he wins two majors right off the bat and then he struggled last year; and Jason Day, he’s got his problems with his back, too.
So I think let’s be honest; once you have an injury, it’s really hard to fight back, and really when you’re talking about fighting back from these injuries, it’s the guy that’s the most mentally tough, the most mentally strong, and I think Rory is very strong mentally. I think Jordan Spieth is incredibly tough when it comes to fighting back.
All things being equal, I think you’ve got to go with the guy as Frank said. We talk about it a lot. I think Rory is the guy. Rory drives it so good. Dustin, he and Rory, I’d put them 1 and 2 off the tee, and you start looking at iron play, Jordan Spieth is starting to hit some great irons, Jason Day is a great iron player, and then it boils down to who can make the putts.
It’s very close. I’d give probably the nod to Rory and everybody else just like about a quarter of a shot behind.