Tuesday, September 19th, 2017


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Brandel Chamblee

David Duval

Jim “Bones” Mackay


JEFF SZKLINSKI: The next two weeks certainly should deliver plenty of excitement as the PGA TOUR season culminates this weekend in Atlanta at the TOUR Championship, and then obviously next week as the golf world descends upon the New York metropolitan area for the 2017 Presidents Cup.

This week NBC Sports will combine to provide more than 20 hours of live tournament coverage at the TOUR Championship, while next week NBC Sports will feature more than 60 live hours of coverage dedicated to the Presidents Cup, with nearly 30 hours of live tournament coverage that will be complemented by more than 30 hours of news and analysis throughout the week.

The top-30 in the FedExCup standings have advanced to East Lake Golf Club this week. And the top five in the standings — Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Marc Leishman and John Rahm — are all in control of their own ultimate outcome where a victory this week will automatically allow them to claim the FedExCup and its accompanying $10 million prize.

Meanwhile, the Presidents Cup next week will see Nick Price captain the International team for a third consecutive time, and his counterpart, Steve Stricker, will make his debut as a captain for the United States. Six of the 12 members of the United States team will be making their Presidents Cup debut, while four members of the International team will be taking part in the event for the first time.

Joining us on today’s call to discuss the next two weeks stretch of golf are Brandel Chamblee, David Duval and Jim “Bones” Mackay. Brandel will be in studio for Golf Central this week for pre- and post-coverage surrounding the TOUR Championship. And he along with David will contribute to Golf Channel’s Golf Central Live from the Presidents Cup on-site news coverage throughout the competition next week. Jim on the other hand will be contributing to NBC Sports’ live tournament coverage at both the TOUR Championship and Presidents Cup. He’ll be walking inside the ropes as an on-course reporter.

With that, I’d like to welcome Brandel, David and Jim into the call. Guys, would you mind offering initial thoughts on what you’re zeroing in on as it relates to the next two weeks

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Well, I think it’s obviously a very exciting couple of weeks coming up here with all the young guns in golf descending on East Lake this week for the TOUR Championship. And I think it’s going to be a really exciting event on a really, really good golf course. One of the things I always loved about East Lake as a caddie is that you can’t fake it. Typically the guy that plays the best this week is going to win. You can’t really kind of slap it around out there and compete. You’ve got to really show up and play. And I think that’s terrific for a tournament of this magnitude.

And the Presidents Cup, you know, I just think the team events are just fantastic. Having caddied out there and caddied for Phil for as long as I did, I know how much it means to the players and how fired up they get. And to see guys like Kevin Kisner and Daniel Berger, on the American side at least, guys that are getting a chance to do it for the first time. And Emiliano Grillo, you just can’t help but be extremely excited for those guys because you know the great experiences they’re going to have and how much fun next week is going to be. And memories that will last a lifetime for those guys.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I agree, this is an exciting back-to-back weeks in golf. The TOUR Championship, first of all, just the venue itself means so much to golf here in the United States. Much of what golf is in the United States has its roots in East Lake. Of course, that’s where the golf game of Bobby Jones was born and sort of the traditions of the game and the way to comport yourself and the way to play the game was passed on to him by a Scotsman by the name of Stewart Maiden, who was the head professional there when Bobby Jones was just a wee lad.

From a historic standpoint, I don’t know that there is a golf course that means more to golf in the United States than what East Lake is. To echo Bones’ comments, the golf course itself is formidable. The fairways are very hard to hit. So it takes a sort of nuanced ability just off the tee to sort of find the fairways. Just to figure out a way to shape your tee shots where you can find the fairways. And then having said that, even the straightest of hitters ends up in the rough there.

So it becomes sort of, not only do you need to be able to hit fairways, you need to be brilliant out of the rough to be able to compete there. And the golf course has given us — the last seven times the winner of the TOUR Championship has won the FedExCup. So in fact it’s almost as if these players are playing for an 11-plus-million-dollar purse. And while we all know they’re extraordinarily wealthy, that amount of money certainly gets everybody’s attention.

So a lot at stake. It’s not just the FedExCup. It’s the Vardon Trophy’s at stake. There’s a very narrow margin between Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. I think that is one of the highest honors and accolades in the game of golf that we don’t talk about enough, but I certainly pay a lot enough attention to it. And the Player of the Year race is still wide open. I think if Jordan Spieth wins the FedExCup, he’ll be the Player of the Year. I think if Justin Thomas wins the FedExCup, he’ll be the Player of the Year. So some compelling stories will unfold there.

And with regard to the Presidents Cup, I think Nick Price, the reduction of the points I think will go a long way towards making this more competitive. The last Presidents Cup was — just came down to the very last match, and it was very compelling. And even though a lot of these have

been blowouts I think one of the most exciting, from competitive standpoint, team-competition events — regardless whether it’s the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup or Solheim Cup, you take your pick — it came at the Presidents Cup in 2003, the back and forth between Tiger and Ernie to decide it. And ultimately the tie I think is one of the most exciting exhibitions of golf that any of us have ever seen. So there’s a lot that could unfold that will be very compelling. And of course the Presidents Cup will be played at Liberty National, which most of the views will be right there across from Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty with some very emblematic undertones being observed that week.

DAVID DUVAL: As much as anything, I’ve marveled this year at how well so many people have played. And when they have had the opportunity to perform, they’ve almost been virtuoso performances. I get a great thrill out of watching these young players, how they drive the golf ball, how they wedge the golf ball, how they have lack of fear. It’s kind of a view of how the game has changed. And we’re seeing a culmination of all these young kids who grew up playing a certain way – which is the modern way – perform.

I think actually Brandel and I, — I think I asked you the question probably last year, like, did we play that well 20 years ago? You know?

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: You might have.

DAVID DUVAL: Did we play golf that well 20 years ago even? And in regards to the Presidents Cup, I think the setting up there, the background of New York, Statue of Liberty, all those things, we talked about this past week during shows and stuff, I think that the International team kind of has a weight on their shoulders similarly to how the U.S. Team has performed and played in the Ryder Cup, even the ones I was on. Like, they make it a little more difficult, a little more — put more pressure on themselves.

The freedom with which the U.S. Team has played the Presidents Cup compared to the Ryder Cup has been glaring to me. And that’s even from my experience having played on them. Whoever goes back — I got to grow up a little bit playing out at East Lake — I know I’m bouncing around now — and what they’ve done for that whole area, what that golf course is now, the way it plays, the difficulty of it, I like the fact that you have so much on the line on such a difficult golf course that demands what we want to see from our great players, which is composure, nerves and really execution in the end.

Q. Bones, you’ve been bullish on Marc Leishman for a long time. Do you remember when you and Phil were first paired with him, what your initial thoughts were of him? And what do you see as the difference in him this year?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I just remember when Marc came out of nowhere in the FedExCup very early on in his career, I think he had a very high finish at a FedExCup event to kind of catapult himself maybe into the top 30 on the money list.

And I remember wondering, wow, who is this guy? But beyond that, it’s more I’ve learned more about Marc watching him on television in big spots.

And he’s the guy next door on the TOUR. And as he’s mentioned in interviews, he likes to play with his kids and he likes to have a couple of beers. I mean, he’s that guy. And I just think that when you watch his play down the stretch, certainly at St. Andrews a couple of years ago in The Open Championship and on a couple of occasions, I’m just blown away by how unflappable he is.

And he seems to make — he seems to make big stages small. And then he’s also knocked off a couple of really good players in Presidents Cups, I think Jordan Spieth included. So you don’t have to pay too much attention to Marc to realize that he’s capable of doing something very, very big. And I’ll be very surprised several years from now if he hasn’t won a major.

Q. Were you surprised, then, that he’s remained under the radar for so long, because people really didn’t even talk about him that much even during majors?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I guess. Yeah, I think so. Certainly if he had won that Open at St. Andrews, everyone would have been certainly talking about him more than they did.

And I am a little surprised, but I don’t think it’s much of a surprise to those guys — players, caddies, what have you, yourself, that are out on the TOUR — because there’s a lot of respect for Marc Leishman, and he’s earned every single bit of it.

Q. Jim, I can’t really do the math so I’ll just ask: How many of these team things in a row have you done consecutively? 20-something? This will be your first year off?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Yeah, I think it was 22.

Q. What’s the most nervous you’ve seen an American player at one of these team events? You’re pretty good at categorizing anecdotes and things like that. It’s a whole different level of pressure and wondering what funny things you might have seen?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Well, let me think here. Certainly I would have to say that one of the most pressure-packed situations I’ve ever seen a guy under in any of those two events, in referencing back to, I think it was Brandel that mentioned the playoff, if you will, of the Presidents Cup between Ernie and Tiger in South Africa.

Those guys were sent out in the dark to kind of fight this thing out. And it was a heavyweight fight. It was Ali and Frazier. And I remember when Tiger had to make that putt first on what was ultimately the last hole and made a downhill left-to-righter, and I remember thinking to myself, Tiger Woods or not, my gosh, this is a lot of heat right here. Those guys performed incredibly well. You can’t imagine how dark it was. We all know, the TV lens doesn’t capture how much light there is. That was a lot of heat.

And also I would say that Ryder Cup last year in Minnesota, again, it was referenced earlier about how much pressure was on the American team, because they hadn’t done well and had lost a couple of Ryder Cups they felt like they should have won, and the momentum was so much with the European team, that the way everybody performed there was really, really admirable.

And I would say that I think Tiger showing up and being assistant captain that week had a lot to do with firing up the team and getting everybody excited, and he was a big force in that.

Q. Could each of you guys sort of speak to the fact that half this team, American team, is going to be rookies and just sort of on the changing of the guard and sort of the dynamic that rookies bring into the team room? Jim you just sort of alluded to that. And new guys and leadership and those types of things. It’s probably hard to fill out a pairing sheet when you’ve got that many guys that have never been to the dance before?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Well, I think — actually I think that these young guys, they’re all friends. So certainly Jordan’s in a spot with his past performance with Patrick Reed, it’s hard to imagine those guys not playing together.

And another great thing about this year’s team is Kevin Kisner is just that guy, I think, that everybody wants to play with. And if you know Kevin Kisner, it’s easy to understand: He’s funny. He’s fired up. That guy is the guy I want to watch in New York City and the guy can make 25-footers. And as Brandel and David will attest, everybody wants to partner up with a guy that can really putt.


DAVID DUVAL: Oh, yeah.

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Kisner is a guy to keep your eye on in my opinion. He’s going to be so much fun. He’s going to be so fired up. And I think their pairings at least will fall into place quite nicely.

Q. Do you remember your first ones?

DAVID DUVAL: I do. I was teamed up with Mark O’Meara, and we actually played three of the four matches together. Mark played all of them that year. I played singles. I played four of the five. And I think that it’s a little bit different now just in that even though these are rookies, also there’s peers that they’ve grown up playing together, they’re buddies, and they’ve been there.

And to have kind of somebody to lean on, if you will, you go out there and realize and recognize that certainly it’s a team event, but your job is to go play golf how you know how to play golf. That’s why you’re on the team. That’s why you’ve had the success that you’ve had.

And I think that the — I think that being called a rookie, especially on the American side in the Presidents Cup, because again they just have a bit of a swagger going into the event, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal. So certainly there’s going to be nerves. I liken it to, I’ve said it in the past, like if you’re playing in a tournament and you’re not nervous on Sunday, you’re teeing off too early.

There’s going to be nerves. But you’re also going to be around your peers, your buddies, guys you’re always hanging with, playing practice rounds with, practicing at home with. And you’ll see their demeanor and their actions and their preparations and realize that, okay, I just gotta be ready to play golf and you go and play golf.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Well, not all rookies are created equal, that’s for sure. And Kevin Kisner is to me Zach Johnson reincarnated. He reminds me much so much the way Zach Johnson plays the game and just the way he handles himself.

And that sort of cool heat that is palpable when he plays. Phil Mickelson’s partner in the last Presidents Cup was Zach Johnson. When I start to look at potential partners for Phil Mickelson in this Presidents Cup, and Phil will be so important to the success of this competition for the U.S. side, you know, couple things come to mind.

One, I wonder why Phil hasn’t played more with Matt Kuchar. He’s only ever played one match as far as I could look up with Matt Kuchar and they won it. That seems like an obvious pairing that has been missed as it relates to Phil Mickelson. But what you’re looking for, and Phil and Zach Johnson played so beautifully in South Korea, another potential partner for Phil, to me it would be a Kevin Kisner. He just slides right in there and would be exactly to Phil what Zach Johnson was to Phil in my opinion. I think Kevin Kisner could be a very important rookie to this team.

And then another rookie is Brooks Koepka. And when you look at Brooks, a lot of things come to mind. But the word, and all that goes with it, “rookie,” is nowhere near the list of things that come to mind.

So just in general, the U.S. side doesn’t really need to do anything that special to win this Presidents Cup. I said the other day — I was joking — if this were a fight they wouldn’t stop it. They wouldn’t let it start. On paper the U.S. side is so demonstrably better than the International side in every single facet. Obviously the world rank, they’re twice as good, more than twice as good. They’re twice the ball strikers the International side is, and by far more twice the putters that the International side is. The International side averages, their average putting rank is 103rd. So they have a lot of hurdles in front of them.

And then the idea that they’re playing on — if you want to call it foreign territory, yeah, you could say everybody plays this TOUR, but it is, whether it’s the U.S. side or the International side, it’s a five-point differential when you’re playing on international golf course or venue, so to speak. So they have a lot of hurdles.

If I were Nick Price I would be talking about what a year this has been in terms of upsets. Obviously Donald Trump winning, Great Britain leaving the EU. Si Woo Kim winning THE PLAYERS Championship, and then just the way Marc Leishman has just plowed through the FedExCup. Marc Leishman could be the spark that this International side needs.

And then just the venue itself, Liberty National, I think played host to the biggest upset in the history of the FedExCup. 2009, they played there, it was the first event of the FedExCup, and Heath Slocum made a putt over 20 feet on the last green to beat Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. You can’t get a bigger upset. There will never be a bigger upset than that. Heath Slocum was 124th in the FedExCup standings when he went into that event.

So if I was Nick Price I would start to parlay this into the year of the upset, we’re the upset team and so forth. And if they do mount that sort of upset mentality, it will be some compelling golf. Because as Bones said, they’re all friends. They’re great friends. So the camaraderie will be palpable. Nick has been on record saying that he’s not at all enamored with the partisan nature of the Ryder Cup. And when you start to look at the way that Nick Price and Steve Stricker comport themselves, that class, that level of class and amiability will, I think, play out through the team and, I think, hopefully it will translate to the spectators as well.

Q. Bones, I’m curious, what’s the skill set that Steve Stricker brings to this job? And is the skill set different in a team room between a Presidents Cup and a Ryder Cup?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Well, I think that there’s the Steve Stricker that the public knows and the guy that you see interviewed on TV and that we all talk to out there, and we know what just an amazing gentleman he is. In my 28 years out around all those guys, there’s never been a player more popular, I would say, than Stricker or more respected that no one would ever have a bad word to say about.

But he’s a fiery guy, I think, behind closed doors. And I think that while he’s not going to be very demonstrative in any kind of situation, he’s the kind of guy that can walk up and whisper something in a player’s ear on a tee box or in a team room that can really fire them up.

And I have to say that as great a partner as he was to Tiger in a number of team events, I think the whole Stricker/Tiger dynamic will be really, really good in New York City for those guys, because those guys are really tight. And they really, really like each other. And I think that they’ll be able to not only obviously communicate between the two of them, but with the players. And I think that, I just think they will be a formidable captain and assistant captain. And Steve is very smart. And having Fred there, they are guys that these young players really, really want to be around.

And I think if you’re Daniel Berger or Kevin Kisner, you’re one of these rookies and you’re teeing off on No. 1, and Tiger Woods is standing next to your golf bag as you tee off in this competition or anywhere else on this golf course for that matter, that’s a thrill and a moment that you’ll never forget the rest of your life. And so what Stricker’s kind of set up for these guys, I think, moving forward for that week in terms of who they’re going to be dealing with and talking with and having a soda with, I think he’s done a great, great job. He’s really thought it through. And they’re going to be really tough.

Q. The dynamic in a Ryder Cup team room and a Presidents Cup’s team room, is it different?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: It is different in that as has been mentioned before, the U.S. has had so much success in the Presidents Cup that it will definitely be looser. Now it might not be

nearly as loose if you get beat up a little bit the first day or what have you, and all of a sudden things get a little tighter. But the Presidents Cup, with the success the U.S. team’s had, people are aware of that, the players are aware of that, the caddies are aware of that. And so it wouldn’t be quite as tight certainly as the last few Ryder Cups when the U.S. team’s record of late hadn’t been nearly as good. So I’d say they’d be different in that respect.

Q. Tony Finau advanced to the TOUR Championship in dramatic fashion with a sterling round on Sunday at the BMW. He’s an emerging player. I’m interested in your take on Tony?

DAVID DUVAL: I’ve gotten to watch Tony play a lot. Watched him hit a lot of balls. And he is of the ilk, I think, of the same kind of young generation where he just plays the modern game brilliantly — big bomber of the ball. I think that he’s slowly gaining the understanding, belief and kind of confidence in his abilities. And I think that showed itself on Sunday. You could even, look at even just the very last hole where he chips in to assure himself of his spot in the TOUR Championship.

Now that he’s done that, he obviously is assured all the majors, all the WGCs, all those big invitationals, all those events. And I think he’s simply a player — maybe, I don’t know, I’d like to hear what Brandel and even Bones has to say about it, but similar to how I was, that you have a skill set but you’re not quite using it all. And the learning curve is just taking longer for him to win. I don’t think there’s any question he’ll be a multiple, multiple winner on the PGA TOUR. I think he’s that type of player, has that potential in front of him.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I agree. I think what he did at the BMW is so important to his career. He’s currently the 53rd-ranked player in the world, and it matters so much the deeper you can get into the top 50 in the World Rankings. Obviously it gets him in the major championships. He’s in there because of the TOUR Championship, but this will get him into the WGCs and the major championships, all of the major championships, so that on a larger stage, a bigger stage, he can start to get more comfortable in the biggest events. I think that’s kind of all he’s missing, really, is to find a level of comfort in the biggest events.

And you know there’s really nothing missing in his game, so to speak. I mean, he’s not the best putter, but nor is Hideki Matsuyama, for that matter. The things that Tony Finau can do are impressive. When he’s on the range, your eye goes to him, for sure. And he gets everybody sort of talking about his potential. So he’s one of the most exciting players that has great potential to go on and win tournaments and major championships.

But, really, and I think it’s important as we go to East Lake, to sort of think about the traditions of the game of golf which really are founded in the way you behave and the way you carry yourself. And I cannot think of a better example anywhere in golf than Tony Finau of how to handle yourself, how to treat other people. It doesn’t matter where you see Tony. He is shaking hands and saying please and thank you and, yes, sir, no, sir. He’s got a wonderful family; they all carry themselves very much in the traditions of this game. So, he’s just a great gentleman and the game of golf is better with him in it.

Q. Bones, when you were talking about Tiger’s difference-making, can you give us a snapshot of how that manifested itself at the Ryder Cup other than just his mere aura? Was there something, an example you can give?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Well, I will say that — I can’t give away state-to-state secrets here. Let me just think for a second here.

Q. Because from the public we just saw him out on the range and it’s just hard to see, maybe it’s hard for us outsiders to understand what tangible benefit he provides with his presence.

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I’d say for a lot of the younger guys, they maybe haven’t had the experience of sitting down and having a sandwich with Tiger and talking to him about, okay, sure about golf, but about the football game last weekend or about how he set up his equipment or anything under the sun. And I just think that — or when you watch people around Tiger, it’s a little similar to back in, I think it was 2010 maybe when Michael Jordan was an assistant captain for Fred. Wasn’t 2010, obviously, but 2009 maybe in San Francisco when Michael Jordan came out and was an assistant captain. Guys were just eating it up.

Now granted, Michael plays basketball and Tiger is arguably the greatest golfer of all time, but he’s Tiger Woods. And we’re all really aware of what he did and how he did it. And he is — he is special. And he was a once — I don’t want to say once-in-a-lifetime — but he was amazing. And he was the man, as Brandel and David can attest. And I’ve been around Tiger 100 times. But when you’re around him in those team events, it just makes it more special, it makes it cooler, it makes it great, it makes it everything. And he fires you up.

And, again, if he’s whispering something in your ear that week in New York City, it’s going to be a moment that these guys never forget, especially with how little those guys have seen him in the last couple of years. And everyone’s excited to see him, excited to have him back, hoping he’s going to play some golf next year. And I haven’t done a very good job of answering your question other than to say he’s Tiger Woods.

Q. If I can direct the follow at David and Brandel, because you guys played with Tiger Woods at a time when I’m not sure he sat down and had a sandwich with any of you. What is it like to just see him making that effort?

DAVID DUVAL: I think as much as anything is what you’re seeing is simply a player who came out and had his sights set on history and greatness. And he had to insulate himself in a certain way, because even when I was No. 1 in the world, I did not have to deal with a fraction of the things that he has to deal with. There was at no point was he unpleasant to play with, to be around. The guys will tell you, he was as good as anybody to be playing with. The group you didn’t want to be in was the group in front of him because of all the fans running up to try to see him on the next hole.

And simply a player who knows that time marches on. We all grow. We all change. I was asked a question similarly about maybe how I was on a golf course and who I am now. And I said,

well, you know, we all hopefully grow and change. We all hopefully are different people. We learn from our life and our mistakes and our successes. And I think that you see somebody who is a bit removed from the competitive parts of the game but also recognizes the importance of being involved, of the influence he has and reaching out to kind of pass on, as is so traditional in this game from generation to generation, kind of pass on experiences and lessons and things of that nature.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: And I’ll echo the comments of David. I played with Tiger Woods just a couple of times on the PGA TOUR. And he was great to play with. For all the talk about how intimidating he was — and he was, I think more so to people who had a lot more at stake than most people do who play with him — he was great to play with. I think what’s interesting now about the role that Tiger Woods has sort of moved into in the world of golf is interesting to me because he used to psychologically destroy people. And now he is there to psychologically boost people.

And it’s possible that he’s going to be just as good at boosting the moral of people as he was at destroying it. It appears that way. And I think that anybody that has been around — and it is very, very hard to describe genius. It’s elusive. You can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know it when you’re around it and it’s inspiring. We’re inspired by the greatest achievers. Michael Jordan doesn’t have anything to do with golf, really. But it’s the achievements of the man that inspire people. It’s just his mere presence.

Well, with Tiger Woods, he can talk obviously about the game, but he can talk about the mental side of the game, which he appeared to know things that nobody else has ever known. So I think it’s wonderful, the role that he has moved into in the game of golf. And I’m sure as a player it makes it more special. Just me, when I played in the TOUR event where Tiger Woods was, it made the event feel bigger.

So, I’m sure the same is true of the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup — it makes it infinitely more special to the players that are going to be able to say, I played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup where Tiger Woods was an assistant captain or a captain. That’s going to be a big part of the story of all of these players. So I think it’s great, the role that both Tiger and Phil have sort of moved into this elder statesman in in the game of golf. And they were busy beating players for a long, long time. And now they’re busy sort of molding players. It’s great to see.

Q. Brandel, you mentioned the Liberty National course hosting the TOUR event back in 2009 and the drama of that event. But after the fact, the course was in a survey of players by one of the major magazines came up dead last as the least favorite course on TOUR. I’m curious if you guys understand the thinking behind that and what are some of the redeeming qualities of this course as host for the Presidents Cup next week?

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I think just the footprint of the golf course. You think about it, Erin Hills was on 650 acres. Liberty National is built on 150 acres. So it’s a very challenging prospect to get a traditional type golf course on this small a footprint. I think that was a big, big handicap. But it is an entirely different — and I think Bones and David can talk about this as well — is that the idea of putting a score on the board is completely different than a match play scenario.

Sometimes, there are holes that are great match play holes that you don’t think are very good holes. The tenth hole at the Belfry comes to mind, which is a traditional — where they played the Ryder Cup for years. It was just a tremendous nothing — it was this nothing little 310-yard par-4 maybe. But it was a tremendous match play hole as was the 18 at the Belfry. So I think this golf course will play out beautifully. They’ve rerouted it a little bit, the old fifth hole is now the first hole, and they’ve changed the routing to where holes — typically in match play events end early and you’re going to have the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of Manhattan just looming off in the background on these finishing holes of the matches. So I think it’s going to be a huge hit with the players and the fans, personally. I don’t know how David and Bones think about it.

DAVID DUVAL: Bones, we can almost answer it together, maybe. Was Robert Trent Jones, when we played, that great of a golf course, you know? Would you think of it that way? Probably not.


DAVID DUVAL: Match play is an entirely different beast. It doesn’t matter what the hole is, if it’s a well-designed hole, a poorly designed hole, all that matters is trying to win that hole. And I think it’s illustrated perfectly in match play because you’re trying to beat your opponent. You’re not worried about the golf course. You’re not worried about anything else other than getting — picking up a point for your team.

And you could play it at the worst local muni that’s 6,000 yards long and, because of the format of the event and the players competing, it’s going to be compelling and it’s going to be exciting. The venue itself, you look for — certainly you want great golf courses of beauty and stuff, but this is more about the mano y mano aspect of golf and the team event. And I think that’s where the excitement comes from.

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I agree completely with what you both said. I think whatever guys opinions were of the golf course back in the day was based on — they’re playing it in a stroke play format. But that’s all out the window now. I think in match play it will be great. And I think everyone will be thrilled to be there and happy with the setup of the course, et cetera. I think it will be a great match play course.

Q. If you could put your captain’s hat on for a minute: Would you have selected Phil Mickelson for this team, and, if so, why?

DAVID DUVAL: Without question. I think what he brings to the team, to the team room as a leader, as a cheerleader, as an overly experienced veteran, the set of hands he has, the experience from playing, I think that he will be an incredible mentor. We’ve talked about the number of rookies on the team. And I also mentioned that it’s maybe not as big a deal, but, still, that experience of Phil Mickelson actually being out there playing with them, I think that it was a no-brainer to pick him for this event.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: The team is so young. It was — if you’re Steve Stricker, you’re thinking what is this team missing? Not much in talent, that’s for sure. It’s amazing how talented this team is. On paper, this might be one of the best teams ever assembled in terms of talent. But just from again an elder statesman perspective, just almost — you could almost call him a player/captain or player/assistant captain. That’s kind of going to be his role.

And you kind of got a lot of bang for the buck with Phil Mickelson. It’s not like his game had fallen off that bad. He’s still one of the best players in the world. And he seems to play better in bigger events. He seems to — something, whatever is left in him as a player, and I still think there’s a considerable amount. I’ve said forever I think he’ll change the record book. I think he’ll be — he’s got a very good chance of being the oldest major champion of all time and being the oldest winner on the PGA TOUR of all time. I think he’s that talented of an individual and his game hasn’t left him to the extent that he can’t still win. But he makes the event. He’s a lot like Tiger Woods. He makes the event bigger and feel more special. And the Charley Hoffmans and Kevin Chappells and the Brooks Koepkas and the Daniel Bergers and the Justin Thomases, these guys haven’t played in the Presidents Cup before. And golf is such an independent game. Really, what can a captain do? Well, he can make you feel how important it is to come together as a team and inspire you in that way. And I can’t imagine anybody better to do that than Phil Mickelson.

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I agree wholeheartedly. I think that the way Phil played at Boston — and you would have to imagine that teeing off of — playing Boston this year for Phil was probably a little bit like playing the Masters, in that there was a lot of self-imposed pressure to perform that week because he probably had to really show up to get picked. And the guy did. He was fifth that week in fairways hit. And I think his game is really, really trending. And I think there are a number of reasons why you can say it was an absolute no-brainer, and one of them also being that if you’re going to pick Charley Hoffman, Phil — I’ll be shocked if Phil doesn’t play a match or more with Charley. They’re very good friends. They live very close to each other. They play and practice together in their off weeks. They’re big Charger fans, et cetera. And I’ve seen it in a team room, obviously, and I’ve seen team events where a rookie’s gone out and had a tough first experience in a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup and Phil’s gone to the captain and said: Put me with him. And they go out there the next day and Phil kind of rubs his shoulders and puts his arm around him and tells him how great he is. And they’ve gone on to have a lot of success. And those kinds of things go a long way. And, again, I think in 2003 Phil had a really tough Presidents Cup in South Africa. And at the end of the week Jack Nicklaus referred to him as the team MVP because of how much he brought to the team room. And that’s Phil.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: What about his performance at the Ryder Cup last year? Has anybody played a Ryder Cup with more pressure on him than Phil did last year?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: Exactly right.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: And he responded. Again, I think when his interest is piqued if you’re Phil Mickelson, my goodness, what would pique your interest, the majors and the team events, basically. And he was as good as he’s ever been last year at the Ryder Cup.

Q. First on the Presidents Cup, why do you think it is that players come in with bad form at times and they play so well in these events, like last year, Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson were playing awful, and they played well, and then Ryan Moore was red hot, and J.B. Holmes had to carry him around the first day, and Patrick Reed always plays well in these events. Seems like your golf game is either on or off, and how can they kind of flip the switch and turn their golf game on for these events and kind of what makes that happen?

DAVID DUVAL: Well, I think that’s part of the beauty of the team aspect of it. Similar to what Jim just said about Phil taking a player, putting his arm around him, telling him how great he is, you can’t believe how much that happens. You’re constantly reminded by 11 other great players how great you are. And you’re getting uplifted, and you start, I believe — at least the way I experienced it — that I’m playing golf better than I actually am. When you have that belief and confidence, it comes out. And you eventually let your abilities come out of yourself and you play with freedom and confidence. Maybe when you don’t necessarily have it or deserve to have it because your form isn’t the best, but when you’re constantly being uplifted by a captain and co-captains and 11 other great players and caddies telling you how awesome you are, it’s an experience that is hard not to feed off of. And that’s just kind of based off of what I experienced.

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I agree with David, they’re inspiring weeks. And I think you can be really down on your luck and, as you say, not really showing much form, and you get off the plane and you go check into your hotel room and you walk into your room and it has your name on the door, and you walk in the door and there’s this big rack of really awesome clothes with American flags on it, it fires you up. And I’ve seen that time and time again. And I know you referenced Ryan Moore. I will say this, I can’t speak for what he did early in the week, especially at the Ryder Cup last year because there was so much going on. But if you go back and you watch tape of the Ryder Cup, you know, Ryan Moore, down the stretch in a singles match on Sunday, was unbelievable. He made an eagle on 16 and a birdie on 17. When I saw a replay of it, I was like, oh, my gosh that is incredibly studly of him. So he was big, especially there at the end where it really mattered at the Ryder Cup.

Q. Second question relates to the TOUR Championship. If Jordan does not win the TOUR Championship but wins the FedExCup, would you give the Player of the Year to Justin Thomas still or would you give it to Jordan?

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: You know, personally, that would be — you know, I’ve thought that — I hope this is the first year that there is a tie in the Player of the Year. Sometimes it’s not an obvious choice. And if ever there was a time where it would be appropriate for there to be a tie in the Player of the Year race, it would be this one, because you can talk about the things that Justin Thomas has done, and they’re amazing. And I guess you could make probably a little better argument for Justin Thomas being Player of the Year than Jordan Spieth because a lot of what he did was at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year he’s been brilliant as well.

So throughout the year he’s been just stunning to watch. But, again, I put a lot of value in the Vardon Trophy and the way Jordan Spieth won The Open Championship and has played since then, it’s a tough one for me. If I had that ballot in front of me, I would circle both of their names, and I would hope that other players would as well.

Q. How shocked are you guys that Rory is not going to play this year? And do you think he’s experiencing any sort of burnout or just chalk it up to golf and his short game is a little bit more up-and-down?

DAVID DUVAL: We actually talked about it on the “Live From” set at the PGA, I think Rory has been hampered all year with injury. I think he’s had a problem — even when he’s come back and said he was fine, he didn’t — we watched him walk down the fairway, wincing, holding his ribs. I think he tried to force through physical problems. And I even said on that Saturday, when we were talking about it, I think he should go home and get healthy.

I think he’s doing himself a disservice by competing injured. And I believe his injuries were potentially not severe but severe enough to affect his golf game and his golf swing and therefore his confidence. And when you’re swinging the golf club wondering if it’s going to hurt or not, you cannot compete in this day and age that way, even if you are Rory McIlroy. So I think that that’s the big thing with him is stepping away, taking as much time as he needs to get healthy again. Because I think he’s driven and fired up to kind of reassert himself on the world stage. But I think he can’t do it because he’s hurt. And I think it’s vital that he goes and gets healthy.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I agree. I have no doubt that what’s going on with Rory is due to injury. All week — all year he’s been grabbing his back, middle of his back, the side. And when you start to look at some of the things he’s done, even if you never watched him play and you didn’t see him grab his back, if you were just looking at his scores and the statistics, you’d go this isn’t possible, it’s not possible for him to be last in some of these key approach statistics. It’s just not possible. Something’s got to be going on. So clearly he’s injured. I think he wanted to go home. I think just out of an obligation, being the FedExCup champion, I think he played, tried to do the best he could through the FedExCup events.

And I think what’s going on with Rory, look, he’s one of if not my favorite player in the game of golf today the way he swings and handles himself because he’s just wonderful. But I think what’s going on with him is really a message to everybody, this need to go into the gym and change your body drastically — I think two weeks ago Tom Brady was giving an interview, and what’s Tom, he’s 40 years old? Had 43 completions at the Super Bowl last year. The record at 38 years of age. And he was talking about what I do will be the norm. He was talking about how he trains. And he said it will come to be the norm, especially in a year when you see Federer win two Slams at 35 years of age.

And Brady went on to say that golfers who try to incorporate a lot of strength, lose pliability. And there’s not surprisingly, these were his words, a lot of injury. He said he thinks that the golf swing is analogous to the throwing motion. There’s a lot of fluidity there. And you need to keep your fluidity and keep your movements. Here’s a guy who is 40 years of age who is playing at the top of his sport and doing things that are unimaginable. So I think just young golfers should take a look at the way Roger Federer and Tom Brady have prepared themselves for longevity in the sport.

If you look at the injuries that Jason Day has sustained and Rory McIlroy, and while — and they’ll argue that it doesn’t have anything to do with the gym, and I understand that. I understand that. But you cannot deny that there’s pretty strong circumstantial evidence pointing in that direction, the same with Tiger Woods. So I hope that Rory gets healthy and comes back. And there’s a balance between golf and fitness. And I think we’ve seen good examples of it, surely, we’ve seen great examples of it. Even in Phil Mickelson, I think Phil — and Bones can speak to this — obviously, it’s like when I look at Phil, I think he has found that balance, because he looks a lot more fit to me than when he was 30. He looks fit, but yet he doesn’t look like he’s burdened himself. He looks like he can play until he wants to stop playing. And I think Phil Mickelson is another great example of how to balance fitness and golf.

Q. About the Presidents Cup, I was wondering if you guys agree with Nick Price’s captain’s picks. And since I agree with you guys that this might be one of the strongest U.S. teams ever, can you make the argument for an International win?

JIM “BONES” MACKAY: I think that his picks were great. I think that the Lahiri pick is great, because that guy’s going to show up with a lot to prove and a chip on his shoulder. And he’s obviously got experience. He’s been through as big a pressure moment in that event as there’s just about ever been. And I also think he’s a very popular guy in the game. And in short I think the Grillo pick was terrific, because you just can’t ever have enough really good putters on your team, and Grillo is that. And as we referenced earlier in this call about Kisner, you know, if you’ve got a guy on your team or a guy’s a partner that can make it from 25 feet a lot, you absolutely love having him there.

BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Yeah, I think, again, I think the International side needs a spark. They need to find something that sort of makes them better collectively than they are individually. And they’re phenomenal players, individually, and maybe it’s going to be Branden Grace and Louis Oosthuizen, and maybe they’ll pick up right where they left off the last Presidents Cup, they were 5-0. Louis was 5-0, but they were undefeated as a team. And maybe it’s Marc Leishman. Maybe this whole team can be sort of imbued by the accomplishments from Marc Leishman. Who knows what — maybe they’ll find a perfect pairing for Adam Scott or Jason Day or Matsuyama. And, again, this is the year of the upset.

And just from a player, captain’s pick perspective, yeah, we all love watching Emiliano Grillo playing the game, and we’re excited about his potential in the game. And you’re right, there is something about Anirban Lahiri, it is compelling. In the same way Jack Nicklaus said of Phil, “You’re the most valuable player here,” I think Nick said similar things about Anirban Lahiri, he’s a leader. He’s a very accomplished player and he’s a leader. And you can’t have enough of those on your team.