The NCAA Division I Men’s golf championships took place in 2017 at Rich Harvest Farms in suburban Sugar Grove. Four leading experts sat down to talk about the event. Steve Burkowski, Billy Ray Brown, Lanny Wadkins and Mark Rolfing shared their thoughts on the women’s championship and then started to look ahead to the men’s championship.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: A great week for the women’s championship, Arizona State winning their eighth national championship as a team, more than any other women’s program in history. Mother Nature played a role. Everybody survived. Everybody adapted and adjusted. Hats off not only to ASU and Northwestern but everyone involved with the championship to have that place in wonderful condition considering the circumstances.
And now for the third consecutive year, we’re going back-to-back leading off with the women, now it’s the men’s championship, which is underway, as stroke play has begun this morning. It’s that transition. We’ve seen it at Concession, we’ve seen it at Eugene Country Club of how this course is going to play differently, maybe similar, maybe a combination of both, and Billy Ray, I’ll start with you since we were both there last week; what do you think are the big changes we’re going to see in the coming days once the men tee it up?
BILLY RAY BROWN: Well, the first thing that comes to my mind is, one, obviously the golf course, they’ll be coming in with a little bit different clubs than what we saw last week. But something I learned about this golf course that was unique in the routing of the golf course and the way it set up from especially the teeing grounds, the angles I think the players — the men will have to set up at totally different angles to approach some of these greens, and these greens have got a lot of movement in them. So I’m looking forward to seeing what lines these players take off the tee to create some angles to get at some of these flagsticks.
And more so than anything, I think when you look at the overall golf course itself, you try to find a weak point where you can actually — especially in the match play segment where you feel like you can take advantage of a golf course. I just don’t see any hole that you can actually let your guard down, which I think will be imperative to making this a difficult golf course both stroke play and match play, and we saw it last week, also.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Mark, you know Rich Harvest Farms as well as anyone. Your expectations on what we’re going to see with the best men’s collegiate teams, with one of the great golf courses in the State of Illinois?
MARK ROLFING: Well, I’m looking forward to the week, Steve, and I think you’re going to see a completely different championship than what you saw last week for two main reasons: First is obviously the weather conditions were so severe last week that it totally dictated how the golf course played.
But to Billy Ray’s point, the men will have watched a lot of that women’s NCAA championship, both on TV and being there live, and they’re going to have learned a tremendous amount from those players and what they did last week. I think the scoring will be quite a bit better just because of the weather conditions, but what they’ll have learned, as Billy Ray said, is that it’s all about angles out at Rich Harvest. In a call a few weeks ago, I said that the one thing you need to be careful of when you get in trouble at Rich Harvest, particularly in the stroke play where you have to be a little bit more conservative, is getting the right spot if you lay up, and in most cases if you get yourself in a little bit of trouble out there, laying up short and being in front of those greens is way better than being on either side or long let’s say, particularly with the rough the way it is.
So I think the men will have learned a lot from what they saw last week.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Lanny, we all got to broadcast the men’s championship back in 2014 at Prairie Dunes. What excites you this week as this rolls around and the college season comes to a culmination and we get to watch some of the best teams and sometimes some teams off the radar vying for a national title?
LANNY WADKINS: Yeah, I think the one thing that strikes me this year is just how deep the field is. I don’t think at this stage in my mind there’s a clear-cut champion. I mean, we’ve had so many different teams be ranked No. 1 during the year that I just think it’s wide open. I mean, I tend to look at the teams that are my favorites that have two or three really stud players, if you will, a team like Southern Cal with Rico Hoey and Sean Crocker and Justin Suh. Those guys have all had the experience. So that jumps up at me right off the bat. Then Vanderbilt looks awfully solid and Alabama is off to a great start. All the way down through the field, I just think we’ve got a lot of really, really good teams that are going to be playing this week.
There’s some sneaker teams. I think you’ve got to watch out for Texas, Oklahoma State. I think it’s just wide open. I think that’s what really appeals to me is just seeing what’s going to happen, and I’m not going to be surprised at all if we don’t have a couple of unexpecteds in the top eight when it comes to match play.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Yeah, I think as the parity grows in the college game and maybe the uncertainty and variables of transitioning from stroke to match play as we’ve seen through the years, what we do know is anything can happen, and that’s the big part of the excitement what we’ve got, and Jeremy, I know you and Rick has some questions that the media has funneled in, so if you guys want to fire away, we’ll take care of them for you.
Q. I’d like to get the analysts’ take on home course, home grass. How big of an advantage is that? We’ve obviously seen last year with Oregon on their home course, Washington last year on the women’s side playing in familiar territory with the grass. We just saw in the women’s championship with Northwestern in the championship match. If you would go through just how big a factor is that as you look at this week’s play.
LANNY WADKINS: Well, I think it’s a big advantage. I always love playing at home. I think it’s a big advantage for the kids to have people out there rooting for them this week, so you’ve got to look at Illinois to me as a team having the home course advantage, if you will. They’ve probably played a number of rounds at Rich Harvest Farms, and they’re a very, very good team on top of that. Weather is not going to surprise them, so a lot of factors are going to play into that situation, just much like it did Oregon last year, no question, and I always thought playing on your home course was just — you’ve got a little bit of a comfort factor. You know where the trouble is, you know how to avoid it. You also know where the good spots are and how to play to those, and you’re going to be a little bit more familiar with what side of the hole you might want to leave the ball on putting, things like that, where you can miss it. So a lot of that will come into play. Even though they won’t be thinking about it, it’ll be second nature to them.
BILLY RAY BROWN: Well, certainly I think Lanny basically hit the nail right on the head, but also I think it’s then added pressure, also, if you — as Lanny said, even though it’s not Illinois, I think they’re the strongest team in that region of the area right there being, one, familiar with the grass, also the weather, but I think it’s also at times, as I learned last week speaking with the women of Northwestern, they felt like it was great to be at home, but it was a little added pressure, and even though Arizona State was a storied program with seven national titles before they won their eighth last week, I think it gives the other team — once you get into match play, I think it gives the other team almost playing from the underdog point of view, which is very dangerous when you’re a team that is good. We’ll just use Illinois as an example; they’re expected to play well. You’ll get a team from maybe the West Coast, and Rico Hoey and that group out there, they would actually be playing as the underdog, and they have a number of good players.
So it can hurt the teams from that region, also, because what does the other team have to lose, and after speaking with the women from Northwestern last week, it was. There was a lot of expectations on — they rose to the challenge and just weren’t able to take it out, but there is a little bit — in my opinion just a little bit more added pressure having that tag on you.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: I was going to say, find balance between the advantage and the pressure, Ohio State, Kent State, and obviously Northwestern, very good teams, but those are three teams from that region of the country that made it to match play. Northwestern continued to tell me each and every day, I hope it’s cold. I hope it’s windy. I hope it blows so it’s almost trying to get those southern schools or West Coast schools out of their comfort level. Let’s be honest, if you go to school in that neck of the woods, you have a lot of days like that where you have to go practice and have to go play. To Lanny’s original point, there’s going to be a team somewhere from that region that you might not expect on paper that if the weather does turn, that could be an advantage.
MARK ROLFING: Yeah, I’m big on the whole comfort level thing even more than home course advantage, although I think that the teams that are close to home will have more of a comfort level. The thing about Rich Harvest is because of the way it was built, and I’ve known Jerry Rich for years, and I kind of grew up watching him build this thing, it is more a collection of holes than a golf course that has a real personality. You can’t describe it as a links or as a parkland course or anything like that. There’s a collection of holes, and there are going to be people that don’t like it. If it has a personality, it is that it’s difficult. But if you’ve got a bad attitude and if you really don’t understand all the nuances of every single shot out there, you’re going to be at a disadvantage.
So I like the comfort level because of the proximity for the home teams more than kind of this rah-rah advantage of a home crowd.
LANNY WADKINS: You know, Mark, you hit on one thing right there that I think is a big part of this thing with the teams and team play, and that’s attitude. I don’t think anybody has got more attitude than Dylan Meyer. I like his attitude. I think he’ll be infectious for the rest of his team. The same thing for Sean Crocker and Rico Hoey for Southern Cal. They’ve got a little attitude, too, and I think that goes a long way.
You can walk that swagger right into match play, and it’s an extra club always on your side.
Q. Mark, as far as Rich Harvest is concerned, it may be an obvious question, but when the wind blows here versus not blowing, like it is blowing today and the scores are pretty strong, take us through a player’s mindset of how that changes their game with the wind blowing or not blowing.
MARK ROLFING: You know, I’ve been asked a lot to describe Rich Harvest, and a lot of times to compare it to some other course, and people may really go, what is he talking about here, but I liken it to the TPC Sawgrass in that it’s not the kind of course that favors any real style of player. You can’t say that it favors long hitters or straight hitters or short hitters or good putters. It really doesn’t favor any style player, but the thing about TPC Sawgrass is when the wind is not blowing there, you can have some really good scoring. Rich Harvest is the same way, and I think if the winds are down, you will see some terrific scoring.
But the wind, and you don’t need a 30-mile-an-hour wind out there. A 10-, 12-, 15-mile-an-hour wind can make all the difference in the world. The other thing about Rich Harvest and this whole attitude thing that Lanny and I have been talking about is there are a couple of holes that are really danger holes, sort of like 17 at TPC Sawgrass. The 4th hole is the same thing at Rich Harvest, and the 17th is the same thing, and if you’ve got those holes in your mind when you’re playing other holes, you’re going to be in trouble.
So it’s a course that really takes a lot of mental preparation.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: And I can go back to the women’s individual race this past Monday; Jennifer Kupcho from Wake Forest had that championship in her hands, nearly flawless golf for 16 holes, and then the 17th jumps up and grabs her. Billy Ray, you were there, the one place you could not miss it, she missed it, she makes triple bogey and loses by one. So there are those moments like Mark just alluded to that can jump up, if it doesn’t fit your eye, if you’re not comfortable, if you don’t embrace it, things can change that quickly.
BILLY RAY BROWN: You know, you can do that, and Mark touched on those two holes, and as we saw what unfolded with the women’s individual championship, and Jennifer by her own admission, she ends up making triple bogey, in her mind and what we saw on air, she hit what she thought was a good shot. So the margin of error that you — without making a huge number or losing the hole is very, very slim there, and she felt she played a very good shot, she walks off with triple bogey, and obviously ends up losing the national championship individual title. So there are holes out there that — and I think, one attitude — I think that’s the best thing that Mark also touched on, that if you have to characterize this golf course, it takes on — every hole is a new feel. You know, as flow, I don’t say. It doesn’t have a lot of characteristics that you see typical of golf courses. Every hole has its own unique flavor for it. But there’s definitely holes out there that if you don’t have the mental capacity to play this golf course and give what it takes you, and if you try to take a little bit more, it’s going to bite you right in the tail.
Q. For the analysts, as well, from a championship experience standpoint, those teams with it or those teams that maybe have a lot of underclassmen, take us through what that means to a team, if you’ve had that championship experience coming into play this week.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Well, I think it’s huge when you reference it; Illinois, Mike Small, one of the best coaches in the country, his team virtually making it to match play each and every year, and there’s always that crossover from Detry and Danielson to Meyer and Hardy. I think that can trickle down, and those with experience can share that with the younger players, and Illinois is a team at regionals that for a long time on that final day looked like they weren’t even going to get through, so this might be almost like a second life for a team that maybe didn’t have a great season but still had a good season, so for me personally, watching this from afar, those that have been there before and been under the gun, I think you look at what Jay Seawell’s Alabama teams did from ’12 to ’14. They were in that championship match three straight years. Yes, they were very good, but I think they understood the highs and lows of what can happen in match play.
BILLY RAY BROWN: And you go another place like LSU, here the team is kind of underrated but they’ve got some guys that were playing when they won the national championship still on the team. So you’ve got experience there. So you know, all the way down, it just — different people. Look at Wyndham Clark at Oregon. All of a sudden — he played nicely at Oklahoma State, but he’s a stud out there. So you’ve got a lot of guys that have had a lot of experience, and a lot of times if you’ve got to get a guy that’s a really, really good player and he’s on fire and he’s got the right attitude, he can drag his teammates along, and that can be a big plus as the week goes on, just instilling confidence in your teammates. That’s what being a leader is all about.
MARK ROLFING: I think experience makes a much bigger difference in match play than it does stroke play for a couple reasons. One is if you take a look at Northwestern, for example, if you get behind in match play on a really hard golf course like Rich Harvest, you’re in trouble, because then you have to start trying to force things on holes as Billy Ray said that will come back and bite you.
The other thing, though, about experience with match play, there’s three completely different elements in match play that are all situational, that are added, that are an added factor, and that is where does the overall match stand for your team, where do you stand in your match with your opponent, and where do you stand with your opponent on that particular hole that you’re playing, how many shots has he played, how many shots have you played. So if you add all three of those new situational elements to what’s otherwise an already hard golf course, I think experience will really stand out in match play more on a course like that.
LANNY WADKINS: You know, Mark, I agree with that also to the point, I think experience is going to tell each player that all you can do is take care of your own business. You can watch what your teammates are doing, but ultimately you’re responsible for your point and your point only. You’ve got to go play and take care of business and know that, hey, by me playing well, it’s going to help my teammates, and I can tell you that from Ryder Cup. I’ve looked at a bunch of times in Ryder Cup, and we watched the leaderboard, but all I can control is the match I’m playing, and that’s what they’ve got to focus on is that one match and not get caught up too much in what the other players are doing.
Q. Kind of along those same lines, I know we talked experience, but talk a little bit about the championship format. You’ve got the four days of stroke play followed by the match play competition. As a player, I know many individual champions are on this call with us today. Take us through what it takes to get through stroke play and then transitioning to team play immediately following.
BILLY RAY BROWN: You know, I can speak to that. I think it’s a totally — I don’t think I’m qualified, one, to say, you know, what it would take because when the majority of us on the call right now, the individual title was tied in because it was all medal play, and when the play ended on the final day, you crowned a team champion, also an individual champion.
I’ve got to think it’s very hard, and I’ll use Lanny’s example, he had the mentality where I think he had the — what made him one of the greatest players to play the game was you end on Monday, we crown a champion, we go straight to match play. I know if it were me, it would be hard for me to transition, especially as a youngster from winning an individual title, then having to go take a total different mindset and a total different approach to that.
I think it’s very hard for the young person to be able to make that transition from medal play into stroke play, especially if you’ve won the championship. You’re on a high, and how do you continue that high. At some point in time you have to come down.
It’s unique to see how these young men and women handle it, and we saw last week definitely — she was definitely up for the challenge.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: I think the best tournament out there or the most similar tournament out there that a lot of these young men see is the Western Amateur, where it is a stroke play portion, jumps right into match play — now, granted it’s an individual event, but some of these guys, a lot of them, in fact, have that understanding of what it takes, and you go back two years ago to the Western Amateur. Where was it, it was at Rich Harvest Farms, the site of the national championships this year, and Dawson Armstrong, a young man, ultimately took down Robby Shelton and Aaron Wise on his way to winning that, and he’s playing this week in the field with Lipscomb University.
So there are events where people have experience and can do the quick flip of, all right, now it’s a completely different animal. But you know what, these young men are pretty good. They’ll figure it out.
LANNY WADKINS: And I think that’s the other thing, too, Burko, is when you play the Western, and I’ve played in one back in Wichita, but you play the week expecting to get — you want to win the medal. It’s not all — you know, I think that one thing that’s different is you have a big focus the first four days that you want to win the team title. If you win the individual, that’s fine, but I think all these kids will tell you that they’d rather have the team title than anything else.
You know, they want to position themselves to go into match play. I think they’ll transition well because they all — it’s not like it’s unexpected. You know, they’re going into this with their eyes open knowing that the ultimate prize has to be won in match play.
I think they’ll play the first four days trying to win the medal part of that to get the No. 1 seed, and a lot of times what is the most exciting thing for us is watching the battle for the eighth position. You know, that’s one of the great battles that we see the entire week is — it’s amazing how close that is year in, year out.
Q. You went to a school that had some of the best of all times, or arguably the best team of all time. How do you think some of those Wake Forest schools would have done in match play?
LANNY WADKINS: Well, I think the ones that won the NCAA would have been fine, mainly because they were so deep, and I liked the attitude. You had Curtis Strange as the leader of two of those wins, and Curtis was as tough as they come, and Jay Haas on those teams, and then some other guys, Byman, who actually won on TOUR, David Thore and some other — they were really, really deep teams just like a lot of Billy Ray’s teams were at Houston.
I think the shocking thing to me watching has been Oklahoma State’s run of leading the team thing and then getting knocked out so quickly in match play the first few years. You know, I was at the NCAA at Inverness where I think I want to say Oklahoma State was leading by 15 shots and they were gone after the first round of match play, I believe. I was there watching my son who was playing for Wake Forest.
I went to a couple as a dad spectator and watched these things, so a lot of it depends on course setup, and I mean, I thought Oklahoma State was deep and solid and they went right down. So it’s just hard to say.
MARK ROLFING: I can really speak from experience on this one, too, because I was not nearly as good as Lanny and Billy Ray, and I played in a couple of Division III NCAA championships, which were only stroke play, and I can tell you it really exposes weaknesses in your game, and I had some, and I think stroke play exposes way more weaknesses than match play does, and if I just look at my record in college, I was way better at match play and thrived at it, and a lot of that was because there were some weaknesses in my game.
I think if you look at these players and think about the pressure that’s on them and trying to get in that top eight, the ones that are going to have the most pressure are going to be in stroke play if they do have some weaknesses because Rich Harvest will expose them.
LANNY WADKINS: Well, the other thing at Rich Harvest, too, Mark, is there are big numbers waiting to happen out there. Not such a big deal in match play, but boy, when a team is trying to position themselves or make that top eight, you get one guy that’s going along great and all of a sudden he makes a seven or an eight, it can throw the whole team into a tailspin.
Q. Having never played either of them, is Rich Harvest harder than Concession?
LANNY WADKINS: No.
MARK ROLFING: No.
LANNY WADKINS: I’ve played them both.
MARK ROLFING: The thing about Rich Harvest, there’s a few holes out there that I think are as hard as some of them at Concession, but the thing about Rich Harvest is it’s difficult to sort of play safe on some of these holes. If you look at that 4th hole that I keep talking about, Billy Ray, you saw it last week, if you have both hands on the wheel on that tee shot, I don’t care whether you’re hitting a long iron or a hybrid or anything else, you’re not going to hit it hard enough to even be able to get around the corner and look at that green. So it’s pretty hard to play safe on some of those difficult holes.
BILLY RAY BROWN: No, it definitely, you stand on some of these tee shots here, and the 4th is a great example, and it goes back to the point that we spoke of of creating angles, it’s unique to where the teeing ground is there. It’s a hole that bends from left to right, but the tee box sits on the right-hand side and you have to take it up over the trees on the right, which narrows down the fairway. Something we haven’t spoken about, and it was amazing last week how deep the rough is there. The primary cut of rough is very deep. But just outside that deep grass, the primary cut of rough, the native grass there, you’re talking about grasses that are two and a half, three feet deep, and with these big bombers as these men are, I think we’ll see it goes to a point of stroke play, what Lanny touched on about the big numbers affecting the team, this could come down the stretch, especially on that inward half there where you have holes like 15 and 16 and 17 and 18 where you can drive the ball into some areas where you’ve got to take an unplayable.
Q. Who are you watching this week from a team and individual standpoint?
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Well, I’m going to stick with what I said at the end of the fall season at the East Lake Cup. There’s something about Vanderbilt that I like a lot, and everyone has talked about it on the course of this call. You give me a team that’s got three, four, maybe even five players that can go out and win an individual title throughout the course of the season or at least compete for one, on paper that’s a team that is going to succeed here. We’ve talked about the difficulties of this golf course, whether it be stroke play or match play, and look what Arizona State did with the women. By the time the women’s championship was over, I came to the conclusion, and it wasn’t a hard one, the best team in the country won. They had five very, very talented players from top to bottom, so if someone is struggling, there’s someone else to pick them up. If someone is having one of those moments in match play, someone else is there to win their match.
Vanderbilt is one of a handful of teams that has a lot of depth and talent, but that’s the one that has always stood out to me over the course of the season with Patrick Martin and with Matthias Schwab, you can go down that list, and they’re pretty good, and it’s an eclectic bunch with some veterans, some newcomers, so that’s the team I’ve been watching throughout the course of the season. And then individually you can go with Wyndham Clark from Oregon and Sam Burns from LSU, the two players this year who have had more success than anyone else in the country. The Wyndham Clark story to me, it would be a fitting end to his college career. Three years ago at Prairie Dunes, he played for Oklahoma State in that championship match, and he’s the only Cowboy that put a point on the board. He transferred for his final season at Oregon, and look what he’s done. Not that you replace Aaron Wise, but what a capable fill-in. He’s No. 1 in the country back and forth with Sam Burns. So those are a couple of the favorites throughout the course of the season that I think if they come in here this week and play as they can, I think they’re going to be very tough to beat.
LANNY WADKINS: There are a couple of teams that I like. I like LSU just because you mentioned Sam Burns, and you’ve also got Eric Ricard and Louis Gagne who have been on the teams that have won for them and played well for them the last couple years. So they’re a solid team, plus they drive it really straight with that team, which I like. I think we’ve already alluded to the rough being really tough at Rich Harvest Farms, and you’re going to have to put it in the fairway. Texas has a lot of experience. Oklahoma State, I want to see how Zachary Olsen is playing. I think he was involved in the best match that we saw at Prairie Dunes when he played the kid from Alabama, Robby Shelton. I mean, that match was incredible, and Zach Olsen had won the Southern Amateur and really haven’t heard much from him since. I want to see what’s going on.
There’s some players I want to see what they’re doing, where they are, and I think it’s wide open. Will Zalatoris at Wake Forest had a great year, Player of the Year in the ACC and he’s going to probably make the Walker Cup, really good player. Maverick McNealy is due to win on a big stage for something like this, so other guys to look at for the individual championship, as well.
And Scottie Scheffler, here’s a guy who’s a really accomplished player for Texas. He’s got a lot of game. He took down Aaron Wise in a pretty convincing fashion last year at the end of match play, and looks good.
I’m not going to discount our men’s Vanderbilt Commodores. They look pretty good, too, and Southern Cal with their players. Like I said, it’s just an open field.
MARK ROLFING: Well, I’m with Lanny. Personally I’d be rooting for Northern Illinois, but they’re not in the field, so I’m going to have to go with Illinois. I would make LSU the favorite. Sam Burns is an incredible player. I think Texas could surprise. But given that I’m going to be rooting for Illinois, they have an intangible in this coach Mike Small that you really can’t measure what an impact he has and has had on this program, and I really think in the situation that’s going to unfold at Rich Harvest, these coaches are going to be very important, and boy, if I had one that I was going to run through a wall for and bring home a national championship, it would be Mike Small.
BILLY RAY BROWN: I’ve got to second that to be honest with you. We talk about regions and teams that have been playing well and players that are playing well, and it’s hard not to go, but my gut tells me I’ve got to go down South a little bit, and this is kind of a — a team that I’ve been watching all year long, Coach McGraw there in Waco at Baylor has put together a team that’s very consistent, really multiple players getting wins, and I look at them, but I just cannot help — I know this is going to be wild to say this, and it’s a player that Lanny and I have looked at for a number of years and I like his tenacity, I know this is a stretch, and he doesn’t have kind of the credentials, Dylan Meyer from Illinois is one of the toughest competitors that I’ve ever seen play the game. He’s amazing. He doesn’t do anything that really impresses me as a player, but I think when I look at Rich Harvest Farms and I’m thinking about one of the guys in the region that can really play this golf course well, one, because he’s patient, he doesn’t have any issues of curving the ball in different directions, and he’s been a strong player for a long time, and that’s who I’m looking at right now. I know that’s kind of off the grid, but that’s where I’m at.
MARK ROLFING: I agree, Billy Ray, plus he won the Western Amateur a year ago and the U.S. Amateur. He’s not afraid at all. Plus local, like you say, he’s going to have that sort of home-field advantage, if you will.
BILLY RAY BROWN: Right.
Q. Speaking from an experience standpoint, and this may be more directed towards Lanny, but as a rookie in the Ryder Cup going into competition, how big of a role do players with playing experience in that match play format play a role in your preparation for the event, and how much does that help you stay focused in the moments of competition?
LANNY WADKINS: Well, I had played a lot of match play by the time I played my first Ryder Cup in ’77. I had played two Walker Cups and I played a whole bunch of match play growing up in the North-South Amateur, the Western Amateur, our state amateur was match play. So I played quite a bit of match play. Even my city amateur was match play. So I was used to it, and we had a lot of good players in Virginia playing against Curtis and my brother and Vinny Giles, so we had a pretty deep field there, so I experienced a little bit of all of that.
I think that once you’re in tune with match play, the Ryder Cup is just another level of it, and it’s just — is the moment too big for you or not. I was coming off two big wins at the PGA and the World Series of Golf, two of the four weeks before the Ryder Cup, so I was kind of on top of the world and wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody. So it didn’t bother me at all going into match play.
So I think it’s just about how much you’ve played and how comfortable you are at Match Play.
You know, I knew all the guys on TOUR so it wasn’t like I was getting thrown in with a bunch of different guys. I got to play matches with Hale Irwin and Ed Sneed that are two of my friends that I had played a lot of golf with, so there was a comfort factor there. You know, so it was — for me it was comfortable going in there, and I was just excited to be a part of it.
MARK ROLFING: You know, I’m of the opinion that it’s changing and it’s changing right before our very eyes, and that experience is not as big a factor as it was back in Lanny’s day.
You know, there are a couple things that have really changed. The Golf Channel, for one, these kids watch The Golf Channel 24 hours a day. They know way more and are way more tuned in to all the aspects of the game than we were when we were young golfers let’s say. These players are so experienced at the age of 19, 20, 21. It’s almost like they have been on TOUR. If you look at the PGA TOUR, and in fact, Phil Mickelson is learning as much from Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm and the younger players as they are learning from him, I think. I just don’t think experience is as important as it once was because they’re all veterans at very young ages now.
Q. Speaking of the game changing a little bit, Corey Pavin just walked by a few minutes ago, and I got to thinking about those great UCLA teams that he was on. It’s amazing, I doubt he would get a look from a college coach today given the emphasis that’s on length and how long all these guys are. Has it changed that much, that there are a lot of guys who played in your era who would have had some difficulty playing at the college level?
LANNY WADKINS: I don’t know. I don’t see — in any of the guys that Billy Ray and I played with, we played with a lot of really good players that I think would have transitioned into this level just as well, I mean, the guys on his team between he and Elkington and the guys I look at like Curtis and Jay Haas and even the guys that were seniors when I got to Wake, I played with Eddie Pearce and Jim Simons and guys that could really play, and I even think back to the Southern Cal guys that were so good back then and Ray leach at Brigham Young. A lot of these guys had big-time games and swings, Kratzert at Georgia and Andy North at Florida, they would have played. There wouldn’t have been any issues. There are obviously more players that can really play today, but the elite players back then would have played without any problem.
And I think when you talk about a Corey Pavin, that’s one of the mistakes a lot of coaches make, and I’ve watched this very closely having had two boys that have played college golf as well as being involved myself for a long time, is some coaches get caught up in length and length alone, and it’s not about length, it’s about the score they post on the board, and sometimes they need to be more cognizant of that and really what’s inside a kid rather than looking at how far he hits it. I’ll take Corey Pavin still against a whole bunch of guys that hit it 100 yards by him, and he’s going to wear them down.
BILLY RAY BROWN: Yeah, I agree.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: I was going to say, I’m here at the Senior PGA, so I’m watching a lot of these players that you’re talking about, and I totally agree; they would have transitioned. There’s no question about it. Just watching Langer yesterday, you talk about a guy that’s transitioned over 35 years, it’s amazing to me. You know, through short game woes and just the way he hits it still and goes about it, he has transitioned with the game, and I think the great players of Lanny’s and Billy Ray’s eras would have transitioned. I think the same guys would be on the same —
LANNY WADKINS: Well, there’s no question. The thing Langer has done, his short game is not what it once was, but his ball-striking may be better. He’s improved his grip and his swing from in his prime, so that part is better to make up for the short game. Then you go to the greatest player of all time, Jack Nicklaus, playing today with today’s equipment, he would still be the greatest player ever with today’s equipment. He would make more putts, he’d hit it further than anybody else and his short game is better than it was sometimes in his prime. Jack would still be as dominant today as he was back then.
BILLY RAY BROWN: I certainly have to agree. I just think Lanny touched on it, too. The teams that I had, all five of the guys or seven of the guys that I played for the four years that really played the majority of the golf at some point in time spent time on the PGA TOUR, which is a feat in itself. You might not know the names, but they were good enough to play there and we were very deep. But I think now it comes down, and Mark and Lanny made great points there. The players that played well back then would have played well now, but I think the abundance of players now that the game has grown to a point now where the abundance of really good players make it difficult. The same players that played well definitely would have dominated in today’s game, too.
Q. Getting back to the topic of the college coaches, you guys had touched on Mike Small, what are some of the things that a college coach can provide to a team that may be struggling out of the gates in an event like this in the stroke play or maybe trailing in some matches early in match play?
LANNY WADKINS: I think the biggest thing a golf coach can do is be a calming influence on the young men out there because they are young and they are going to make mistakes, and can you calm them down, can you instill positive vibes in them. And also you’ve got to be the kind of coach that reads — they’re all individuals. You’re not going to coach them all the same. Some of them may need to be yelled at. You’ve got to know your kids inside out, what you can do to push their buttons to make them play better and perform better, think better, manage their game better. I think it’s all about knowing the players inside out, and yes, it does help if the coach, I think, if he’s going to be on the course, which we never had — Billy Ray and I can tell you, our coaches never made it past the bar. They weren’t exactly a lot of help on the golf course, but today’s coaches are a big factor on the course. So I think given that, it’s a great thing if the coaches have some playing experience like a Mike Small, for example, who really knows what he’s doing and what he’s talking about. He can play and has played well for a long time. So I think that makes a big difference.
STEVE BURKOWSKI: Well, I think, Lanny, you hit on the key of a coach knowing his player, who does he need to push, who does he need to step off maybe the gas and say they’ll figure it out. But Mike Small, as you said, a great player, understands his team, and isn’t afraid to be tough. The motto there at Illinois, “nothing is earned.” They’re a blue collar program in a white collar sport, they’re going to roll up their sleeves and get it done.
Billy threw Baylor out there a short time ago. Mike McGraw has won a national championship as the head coach at Oklahoma State. He was an assistant under Jay Seawell at Alabama when they won a national championship. He does it in a different way, but it still circles back to the point of knowing how to communicate, how to interact with his players during the good and the bad times, so it’s that coach, I think that’s more experienced does help, the guys that have been around 10, 15, 20 years that maybe have learned some tough losses as a head coach how they can do it maybe a little differently. But I think the right coach will understand the moment and what to do with his player.
MARK ROLFING: I’m totally with Lanny on this one, and from personal experience, I can tell you every player is different, and I was kind of player that coach needed to calm down, and what didn’t work with me was being calm. Being calm actually made me more nervous. What actually calmed me down was getting yelled at, and if I got a good ripping every once in a while from my coach, that was the best thing that could happen to me. And there were other players on the team that did not react well to that.
I’m totally with Lanny there. You’ve got to have a tremendous read on each one of your individual players because they’re all different.
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