Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez to look back at Gary Woodland’s US Open victory:
“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer chap. Gary is a friend of mine and he and I go back as far as 2006 to the time when we opened the Concession course.
The developer I’d approached to do the project was, like Gary, from Kansas and he said, ‘I’ve got a young lad I’d like you to play with. We played together and he was tremendously strong and it was abundantly clear he had massive swing speed and great power although he struggled to control the ball.
Gary reminded me of Sandy Lyle. I remember going to Hawkstone Park in the Shropshire countryside back home in England before Sandy got on the tour and he also had this tremendous power that he couldn’t control at the time.
But it doesn’t take these guys long. It was very clear with both of them that once they could control the power they possessed, they would start to feature among the elite.
I see Gary from time to time. He’s a real delight. He and his wife lost one of their twins a couple of years ago and now she’s pregnant with twins again so their story is a special one.
Gary also did that lovely thing with young Amy Bockerstette, who has Down’s syndrome, at the Phoenix Open in January. That captured everyone’s heart. She played the 16th hole with Gary and kept saying, ‘We can do this, we can do this’, and it got everyone going. She was part of the occasion too on Sunday because I know the two of them spoke on the phone.
It was a great moment. Gary’s been a consistent performer on the tour for some time now and the way he led at Pebble Beach for so long, and managed to stay in front and keep his head, was a great credit to him.
I do believe, though, that there are so many great courses like Pebble, St Andrews and Sunningdale that have almost become obsolete.
They become difficult to set up, without tricking them up, to test the modern-day pros with their modern-day equipment. I played well at Pebble a couple of times, I finished second there in the 1977 AT & T event and I played a lot of Bing Crosby tournaments at the iconic venue in the 1960s.
Guys were hitting mid-irons into 18 last week but I never got up in two on that hole. It was always out of range for me because it was that much longer with the old equipment and the old ball.
The ball is the main issue as far as I’m concerned. Some of us senior players get together for a conference meeting at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament every year and when we met up earlier this year Mike Davis of the USGA was also in attendance.
Jack said at the end of the meeting, ‘They’ve not done anything about the ball for so many years now so I suppose they’re never going to do anything’. I guess there’s a fear at the USGA and R&A of being taken to task by the manufacturers if they limit the distances the ball can travel.
None of my contemporaries could hit seven-irons more than 150 yards, now they’re lashing it 190 and 200 yards. There’s the time factor too. Courses are getting longer, which means it takes more time to play them and it costs more money to maintain them.
In terms of pure golf, it used to be a better experience. You played par-fours as proper par-fours, par-fives as proper par-fives. Last week’s US Open almost became a putting contest. Pebble would have been a walk in the park for the players if the rough wasn’t so penal.
Golf is not the challenge it used to be because the USGA and R&A have let the ball get away from them.”