Westin: Best interviews are with golfers who make time
40th anniversary: Golf writer David Westin, who is covering his 40th consecutive Masters Tournament for The Augusta Chronicle this week, looks back at how the art of the interview has changed since his first one in 1979.
Golf writers are often asked: Who are your favorite players to interview?
For me, in the Masters Tournament, I always pick two: Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus.
Trevino, of course, was always quite a character and simply fun to interview because he didn’t have a filter – he told you how he felt. Plus, he was hilarious.
He’s the only player that I know of in Masters history who refused to use the club’s locker room during the tournament. He thought the club was too stuffy for his tastes. So instead of changing out of his golf shoes in the locker room after a round, he famously said he would do it in the parking lot. I know he did because I did a few interviews with him in the parking lot. His car would drive up by the breezeway in the front of the clubhouse, near the members’ pro shop. It would stop there, the trunk would pop open, and Trevino would hold court with reporters as he slipped on his regular shoes while sitting on the edge of the trunk.
My favorite Trevino line was about Nicklaus. They both played fades (left-to-right shots) which doesn’t suit Augusta National because the holes, except Nos. 1, 11 and 18, favor a draw (right-to-left shot).
The difference was six-time champion Nicklaus could play a high fade and Trevino, with his flat swing, hit it lower, making it harder for him to hold the hard and fast greens on his approaches.
“If Jack Nicklaus had my fade, he’d be running a string of pharmacies in Ohio,” said Trevino, because Jack’s dad, Charlie, was a pharmacist in Columbus, Ohio.
At times, Trevino could play the course. He was the first-round leader in 1989 with 67 but followed that with 74-81-69 and tied for 18th. In his 20 starts, his best finish was 10th, in 1975 and 1985.
I think he could have won the Masters but he talked himself out of it because of his fade. Sergio Garcia once felt he couldn’t win the Masters because he thought the penal nature of the course made it unfair and that frustrated him, but he got over that last year.
Any veteran golf writer will tell you Nicklaus is still the best interview. It’s not even close. He is always opinionated and he even takes the time to learn the golf writers’ names. When they ask a question, he calls them by name, if he knows it, before answering. However, if he thought a question was not well-thought out, he’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.
Near the end of every interview, be it with a small group of reporters or a full-blown news conference, he asks, “Do you have enough?”
Last year, in the interview room during a practice round, Nicklaus only had limited time due to another commitment, which was made clear to the writers at the beginning. When his time was up, the moderator said Jack had to go. But there were still other questions and Nicklaus said “not yet, not yet” and took his time with his answers. That sums up why he’s the best.
Other great players to interview over the years have been Ben Crenshaw and Nick Price. They always had time for you after a round, no matter what they shot.
You might notice all these players are from another era and no longer play in the Masters. That’s no coincidence. It was a different time. Newspapers were king then; there was no internet or social media. Players knew the best way to get publicity was through newspapers. It was helpful to them to create an image, which in turn helped them land sponsors or keep them.
That’s not needed now and they know it.
The top players are invited each week for a pre-tournament news conference at that week’s stop. Some decline now, though almost all still attend. Bubba Watson said he dislikes them because he gets asked the same questions each week. So do Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, but they don’t complain. They show up and answer the questions again.
Johnson, as the No. 1-ranked player in the world for more than a year now, has upped his game. He is asked to the interview room at almost every tournament and never acts like it’s a chore.
Tiger Woods was a different case. When he was winning everything in sight, it got to the point where he would only do pre-tournament news conferences at events where he was the defending champion. Now he’s on the comeback trail, he does meet with the press before the tournament, but usually on the course after his pro-am. He was scheduled, however, to come into the interview room today at the Masters.
Here’s an example of how things have changed: I was walking up the hill to the first tee at the Masters once back in the 1980s. It was a practice round and Ben Crenshaw had just teed off and was halfway down the hill. He saw me, turned to his playing partner and said, “Hey, there’s David Westin."