How are you adapting to modern equipment? (Just Pured)
It’s not easy for me. With the modern ball you couldn’t use the old persimmon-headed drivers. The ball used to stay on the face much longer and not travel as far.
I was one of the longest hitters on Tour before new driver technology came in. Nowadays I’m hitting the ball 15 yards further than I was, despite being 15 years older, and hitting it about 285 yards on average. That doesn’t even get me in the top 150 longest driver on Tour!
Also with new technology the ball goes so high and straight. In the old days it used to be easy to shape the ball from left to right and right to left but today it’s hard to shape it round a tree and as for keeping it low you really have to drive down on it.
The modern balls are made for amateurs to hit them high and long. My game was based on shaping shots with natural a four-yard draw or hitting a fade. Today it’s difficult to hit even a draw of four feet!
What else have you noticed with modern balls?
"The height the ball flies now is incredible. I just can’t see that shot. I don’t mean in terms of physically seeing the ball but how I might want to shape a shot. I look up and I’m still amazed. It flies so high.
The balls today are made for amateur golfers. They go higher, straighter and with less spin.
The guys on Tour today, playing say a 420-yard hole are hitting it 300 yards with the driver. Okay it might go in the rough but they’re only hitting their approach with a wedge whereas when I won the Masters, we were hitting driver and going in with a 5-iron.
Have you still got the driver with which you won the Masters?
Oh yes, I keep that at home in Jersey but I don’t use it now. However a few years ago, as an experiment, I put one of the modern metal trampoline faces into a persimmon head to see what it would do but it wasn’t very successful.
Have the changes at Augusta made you less competitive?
Definitely. The Augusta National course bears little resemblance to how it was when I won using a persimmon driver. Instead of trying to fade a ball round the corner at the 18th, which was not my natural shot, I decided to take on the bunkers and belted it over the top.
They’ve pushed the tee right back now and even with modern equipment, I can’t even reach those bunkers.
And combined with the cold and wet with the morning tee times where the ball doesn’t travel so far, I think it’s their way of phasing out the older guys. And I’m one of the older guys now.
Do you have a swing thought you use regularly?
Not really. My game revolves around timing and rhythm. When I warm up I swing at about 80-per-cent just to try to get the feel on the day. I’m sure everyone feels different each day and you have to find your rhythm. I’ve always been a feel player and that’s how I spend much of my practice.
I gradually build up, swinging 80–per-cent within my body. Lately I’ve been hitting the ball nicely but haven’t been able to take it on to the golf course. I’m still looking for that secret.
Who are the best players you’ve played with? (Ian Selley)
I’d have to say that Greg Norman was one of the best along with Nick Faldo. Tiger Woods is incredible, too – just to see how far the ball can go when he hits it.
But probably the one of the best strikers of the ball is still Jose Maria Olazabal. It’s just unfortunate that his driving’s not too straight.
As Ryder Cup captain, would you like to be in a position to choose the whole Ryder Cup team, as opposed to having two picks and having the rest coming from World rankings and the European Tour?
Not at all. It’s important to keep the European Tour together by qualifying on a list of those who are loyal to it. Otherwise you’d have a team chosen entirely from those who are eligible to play in the US.
I think it’s fine the way it is. Our players have a year to earn their place (the US choose theirs over a two-year period). As for my own picks I won’t start looking until about a month before the match and then choose two players in form.
Each European captain has brought something new to the event. What do you feel is your key strength? What will you bring to the party? (Bill Poster/McAlan)
My strength is as a former player at ten Ryder Cups – I know what’s involved and also having been a former vice-captain I have a lot of experience. I also have enthusiasm and that’s important and to know what standards need to be maintained.
I can also wind our team up a little bit when necessary, though I believe that playing in Ireland, especially, they will already be fired up.
What wedges do you carry and what should amateurs carry? (Smokey)
I carry a 53 and 57-degree wedges as well as a 47-degree pitching wedge. I just can’t get on with the modern day 60-degree wedges. When I won the Masters my sand iron was 53 degrees. If I’d played with a club like that at St Andrews, for example, I’d never get out of their bunkers.
I can’t really get on with a 58-degree sand wedge. I hit the ball from sand and it goes nowhere. Personally, I can’t see why amateurs would want any more than three wedges when you’re only allowed 14 clubs. Better to fill the yardage gap at the other end of the scale.
What’s the best advice you were given which still holds good for amateur golfers?(Andrew B)
Never give up. And as instruction advice: Always try to keep your head still throughout the swing. My first coach was the late Cyril Hughes and he always told me to keep my head still throughout the swing. I’ve never forgotten it and if you adopt it sorts a lot of things out.