Exclusive interview with the Dark Shark

Paul Prendergast
Tue, 11 Jan 2011

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Any thoughts about making a return to the Open (Baker-Finch is exempt until aged 65 but has not played since 1997) at Sandwich this year?

No, I’m not playing enough to kid myself that I can ‘be an athlete’ when I don’t play full-time. If I put my mind to it, I feel I could compete but it’s so hard when you work 20 odd weeks in the US and three back at home .  

What are your thoughts about the Champions Tour this year?

I’m a bit excited but without great expectations. I played in Perth in October and didn’t drive the ball all that well but I think that was just a mental thing, because the course was so tight. In the final rounds, I ditched the driver and used 3-wood off the tees and didn’t play too badly after that to finish in a tie for 15th. I’m looking forward to having some fun but I’m only playing a few events here and there. 

You’ve said you don’t have a strong desire to use this stage as a platform to prove a point to the public, your peers or even yourself. Surely being ‘low CBS announcer’ (over fellow commentators and Champions Tour players Bobby Clampett and Gary McCord) has to be a driving motivation?

(Laughing) We have a lot of fun in the booth and play together as much as we can. There are a lot guys who are still good players commentating, Nick Faldo still plays well, Gary McCord has won on the Champions Tour, Roger Maltbie, Gary Koch, Peter Oosterhuis.

How’s your game?

Not too bad but I made the choice a long time ago not to be an athlete, whereas the likes of a Peter Senior, for example, continued to play on through their forties, kept fit and kept their games sharp.  Guys like Kenny Perry, who was winning on the PGA Tour right up to turning 50, are so hard to beat. Bernhard Langer, Freddie Couples showed this year how good he continues to be. It’s not a case against these of guys of turning 50 and you’re instantly going to be successful or competitive.

To compete with the young guys and the best of the Seniors these days, you have to drive the ball long and straight whereas my game has always been about placement.  That’s not to say that occasionally, I can’t play well and compete though.

I’m here now on the range hitting balls, which is a habit I’ll never lose, trying out a new set of clubs. I still love the game and love playing but I’m just not willing to stop doing everything else I’ve been doing for the last decade or more to pretend to be an athlete again. So I have no great expectations or a desire to have to prove myself.

When do you plan to make your Champions Tour debut?

I’m thinking I’ll play the Toshiba Classic out in Newport Beach, California. in March and then I might have a look at some events on the European Seniors Tour if the timing is Okay . After that, I work for CBS virtually from the Masters in April through to September so there will be little chance of me playing again until October. I’ll come back to play the Aussie Senior Open too at the end of the year.   

Must be a bit lonely for Aussies on the Champions Tour, just Pete Senior and you. Steve Elkington isn’t far away and The Shark [Greg Norman] always seems to be busy with other things. Are you sending a few of the other blokes, Mike Harwood, Peter Fowler, Wayne Grady, for example, texts to tell them to get practicing?

(Laughing) Yeah, Pete is our main guy over here now and I fully expect to see him win there this year after such a good year in 2010. What he did at the end of the year at the Australian PGA [Senior won in a playoff from Geoff Ogilvy] was outstanding.

The likes of Harwood, 'Chook' Fowler and Mike Clayton play full-time on the European Tour. I’m not sure of the schedule there but it would be good to play a few events over there. It seems to be a bit more of a relaxed Tour, like the old days.  

You’re good mates with Michael Campbell. You must be encouraged to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel after a couple of good performances in Australia at the end of the year?

That was great to see and that’s exactly what he needed to get some confidence back in what he’s trying to do after such a lean period. He struggled a bit in the wind and rain at Coolum in the PGA, those conditions will show up any issues you have with your technique.

I was pleased to see him hook up with Coach Gary Edwin and get some results. Hopefully he can keep building on that.  

How did you enjoy being back home to play and covering the three events [Australian Masters, Open and PGA] for television this summer?  

I had a great time back at home. I played the Senior Open and did commentary at the Masters, Open and PGA  for Channel 9 and 10 with people like Jack Newton, Wayne Grady and Luke Elvy.  I loved being able to be part of the Aussie Tour and keeping in touch with it.

It was hard to get my game sharp to play after sitting behind a desk commentating all year, the old back takes a while to loosen up! 

Whom do you think will be an emerging player on the PGA Tour?

I love Rickie Fowler, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last year. I like the look of Rory McIllroy who I think will continue to do big things . I’d like to see Lee Westwood win a major to solidify his position as the number one in the world.

Graeme McDowell is changing equipment from Callaway to Srixon so I hope that works out well for him. He had such a great year and it was great to see the two European players, Martin Kaymer and he, win Majors . 

What about your course design work?  Are there more on the drawing board or it is taking a backseat this year? 

There is a lot of redesign work going on but the development of new courses has dried up quite a lot of late. However, I’m doing a course in China next year and I’m doing some work with Jim Urbina, who was a co-designer of the new Old Macdonald links course at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. I’ve no doubt that it will win ‘Best New Course’.

Looking back this time next year, what’s your pass mark for your golf in 2011?

That I’ve put myself in a relaxed enough frame of mind to go out and enjoy myself. If I can do that, I think I can perform well enough.

What about the ponytail, earring and Harley!!??

(Laughing) No, I’ll stay as I am!