Golfmagic caught up with the European tour pro and Sky commentator when he opened a new golf course at Sherfield Oaks– a 36-hole complex off the A33 at Sherfield on Loddon near Basingstoke.
During his opening remarks and in a follow-up interview he revealed much about his philosophy of golf and the memories with which he has entertained countless golfers.
What are your memories of your first Ryder Cup?
As we reached the first tee I recalled the time that Mark O’Meara had sliced his opening tee shot into the tented village and was thankful that as we were to be playing alternate shots and Bernhard had agreed to hit the first drive, it wouldn’t happen to me.
There were hundreds crowded round the first tee and lining the fairway as far as you could see.
And Bernhard came over and asked how I was feeling. Trying to appear nonchalant, even though I was churning inside, I said I was okay.
"Good," he said, "I’m sh***ing myself. You hit it."
And he wasn’t kidding. Suddenly it was all there right in front of me. Fortunately I managed to hit a toe end lob 200 yards into the left-hand fairway bunker but I was never so glad to get off a first tee in my life.
When did you start playing as a boy
What’s your favourite course?
I’m also a big fan of Brora on the road to Wick in the highlands of Scotland.
Most embarrassing moment
Which player on the European Tour is destined for stardom?
What do you think of Annika Sorenstam’s sortie into the world of men’s golf?
Your biggest regret?
Have you any examples of how technology has changed since you started on Tour as the youngest pro in 1982, aged 18?
I suppose I can say that I never saw hickory shafts or aluminium heads either. I came in with decent grips and lightweight steel shafts.
A lot of guys when I started on the Tour used to go and see Harry Busson at Walton Heath who used to make hand-made heads out of persimmon.
Can you enlarge on how technology has changed?
The combination of club length, club weight and golf balls with dynamics that are better, makes you hit the golf ball 15 yards further. It’s all within legal limits, so what’s wrong with it?
I’ve played in Switzerland for 22 years and they absolutely love it because 1,000 people stand out there by the 7th green and watch pros hit the ball 340 yards – and they think it’s fantastic. Paul Eales for instance, eagled it recently with a driver and a putt and he’s got the slowest swing speed on Tour.
Spectators want to be entertained. They want to see stuff that they can’t do as amateur golfers. And yet we don’t use anything that the average golfer can’t buy.
As an afficionado of golf courses – and particularly links courses – how does all this new technology equate with making so many courses obsolete.
No matter how good the technology is in your hands, you have to be able to swing the club properly and practice with proper facilities using proper golf balls.
It seems like practice ranges are a bit of a sore point.
I’m a great advocate of these practice facilities that have academy courses played off different tees.
As well as competing on Tour you have a course design business, right?
I’m not critical of any one else’s ideas because all golf courses have a purpose. I’ve played about 145 links and there’s none left that I really want to go and play.
What’s your favourite tip for amateurs?
Work on your chipping and imagine you are throwing the ball under arm to the target.
The length you have to take the arm back and through relates to the distance you are trying to hit the ball, with say, a 7-iron.
*For information on Sherfield Oaks Golf Club, its green fees, society rates or membership, contact 01256 884100. The club is the latest in the American Golf (UK) Ltd’s management portfolio. It was designed by Simon Gidman, on 440 acres and benefits from rolling terrain, mature trees, bunkers and water features.