BLOG - The best and worst of interviewing golf's biggest stars

Michael Blog Mar 17

It’s hard to believe but it’s now 15 years since I joined bunkered. Fifteen years! You get less for murder.

I still remember the first “proper” interview I did. It was on the driving range at the 2004 Scottish Open and I had been given 20 questions to ask to as many Scottish players as possible. The questions were awful. Truly awful. “Links or parkland?” That kind of thing.

My first victim was Ross Drummond. I remember because it was the first time I ever saw a grown man fall asleep standing up. Thankfully, things have gone better since.

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There was the time I lived every woman’s fantasy when I went for lunch with Adam Scott. And the time Gary Player went on a fantastic rant about whaling, fin soup and why we should be fundraising for Greenpeace. The time the late Arnold Palmer’s assistant could be heard in the background of our phone call “translating” my Scottish brogue for the great man. And that’s not forgetting the time Robert Karlsson called me back 15 minutes after we’d ended an hour-long call because he had more to say. Karlsson, it must be said, is an absolutely top bloke.

Gary Player

However, to this day, my favourite moment was when Dustin Johnson called-in for a scheduled interview.

It was June 2011 and I’d arranged to talk to him for our Open preview. Just one problem: we had a young temp on our switchboard. She knew zilch about golf and I’d neglected to brief her about the famous golfer who would soon be dialling in. So, when he did, she (quite rightly) followed her script.

Temp: “Good afternoon, PSP Publishing, how may I direct your call?”
DJ: “Hey, I’m looking to speak to Michael Mack-ay-wan?”
Temp: “Michael McEwan?”
DJ: “That’s it.”
Temp: “Who should I say is calling?”
DJ: “It’s Dustin Johnson.”
Temp: “Sorry, can you repeat that please?”
DJ: “It’s Dustin Johnson.”
[awkward pause]
Temp: “Can you spell that for me please?”
DJ: “D-U-S-T-I-N Johnson.”
[awkward pause]

Temp: “And what is your call regarding?”
DJ: “I’m guessing it’s to do with golf.”

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Dustin Johnson

Because all our calls are recorded, I got to hear the whole, excruciating exchange when I went to transcribe the call. My toes have been in a permanently curled state since.

The weirdest question I’ve heard a player asked? That’s a competitive field. At the 2006 Open, Tiger Woods was asked (and I quote): “What do you know about Bjorn Borg? What do you know about tennis? And what do you know about Italy?”

Yep. Really.

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There was also a huddle with Colin Montgomerie at an event in the build-up to the 2007 US Open. One writer moseyed up late and jumped straight in. “Hey Monty,” he asked in terms that were entirely too familiar. “You played Oakmont before?” Montgomerie, who famously lost there in a play-off for the 1994 US Open, replied, “I think you know the answer to that one”, and trudged away. Interview over.

On the subject of Monty, some people have a preconceived idea of what he’s like. I’ve got to say, in all my dealings with him, he has been first-class and disarmingly funny.

Colin Montgomerie

I once met him at The Carrick a few months before the 2014 Ryder Cup. It was at the end of a long day for a sponsor and it was obvious he was tired. The PR person hosting the day quietly warned me he “might not be on the best form”. When my turn came, I sat down opposite him, thanked him for his time and said: “So, I just need ten minutes to talk about a matchplay event that’s close to your heart.” Without missing a beat, he replied: “Ah, the Presidents Cup, right, great.” Almost an hour later, he was still blethering away. Just brilliant.

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I can’t recall ever falling out with any player, although there’s one Ryder Cup “legend” whose company I’d gladly never again keep. He is perpetually obnoxious but is, thankfully, in the minority. Most players understand you have a job to do and, whilst they’d no doubt sooner be hitting balls or undergoing root canal treatment, they understand the value of the media.

Amidst the aggressive expansion of “influencers” and “bloggers” who insist on calling themselves "journalists" – I have a kitchen full of knives but if I was to cook for you, you’d agree I’m no chef – the importance of a professional and hard-working media corps shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s a worthy, if regularly misrepresented and unpopular, vocation.

Writing about golf doesn’t save lives but, so long as it entertains and/or informs, it doesn’t need to.

I love it. Here's to the next 15.

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