Q: How would you describe Riviera Country Club and its challenges?
A: I think the course is certainly getting harder and harder over the years. It’s a lot longer than it used to be. For the U.S. Amateur, it will be set up very tough. That time of the year is a perfect time to play golf there. You can get the greens firm, just the way the USGA likes them. I think it’s going to be a fabulous venue. And obviously coupled with Bel-Air [Country Club] as the other stroke-play venue, it’s just two fabulous golf courses to be playing. Being in Southern California for the U.S. Amateur is fantastic as well. Hopefully, I will be around and can go out there and watch.
Q: Describe preparations for U.S. Amateur as compared to a PGA Tour event or even U.S. Open?
A: There’s a couple of different things to think about. One is qualifying. You have to qualify to get into match play. You don’t have to be as aggressive; you just have to make sure you get into match play. Historically, the scores are pretty high in the qualifying. The USGA typically sets up the golf courses pretty much like a U.S. Open. Everything that goes with the U.S. Open will be important. You have to hit the fairway, hit good, clean iron shots, and be on the proper side of the hole, so that your chipping can be easier.
When you get into match play, it’s a whole different ballgame. You are playing against an individual. Sometimes you have to be real aggressive, sometimes real smart; it just depends on the match and how it’s going.
Q: Why has it been so long since the U.S. Amateur has been held in this area?
A: When you start thinking about venues for the U.S. Open, a U.S. Amateur or any USGA event, Southern California has a limited number of golf courses. It’s been since 1976 that the Amateur has been in that area. There are only a couple of courses that can host it. Riviera, Bel-Air and Los Angeles Country Club are the three in Los Angeles that stick out in my mind. Then you would have to go outside the area, down to San Diego and Torrey Pines or something like that. So it is a little bit limited. Generally, the East Coast for time zone and television is more palatable.
It’s nice to see this coming back [to California]. The Olympic Club has had a few U.S. Opens and I actually played the Walker Cup at Cypress Point [Club] many moons ago. There are a few good places to have it, but it is a little bit limited in California.
Q: How has the U.S. Amateur changed since you played in the championship? Can you contrast when you played and what this tournament has become?
A: It has always been extremely prestigious. In the amateur ranks, everyone points to the U.S. Amateur as the premier event. That hasn’t changed much at all. The talent level is a lot higher and the depth is a lot deeper. In my opinion it is the hardest amateur tournament to win in the country. You have to go through qualifying, stroke play, and win six matches. And anything can happen in match play, so it is tough. So when you have a guy like Tiger Woods win three in a row, it’s an incredible feat, really amazing. I am not sure the average person understands how hard that is to do, let alone win one but to win three. Jay Sigel won a couple in a row.
Overall, it’s a wonderful tournament, and if you are not on your game, you’re not playing very, very well; you’re not going to win. It’s as simple as that. You have to be playing extremely good golf.
Q: What does it means to be a USGA champion and what was the experience of winning the 1995 U.S. Open?
A: That was a pretty neat moment. It had come later in my career, so I had a lot to reflect on. I had won quite a few times on the regular tour and a major was something that I wanted to win very badly and I accomplished it. It was great to win a National Open, just fabulous. To win on a golf course that is set up by the USGA requires you to be in control of every part of your game, and that was what I was most excited about. I played under control, under the most pressure that you are ever going to have in an individual event, so that was what was so satisfying to me – to accomplish winning a major championship and winning our National Open. It was truly a huge goal of mine personally.