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Stuart Appleby: The Golf Digest Interview

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No, not really. I don’t play that much at Isleworth. I don’t go home to play golf. There are several guys who live there. I might see them on the range if I’m practicing, but socially, it’s not like we all hang out when we’re home. I want to hang out with my wife and children. The guys, we see a lot of each other on the road show.

You’re big on Tiger, aren’t you?

Absolutely. To have him at the helm, the best golfer in the world, maybe the most famous athlete in the world, is tremendous for our sport. He’s a consummate professional. Can you imagine if Tiger, with all his credentials, was an a--hole? Representing golf? We’re lucky he is who he is. And people don’t see the other side of him. He’s funny. Very funny.

Have you seen his trophy case?

You mean his trophy house? He’s got them everywhere. Embedded in the walls, on tables, in cases. Last time I was there, he had only one spot open in the wall. I think he must give most of the trophies away, anyway. Probably turns them away like wine. “Ah, that’s only a $100 bottle . . . we’ll let that one go.” And what about the crystal? Can you imagine how much crystal he’s given away? He doesn’t have to shop for Christmas. Now he’s building his dream house, so he’ll have more room for his trophies. And his television sets. He’s got them everywhere. He’s even got a 10-incher, a plasma, in the toilet.

Do you agree with Rory Sabbatini that Tiger is “more beatable than ever”?

First of all, they’re different people in every way. Tiger is a man of action. Rory is a man of words. Rory has a great deal of belief in himself. I’m sure that confidence is one reason he’s where he is. But he likes that First Amendment, even if what he said about Tiger is bull. Rory lets his mouth move before his golf club. He leads the FedEx Cup points race in that department—comfortably.

What’s your take on Phil Mickelson?

Interesting character, maybe an enigma. He is what he is. He works the media very well. I think he thinks about what he wants to say more than any other player. Some of what he says seems rehearsed, contrived. Maybe most of it. That doesn’t make him a phony; that means he’s smart enough to think about his answers before he gives them. He’s pretty bright. He makes sure he’s ready.

Seems contrived or is contrived?

That sounds like he’s cunning, conniving, programmed. So, yeah, that word “contrived” is probably too strong. Maybe “syrupy.” He’s the most syrupy interview you’re ever going to get. But the people love him. He connects with the public more than any player on the tour. He gives them knuckles, he talks to galleries, he smiles, he thanks everybody. When he won the Players, he thanked the coach he’d just fired, Rick Smith. I wouldn’t have done that, but Phil is Phil.

Does he connect with other players?

I don’t think he’s not well-liked, but he’s not the kind of guy a lot of other players are attracted to. Tiger, for instance, might be the best golfer ever. And he hangs out with Michael Jordan and Roger Federer, who might be the best ever at what they did. Funny how those types become friends. Still, Tiger seems more normal than Phil, more one of the guys, from a player’s standpoint. You can approach Phil on anything, but his answers are prim and proper. If you saw Phil’s interview with Bob Costas after the Players, it just didn’t feel that spontaneous. “You know, Bob, I looked at all the great players on the leader board out there today . . . ” Just speak your mind; you’re not making a movie. He’s very polished. This sounds like I hate Phil, but I really don’t.

But you did have an issue with him at this year’s Byron Nelson tournament.

An issue with him and the tour. The way it works, as I understand it, is that if a player makes a reasonable effort to make it to a Wednesday pro-am but can’t, he’s allowed to play in the tournament starting Thursday. Fine. I have no problem with that. Phil was in Arkansas playing a corporate event Tuesday. There were bad storms. His plane couldn’t fly into Dallas that night. Did he call his pilot and tell him to wake him at 4 on Wednesday morning to try to fly into Dallas in time for the pro-am? Did Phil consider driving from Arkansas to Dallas, which is only four or five hours? That didn’t happen. He missed the pro-am but was allowed to play the tournament.

And the tour is partly to blame?

The tour, rightfully or wrongfully, has drawn up rules that are very, very flimsy. If he’d tried harder to get there, he should not have been disqualified. But he didn’t, and he should have been DQ’d. Why didn’t he drive? Was he afraid a cow would come across the highway?

Retief Goosen got DQ’d in Los Angeles because his alarm didn’t go off. He could have lied, called a doctor and said he woke up vomiting. Think he was pissed after he heard about Phil? Even if Phil showed up late and played 16 holes with his group, no problem. If that had been me—and nobody cares about me—am I DQ’d? You bet. But Phil got special treatment, and it was the talk of the practice range that week. Vijay Singh called the commissioner and asked him, what the hell was going on here.

It’s a double standard. Stuff like that is part of the system, and it doesn’t endear Phil to the locker room.

Any other oddities you find on tour?

All countries are founded on some sort of religious belief, but in America and on the PGA Tour, it’s a lot more out in the open. There’s a Bible study many players attend, for instance, whereas in Australia, your religion is pretty much behind your own doors.

You certainly would qualify as Americanized, though, wouldn’t you?

We all are to a point because there’s so much of your TV in Australia. I grew up on “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Get Smart,” “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy.” “Days of our Lives” used to depress me, and “The Young and the Restless.” Every time I turned them on, somebody was having an argument.

One thing I notice is your automobile ads. Speed is a big problem in Australia, the biggest killer of young men. That’s one reason we can’t be shown any drag-racing commercials or burnouts to sell cars. Over here, there’s small print about a closed course and a professional driver and don’t try this at home, but nobody reads it. Which is strange, because even though you see that all day on TV here, there’s no ad for Smith & Wesson trying to sell you a gun to shoot somebody.

You think American TV is a vast wasteland?

No. On the contrary, it’s helped Australians learn more about your country, more than you know about us. A lot of you think we wrestle crocodiles and surf all day. I grew up away from the water. I can’t surf to save myself. But Aussies have gradually made an impact on your TV. I thought “Crocodile Dundee” was a little tacky. But what Steve Irwin [“Crocodile Hunter”] did for Australia was huge.

You folks remember where you were when JFK was assassinated. I was in my work shed when I heard Steve had been killed doing what he loved with animals. I was a blithering idiot. I couldn’t watch his memorial on TV, I was bawling so bad. Peter Brock, our Dale Earnhardt, died the same week. Two superstars. Back to back. Our country was gutted.

Besides car ads, what else puzzles you about America?

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