'I've told a couple players on tour, "I'd like to tell you it was a pleasure, but it wasn't"'
Roger Maltbie hasn't accomplished everything he might have expected to in three decades of professional golf, but boy, has he enjoyed the ride. Today, Maltbie is among the most popular TV analysts covering the game. As a storyteller, he's second to none.
Maltbie never won a major, but as a full-time tour player from 1975 to 1996, his five tour victories included back-to-back wins as a rookie, a bizarre playoff victory that led to some hard feelings, and a career-extending triumph at the '85 World Series of Golf.
Now 51, Maltbie thinks a little practice and a concerted effort to lay off the cheesburgers are all he'd need to be a factor on the Champions Tour. So NBC made sure he would continue walking the fairways for the network by extending his contract through 2005.
During a series of interviews, Maltbie roared with laughter while describing topped shots, lucky bounces and almost whiffing a tee ball after having been overserved the night before. And for a moment he cried while reminiscing about nearly winning the Masters in 1987. His experiences have been a riot, and he's not afraid to talk all about 'em.
Golf Digest: You've won some pretty high-profile events as a player, and as a TV presence you get a lot of attention from galleries when you're out there walking with the leaders. Do you consider yourself a celebrity?
Roger Maltbie: Fans feel they can say hi to me and I'm not going to bark or snap at them. I don't consider myself a celebrity, I consider myself approachable and friendly. I think I was that way throughout my career.
No secret that fans can be in awe of pros, but what happens when it's a player who's in awe of another pro?
Tuesday afternoon at Firestone, PGA Championship in 1975, my first major, I look at the pairings and see I'm playing with Jack Nicklaus. I'm figuring he's asking himself, "Who is this guy?" And no matter what I've done or not done, when I stand on that first tee, he's going to be looking at me and making up his own mind whether I've got anything or nothing.
So you arrive at the first tee on Thursday, and there's Jack. What happens next?
Off the first tee, maybe 80 yards, there's a little creek that winds down the left. No professional golfer had ever hit it in that creek. . . . I hit it in that creek. I was so scared. So scared. And he couldn't have been more gracious.
You topped the shot?
A heel/top/squib. I had no oxygen reaching any part of my body. None. Oh, was I embarrassed.
Big crowd watching?
Oh, yeah -- Jack and Ohio, are you kidding me? We go through a couple of holes, and I barely get the ball in the air. At one point he says to me, "Roger, just relax. You've got a very nice golf swing. You're a good player. Good things have been happening to you. Just relax." And I got better. But not much.
What else do you remember about Nicklaus from that first encounter?
A couple of things. The old fifth hole was a long par 3, uphill. First day it was playing into the wind. At the time, Angelo Argea was caddieing for him. Not only was Jack the greatest player in the world, Jack was the best caddie in the world. Jack didn't ask questions; he had his own yardages. The first day, I can't remember the yardage, but I want to say 220, up a substantial hill and into a pretty stiff breeze. Jack pulls out 1-iron. Bang, right at the center of the green, comes up about three yards short. No problem.
And you hit . . .
Three-wood. The next day we come to that hole again, Jack does all his computations, grabs the 1-iron. Angelo says, "Boss, you hit that yesterday, and we didn't get there."
I'll never forget the look on Jack's face. He looked at Angelo, and he says, "We'll get it there today." And he hit this 1-iron. I never saw a shot like it. It was just a skyscraper, into this wind and up this hill, and it pitched on the back of the green. Back then with that equipment. And we're talking a 25 or 30 mile-per-hour wind.
The other thing I remember: Ed Dougherty was playing really well the first round, leading. And I said to Jack, "Dougherty, look at that . . . " He's like five under par or something like that. Jack said, "Doesn't matter -- 276 will win." What did he shoot? Two-seventy-six. I thought that was impressive.
In 1976, Nicklaus started his tournament, the Memorial, and you beat Hale Irwin in a playoff. Three-hole playoff. First one of its kind. Jack didn't want his event decided by sudden death and thought three-hole stroke play would be better.
When you headed to the tee to start the playoff, I'm guessing the crowd knew Hale a little better than they knew you.
Oh, boy. He had won the Open in '74 at Winged Foot, on the hardest golf course in the world, and here he is.
And the crowd, and the tournament host, probably weren't rooting for the underdog?
That was the feeling I got about it. I can't put words into Jack's mouth -- it's never been said to me by him -- but to have Hale Irwin win your first, a guy with some pedigree . . . I was kind of long-haired with this floppy mustache and wearing these stupid [plaid] pants.
Are they still in your closet?
No, we got rid of those. At any rate, we go out for the playoff. I see Hale and extend my hand. He didn't receive it that warmly. And Jeff Burrell said the best thing that any caddie has ever said to me -- ever -- as I stepped over to my bag. Jeff looked at me and he said, "He thinks he's going to win."
I started to laugh. Here I am, I'd never been in a playoff on the tour. This is a big deal. Jack's first tournament. Are you kidding? Big event. Let's face it, Hale thinks he's going to win, maybe I think he's going to win, and everybody else thinks he's going to win. But that comment really relaxed me. Cracked me up.
So we both birdied 15 and we both parred 16, so now, playing the third hole, we're in sudden death. It's set up to finish on 17. We both drove into the fairway. I was away and the hole was cut on the left side of the green, and I pulled the ball left. It hit in the gallery, and all of a sudden it bounced out on the green. My first reaction was, "I've hit somebody's head! Something awful's happened!" And the ball is on the green, maybe 25 feet from the hole. I look up, and Hale is absolutely glowering at me. He is not happy, and it's very apparent. So with that he hits it stiff, maybe 15 feet behind the hole. When we get up to the green I find out that the ball had struck the gallery-rope stake. I miss my putt, and I take my glove off, hand it to Jeff and I go, "Hey, we tried." He said, "It isn't over." I said, "This guy ain't Hale Irwin because he misses these to win." Figured it was case closed. Well, he missed. Then at the last hole Hale drove it up against a tree in the rough and had to hack it a couple of times. I make the birdie putt and win.
And what does Hale say to you?
He shook my hand. Then after the presentation, we went to the pressroom. Hale is giving his interview. I'm sitting in the back waiting for him to finish, and a marshal comes in holding the stake. He says to me, "I thought you might like to have this."
Now what do you do?
As I look up, Hale is staring holes in me, and I'm holding this gallery stake. I kind of shrug my shoulders and lift it up. He says, "No, thanks, I've already had the shaft once today."
Hale didn't speak to me for about six months.
We've heard it was longer.
Well, it was about six months. Then finally I forced the issue and said, "Hale, come on, get over it." But it was a long time.
Years later, in '84, Hale got a lucky bounce off the rocks on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach to win a playoff against Jim Nelford. Were you there?
Yeah, and the next week Hale was doing an interview, facing me as I'm coming from the clubhouse. So I stand behind the interviewer, and I just nodded my head. They had to stop the interview. I looked at Hale and said, "It's funny how a golf ball can bounce."
How'd that go over?
Didn't have much of a reaction. Away I went. If you play golf long enough, you're going to get great bounces, you're going to get awful bounces. That's just the way it is.
Hale and I are fine today. I don't think it was anything that I ever did in particular to anger him. It bothered him that the Memorial thing happened. And I was the perpetrator, I guess.
You have warmer memories of a moment as a kid at Pebble Beach when you met Arnold Palmer.
It's kind of funny, you go back to your childhood and there's so little that you can remember crystal clear. You have vague memories. But there are some things that are crystal clear. And on the first tee was Arnold Palmer -- I mean, like somebody turned on a spotlight, like watching Bob Hope on stage. He was wearing one of those alpaca sweaters with the bell sleeves. It was like, "That is the star."
I think it was '60 or '61, so I'm about 10. Arnold had the biggest gallery. I got separated from my parents, and I ended up behind the second tee. Nobody is usually back there, because the tee's a little elevated, and you can't see the fairway. I guess I had a nervous look on my face, like a little kid would have, scared. He looked at me and said, "Are you OK?"
I said, "I can't find my mom and dad. I lost my mom and dad."
He just said, "Come with me. They'll see you with me." So away we walked down the fairway for a few yards. Then I heard, "Roger!" -- you know how mothers can sound. That was that.
Have you ever mentioned it to him?
Years ago. He had no recollection, which I think says a lot about the man -- he'd done the same thing for other kids. But he was my golf hero from that point and remains that to this day. Back then you were either in the Arnie camp or the Jack camp, and I was squarely in the Arnie camp.
Did you ever meet Hogan?
I do have a story. One year playing the Colonial, 16th hole, par 3, at the edge of the property. There's a little area back there where you can be by yourself. I was playing with Peter Oosterhuis and Allen Miller. As I walked up I looked back there and I could see Mr. Hogan. He looked at me and winked, like, "Shhhsh, don't tell anybody I'm here." Now my heart is going a million miles an hour -- Hogan is back there. I'm not going to say anything to the guys. Why put that on them?
So I stood where I could keep an eye on him. Miller made a swing, and Hogan never watched the ball. I was watching his eyes. He watched the swing, never followed the flight of the ball. Then Oosterhuis got up, and if you remember Peter's swing, it was kind of gangly. He hit the shot, and Hogan's head dropped, chin to his chest, and he just shook his head. I have never told Peter that story. So then I got up. I am fading this sucker in there no matter what. I hit the shot and never turned back to see if there was a reaction. I did get it on the green, though.
Sam was terrific. It's 1999, and we're doing the Open at Pinehurst. I'm in the tower at 18 with Dan Hicks. We decide to do an interview with Sam. He was what, 87 or something? We were advised that Sam had good days and bad days, so we decided to do the interview on tape. The last thing you want to do is embarrass anybody. It started slowly, but all of a sudden Sam turns to Dan and says, "You know, I sat down and thought about it once, and if I had shot 69 in the final round of the Open, I'd have won eight of them." From that moment, he snapped in and he was lucid. Clear as a bell. So then Dan asked him about his longevity. Sam said, "Well, I never drank much. Always took pretty good care of myself. Got to bed early, got a lot of sleep." Then, with an old Sam Snead grin, he looked at Dan and said, "Course, I did shake those bedsprings every now and then."
With that, we lose it. So the interview never aired, but it was tremendous.
You were known as a tour player who liked to party a little. Accurate?
I liked having a good time. No question about that. I enjoyed my cocktails and guess I was always the life-of-the-party kind of guy -- one of them, anyway, when I was there. But I worked a lot harder on my game than people ever gave me credit for.
Who were the guys on tour who could drink you under the table?
Haven't found 'em. Still looking for 'em.
You must have a tale or two of a guy who perhaps had a few too many the night before but played through it.
Fuzzy was pretty good. And of course all the old-timers could.
Did you ever play with a hangover?
Oh, sure. Absolutely.
Did you ever play great with a hangover? Can it be done?
Yeah. As far as I was concerned, you had to play hurt. I remember one time, my rookie year in '75, playing the Greater Jacksonville Open. They had something they called the swingers' tent. A great big tent, and when the rounds were over, they had bands in there, parties, a pretty lively place. Went in there one night and got hammered, really hammered. I wasn't playing well in the tournament and was one of the first ones out on Sunday.
A buddy of mine, David Larson -- we'd grown up together -- was caddieing for me. I got to the practice tee and hit a couple of wedges, and the first one I hit right in the middle of the ball. I'm trying to hit it 25 yards, and I hit it about 100. The next one, I hit about six inches behind it. I said, "This ain't gonna work." So I just went over, propped myself under a tree and slept. That was my warmup. "Wake me up when it's my time to tee off."
We get to the first hole, I'm paired with Joe Porter, who was a character, and David Graham, who was very serious on the golf course, always. I get up and just squibbed the ball into the lake off the tee. I looked up and I started laughing. I couldn't believe I hit the ball. I didn't think I was going to hit it. I really didn't.
Now I'm on the green, third hole. It's March. It's a cold, windy, damp morning and I'm sweating profusely. I've got a towel around my neck -- I've got the cold sweats. I got up over a putt and raised up and said, "Excuse me." And I ran back into the woods and got sick. We're off early, there's nobody out there at this time anyway. I come back, Porter is laughing his head off. I get up and hole the putt, about a 12-footer. I chip and one-putt my way around the golf course.
At the end of the day, I shoot 72, even par. David Graham shoots 74. And David had one of those days where he hit the ball very well but could not get it to go in from any distance. As he signed his card, he said, "That's it. I'm quitting this bloody game when a man can come out completely drunk and beat me."
Oh, was he hot! Oh, was he mad! Porter screaming in laughter. That was the only one like that.
Now that your boys are getting older and starting to hear stories about their dad, do they bring it up?
You're talking about when I was young and having fun. I had some money, I had some success, I was living a dream, I was single. Once Donna moved in with me . . .
You reined it in a little?
Yeah. If we were at a cocktail party or a pro-am, did I have a couple of cocktails, would I get a little loud, tell some jokes? Yeah, I did that. But to ever think I was out all night, showing up on the golf course staggering drunk, that just didn't happen. Donna would have killed me.
Before we leave the subject, give us the full story on losing the winner's check at Pleasant Valley in '75.
So I win two weeks in a row. I walk in to the bar down by the putting green. "Where do we go? What do we do? Let's have some fun." So we went to a place. We had a heck of a time. They were bringing me shots. It's a celebration.
How much was the winner's check?
Forty thousand. I wake up the next morning, but it was some time before it dawned on me that I had won the tournament the day before. One of those, Where am I? What did I do? Where have I been? Then it hit me: Man, I won. I won two in a row. Now it's kind of flooding back to me. I'm going to put my pants on, I'm going to go buy a newspaper. To be honest, I want to read all about me. That's where I'm at at that point. I reach into my pants pocket and there's not a dime, not a quarter, nothing. Nothing.
No direct deposit back then? They gave you an actual check?
Yep, the fold-it-and-put-it-in-your-pocket kind. Sit back down on the bed. Just where was I? Really, I'm putting the pieces together here. That's it -- P.O. Flynn's. I call over there, and somebody answers, apparently cleaning. I said, "I was a patron in there last night, and I lost something. Do you have a lost-and-found?"
"What are you looking for?"
I said, "A check. I left a check in your establishment last night."
The guy says, "Are you OK? You sound pretty nervous."
I said, "Well, it's a pretty big check."
"How much is it for?"
"Forty thousand! No, we don't have anything like that. I'd know about that."
Hung up the phone, called the tournament director. "I've got a problem. Last night I lost the check." The guy laughed and he laughed and he laughed. He said, "Don't worry about anything. We'll stop payment on it. We'll send you over another check. Relax."
I don't know how much time goes by before it dawned on me: I can't get out of town. So I called back. "Can you send your guy over with a $39,000 check and $1,000 cash so I can get out of town?" So I never did get the $40,000 check.
Did they ever find it?
Yeah. A while later, I get a call from the proprietor, who says, "Would you mind if we keep the check and put it behind the bar?"
Your fun-loving nature has served you well -- you've probably played in hundreds of pro-ams during your career.
What would make every amateur play better and have more fun in a pro-am?
If you didn't think it was the U.S. Open. The professional cares that you have a nice time. If a guy will come out with the attitude that he wants to have fun, that he will play reasonably quickly, observe some of the etiquette of the game and have an interest in how you're doing, that's it. It's real simple. We don't care what you shoot. No matter how bad you think you are, I promise you I've seen worse.
How about the guys who think they're as good a player as you are? Oh, yeah. You run into the low-handicap player who wants to compete against the pro. He's playing from tees that are 40 and 50 yards ahead every hole. He's giving himself 15-footers and saying, "Well, I made a 4 there." Then every now and then you can hear him talk to his buddies: "I've got the pro 2 down." And you're standing there going, "Gee, whiz. Why am I doing this?"
What's the most common mistake you see among amateurs?
Club selection. They always club off the home run and almost never get it to the hole. I love when they ask, "What are you hitting, pro?" I'll say, "A 7-iron, but for you it's a 3 -- and I mean the one with the headcover on it." At least you got three Super Bowl rings out of a pro-am. How'd that happen? When Eddie DeBartolo [Jr.] owned the 49ers, I was introduced to him as a 49er fan. Eddie asked if I came to their games, and I said I did if a buddy called with an extra ticket. He said, "Well don't worry about tickets. We'll get you all those you need." I looked at my wife and said, "How great is this? I've been a Niner fan my whole life."
Eddie and I played in a few Crosbys together and finished fifth one year. I traveled some with the team, and one year when the players were getting their rings, Eddie called me over, reached into a bag and pulled out a box with a Super Bowl ring in it. [Stares at the ring, one of three he has received.] Never been a day go by I don't have this guy.
A lot of golf fans, certainly the younger generation, know you for your TV work. But you almost won a Masters. How much different would your life be today if you had won at Augusta in '87?
Boy, it would've changed everything. It would have put me on a different level. I'd been a hot-shot rookie, then I became a nothing. Boy, oh boy, would I like going there every April.
You were the co-leader after 54 holes in '87 but missed the playoff with Larry Mize, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros by a shot. Did you get any sleep before that final round?
I remember I was nervous. So Donna says, "Why don't you call your dad?" [Pauses, chokes back tears.] Still gets to me. Every time I talk about it. As I was talking to him, he said, "Well, son, I just want you to know that regardless of what you shoot tomorrow, I don't care what it is, we couldn't be any more proud of you than we are right now."
I cried like a baby. I betcha I cried a half-hour. I came out and looked at Donna and said, "I'm ready. Ready to go play. Bulletproof from this point on." You had a one-stroke lead going into the back nine, but you were two behind with two to play. What were those insides feeling like at that point?
Anybody tells you that old saying that the Masters starts on the back nine on Sunday? Well, if you're in contention, they're telling the truth. I've got two holes left, and I know I've got to birdie the last two to tie. I birdied 17, make about a 12-footer. So now I've got a chance, and I know the guys are in at three under. I know what's got to happen. I drive it right in the heart of the fairway and the hole is cut front left and I hit a 6-iron. Without question it's the best shot I ever hit under pressure. Just right of the hole and I'm trying to use the backstop, the tier, to bring it back to the hole. It lands and the crowd goes, "Ooooh!" And I knew what happened. It took one hop and it stayed up on top. So that's when history works against you, because you know nobody ever made this putt, ever. It's not makable. Nice going, but you're done. So I wiggled it down there and tapped it in and finished one shot back.
Is that the biggest disappointment of your career?
You know, at the time, no. The way I'd been playing for the past three years made me believe that I'd have another chance. But if you ask me that now, yes, it's my biggest disappointment.
What do you remember about your first Masters, in '76?
I remember going in early. I wanted to enjoy it all. Back then you got the club-assigned caddies. I drew Lipot Dent, who was Jim's cousin. His nickname was Porky. I went in and registered, got my locker, walked outside the clubhouse, and I saw a fleet of green Cadillacs. I said, "What's that?" Porky said, "Those are courtesy cars. Cars players drive." I walked back in and said, "I see you have a fleet of these cars, and I've got a rental car. Is it possible . . . could I get one of these courtesy cars?" And they said, "No, they've all been reserved." So I said, "I looked at all the literature and stuff you sent us, and I didn't see anything about courtesy cars." They said, "Well, if you ever come back, you'll know."
Can you say rookie?
That year, '76, you won the Memorial, then there was a dry spell for quite some time, all the way until '85, when you won at Westchester. Big dry spell. Yeah. What happened?
I had a very bad deal with sponsors, which was unfortunate. There was a group of guys who got together and sponsored me. I wasn't a high-priced commodity. As I went out that first year, they gave me $18,000. I did not have a credit card. I was driving my car, flying rarely, eating in Denny's. This was my existence. And that was fine. I was thrilled. I was living a dream. This was the greatest thing that could happen to me. And to this day, I would say I appreciate their leap of faith.
You're 23, 24 years old at that time?
Yeah. Now, the second year I made over $100,000. That was the big measuring stick. I went back to the sponsors and said, "I'd like to restructure my deal." Back then, they got their money back off the top and then 50 percent of everything I made. That included off-course income.
Off-course income was starting to trickle in at that point?
Oh, yeah. I was rookie of the year, I won two tournaments, I won the Memorial. I'm kind of one of the Young Turks at the time. At any rate, I wanted some more up-front money. I felt like I didn't need to stay in Motel 6 anymore. But the guy who was the head investor, I guess, looked at me and said, "Roger, you're nothing but a racehorse. This is the deal we signed, and this is the deal you're going to live up to."
My reaction was, "OK, pal, if your horse sits down, how much money are you going to make?" So the last half of '76 I didn't play very much. You stopped playing because you were angry with your investors? Yeah. And in hindsight, it was probably the worst decision I ever made. Then when I did try to come back and play, it wasn't the same. My teacher [Eddie Duino] passed away in '77, and it just started to spiral away from me. After haggling, they finally said, "OK, we're out." But at that point, the damage was done.
You just couldn't score anymore?
The harder I tried, the worse it got. Now I've met Donna in '78. Obviously we're going to have a family at some point. Now I'm trying to be more responsible, more grown-up. I'm not a little kid anymore. You're maturing.
Yeah. To me the big birthday is 25. Because no matter what you do before 25, people are likely to say, "He's just a kid." But at 25, you know better than that: "What's the matter with you? What were you thinking?" So it was time to grow up and develop a better work ethic. So golf quit being as much fun. And the American way is, if it's not going your way, try harder.
You're grasping at anything.
Anything. In this game, you've got to know a lot of everything, or you're better off knowing nothing. You get somewhere in the middle and you're lost. Then Peter Kostis introduced me to [sport psychologist] Bob Rotella, and Rotella said the most profound thing that could have been said to me, certainly at that time. He said, "What's the difference between you now and you then?" I said, "Back then, I didn't care. If I played bad one week, so what? I'd play well next week." He says, "What's the difference now?" I said, "Well, I work harder, far more diligently at it. My nocturnal habits have changed dramatically. I'm trying my hardest."
He said, "What makes you think you were wrong doing it the way you were doing it? Obviously that worked for you. You were having fun. All I want you to try to do on the course is go out and have fun."
I said, "You've gotta be nuts." But I went out there, and my only goal was to have a good time. I was back into my personality, back into playing the game the way I should play it, the way I always played it. Sure enough, scores got better. I started contending, and things kind of fed on each other. Then all of a sudden, geez, I was back. That all culminated in '85, winning at Westchester and the World Series.
The World Series got you a 10-year exemption on tour. Why did you get into television?
I had auditioned for NBC in 1988, thought it might be something I'd like to do. They offered me a salary and a position. And I said, no, that I'd rather continue playing golf. Then I had a second operation on my left shoulder, and TV started looking pretty good. So at the end of 1990, NBC called to see if I'd help with the broadcast of the Bob Hope. I asked for a guarantee that they'd let me cover the Ryder Cup, and they said yes.
One of your first events was the '91 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island. And when it was over, you thought it might be your last. What happened?
My singles match on Sunday was Mark O'Meara, but he got pasted [by Paul Broadhurst, 3 and 1]. The match wasn't a very big part of the show, so I get the call from our executive producer, Terry O'Neil, asking me to go find Mark Calcavecchia, who had absolutely fallen apart in his match against Colin Montgomerie [halving the match by losing the last four holes]. I find him in the USA Network trailer with Peter Kostis, and I take one look at Calc and see that his eyes are swollen shut from crying. He had been sick to his stomach, I guess. So I look at Peter and I say, "Hey, I understand. Now's not the time."
Now remember, at the time I'm a player. I went across the compound to the NBC trailer and told my producer that Calc just couldn't talk. Now I don't know how close he was to a nervous breakdown, but as far as I'm concerned, he's close. I mean, how much stress can a man take? He'd obviously maxed out on his ability to handle stress at that point.
So what did O'Neil say?
He said, "Stay with him. He'll talk." And I said, "You stay with him. He'll talk to you, but I ain't doin' it. I'm a player, and I'm going to respect his rights."
Don't you know, a month later NBC called me and offered me a job. And it shocked me, because I had thought, "There goes ever doing TV over here." So we struck up a deal, and I'm in my 12th season now.
Do you consider yourself a player or a member of the media?
Even though I'm a player, the players look at me a little different. But if you ever ask me what my occupation is, I'll tell you I'm a professional golfer. How difficult is it to ask the tough question after a round, live on the air? The toughest part of my job is, the winner goes to the presentation and is interviewed. The loser is the one I get. I feel like the newsman who's interviewing someone while they're watching their house burn down.
Do you remember any of those interviews that were particularly tough?
Faldo was tough at the Belfry in '93. Nancy Lopez at Pumpkin Ridge in '97, when it looked like she was going to win her first U.S. Open and Alison Nicholas beat her. I started to cry a little bit. I've known Nancy for a long time, and like everyone else I'm a big Nancy Lopez fan. At the end of the interview she started to cry, and I'm one of those people that if you start crying, you're taking me with you.
True that you had an offer to join the CBS golf team a while back and replace Ken Venturi as the lead analyst?
Yep. Soon after I went to work for NBC in '92, Frank Chirkinian [then CBS' golf producer] called me. I had worked only a few events for NBC at that time. Kenny's wife, Beau, had fallen ill. So Frank called me and said, "I'd like you to come over here, train under me for a year or two and take over for Ken. Kenny wants you to be that guy. We think that you could do it."
But I'd just signed a three-year deal. NBC didn't give me the right to speak to them, and obviously I was not happy and felt I was being held back from potentially the head coach's job. I wasn't getting paid very much at the time. NBC's position was, "We think you have a future, and we want you to stay here. We don't want to develop talent and just have them leave."
When it was all said and done, Dick Ebersol [of NBC] said to me, "I know you're not happy, but someday I'll make it up to you." Then as my contract was coming to a close in '94, NBC was bidding for the USGA contract [to broadcast the U.S. Open]. Chirkinian contacted me again and said, "We're still interested." CBS worked eight or so more weeks a year than NBC did. That's two months away from home. When I first started doing television you showed up Thursday night and you prepared Friday, you had two-hour shows on Saturday and Sunday and then you were home. Even when you worked, you were home half a week. Now with Thursday and Friday coverage everywhere, you're gone. So, I had a financial deal that was terrific, I had more time at home, and I had to check my ego at the door.
Who's not doing regular TV that you think would be really good at it?
I was very impressed with Faldo at the Ryder Cup, and Paul Azinger worked with us at the Ryder Cup at Oak Hill, and I thought he was tremendous. You probably don't want to pitch too many names, though. Those guys wouldn't want my job. They want Johnny's job. I'm in the infantry.
How often do you think Johnny Miller says something really outrageous?
[Laughs.] Obviously as our analyst he has wide and sweeping power, and that's the way it should be. He's said some things that were absolutely brilliant. And they far outweigh the things he's said that I didn't think were right on the money.
When you start thinking about former athletes who are announcers, he's right at the top. Let's face it, Johnny could do the whole show by himself. He doesn't need me; he doesn't need anybody. It's all because he doesn't possess that little filter -- you know, the one that keeps you from cussing in front of your mom or Mother Superior. It's in there. If it comes in the back of his head, it comes out of his mouth.
We've had several people in these interviews mention that they've seen players bend the rules. Have you ever seen any cheating?
During your playing career, or today?
Give us an example.
I've never seen anyone bump a ball. I've never seen anyone fudge a score, improve a lie. I have seen inappropriate drops. I've seen the rules stretched. In the final analysis, they have to live with themselves.
When have you seen the rules stretched?
Getting a drop off a cartpath and concocting some kind of phony stance to obtain relief. In the strictest sense of the word, yeah, it's cheating. Some people wouldn't look at it that way. Or where did the ball last cross the margin of the hazard?
"I think it crossed here."
"I don't think it crossed here; it crossed way back here."
That kind of stuff. And those things rest on the player, and if he makes those determinations, well, fine. But then I, too, can make my mind up as to what I think the integrity of that player is.
Have you ever questioned a playing partner about the rules?
I remember I had a situation with Gary Groh. This was back in '75, Hawaiian Open. Ended up being Gary Groh's only tournament victory. But a putt that was overhanging the edge, he kind of made a motion at it and missed it and then tapped it in. I had his scorecard and said, "Gary, what did you make?" He said,
"I don't know."
"What do you mean, you don't know?"
He said, "Well, I didn't address it."
I said, "Well, did you try to hit it? That's the issue here."
He just kind of looked at me and I said, "Well, maybe we'd better get an official."
And it was determined: Did you try to hit it? Yeah. OK, fine, it's a shot. Then coming down the stretch, he's dueling with Arnold Palmer, and I'm thinking, "Boy, this is going to cost this guy this tournament, sure as heck," but he hung on and won, and that's great.
Tell us why you bailed out on a U.S. Open qualifier years ago.
We were qualifying at Manor Golf Club, in Rockville, Md. I was first off. This is in the early '80s. I'm first off in a twosome with a fellow, an amateur. This guy showed up at the first tee, he's got Hush Puppies golf shoes on, an old ratty bag. I'm being smug and I'm being a tour player, is what I'm being. I wish I was out with another tour player, two other tour players -- there are certain ways we conduct ourselves that if you don't play the tour, you don't really know.
I walk into the pro shop and a gentleman behind the counter says, "Would you like a cart today?" I perked up immediately. I said, "Really, a cart?" He says, "Yeah, you can take a cart." Well, I'm not thinking. So I tell the caddie, "You can have a cart," so he throws the clubs on the back of a cart. We go down the first fairway, which is straight downhill and my caddie says, "You gonna get in?" I said, "No, I'll walk. I've got to wake up, loosen up." So I walked down the first fairway, and he drove the first few holes. I never get in the cart; I have no reason to.
So you never rode in it?
About the fourth hole the fellow hit one in the trees. I was on the other side of the fairway. I hit my second shot and I said, "We'd better go help him find his ball," so I hop in the cart, we whisk across the fairway. Then he finds his ball, I jump in the cart, we drive back out. Putt out on the green, go back and sit in the cart, ride over to the next tee, that kind of stuff. Then walked a hole, but I get in and out of this thing a few times. The ninth hole goes straight uphill. This is D.C. in June. It is hot. It is smokin' hot. So I hop in the cart, pitched my third shot onto the green, up I come.
Tom Meeks [U.S. Golf Association rules official] is behind the green. He says, "Roger, I need to talk to you.Why don't you go ahead and putt out." So I missed my birdie putt, tapped in, shot 36. I go walking over. He says, "I noticed you were in that cart coming up here." I said, "Yeah. Boy, that's really nice. It was really enlightened of you guys." He says, "You never looked at the rules sheet very closely. Your caddie can be in the cart and your clubs can be on the cart, but you can't ever sit in it or ride in it. It's a two-shot penalty for each occurrence.
How many times do you think you were in the cart?" I start going through it. Six? That's 12 shots. So my 36 is now 48, and I said, "If I withdraw at this point, would I be banned from further USGA competitions?" He goes, "No, we'd understand if you wanted to do that."
I got back to the room before my wife woke up. She said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Well, it's a long story."
Were you upset about it?
No, shame on me. I took a pretty good ribbing for that for a while. As a player, who did you most enjoy being paired with? Always loved playing with Lee Trevino, always loved playing with Fuzzy. They were fun. I mean, golf is supposed to be fun. A lot of those guys take themselves so seriously, take the game so seriously. I respect somebody's right to keep to themselves, although I've told a couple of players on tour, "I'd like to tell you it was a pleasure, but it wasn't." There are some real dial tones out there.
How much has the tour changed from when you were out there? What kinds of things just don't happen anymore?
One of the things that was really different back then was most every evening, you could see the older professionals and by that, I mean Miller Barber, Dan Sikes, Gardner Dickinson, Lionel Hebert, Dow Finsterwald, Don January. Most every night they would be in the bar at the hotel. Always in a sport jacket. Always. If you wanted to learn something about playing golf and you wanted to ask them a question, the easiest way to go about doing it was being in the bar with a sport jacket and buying them a beverage. That's how you learned things.
Is that kind of stuff still happening?
I don't see much of that anymore. The kids come out, and they're in such a cocoon. They've got a golf coach who travels with them. They've got their sport psychologist. They have a physical therapist, personal trainers and a nutritionist and on down the line. And they're all in their own little world. I'm not saying that's good or bad. I'm saying that's how it's different.
John Daly marches to his own drummer.
I think people, the public, they have a way of sensing innate goodness in somebody. And I have seen John at charity golf tournaments, usually there's a presentation meant to tug at the heartstrings, or maybe a poster child who's there. I have seen him with tears just streaming down his face. I have seen him go to his golf bag, take his play driver out of his bag, sign the top of it and say, "Here, auction this off." And they'd get huge money for it, $10,000, $12,000, whatever for his driver.
As you reflect on your playing career, do you feel as if you underachieved? In many ways I overachieved. And did that young. Maybe I didn't reach the things I should have. Or could have. I won't say should have. I think I was a good enough player that had things gone right, if I had had a little different attitude, then maybe I could have won more. When I say that, it doesn't sadden me. I wouldn't change my career for a minute. I mean, I had a ball. If you had said, "Roger, you could have won this, this and this, but you'd have had to live your life a different kind of way," I would have said, "That's not for me." So I regret nothing. But I could have won more. I could have won a major.
Best player you ever beat?
I beat them all. At some time or other, I beat them all.