Bruce Irons, 29, grew up on the North Shore of Kauai. In addition to being an avid golfer, he's considered one of the best big-wave surfers of all time. In a recent Q-and-A, Irons compares short putts to big waves and breaks down his so-called rivalry with fellow surfer and golfer, Kelly Slater.
When did you get into golf?
My dad always played golf and I remember him hitting balls when I was really young. My grandfather lives across the street from a golf course in Aspen, Colorado. One of my earliest memories, when I was 5 or 6, was when I went to Aspen and he made me a little wooden 3-wood. The thing was probably two-and-half feet tall. That was one of my earliest memories. But then four years ago, I started wanting to learn how to get good. I wanted to learn the proper swing and to hit the ball where I was aiming. I was sick of trying to baseball-bat every swing. I was sick of bad luck. I wanted to learn how to do it right. I didn't know how to grip it right until four years ago.
Your bother, Andy, has won three world titles in surfing, but he's not a golfer?
He loves golf, but he sucks. He loves it so much and he plays a lot, but he does not want to learn how to get better. I told him it starts with your grip. He enjoys going out there, playing like crap, swinging bad, and lying about his score. He loves it.
What do you love about the game of golf?
It's the whole mental aspect. You have to hold your composure. I also like the etiquette. When you're playing the game right, and doing those things, it shows the character of a guy. You have to have patience; you can't lose it. You have to swallow your last bad shot. It's really mind over matter. It's amazing what a little white ball, that doesn't move, can do to a big, grown-up man.
It seems like a lot of surfers like to play golf. When there are no waves, does golf give surfers an outlet for spirituality?
There's a lot of spirituality in surfing -- you're sitting in the ocean waiting for Mother Nature to produce a wave. And you have to have some sort of spirituality in golf. They both have a lot to do with feeling. I think surfers are mind-over-matter people because you're messing with Mother Nature and it can hold you down and it can drown you. And in golf, you have this little white ball just sitting there. You can be the biggest, toughest 300-pound guy and you're going for a birdie putt and this big man is shaking and trembling trying to make the putt. In both you're trying to conquer the elements.
How about the scenery for both sports -- you're always surrounded by some of the best Mother Nature has to offer.
Yes. And I love fishing for the same reason. And in golf, I don't care where you are, if you're on a golf course, you're outdoors. It's beautiful and I love it.
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods both love to fish.
Bring it on guys. Bring it on [Laughs.]
Try to explain what it's like trying to catch a 20-foot wave. Are you going on pure instincts at that point? Is that like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute?
I'm scared of heights so I wouldn't do that. It's also mind-over-matter. And I'm scared, don't get me wrong. But that's what gets you, the adrenaline -- the, "What if?" Guys can say they're not scared and they're cool, tough guys. I'm scared. And those close calls, that's what gives me the adrenaline rush and that's what makes me paddle back out. I want a bigger, longer, heavier ride. That's what keeps me going.
How much do you train for that?
If you surf every day you're going to be in shape, and I try to surf every day.
Tell me about this rivalry between you and Kelly Slater. He's a scratch golfer.
He's not scratch. Come on. Is that what he's saying? [Laughs.]
Have you guys played together?
Yeah. And he's real good. It pisses me off.
In terms of surfing, is it a legit rivalry?
No. There's no rivalry in hell. He's a lot better than me. But, my [trash] talking is way better than his. The reason I quit the surf tour is so I can get better at golf and rival him on the course. In surfing, he has nine world titles, so there's not much rivalry in the water. But if the waves are big and solid, I'll rival him. I've had good battles with him in good-sized surf. He has beaten me a lot, but I've beaten him my fair share in good-sized waves.
To me, the ignorant, can you try to describe the difference between a big-wave surfer and a tour surfer?
I would say the Nationwide Tour is like surfing the tour waves. The stuff that I like to do is more like the big events; like the Masters, the U.S. Open or the British Open -- the majors. What I do is surf the big-bammers -- the stuff that people like to watch. That's why I quit the tour because I couldn't do well on the little scrappy waves. I quit the tour but I'm still going to do the big events -- Pipeline, Teahupoo, the Eddie Aikau -- basically just playing the majors.
You've won the Eddie Aikau?
Yes, I've won the Eddie and the Pipe Masters.
That's like winning the U.S. Open and the Masters of golf, isn't it?
Not to toot my own horn, but I say it's like the British Open and Augusta. I've thought of it like that. I did the tour for 11 or 12 years, but I quit because I don't like surfing on dumb little waves that no one remembers.
And the judging can be weird and subjective, right?
Yeah. You're surfing Mother Nature and you have a panel of these five kooks who can't even surf -- they're judging you and they dictate your career.
You've been to the David Leadbetter Academy. When did you decide to do that?
It was four years ago. My sponsors knew I wanted to get into golf. Red Bull had a thing at the Leadbetter school and I was on my way to Brazil to do an event. I had a layover in Florida and I went to his school for six hours. They gave me a DVD. It helped out my game a lot.
How did six hours help your game?
I've only had my friends on Kauai teach me how to play golf, but my friends can only teach me so much. When I went there, they helped me with fundamentals. Stuff like the right way to stand and they shot video of me. When I was done I had blisters on my toe from leaning over too much. The video showed me that I was leaning over too much. Now I can always fall back and look at the DVD and listen to what they say to me.
Did it help to see your own swing?
Yes. When I'm doing good, I feel like I'm Tiger Woods. Then I look at the video and I look like a stiff robot.
__You were saying it helped you to play the Prince Course
on Kauai on Tiger's video game before you actually played the real course.__
Big time. I grew up next to the Prince Course, but the first time I ever played it was four years ago. And when I stepped on that course, I thought I could cut corners like I did on the video game. It actually helped out a lot.
You told me you got to meet Scotty Cameron.
My manager is a good friend of mine. We grew up surfing amateur events together. We're both into golf and we're real competitive. One of his friends knew Scotty and told him that Scotty wants to meet surfers. So we got to go over to his facility. I brought him a surfboard and he was stoked about that. I got to go through his facility and he hooked me up. He made a putter for me, I watched him pound my name into the back of the putter, and then he took us to play the Bridges. He was hands-on, really involved in his work. A lot of surfboard shapers put their name on it, but they don't actually shape it. But Scotty's really passionate about his work. It was cool.
You said he put your video side-by-side with Tiger to compare putting strokes.
Yeah. The next time Tiger goes in there, he'll put Tiger's video next to mine.
Do you have similar putting strokes?
Well, Tiger's head moves -- mine doesn't. My putting line is straight on -- his is all over the place. It was jittery. If he struggles with his putting, he should go back to my video. [Laughs.]
Have you ever met Tiger?
No. But hook it up Golf Digest. I'll give him my Facebook, bro. [Laughs.] No, I don't do that stuff ... but I will if he wants to. [Laughs.]
What should a tourist do if they come to the North Shore? Are you into helicopter tours?
I'm scared of helicopters, but I love the Napali Coast. The tours on the boats are cool. I've done the two-mile hike, but I've never done the 12-mile hike. I drive my boat down there, and every time I go down there, it blows my mind. It's breathtaking. To play golf on these course out here is insane too.
Give me your favorite places to eat on the North Shore.
CJ's Seafood and steakhouse is great, which is in Princeville -- really good prime rib and seafood. The Westin Hotel just opened two years ago and they have good steak and seafood. Once the St. Regis opens, the Princeville Hotel should be good, which is when the new Makai Course
will open up. That course is going to be insane. Hanalei Tropical Taco is real good Mexican food. The Kilauea Fish Market serves great lunches -- real fresh fish.
I heard you say catching three tuna is like getting barreled in a 12-foot wave; is that like stringing together five-straight birdies in golf?
I wouldn't say it's like a hole-in-one, but it's probably like making an eagle. My best shot is an eagle from 218-yards out at the Makai course. I made it from the fairway. I ran from 218-yards to the green. I forgot about the people I was playing with.
Have you ever come close to a hole-in-one?
Maybe six inches or a foot. Don't worry. When that happens, I'm calling every golf magazine in the world.
Do you watch a lot of golf on TV?
I watch a lot of Golf Channel. In surfing there are a lot of golf geeks. I'm sort of a golf stud, but there are a lot of us who like to golf. Wherever I am in the world, if there's a tournament on, I'll somehow try to watch it. When I go around the world, I try to play in every country I go to. I collect golf shirts from around the world.
Have you played anywhere good lately?
This course that Jack Nicklaus built in South Africa a few years ago is the best course I've ever seen. It's the St. Francis Links in St. Francis Bay. It's beautiful. Google it.
We were just on the Prince Course, which has spectacular views, but this course stacks up?
Prince is like mountains, cliffs and waterfalls. But this course is links, into these sand dunes near lakes and rivers. It has super green fairways. The guys who own it, they said Jack came out four times, two days each time, and they said he was super passionate about designing it. They said he was a real cool guy.
__If I offered you an all-expenses paid trip to Bandon Dunes
I've never heard of Bandon Dunes. I think I'd take Pebble Beach. It's the one I always watch on TV. Where is Bandon Dunes?
It's on the coast of Oregon. It has three of the top-25 public courses in the country.
You fly all over the world -- how do you kill time on long flights?
Ambien and red wine.
One movie on a long flight?
I like "Young Guns." I like Westerns.
Do you have an airline of choice?
JAL charges $60 for the first surfboard and $360 for each additional one. I just went to Indonesia, and bought a $5,000 business-class ticket. On top of that they charged me $1,500 for my surfboards. I want you to write this down: I'll never fly with them again. Out of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines is cool. They keep it real. And I like American.
If you could only play one course for the rest of your life?
What's your best round?
I shot 79 once on the Makai Course at Princeville.
If Tiger and Phil were in the final pairing of the Masters, who are you pulling for?
Tiger. But you know what, I've grown fond of Phil in this last year. He has been plane-Jane, but this year he has kind of got more personality going and he's in better shape. He's more of Phil the thrill. But Tiger's still the man.
A three-foot putt for your life, do you take it or do you have Tiger putt it for you?
I can handle my own three-foot putt. If I don't make it, I deserve to die.