Dialogue with Payne Stewart
EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was conducted in early March, 1999 by Senior Editor Guy Yocom at Stewart’s home in Orlando.
When Payne Stewart recently put his Orlando mansion up for sale, one of the prospective buyers was pop singer Michael Jackson. As Jackson toured the house, his manager informed him the seller was “the famous golfer, Payne Stewart.” Jackson was clueless at first, and then his manager told him Stewart was the golfer who wore colorful knickers. “Oh, that guy,” said Jackson. “I know who he is.”
There’s no mistaking Stewart, not for his explosive haberdashery, his gorgeous golf swing or, as you’re about to find out, his unrestrained views on golf, politics, parenting and life. Stewart has a deep well of experiences to draw from. He joined the PGA Tour in 1981, and over the next 18 years won 10 tournaments, two of them majors—the 1989 PGA Championship and 1991 U.S. Open. He contended in several other majors and was runner-up in two other U.S. Opens, to Lee Janzen at Baltusrol in 1993 and to Janzen again at Olympic last year. He has played on four Ryder Cup teams and currently is ranked sixth in career earnings with more than $10 million.
Yet Stewart has had fallow periods, too. His victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February was only his second win since the ’91 Open. But he followed that up with a second-place finish at the Honda Classic in March, and with what he refers to as his “equipment problem” sorted out, Stewart is glint-eyed about making the ’99 U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Golf Digest: You’ve appeared on the cover of Golf Digest with a chimpanzee on your back. We’ve taken pictures of you dressed like Bobby Jones, posing with flappers, even had you stripped down to your thermal underwear. How do we talk you into all this stuff?
Payne Stewart: If you can’t laugh at yourself, then how can you laugh at anybody else? I think people see the human side of you when you do that. I don’t think it’s healthy to take yourself too seriously.
That long dry spell after the ’91 Open wasn’t so funny. What happened?
The trouble started when I changed equipment companies back in 1992. I switched from playing a forged blade, which I had played my whole life, to an investment-cast club. At the same time, I switched from playing a wound ball to a solid ball. That was the big mistake, changing both clubs and ball at the same time. Neither one was right for me, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought maybe it was just the ball for a while, then thought it might just be the clubs. It messed me up good.
Why change your equipment in the first place, at a time when you were one of the best players in the world?
For one thing, when you’re playing as well as I was at the time, you think you can play with anything. That isn’t true, of course, but I didn’t know it then. It also was a business decision. We were in the process of building a new home, and the contract was pretty lucrative. It gave me financial security, enough to be able to afford the house with no worries. But knowing what I know now, I would do it differently, because it cost me three years of my golf career. But there’s still time. I’m 42 now, what I would consider prime time.
What was wrong with the equipment?
The two-piece ball I switched to spun too much. One shot would go the distance I thought it should, then the next one would fall short, and then the next one would go long. And they all felt the same when they came off the clubface. The ball just wasn’t right for me.
The cast clubs were a big part of it, too. I found I wasn’t getting that instant feedback I was used to with a forged blade. The sweet spot is a shade bigger, and when I didn’t hit the ball dead center, I didn’t know it, because it still felt great. So you start asking yourself, “What’s wrong here? Is there too much offset? Is the sweet spot too big? Is it the ball? Is it my swing?” It’s enough to about drive you crazy.
For a while, I think in 1994, it got to where I didn’t want to practice. I lost confidence and desire, because I didn’t want to go out there and play poorly. I mean, at the time I would rather come here and sit on the lake than go practice and work on my golf game. Today I have a different philosophy.
Did winning at Pebble Beach renew your enthusiasm?
Oh, yeah. My goal is to make the Ryder Cup team. I’m tired of us getting beat, and the only way that I can make a difference is to be on the team. I’ve been on four teams, and in my opinion it is the finest, purest golf event going. There is the money issue. Everybody is making a lot of money off of it except the players. We’re the people who are providing every opportunity to make money off of it. Not that money is a driving force. It’s an honor to play for your country.
You sound patriotic.
I am. I love my country. I’m one of those people who puts my hand on my heart when they play the national anthem. Heck, I sing the words. The first Ryder Cup I went to, at Muirfield Village (in 1987), when they raised the American flag and played “The Star Spangled Banner,” tears came to my eyes. Yes, I’m a patriotic person. For these people who disgrace the American way and burn our flag and do all of these things ... I say, don’t live here and disgrace my country. Go live in the Middle East and see how you like it. Where if you steal something, they cut your hand off. Things like that.
We live in such a sheltered environment in the United States. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world, and I’ve seen things you only read about and see on the news. Vicious poverty. That’s why I’m very proud of being American. I’m proud to pay taxes. I pay a lot of taxes, but it sure beats the alternative.
Why have the Americans been unsuccessful in recent Ryder Cups?
I haven’t seen the emotion that was there when I played. When I finished playing my matches, I ran out to support my teammates. I was out there following them and cheering for them, slapping them on the back. I’m a get-in-your-face, let’s-get-it-done kind of guy. I think I’m a team player.
Of your four Ryder Cups, the U.S. lost two of them.
No. I’ve been on two winning teams, one team that lost and one team that tied (but didn’t win back the Cup in 1989). We didn’t lose. That’s the point that I tried to get across to the players who were on that team. I said, “Guys, we didn’t lose. They didn’t beat us.”
I can’t tell you my individual record (8-7-1, including 2-2 in singles). It’s a team event. Which was more difficult to take, the loss at Muirfield Village in ’87 or the tie at the Belfry in ’89? Muirfield was not nice. And (captain) Jack Nicklaus let us know about it when we finished. We had a little meeting before the dinner we had to go to that night and Jack just wore us out. He told us, “You guys just don’t know how to win. How many matches were we leading going into 18 and didn’t win them? Look at you, Payne Stewart. You make all this money on tour, but how many tournaments have you won? Why don’t you win more?” He said, “You guys need to learn how to win or you’re going to continue getting beaten in this thing.”
There wasn’t any sugarcoating on it. I’ll tell you, that speech was good for me.
Two years later, at the Belfry, you were among the American players splashing their tee shots in the water on 18. It was brutal to watch.
It was mental. And I made it a point, the next time we went to the Belfry in ’93, of never getting to that hole. And none of my matches went to that hole.
You’ve played for four captains: Nicklaus in ’87, Raymond Floyd in ’89, Dave Stockton in ’91 and Tom Watson in ’93. Which captain was best?
Dave Stockton. Because he was very hands-on and he cared about everything. He was a rah-rah captain. He knew all the players real well and made everyone feel very comfortable. We were very unified as a team under Dave.
What are you looking for in Ben Crenshaw, this year’s U.S. captain?
I hope that Ben and his assistants (Bill Rogers and Bruce Lietzke) understand the importance of motivation. They must make the team pull together and give it their all. This thing is for the game of golf, yeah, but trust me, the Europeans don’t have that mentality. They come over and want to whip us. And they don’t care about the betterment of the game of golf. I think a lot of our players might have become too complacent about, “It’s made the game of golf better.” We’re past that stuff, in my opinion, and I hope Crenshaw and his co-captains understand that.
Having said that, the War on the Shore thing at Kiawah in ’91 was too strong. It’s a pride-check thing, sure. But in the end it’s still a game of golf, and if at the end of the day you can’t shake hands with your opponents and still be friends, then you’ve missed the point.
Would you like to be the captain someday?
I would love to.
Would you be a good one?
I don’t know. For sure I would be a very emotional captain. A very hands-on captain. For example, I wouldn’t hesitate to sit somebody down if he wasn’t performing, even if he was the No. 1 player in the world. I’ve been sat down before. In ’93, when Watson was captain, Paul Azinger and I got beat in our morning match and I got sat down. I went to the practice tee, worked out my problem, and I was ready to go the next day. These guys who keep on playing but aren’t winning, you’ve got to sit them down and let them figure it out and perform a little gut-check on themselves.
Did we get out-captained in Spain?
Watching on TV, it was like Seve was with every group. I very rarely saw Tom Kite around. I’ve talked to Tom about it. I don’t think Michael Jordan needed to be on the captain’s cart with Kite; he needed to be walking in the gallery, supporting them from outside the ropes. Now, if Tom wanted to have Michael Jordan or George Bush come into the team room and give a motivational speech or talk to the team, fine.
Any other reason the U.S. hasn’t won one of these things lately?
All I can say is that they seem to want it more than we do. I kept hearing these excuses: “Well, they knew the greens; we didn’t.” But Tom Kite invited players to come over and play practice rounds, so that doesn’t wash. I went over before the British Open and played Valderrama thinking that I might make the team, might be a captain’s pick. I made the effort to go over there. So don’t use that excuse that they knew the greens better. We just got out-played.
In your four Ryder Cups, who has been your best partner?
Raymond Floyd. The man knows how to control situations. He was experienced. He didn’t let me get overly excited; he kept me in check. It allowed me to free myself up, and I played really well with him. I had played that [Floyd] role with Mark Calcavecchia as my partner in ’91, and we did very well together.
Would you like to have had that putt that Bernhard Langer had for a tie on the last green in ’91?
I would like to tell you yes, but I’m glad I didn’t have it. I wouldn’t have wished that on anybody. But I will tell you who would have liked to have been in that position: Jack Nicklaus.
You beat Mark James, this year’s European team captain, in singles back in ’93. What kind of guy is he?
He’s a pretty funny guy. He’s got that British dry sense of humor. But he’s a very intense competitor. He’ll be a good captain for them.
Years ago you quit smoking and chewing tobacco. You still clean?
Well, I was off of it for almost three years. I used the patch, and it worked. It killed the craving. Then I started back. I was at a buddy’s house and we were laid back, drinking some rum and having a good time, listening to Jimmy Buffett. Then he broke out some Cuban cigars. So I smoke a Cuban cigar, and man, was that good. So the next night I had another one. That just started the process again. Then I would have an occasional cigarette and then I started back dipping. I started dipping last year. My family has asked me again to stop, and I’m trying my best to do that.
You had commented that the withdrawal symptoms made it difficult to play your best golf.
Yeah. People who have never had an addiction don’t understand how hard it can be. I got real irritable and real testy at times. If your family or whoever is around and doesn’t understand what’s going on, they’re saying, “Man, what is eating your lunch?” Well, it’s the withdrawal. It’s tough.
It made it harder to concentrate?
I also have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Dr. Dick Coop, a sport psychologist who has helped me for a long time, suspected I had it in 1995, and it turned out he was right. I couldn’t stay focused on certain things long enough. Dick sent me up to Chapel Hill, N.C., for formal testing, where you sit down at a computer and do this monotonous, tedious work, clicking buttons and so forth. Then they give you some Ritalin, and you come back the next day to see if it helps you retain your focus.
Did the Ritalin help? And are you still taking it?
Not anymore. I took it for probably a year. I didn’t notice the days that I forgot to take it and the days that I did take it. I wasn’t noticing any difference. Tracey really didn’t notice any difference in me. People around me didn’t notice any difference. So I figured I didn’t need to take it. ADD is much more apparent in children; a lot of teachers can spot it right away. But it isn’t just a problem for kids. I probably still have this ADD. I don’t read magazines much, and I have an awful time with books. But I’m aware of it, and I think if you’re aware of it that you can make conscious moves to manage it without medication.
How does ADD affect your golf game?
I sometimes got distracted easily and allowed my mind to wander when I needed to be focused. It’s quite subtle, really, and just being aware of it helps.
I found out about my heart condition a couple of years prior to that. I’ve got an enlarged heart and what they call a left-side ventricular block, where the electrical impulses don’t come out on both sides of my heart. I found out because I was having a stress test. My resting heart rate was like 45, 50. I’m thinking I’m in really good shape, because I’ve been working out a lot. Then he puts me on this EKG, which is the only way you can find this problem existed.
Now that we know, we can monitor it and make sure everything is all right. I take a high-blood-pressure pill for it.
How’s your back these days?
It’s been great. I first hurt it in 1980 when I was out of college, wasn’t on tour yet. I was helping a friend move some furniture. The next day I couldn’t get out of bed. So I saw a neurosurgeon and he found that I had a degenerative disk down low. When I work out and pay attention, it’s fine. When I get slack in my workouts, I notice it. I was wearing a back brace for a while. It started in ‘91 at the Open. It got to where I was using the back brace as a crutch instead of working out.
You have two children. Are you a good golf parent?
The thing that has been so funny is, Aaron is only 10 and he doesn’t understand how difficult the game is. He expects everything to happen just like that. I’ll tell you this, he plays by the rules. I tell him he can’t cheat, because you get nowhere doing that. So we’ve had our confrontations out there. We’ve walked in off of the golf course. He’s slammed a club and I’ve said, “That’s it, get the cart, we are out of here. We don’t act like that.”
Is that how your father handled you?
Oh, yeah. He saw me break a club one day on the golf course and took my clubs away. I was probably 15 or 16 years old. Buried a 3-iron in the fairway and it broke. He said, “You’re done. You’re not playing for a month. And by the way, you’re buying a new shaft for that club.” And this is in the summer, when there’s nothing to do but play golf. He stuck to it. I mowed the yard, which I got a dollar for. I painted the house. A buddy and I painted the house, which we got $200 for, so we each made $100. It was back when a shaft cost $9 or $10.
Your father passed away in 1985. Can you tell us about him?
We were very close. He was a great father. We grew up with so much love in our family. I’m so fortunate that way. He traveled a lot in his line of work (as a salesman), but he always was home at the end of the week to come to my basketball or football games. He even taught me how to dance, there in our living room. I would stand on top of his shoes. And today I still love dancing to the big-band sound. Dad told me, “When you go sit at a table and there are eight or 10 ladies, you always dance with all of them at least once.” Today all these ladies are amazed, like, “Where did you learn to dance like this?” And when I tell them my dad taught me, they’re always surprised.
He wasn’t real big on giving advice. A memorable piece of advice he gave me—at least he thought it was big advice—was right before I was getting ready to go to SMU to college. We’re driving out to the course one day and he says, “Don’t let those girls tell you they’re pregnant.” That was the gist of it. That was the big speech.
The rest he did through example, the way he conducted himself. He was a very fine golfer, and he didn’t get mad on the golf course. I never saw him throw a club, never ever. He was very disappointed in me when he saw me smoking for the first time. He said, “I thought you were a leader and not a follower.” Made me feel bad. When I grew my hair long, he didn’t like that, either.
The last time I saw him alive, we had just found out Tracey was pregnant. Dad was asleep in a big La-Z-Boy chair. It was too painful for him to lie in bed; he could only sleep in that big chair. It was early in the morning and I woke him and whispered, “Dad, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m going to be a daddy.” He kind of looked at me. First words out of his mouth were, “Don’t buy expensive baby furniture; it just wears out.” He was so sick, this man who used to have so much energy and loved life so much, and there he was making me laugh. I knew when I left that morning I probably would never see him alive again. He passed away that next week.
I didn’t cry at his funeral. Why, I don’t know, except I sensed I was now the man of the family and had to stand up. I kept it inside me. But one day, when Chelsea was very young, we were out driving and went by the cemetery (in Springfield, Mo.). I pulled in and we went and sat by his grave and I told Chelsea who he was. “This was your grandfather, my dad.” I tried to explain how special he was and how I missed him and that I was sorry she was never going to know him. And I had this big cry there. “Daddy, why are you crying?” Chelsea wanted to know. “Because I loved my father.” She knew something was wrong, but nothing was really wrong. And whenever I get back to Springfield, if I need to go talk to my father, I’ll go over to the cemetery.
You were aware that he played in the 1955 U.S. Open at Olympic, correct?
Right. I looked it up and saw he missed the cut. My mom said, “Yeah, but the rough was so tall that year.”
The championship meant a lot to him. When I first started entering the Open, he insisted that I write “William Payne Stewart” on the entry form. He said, “This is the United States Open. You have to put your full name on there.” Nowadays I write in, “Payne Stewart.” That’s how I sign everything. But to my father, it had to be “William Payne Stewart” on there.
Has your parents’ influence helped you be a better father?
We were brought up with a lot of love in my family. I didn’t hesitate to kiss my father in public. And that’s how I tried to raise my children. We’re physical. Even after I spank them, I’ll give them a big hug and a kiss and say, “I love you, but you know you did wrong.” They know that I love them, and they know their mother loves them.
It wasn’t always easy though, right? Didn’t your mom have a problem with alcohol at some point?
Yes. She’s a recovering alcoholic. A great person. She’s been sober for eight or nine years now. She wouldn’t be alive if my sisters and I hadn’t done an intervention on her. We sat her down and said, “Mom, you’ve got a problem. You don’t realize you do, but you do, and we want to try to save your life.” And she went into a program; she was in there 28 days. She accepted she had a problem, did a great job getting well, and has thanked us numerous times.
But I’ll tell you something: We had a big family discussion about it recently, my two sisters and I, and I pointed out that we all have the same genes as our mother and we’re all susceptible to becoming alcoholics. I think at times that we could be borderline that way. All of us. It kind of shocked my sisters. But I’m aware of it. And I catch myself when I drink too much at times. When it was off-season, I would sit down and have two or three or four martinis here at home. Hey, I like the way they taste. I was off and I wasn’t playing any golf, I was drinking every day. So I’ve become more aware of it in this past year. I’ve just become more conscious about how much I do drink and how often I want to have a drink and things like that. I think being conscious of it will help me to control the urges.
Your first major came in 1989, when you won the PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes. What do you remember most about that week?
I remember standing on the 10th tee on Sunday and telling Jerry Pate, who was a walking commentator for ABC, “If I can shoot 31 on this back nine, I think I might be able to win the golf tournament.” And so I ended up shooting 31. The way that it was written up was that I got lucky to win the golf tournament, because Mike Reid finished poorly. I kind of backed into that one, but hey, I shot the lowest score for 72 holes. Jack Nicklaus won some like that, too.
You didn’t back into the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine (Stewart beat Scott Simpson in a playoff, 75 to 77).
That golf course was so difficult that day. I mean the wind was howling, the greens had gotten rock-hard, out of control, as the USGA tends to let their golf courses get. The ‘92 U.S. Open at Pebble got out of control. I have never played on a harder golf course in harder conditions than that last round at Pebble. At Hazeltine the conditions were similar, but at least there was more space to play. Invariably something happens at a U.S. Open where the golf course gets out of control one day, they have one pin that’s out of control. It always seems to happen. But they’ve gotten better about the height of the rough.
What about the hole location at 18 in the second round of last year’s U.S. Open?
The greens dried out, and it got un-playable. I had an eight-footer for birdie, pin-high, and it had this big break. A big break. I didn’t play enough break, and it went just under the hole, so I figure I’m going to have a three- or four-footer. Next thing I looked up, it’s 25, 30 feet below the hole. I putted the next one up and it kind of went up and started back again. That’s when it’s out of control.
I made my next putt, and I went up to our official and I said, “Do you think that’s a fair pin?” He said, “No, I don’t.” I said, “That’s all I wanted to hear,” and left it at that. Case closed.
You started the final round with a four-shot lead, then wound up losing to Lee Janzen by one. There was an interesting incident on the 12th hole. Describe what happened.
I drove the ball into a sand-filled divot. A crew obviously had come out the day before and put sand in this divot intentionally to repair the golf course. And I’ve been a proponent of this for a long time, that if somebody has come out intentionally and puts sand in these divots, then they’re trying to repair part of the golf course. So a freshly sanded divot constitutes ground under repair. Everybody has got opinions, and that one is mine. Heck, you’d be better off not putting any sand in them at all, because it basically is like being in a fairway bunker.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. So now I’ve got a tough shot. I’ve finally hit a fairway, the ball is in a divot, so I’m thinking pitching wedge. Then I changed my mind and asked my caddie, Mike Hicks, for the 9-iron. I hit a bad shot, fatted it out of the sand into the front bunker. Now here comes Tom Meeks [USGA director of rules and competitions] in his cart. “That was your first bad time,” he said. I was shocked. I said, “What, are we on the clock?” He said, “Yes, you are. You guys are out of position.”
There was no diplomacy. I thought, “You have got to be kidding me. I’m not the one holding this show up.” Tom Lehman [fellow competitor] was practicing putting on every green on the front nine. And we both had to wait several times for the gallery and media to get settled, because the space out there is real close. Over the course of the round those things caused us to get behind.
So all this affects the way you played coming in?
I think it affected me on the 13th hole. I bogeyed 13. I ended up birdieing 14, parring 15, hit a bad drive on 16 and made another bogey, then parred in. I had a good birdie chance for a tie with Janzen on 18, but just missed the putt.
You certainly handled the disappointment well in your interviews that day.
One reporter in Florida fried me for not winning, but I think I handled it well. Over the course of my career, I haven’t been the best with the media under adverse conditions. For example, the year I finished second to Johnny Miller at the AT&T . I felt like I should have won the golf tournament. I just bolted, blew by the writers. It was immaturity on my part. Then I’m walking to my car and some fan yelled, “Hey, Stewart, you choker!” I just fumed. I didn’t respond to it, but wow, did that ever light me up.
With the media, I could be quick and ugly and critical. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. If somebody asks for my opinion, I tell them my opinion, whether it’s what they want to hear or not. And I don’t care who it is. I’ve pointed my finger at reporters and said, “You have too much power. You have that pen, you buy your ink by the gallon. We’ve got no rebuttal.” But I have made it a point to try to get better at that, because I understand that you have a job to do, too. I actually went to Dallas and took a course in media relations and public relations. It really helped.
You’ve had disappointments in other U.S. Opens—1986 and 1993 come to mind.
Had I been more mature at that stage of my career, I would have won the 1986 Open at Shinnecock. I was leading the golf tournament with four or five holes to go, and I got intimidated. I made a bogey at the same time Raymond Floyd made a long putt for par. His eyes got huge. I got wrapped up in that stare of his. I wasn’t prepared for the situation.
Did you choke?
Not choke. I got to not trusting myself, and I got to guiding my swing instead of swinging the golf club.
Some people would say that’s what choking is.
Call it what you want. That’s such a very harsh word, but the fact remains, I didn’t close the sale.
As for 1993 at Baltusrol, I played well there. You get breaks when you win, and Lee caught some good breaks. He hit his ball through some trees on the 10th and it didn’t touch a thing, landed on the green. On 17 he blocked his tee shot and it hit a tree and fell back in the fairway. But you know, champions know how to take advantage of good breaks. And Lee did. Heck, I’ve had good breaks, too. At Hazeltine, I hit a shot that was headed dead for the water, and the ball hit a rock that was just under the surface of the water, and it bounced out. I chipped up and made par. So things even out.
Do you favor the 18-hole playoff used at the U.S. Open?
I think it’s probably the fairest method of resolving a championship, especially a major championship. But on the whole I think the tournament should end on Sunday. All the volunteers have to come back, people who have gotten a holiday week that ends on Sunday. It’s better for TV to have a winner on Sunday, too. So there are a lot of issues that have to be considered.
You’re waffling. What’s the answer?
All right. I like the idea of a five-hole playoff. I know sudden death is too cruel.
You also have an excellent record at the British Open, although you’ve yet to win it.
If there was only one more golf tournament that I could win, it would be the British Open. The golf courses are fair. They let Mother Nature dictate the conditions, although I hear they’ve installed a sprinkler system in the rough at Carnoustie, which is too bad. They don’t care how many under par you shoot. They just feel that the best player is going to handle the conditions over the four days and be the champion. They don’t care about protecting par, while the USGA does.
Why have you never seriously contended at the Masters?
The greens blow me away. I’ll admit it; I have never felt so defensive and inferior as I have when I get on those greens. A part of it is mental. I do think there is too much of a premium placed on putting.
Who is the best player you ever saw?
Who is the best among the young players?
I’ll say Mark O’Meara. I mean, what do you call young?
OK, under age 30.
I would put David Duval, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in the uppermost tier. Just below them, I’d put Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson.
The Tour Players Association, which was organized to give the players a united front against the PGA Tour, appears to be dead. You supported it. Why?
I think some of the issues they raised are legitimate. And the feeling coming out of Jacksonville [PGA Tour headquarters] is, “We don’t need the TPA.” Now, I told Tim Finchem, “Don’t discount the TPA. Don’t try to put them down. Why can’t you work with them? Maybe it would make the tour better.” In my opinion, when someone is worried about what other people are trying to do, they have something to hide. If you don’t have anything to hide, it wouldn’t be an issue. That’s how I view it.
But you have players on the policy board representing you. Isn’t that good enough?
The policy board consists of four player directors, four independent guys and the commissioner. So there are nine votes. But the independent directors are all pretty much hand-selected. I mean, we’re supposed to vote on them, but who puts them up for nomination? Why don’t they have term limits?
What could the PGA Tour possibly want to hide from its players?
One year, I asked to see the books on our plane that the tour owns. I wanted to see the flight log. They wanted to know why. I said, “I want to see who is flying around on that plane. Hey, if we cut a deal with Delta Airlines, maybe we could save ourselves some money.” Well, it took four or five months for them to get me the flight log.
You can’t possibly have a problem with how much money the PGA Tour is making for you guys, can you?
Could we be making more money? Who knows? Could we disperse more money to the players? Who knows? There is the issue of players being compensated even if they don’t make the cut. I’m asked to play in the pro-am because it’s a requirement. If I don’t play, I can’t earn my pension points for the week. So it’s my obligation to play in the pro-am. Now, say I come in early and do the Gillette Shootout or conduct a junior clinic and then I play in the pro-am. Then I play Thursday and Friday. People come out to watch me play. But I miss the cut. Should I be compensated? I think so. Hey, I’ve worked. I’ve put in my time. I’ve done everything that has been asked of me. Why should I be out of pocket? We pay our own expenses, we pay our caddie, we pay our hotel, we pay our airfare. We have these expenses every week whether we make the cut or not. It sure isn’t like that in team sports. Hey, Penny Hardaway [Orlando Magic guard] played 18 or 19 games last year and got paid for the whole year.
Tell us about Michael Jackson coming to look at your house when you put it on the market.
It was funny. Aaron had some music playing in his bedroom, and when we showed Michael the room, he started dancing a bit, just moving with the music. He didn’t have a clue who I was or what I did for a living. Then his manager explained that I was the golfer who wore knickers. Michael said, “Oh, you’re that guy.”
It would be hard to imagine you wearing anything but knickers. What compelled you to start wearing them?
When I was in Asia in 1980 and 1981, I saw a couple of guys down there wearing them, Rodger Davis and Stewart Ginn. They just looked nice and they looked different. When I qualified for the PGA Tour in ’82, there came a day on the practice tee when I looked up and saw two players standing next to me wearing the exact same thing I was wearing-same red pants, same white shirt with a red stripe. I decided I was tired of looking like everyone else. So I found a company in Palm Springs that made knickers, or plus fours, whatever you want to call them. I called the guy and told him I wanted to wear his stuff, full time. He told me, “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You buy three pairs, I’ll give you the fourth pair for free.” I said, “OK.” So I bought three pairs, debuted them on a Saturday in Atlanta in 1982. I was playing with Lee Trevino, and he just wore me out on the first tee. But it was fun, and when I won at Quad Cities that year wearing knickers, I knew I’d wear them forever.
What if players were allowed to wear shorts?
You’d see some really ugly legs.
Your dad was a wild dresser himself.
Well, you always knew when Bill Stewart walked into the room. It didn’t always match. He told me, “The reason I wear the bright sport coats is, when I walk into somebody’s shop, they know who’s walking through that door.” Because of how he dressed. And maybe that subconsciously was the reason that I did the knickers.
Is it true that when you dress normally, people don’t recognize you?
Sure, it’s true. Why would they? Every picture you ever see of me or any time you see me on television, I’ve got my hat and my knickers on. People don’t know what I look like. Then again, Tracey didn’t know Larry Nelson was bald until he took his hat off one day.
Is there a professional you look up to personally?
Yes. I think Byron Nelson is one of the finest golf professionals I have ever met in my life. Smart. And he is a wonderful man. He has influenced me a great deal. He writes to me and we talk. We go over to his house for dinner when I’m in Fort Worth. And Byron and his wife, Peggy, stay with us when they come to town for the PGA Show.
What advice would you give to a young player just coming out on the PGA Tour?
I would tell him to remember what got him out on tour. And to focus on that part, and not get caught up in all the stuff that you get out here. In the end, what you did to get out there is good enough to keep you going. I would let them know that if you get to changing this and changing that, you can get real frustrated real quick.