Geoff Ogilvy has opinions and ideas and he's not afraid to express them, which usually provokes further thought.
GEOFF OGILVY HAS OPINIONS AND IDEAS AND HE’S NOT AFRAID TO EXPRESS THEM, WHICH USUALLY PROVOKES FURTHER THOUGHT. HERE HE COVERS A WIDE RANGE OF TOPICS FROM THE STATE OF THE GAME TO COURSE DESIGN.
After 12 years on the US PGA Tour and a major championship victory under his belt, Geoff Ogilvy is regarded as one of the smartest golfers on the planet. He’s amassed more than US$25million in prizemoney in the United States alone and has started earning accolades with the golf course design company he has in partnership with former Tour player Mike Clayton. His innovative and interesting thinking has many touting him as a future PGA Tour commissioner. Here at Golf Australia, we decided it was long overdue to once again dissect one of the game’s best brains on anything and everything.
Golf Australia: We hear you might be the future boss of the PGA Tour. Would a Deane Beman-style commissioner, or a player like you, benefit the US Tour?
Geoff Ogilvy: Firstly, it’s nice to hear that but I don’t think I’d be interested in that job.
A former player would help in some aspects and hurt in others. A corporate guy like Tim Finchem, who comes from outside golf is used to dealing with CEOs from Fortune 500 companies, which is obviously necessary. I can’t imagine many guys on Tour going in with a TV boss and coming out with a better deal than
Tim Finchem does. They’d be way out of depth in that room.
But there are also a lot of decisions the commissioner makes that are golf and playing-related. I think it would be interesting to have an assistant commissioner who was the main guy on the golf side of it and who dabbled in the business side of things. It’s hard to make good Tour policy if you haven’t really done it or been involved in Tour life.
GA: If you were Commissioner for a day what would be at the top of your to-do list?
Ogilvy: I would find a pace of play policy that works. You need to round table it and surely we can make grown men go faster. It would be my priority.
I would also change pro-ams. We have four amateurs in a group and it takes too long and they don’t enjoy it as much or get enough time with the pro.
And I would like to create a committee on golf architecture and course set-up for the tour and hand pick it with guys who get it and are into it. If you had four or five players who sat down once a month and went over set-up, where you cut grass, where the pins went, firmness and speed of greens … instead of it being completely taken over by field staff, I think you would get a better product.
GA: Can you expand on slow play? How can it be fixed?
Ogilvy: Most guys who are slow don’t want to be slow but are just allowed to be by the system. The big problem is it manifests down to local golf clubs and when you see a high handicapper backing off shots and doing the whole sport psychologist routine and reading putts from every angle … well, it’s gotten out of control.
As to how to fix it, well I’m against a shot clock … that’s rubbish. Sometimes even the fastest golfers need time on a really difficult shot that could decide a tournament. It has to be a total time as variables do pop up, be it bad lies or wind.
Every group needs to be timed. Put everybody on the clock and check in after three-hole periods. If you’re behind pace after three, first warning, if you don’t get to the 6th green by a set time you are on a last warning and if you don’t get to 9th by a time it’s penalties. You’re not going to stand there and cope with the bullshit of someone backing off 15 times with that.
GA: Do you like the world rankings set up?
Ogilvy: I’d make a few tweaks. I’d set it up so the more you play the better you do. A lot of tournament directors are throwing hands in the air saying they can’t get guys to play, and there are lots of reasons but one of them is guys get world ranking-oriented. If you’re in the top-50 you have it made and if you’re not you don’t. When you play more than 40 times in a two-year span you hurt yourself, you hurt your world ranking. So you find a balance as close to 40 as you can and that’s why Tiger and Phil and these guys only play so many.
If there was a way that it was 25 events a year and any tournament above you can get rid of your worst result, I think that’s better. If you play 35 you can get rid of your 10 worst, encouraging more golf. It would be better for the tours as guys would play more often, and at new places.
THE MAJORS & TIGER
GA: Australians have now won just one major in 17 years, your US Open. Given the talent, is it an acceptable strike rate?
Ogilvy: It would be nice if we had won more. In 2006 after the US Open, Adam Scott is playing great, (Robert) Allenby and (Stuart) Appleby are in the peak of their careers, Badds (Aaron Baddeley) is coming along, Sendo (John Senden) is playing better, there is a supporting cast and Jason Day is in the wings … so yeah, we’ve had guys capable and you would have expected we would’ve snuck at least another one.
I don’t know if acceptable is the right word. We have won quite a few World Golf Championships in that time and if Adam had won the Open or if we win the next two, we’d be like Northern Ireland and they’d be sending people down to Australia to see what we’re doing in golf.
We have the talent to have won more and we also have the talent to do what Ireland’s done, and maybe we will.
We are also trying to win them in foreign countries, an underestimated fact. If the majors were played in Australia we’d win a lot more.
GA: So would you support a fifth major? Perhaps one major moving around Australasia? Or would you like to see one of the majors move to the region?
Ogilvy: No, I like the way it is, but I’m a traditionalist. That’s the way grand slams are. Four events makes sense. But there is definitely room in the future for tournaments of a massive scale and prestige in Asia.
GA: Which Australian, other than you, is most likely to win a major next?
Ogilvy: Adam Scott or Jason Day. Adam has proven he is not afraid to be up there in big tournaments and to win big tournaments. He’s basically been a top-20 player since he turned pro and when he putts well he has all the attributes. No one is working harder at their game than him right now and he is setting his entire schedule and life around winning the big tournaments. Despite what happened at the Open I actually think it makes him more likely to be our next champion. I know it’s in him. If he gets a sniff again with nine holes to play he’s not going anywhere.
As for Jason, he’s 10 years behind Adam in time scale so he has 40 majors to get to that point. If he won one or two in the next 10 years that’s probably an unbelievable hall of fame career and he has 40 majors to get experience under his belt to do that.
GA: We have had 16 different champions in 16 majors and nine out of 10 were first-timers. Why?
Ogilvy: Our multiple major winners might be slowing down a little. Tiger, Phil, Vijay, Ernie, Padraig … you could almost guarantee those guys would win a few in a 16-major stretch. Before Ernie won the Open these guys hadn’t won for a long time and it was just odd, really.
The first-timers see guys who they play with every week win a major and it kind of snowballs because they know they’ve beaten him before. The aura that the majors were really just for the big names has dissipated.
GA: Is it coincidental that it has come at a time around Tiger’s fall. Fewer players fear him?
Ogilvy: Well, if he was at his best in the past 16 majors you’d have thought he’d have won five of them and then the stat would be irrelevant, so it is an appropriate comment.
But I never got the fear thing. I never stood over a shot fearful that Tiger might hit a better one. But intimidation is something else. Standing on the 1st tee across from him and knowing how good he was going to play could make you try too hard and struggle. How good he was made you think you had to play better than you normally would to beat him.
GA: Will we see Tiger dominate again?
Ogilvy: Not if he is on the track he’s on right now. He doesn’t seem to be the same. He is doing stuff now that he never did before and his short game and putting isn’t where it was. At the US Open everyone had gone down and put all of their money on him after two rounds and the media had already written their stories. And even the players … I saw him play three holes before I went out on Thursday and thought, if I don’t win, this guy is winning because he looked up for it.
But on Saturday it was a different guy. Put simply, he just doesn’t get the ball to the hole as well as he did, even when he was a little wild with the driver he could still get back to the hole. Until he does that again his dominance won’t come back.
GA: Will he catch Jack Nicklaus’ 18 majors? And where does he rate all-time in your eyes?
Ogilvy: He is the most talented golfer perhaps of all time so he could do it in a year-and-a-half if he got on one of his tears. But at this point it doesn’t look like he is close to getting on one.
If he retired tomorrow he’d sit second of all time. I think he’s passed everyone in golf bar Jack. He purely and utterly and totally dominated golf between 1999 to the Aussie Masters in 2009. I know guys have had good runs in the past but this guy just killed everyone in his path. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson had periods and Nicklaus obviously was great over many years, but I’m not sure anyone has had such concentrated dominance over a decade like that. Time will tell if Tiger can have a good twilight like Jack, resurge and get back in the discussion of being the best ever.
GA: Why can’t the Internationals win the Presidents Cup? Is it just the foursomes format?
Ogilvy: I don’t buy that argument. We didn’t have an issue in foursomes until the past three cups. The US guys have the built-in advantage of playing every year. The nucleus of the side has more competitive experience in the format and that is a massive advantage.
Also, for the most part in the Presidents Cup era, Europe has been beating the USA so they’ve come to the Presidents Cup the following year with added motivation.
Foursomes is a hard game to play and they do get more practice at it but it’s not the sole reason. They are all under one flag, our team has fun and enjoy ourselves but we don’t seem to be a fully functional ‘team’ as quickly as they are. This is only natural with guys from all over the world with language barriers.
GA: Can you briefly describe the ideal golf course?
Ogilvy: Not really, because it depends on what an individual is looking for. I think St Andrews is the ideal golf course but it’s probably not perfect because the weather is questionable.
There are lots of things and attributes that go into making a golf course or golf experience great, and for me, it’s not necessarily what a lot of other people think they are. From a golf course perspective, great land and a great setting helps. Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Royal Melbourne, St Andrews, Cypress Point … these places have great settings. You could have Cypress Point surrounded by a landfill and piles of trash and it wouldn’t be the same, it would just be great holes in a bad spot. When it’s great holes in a great spot it’s obviously a great course.
GA: Well, aside from natural beauty, what does the designer need to bring to the table?
Ogilvy: Architecturally a course just needs to strategically make sense, and sadly that seems to have been mostly forgotten in all architecture until guys like Tom Doak, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore, and Gil Hanse and I would say we (Ogilvy Clayton) started doing more.
A hole shouldn’t tell you what to do … you should have to work out what to do and greens should be arranged so there is a correct way to play a tee shot and an incorrect way to play a tee shot.
A course should encourage strategy. You can take as little risk as possible and never lose a ball and never battle with any hazards but you’ll never really shoot a really great score. The only way to go really low is if you start pushing the envelope a little bit – that’s what strategy means in golf and there isn’t enough of it.
Most courses we play on the PGA Tour make zero strategic sense. They just put bunkers up both sides of a fairway, a green that has no real advantage to be on one side or the other of the fairway, so it’s just hit the fairway and you’re in a good spot, miss it and you’re in a bad spot. I don’t think that makes golf very interesting.
GA: Do you have an example of a strategic hole people may be familiar with?
Ogilvy: The 13th at Augusta, maybe the best par-5 in the world, is a brilliant, strategically designed golf hole.
The bigger the draw and better the tee shot you hit, the easier your second shot becomes. The closer you hit it to the creek and the further round the corner you get the flatter your lie becomes, the shorter your approach shot becomes and the better angle into the green you get. It’s a three-pronged advantage but it calls for a lot of aggression and you need to be very brave and hit a great shot.
It’s almost linear that the better your tee shot the better your position all the way from the edge of the creek where six feet from it is a dead flat lie with a 7-iron into the green and way off to the right is a 3-wood off a lie with the ball way above your stance and a horrible angle.
GA: Is it difficult to get excited to play Tour events on courses you might not like as a designer? Do you avoid places you don’t like?
Ogilvy: It doesn’t take motivation away because that’s more about winning tournaments, getting world ranking points, making money and making Presidents Cup teams, but the enjoyment level would increase for everybody if we were playing Pine Valley, Cypress Point, Shinnecock Hills, Swinley Forest, Chicago Golf Club, Merion, Royal Melbourne and all the great golf courses.
It would add another element. Everyone gets to Riviera and talks all week about how much they love the golf course. I just think it’s a shame we can’t have that every week. I don’t avoid courses based on design because if I did it would be a very short tournament list for me.
GA: Is it possible to play superior courses every week?
Ogilvy: Maybe not the best of the best but it could potentially be better. The golf course is underappreciated in the end product that is the PGA Tour. The better the golf course and the better it is set up the better the tournament is to watch and the better quality of golfer gets to the top of
There is a reason the Masters is the best tournament in the world and it’s not just because it’s green and pretty. It promotes the best players in the world to play the most attractive golf.
To me, that should be the model everybody chases. But I think they chase all the side perks instead. I don’t think people in a position to look at it actually sit there and think, ‘Why do people love watching the Masters?’ While it can’t happen overnight, long-term direction should be to try to get PGA Tour tournaments more in this direction of excitement because I think it could happen every week.
RULES & REGULATIONS
GA: The R&A recently began testing with a shorter golf ball. Is this a good idea?
Ogilvy: Well, it makes sense for them to look at it because the ball definitely goes a lot further than it did when I was a kid. It’s an interesting experiment. Every golf course we get to is now at record length, it gets longer and longer every year. But it’s not just the balls, there are better athletes, drivers are bigger so off-centre hits don’t go sideways and that allows bigger swings. And Tiger has brought a wider group of kids taking up the game.
GA: So you believe something has to be done to protect golf from insane distance hitting?
Ogilvy: At some point something has to be done. I played golf with Jamie Sadlowski, a long drive champion, and he’s not a huge guy but he hits it 400 yards in the air with legal equipment. At some point someone like him will get on Tour and it could make a complete mockery of places. If someone drives it next to the 1st green at Augusta, what happens then? There is no more room for tees. It’s head-in-the-sand to ignore it.
GA: Should there be different sets of rules for amateur and pro golf?
Ogilvy: Ideally, I don’t think there should be. But you could create stepping stones. There has been a ball change for Australia and Europe in the past. It’s been done before so if you did it again or changed driver size, etc. you can have two sets of rules over a 10-20 year period so people aren’t forced to buy new equipment as amateurs. Eventually everyone will just choose to use what pros use.
GA: What should be changed in your mind? The ball? Or clubs?
Ogilvy: You need to have a round table discussion of USGA, R&A, PGA Tour, manufacturers, golf-course builders, all of the people involved.
Golf needs to grow as a sport so we need a round table with no one at the head to discuss what is best for our game instead of this ‘us against them’ mentality that occurs. If we put the right people in a room together good answers would come out of it. It would actually be fun to be in that room.
GA: On which side of the long/anchored putter debate do you stand?
Ogilvy: It’s not my thing. I don’t like them very much. Putting is mostly in the head and long putters seem to fix players’ head issues when they move to them but I believe eventually a bad putter starts putting bad again because it’s more about the mental state. So I’m not offended by people using them.
But if you think the short putter is an important part of the game, and I think it is, then you have to ban the long ones because eventually there will be no short putters.
It might actually be an easier way to putt and they’ll start selling them with junior sets and you’ll have kids at 10 and 12 years old using belly putters. And in 20 years time short putters will be like persimmon woods, metal spikes and other things you find in the USGA museum. They’ll be gone and I think that would be a shame.
It needs to be looked at because we’ve now seen three out of four majors won with long putters and you just know they’re selling thousands of them after that.
GOLF IN AUSTRALIA
GA: What is the ratio of desire to obligation to come home and play in the Australian events?
Ogilvy: Desire to play at home is 100 percent and while there is obligation to play, it doesn’t affect desire. Most guys, with the exception of a few, want to always play the big tournaments back home. There is definitely a feeling that we are expected to play them but I don’t think that affects the decision-making.
GA: Then how do you describe the fact some guys are generally missing each year?
Ogilvy: The trouble is it is a decision you have to make based on what’s best for your career, not just what you want to do. We are professional golfers with an ultimate goal of winning majors and winning tournaments in the USA so all decisions have to be made with that in mind. If playing all year jeopardises your play in majors and in the USA, that’s when there is a decision. It’s not really desire or obligation; it’s about whether it allows you to be at your best in the priority tournaments.
Of course the Australian events matter greatly to us, but obviously it would be better for an Australian to win the US Masters than to win the Australian Open. It would do much more for Australian golf. I know it rings hollow to people at home who work every day in an office or the trenches and hear someone say they are tired of playing golf, but it’s more about the travelling and the living out of suitcases and the fact that 98 percent of the guys we will be playing against in the USA are on the couch resting up, so we are giving a little bit up to them.
GA: Speaking of money … are appearance fees a necessary evil for Australian events to survive?
Ogilvy: In an ideal world there aren’t any and tournaments can
compete on their merits. Great course, great weather, come to Australia for a week, but the reality is it’s not like that. It’s an evil that exists on every tour in the world, US Tour included. Anyone who says it doesn’t exist in the USA is dreaming.
In November and December there are three or four tournaments a week around the world so incentives are needed. Not necessarily for the Australians, because most will go home anyway.
GA: Will the new wrap-around PGA Tour schedule hurt our fields?
Ogilvy: Time will tell how much that affects us. It might because as I said the US Tour needs to be a priority for guys. We don’t really know how it will work until we see it in action.
GA: Former Tour player Mark Allen recently suggested you guys, Australia’s best players, get six-figure sums to come home. Is this correct? Is this fair?
Ogilvy: It’s happened before. But fair … what’s fair? Is it fair we play for around seven million dollars a week in the US? If the market says that’s what is there, it’s what is there. Australian fees fluctuate and it’s never been a deciding factor for me. If a big-name Aussie player doesn’t play it’s not likely the reason why.
GA: Last summer seemed to be huge for Australian golf yet it seems it hasn’t helped with the Open now lost to free-to-air television. Why do you think there was no cash-in on last year?
Ogilvy: It’s tough because Australia, at that time of year, has the bike grand prix, Bathurst, tennis, cricket starting, horse racing … you have a lot of stuff taking the corporate money and it is very hard to beat that.
The loss of free-to-air TV at the Open is really disappointing but maybe it’s not terminal. Maybe this year a great tournament erupts and free-to-air says they missed the boat.
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