The NiggleJuly, 2011
We talk to the (unofficial) course record holder at the Old Course about his incredible 62 in 1987
Did you have any inkling that such a low score was on the cards?
I had been playing really well the past year or two and we had played well to reach the third and fourth play-off in that year’s Dunhill Cup. The Old Course was a bit strange to me the first few times I played it, I played the Walker Cup there in 1975 and, over time, I had learnt to appreciate the shot values, the strategy involved and the different conditions.
What were the conditions like that day?
You could see by the clothes I had on that it wasn’t the warmest conditions – I was wearing a turtleneck and a cashmere sweater. There was not a lot of wind but I still had a 5 iron to the 15th and a 2 iron to the front right of 17th which tells you something.
Were you aware of what was happening?
Yes, I birdied, I think, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. I then birdied the 14th so I knew I was getting close and I thought if I parred 17 and birdied 18 that would be the record.
I thought a par at 17 would be harder than a birdie at the last but I was able to make a couple of nice putts.
I found out at this year’s Masters (new tees have since been created) that it’s not the record any more and that is obviously disappointing but, in my mind, it still is.
Were you the type of player who would keep attacking a course if you had a good score going?
I always stayed aggressive when I was doing well, the key is to try and make more birdies and not protect your score. I would rather make a bogey by being aggressive and not backing off and that’s how you shoot good scores.
Is that the closest you’ve been to the perfect round?
Obviously there is no such thing as the perfect round but it couldn’t have been any better. I made my putts, parred 17 and birdied the last and, in any round, if you know you need a birdie at the last and manage it, it’s a good feeling. It is a very proud memory.
Do you have any mementoes?
I have a silver scorecard that my wife made for me which is now in the Hall of Fame and Bev Norwood, a writer in the US, put together a plaque, which I’m looking at now, of all the course record holders. It dates back to Allan Robertson. Young Tom Morris shot 77 in 1869, Bobby Jones is there and there are just 11 names on it so that means a great deal.
Is it possible to learn the Old Course in three days? No, everyone goes through that learning process there and it takes time and rounds. Is it possible to learn the Old Course in three days?
No, everyone goes through that learning process there and it takes time and rounds. Your sight lines, your direction is so far away from where you think you should play sometimes and there are the little shots and the long putts. And if the wind turns it is a completely foreign course.
What was your strategy when tackling St Andrews?
The best line is five yards in from the right side but that is also the most dangerous, I always took the approach of playing more conservatively and went further left. Your number one target is to avoid the pot bunkers from the tee as it’s basically a stroke penalty. I don’t think I went in any that day.
What sort of player do you expect to play well at St Andrews?
No American plays there a lot these days and the Europeans have a big advantage as they play there in the Dunhill. I think Lee Westwood will always go very well and I have found myself rooting for him a lot of late.
Born: 30/1/1955 Career highlights: Back-to-back US Open wins in 1988 and 1989. In total he won 17 times on the PGA Tour and he topped the Money List three times.
Ryder Cup: Played five times and was US captain when Europe regained the cup in 2002.