Bruce Critchley: "Tiger’s intimidation amazed me"October, 2011
The Sky Sports commentator and former Walker Cup player talks Augusta, Tiger and the terrestrial v satellite debate
How well do you know Augusta?
I did four Masters for the BBC, from 1990 to 1993. I didn’t play it on the Monday during the media ballot – I wanted to do it properly. Then I met one of the founders of Nasdaq and, to cut a long story short, I cured him of the shanks. He was delighted, asked me if I had ever played Augusta and he said ‘leave it with me!’. The following year I enjoyed the full Augusta experience. In the golfing sense, it is a collector’s item.
You must have enjoyed being back there as part of the Sky Sports team at Augusta in 2011?
Oh very much so. I was curious how much it has changed nice I was last there. The wonderful thing about Augusta is it is a mix of tradition – keeping the flame of Bobby Jones alive – while being at the forefront of innovation when appropriate. It was the first place I saw armies of grasscutters mowing the fairways in formation – almost to Beethoven. They were the first to put criss-crosses on the fairways and manicure a course to standards other greenkeepers salivated about.
Can you understand the concern about the Masters not being on free-to-air TV on all four days?
Yes but in the evolution of television these things do happen. You’d have to talk to the BBC about this but one gets the sense they’re not too unhappy about not having Thursday and Friday. In many ways this is a good compromise. I don’t think anyone nowadays questions the standard to which Sky can produce golf. I’ve long thought that with 10 million homes having Sky, as well as the pubs and clubs, if anyone is really keen they can see it.
Does Sky’s coverage offer a different mood to the BBC’s?
I think Sky has built on what the BBC created. They’ve had the resources to do more and to give more time to it. There are maybe a few more brighter colours, which is no bad thing. When I was with the Beeb, because there was no competition innovation inevitably stalled. Coverage didn’t progress in Britain and Sky has stood on their shoulders and gone beyond without ditching the good bits of golf in order to be different. The Beeb, perhaps because we are there, have themselves changed and progressed.
Has it been strange to work on all the biggest events apart from perhaps the two most talked about – the Masters and Open?
No. As I’ve said I’m a great believer in competition to keep everybody on their toes. Competition is healthy. Sky would do everything they can but can’t be greedy and are happy with what they have.
I don’t think everybody will back away from Tiger as they did in the last decade. That has been the most amazing thing to watch. Are players still intimidated by Tiger?
I don’t think everybody will back away as they did in the last decade. That has been the most amazing thing to watch – how those who should have challenged Woods couldn’t do it while in his pomp. It always amazed me how much intimidation he had.
He interfered with their nervous systems and we haven’t seen that in golf often because you are not playing the man, you are turning in your score against theirs.
Now it is different and you have to say it is possibly unlikely he will break Jack’s record.
Which of Europe’s contingent do you fancy to do well in the future at Augusta?
You can pick any of ours out of the top 15 or 20 of the world rankings who wouldn’t be frightened of taking the prize should it come their way. It is often someone who hasn’t had much of a season up until then who wins the Masters so maybe Westwood will come through. He likes quick greens and he is ready to do it. We’ve seen Luke Donald come through which has been one of my main hopes for this year. I hope Casey also does and Kaymer and McDowell train on as they have been doing, not overawed by winning a Major.
Is golf in a healthy state?
The great thing about golf now is we go into these big tournaments now and it is fun watching them. We had a decade of the man at the top frightening and intimidating the field into submission, both by his style of play and the numbers he put on the board. But it’s lovely to have golf back where as high a number of people can win as at any time that I can remember. Europe is at least as powerful as America and the sheer spread of possible winners makes it such fun.
There was a time when everyone worried about a time without Tiger and many people are still very keen for him to get back to his best. That would be fine, but I think we are at a point where (if it doesn’t happen) we have enough other talented young players to make golf exciting – the McIlroys, Manasseros, Ishikawas and Fowlers – all from different parts of the world and all playing differently.