When Hal Sutton won The Players and the PGA in 1983 he was expected to take over the world. But it was 17 years later that most remember him for
Very early in his career Hal Evan Sutton was labelled the ‘Bear Apparent’. A player the American golf fan could optimistically pin their hopes on as Jack Nicklaus’ powers began to wane.
In 1983 he captured The Players, the lead changing hands 11 times on the final day, and quickly followed it with a major title, edging out his great hero, Nicklaus, at the PGA at Riviera.
But the good times came to a relatively early halt. Sutton failed to win from 1986 to 1995 before very slowly rebuilding his game.
After turning 40 he won six times, including taking down Tiger for a second crown at Sawgrass. Woods had just won a ridiculous 10 of his previous 16 starts and would go on to knock off the last three majors of 2000 but Sutton matched him shot for shot. And then produced a 6-iron at the last whose commentary, provided by the player himself, has become as well known as any quote in the game.
You played with Tiger the previous month before you beat him at Sawgrass in 2000 – how important was it to send a message to the World No. 1?
It was crucial. I wanted to know that I could play with him. I knew that I would have to do it somewhere down the road and I needed to be able to do that.
I played good with him that week (Sutton shot 69-67 to Woods’ 68-70 at Riviera) and that really gave me the confidence for The Players.
How hard is it to play with Tiger?
There is a lot going with it but you have to get into your own self. You have worked all your life to be able to showcase your own game. Some can do it at an early age and some learn the process.
Was there much chat?
A bit of small talk. He was into his game pattern, I was into mine. We got rained out on 12 on the Sunday, we both went in separately and then shared a buggy back out on the Monday and there was a bit of chat.
When you got rained off you were three clear on the Sunday night. Did you have a plan for the Monday?
On Sunday we were playing it hard and fast and then it was soft. Hard and fast was more into my game, softer suited him more as he was longer than me.
I had one thought and that was to get to 16 with a three-shot lead. I might not go for the green at the par 5, and he would, which brought an eagle three into play for him and five into play for me. If that happened, and it actually did play out like that, then I would be one clear and he had to play those holes the way I did and it would come down to who hit the best shots on those two holes.
Flashback to 2000
We're pretty sure Hal Sutton had the right club.https://t.co/GgOos5hxd4
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 11, 2016
Was your now infamous commentary ‘Be the right club, be the right club today’ something you had said previously?
I had never said it before. We are splitting hairs out here and you can hit the best shot of your life and it might not work.
Look at Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009 – he hit a good shot which should have been on the green but it wasn’t.
I knew I had hit the right club right at the flag and, when it was in the air, I thought ‘don’t surprise me’.
‘Be the right club today’ was literally ‘don’t surprise me’, just be what I’m looking at. And it was. We’re a puff of wind away from disaster at times. He was pretty unstoppable that year and I was just happy to get in his way that one time.
How often do you get reminded of those words?
Every day. Golf Channel did a piece and it was the most quotable golf quote ever. I didn’t intend it to be that way, it was just a moment of passion. It was just emotion coming out.
You have won two Players and a PGA Championship. Does one win stand out?
I was watching Tiger beat Rocco Mediate in my den with my son who was five at the time. He asked if I had beaten him one day and I said “yeah, I beat him buddy.”
And that was important to me that he did know that. He wasn’t even alive when I beat Tiger.