Corey Pavin: "I'd like a four-day Ryder Cup"

Corey Pavin: “I’d like a four-day Ryder Cup”

America’s former captain relives his 2010 Ryder Cup defeat and his days back on the European Tour in the early 1980s

COREY Pavin might have lost the Ryder Cup but he got an awful lot right in Wales, as he has done throughout his career. Fifteen times he won on the PGA Tour, most notably when he struck a 4 wood from 209 yards to five feet to win the 1995 US Open. 
The little guy who regularly propped up the driving distance stats was the only player to match par at Shinnecock Hills. Now the very likeable Californian, who came within a whisker of winning the PGA Tour’s Travelers Championship in 2010, losing in a play-off to Bubba Watson, plays mainly on the Champions Tour. 

Looking back, was the Ryder Cup captaincy what you expected? 
It pretty much was. I had seen what it was like to be an assistant captain to Tom Lehman at The K Club in Ireland in 2006 and I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, other than it raining every day.

What was the best bit of advice you received? 
Most of the former captains that I spoke to said just go with the gut feeling you have about pairings and the picks and don’t labour too much over what to do. 
And that seemed to work pretty well.

Winning three of the four sessions doesn’t suggest you got too much wrong? 
I was really happy that the pairings worked out but, in the third session, Europe played really well and kicked our butt. I thought the pairings were fine and I’ve got no regrets about any of those.
I had a pretty good idea about 10 to 12 days before who I wanted to play with who and I talked to all the players and assistants and we were pretty much agreed.

How did the rearranged format come about? 
About an hour and a half before play resumed on the Friday, Colin, myself and the other powers that be – there were probably six or seven of us sitting at a table – and they came up with the new format to try and get it done by Sunday evening. I thought it was a brilliant idea so I was all for it.
It made my job easier because I didn’t have to sit anybody out which is probably the hardest job of a captain. We talked the year before and I was actually trying to push forward the idea of five matches rather than four. It is hard to have a third of the team sitting out and you don’t enjoy it as a player, you have been looking forward to it for two years.

Is there a future in all 12 players being involved all the time?
I would like to see it go to four days with just one day of 36 holes, I don’t see anything wrong with that and that way you would get more players involved and more points. Maybe that would be a negative from a TV standpoint but it would be better for the fans.

Is the Tiger and Phil dynamic just a media thing?
To me they were just another team member and I had no sort of issue with either of them. Those guys get along really well and it would probably surprise people to know how well they get on. They would have breakfast and lunch together sometimes and were just like everyone else on the team.
Tiger and Phil get along really well and it would probably surprise people to know how well they get on. Did you go down the route of motivational videos?
I wasn’t big on that, I thought if you’re not fired up to play in the Ryder Cup then you shouldn’t be there. I never thought that was necessary, we had pictures of the guys doing something good around the world and just general decoration. And obviously the obligatory ping pong tables.

Who was the best player?
I’m reasonably good but I just watched; I’m joking. I think Matt Kuchar was probably the best. Phil and Tiger were pretty good but Matt could take them.

You seemed particularly laid back around the course and throughout the competition but were the opposite as a player. Why was that do you think?
I’m very laid back off the course, people would probably think I’m always running around and full of energy but I’m not like that. Even playing tournaments I’m pretty calm on the inside, whether I’m mad or excited, but I’m generally on an even keel.

How much sleep would you average during a Ryder Cup week?
Not too much but that was my fault. I wanted to enjoy every minute so stayed up a little late, not making any decisions but just hanging out and smoking a cigar and relaxing until 1 or 2 in the morning and then getting up at 6am. It was more self-inflicted as most of the decisions were made by 7pm.

How often are you reminded of the 4 wood at the 18th at Shinnecock en route to winning the 1995 US Open?
It comes up pretty often, every few days which is great. It is great to be remembered for something good and, for some reason, it has stuck in people’s memory.

It is generally regarded as one of the best shotmaker’s shots. Is there enough of that these days?
I like doing that and I would like to have the old ball come back as it spins a bit more and is softer and requires more control. 
I’m certainly a traditional player and I love coming over and playing links in the wind as you have to control your trajectory and shape. 

You are also well known for your putter which doesn’t appear to have changed over the years?
I have basically used two putters. The Bullseye which I have used since 84, and the Cleveland-designed one, the one I used at Shinnecock. 
I used the Bullseye until about ‘95 and then I benched it for over a decade before bringing it back out. 

In the lead up to the 1995 US Open is it correct that you went into the week struggling a bit with your swing?
I didn’t hit it great on the Thursday and it was hard work to get it round in two over, so I went to the range and worked out that I was taking it too much on the outside so it got me off my swing plane. I started looking at taking it more on the inside and working on my rhythm and that’s all I thought about all week.

If you could have one mulligan where would you take it?
It would be on the 16th tee at Augusta on the Sunday, when Jack won in 1986. 
It was my second year on tour and Jack was a couple of groups ahead of me. We were on the same score at the time although obviously he finished a little bit better than I did. 
I hit it in the water and made a double and it is the only time that nerves got the better of me. I choked. I was in contention at the Masters and I hit a bad shot because of nerves.

Some people would be surprised that your record at Augusta is very impressive…
Of all the Majors it might be my best work which would surprise a few people and the US Open is my worst other than the win. I always enjoy Augusta and, back then, it was a very different golf course and it allowed you to hit a lot of different shots. It is different now because you need to hit it a lot further.

Is there a specific reason why your formed dropped off after the Major win?
I played pretty well in ‘96. A lot of people don’t play as well after they have won a Major championship and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me. 
I won and had a lot of top 10s in ‘96 but, at the end of the year, my swing just went away from me and I really had a hard time getting back on track.
It spread to every part of my game. It was like a domino effect and it put so much pressure on my short game and I went into this big slump. But I just fought back and fought back and got it back.

Did you seek advice from a lot of coaches?
Not really. I saw a couple of people. I kind of overdid the things that I was working on, with coming inside and taking it over the top, and by the time I figured that out it was hard to get out of it.

What were your memories of playing in Europe?
I loved it and had so much fun, it was a great opportunity looking back. I missed my card in 1982 so I played the Sunshine Tour in South Africa and played six tournaments there and played well enough to be exempt on the European Tour. 
I came here in late June and had a blast. At that time everyone knew everybody as we all stayed at the same hotels, we got the same transport to the course and it was so friendly and fun.
I didn’t drink a whole lot but I used to hang around with the Australians Wayne Grady and Michael Clayton. 

How much do you work on fitness?
Do you want the real answer or the one that sounds good? I’m probably like everybody else, even you, and should work out more than I do. I have my little spurts for a few months and then lose interest, I wouldn’t say I enjoy going to the gym, it’s more like work.
I’ve been fortunate with my genes in that I don’t put a lot of weight on.

Do you think you should have played in more than three Ryder Cups?
When I came out on tour the rules were a bit different in making the team, were they the same now I would have played on the 85 and 87 teams as well. After 95 I wasn’t playing well so I didn’t really expect to get a pick. I had an outside chance in ‘06 when I won again on the PGA Tour and I was already an assistant to Tom so that was kind of tricky.
Interestingly, I would have made the European team in 1983 as I used to play over here.

Tom Irwin

Tom Irwin

Tom is a lifetime golfer, now over 30 years playing the game. 2023 marks 10 years in golf publishing and he is still holding down a + handicap at Alwoodley in Leeds. He has played over 600 golf courses, and has been a member of at least four including his first love Louth, in Lincolnshire. Tom likes unbranded clothing, natural fibres, and pencil bags. Seacroft in Lincolnshire is where it starts and ends.

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