Insperity Championship interview: Elkington

May 1, 2013

CHAMPIONS TOUR: It’s finally a home game for you this week on the Champions Tour. You’ve had a few top 10 finishes early this year on the Champions Tour. You’ve played a lot of golf in Houston throughout your professional career but perhaps start us with a few thoughts on coming back to The Woodlands for the first time as a member of the Champions Tour. I know you came out here last year with your son to watch Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

ELKINGTON: Yes, I did come out here last year with my son to watch Gary, Arnold and Jack in the Legends remake and of course, they are going to be back again. We were so excited to see those guys play here last year and it was great. This course I’m particularly glad we are back here. This is one of the best courses we played on the PGA TOUR. We always say this after we left but a lot of players voiced their opinion once we left the Houston Open from this course to go to the new one. Why did we do that? This was one of the best courses we played on the whole PGA TOUR. It’s a shame I suppose that the Shell Houston Open is not here anymore but that all being said, coming back to this event at this course is great. It’s one of the best courses to play an event on. It reminds me a little bit of the old Atlanta or the old Bay Hill where everyone can just flop out of their homes right onto the fairway. You almost have an instant crowd as soon as you show up here. What makes this course so interesting is that you have about six or seven really important shots, none more than on the last two holes. It never fails to produce drama at the last two holes. I’m now on Team Insperity now and the way these guys work at this event is amazing. I told Bryan Naugle from Pro Links that it never looked like this when we had the Houston Open here. This event is so polished. The way they do the grandstands, the way they are skirted around the lakes, the free dining right upside, free admission, I just really don’t know how it can get any better than this as far as atmosphere, pre-tournament created.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: How about your early impressions of the Champions Tour?

ELKINGTON: I’ve said this earlier in the year, nothing surprises me. People ask me everywhere I go if I’m surprised with the play on the Champions Tour and I say no. All the guys that I’m playing with are guys that I’ve looked up to. They have all earned their right. I played in Atlanta with Hale Irwin and even though he’s 66 years old or something, he still has plenty of focus. He tries hard and he’s won 45 times out here. I’m not going to do that, there’s no way. I go to the range in the evenings and I see Tom Kite in the same place he’s been for the last 30 years. I see him still working on his swing and he takes videos of his swing and he’s just grinding like he always has. I admire these guys so much because they are so disciplined and so focused on their craft. They’ve been able to do it for so long. Most everyone that gets to the position that I’m in has put in three decades of golf on the PGA TOUR. If you equate that to your own job and your own life, that’s a long stretch, almost retirement level. I just see these guys pushing on. Last week in Savannah, I walked with Jack, Gary, Mike Hill and Trevino. Watching those guys, I picked up two or three things that I didn’t know. I talked to Gary a little bit about bunker play and Lee about a particular shot that I saw him play. I’m picking up everything that I can.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: How about the perception that the Champions Tour is more laid-back?

ELKINGTON: I don’t think there’s any perception, it’s a fact that the stress is all out of the guys faces on the Champions Tour. On Sunday, it gets real serious. You’ve heard that said before. On the PGA TOUR, you’re trying to do something in your career so it’s very important to stay focused out there. Whether or not you are going to win on that TOUR or whether you’re going to contend in majors? Adam Scott just won the Masters and that’s almost the icing on the cake to a certain degree for his career. He could do tons more but he’s pretty much gotten over the hump. Champions Tour players are striving for things. Hale Irwin has won 45 times out here but he’s still known for winning three U.S. Opens. The PGA TOUR is what makes your legacy and the Champions Tour is what turns guys like Hale Irwin into legends. They’ve all been able to sustain this game for 45-50 years. It’s an amazing stretch really.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: How about your social media ventures?

ELKINGTON: I like all that. I’m trying to bring a little more excitement to the Champions Tour. I took last year off. I enjoy Twitter and I know some of you guys follow me. I do a daily cartoon. I do a lot of crazy stuff. I’m just reporting the truth in my own twisted way, the way I see things. It’s a different world. My caddy has a five year old and he’s wondering whether to get him an iPhone. I told him he had two choices. Either get him the iPhone and let him be even par with everyone else in the world or don’t get him the iPhone and let him be way behind. I’ve always felt like I wanted to stay in the thick of it to see what I can do with it. There’s lots of sponsors out here like Insperity that have committed to the Champions Tour. They are not bouncing back and forth. I’ve spoken with other sponsors like Mitsubishi and other folks along the way and they like being on the Champions Tour. They feel like they get more bang for their buck. They get to be with the players longer and they get to see people that they know have tremendous records in golf. They’ve proven themselves in front of sponsors before. It’s not the young kids fault that they aren’t good with sponsors, some of them. They were in a dorm room two years ago. They don’t know how to entertain people with Insperity. I’m involved in a lot of things. I own my own social network, Secret In The Dirt, which is a network for golfers. I’ve got lots of things going on.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: How about your large bus?

ELKINGTON: We call it The Big Show. It’s a 1,200-square foot mobile estate that I’m using for entertaining sponsors. We had a function the other night for United Healthcare and had a live band. It was a terrific evening. It’s a different kind of branding, a different kind of exposure to people. It’s almost like going into a locker room that you’ve never been in before. I’m just trying it out and I think it’s going well. It’s new inventory for a sponsor to get involved with or for me to sell as my own brand. It’s doing very well. I don’t travel in it. I head on and wait for it to get set up and then I come in.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: What about getting the chance to see Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player together again?

ELKINGTON: I know how important it is to me. One of the reasons I love golf so much is that I traveled 20 hours on a train to volunteer for the 1978 Australian Open just to watch Jack Nicklaus play. Jack came out early and went marlin fishing up in Queensland and ended up pulling some muscles in his back catching a 1,400-pound marlin. I didn’t think he was going to be able to play because he pulled all these muscles but Jack’s never been one to disappoint anyone in his life. He came down and topped hi s first tee shot at The Australian Golf Club in 1978 and then went on to win the tournament. My brother and I were on the range that week, handing balls to the likes of Nicklaus and so on. I’m thinking back and Jack was only really about a third through with his record and he said to me that I looked like a golfer. He asked me where I was from and he told me to stick with it. It was very encouraging at the time and I got to tell that story to him years later when I went back for the Past Champions Dinner at the PGA Championship in 1996. Jack was sitting right in front of me which was nerve-racking in itself and I told him that story and he felt very strong about that. He felt great that I told that story about him. I brought my son out here last year and we walked with them inside the ropes. We got to visit more with those guys at the end of last year at the PNC Father –Son event in Florida that Arnold helped to recreate with the sponsor from Pittsburgh. They’ve been very encouraging. My first introduction to Arnold Palmer with my son last year was when Arnold stood up in the dining room, took his hat off, and shook hands with my 15 year old. That’s a pretty strong impression to a 15 year old. The importance as you said is what does it mean and all I can answer is what it means to me. I hope everyone else knows what they are looking at.