Encompass Insurance interview: Hale Irwin

June 20, 2013

DAVE SENKO:  Well, Hale, thanks for joining us.  Maybe get us started.  You've had a lot of success here in Chicago over the years.  Maybe just talk a little bit about coming back here.  We have not played here in several years, but coming back to Chicago and playing this event.

HALE IRWIN:  Well, as you say, Dave, through the years I've had a lot of success in Chicago.  It's been one of my favorite stops along the way with going back to the Western Open at Butler and then several Ameritech's along the way and then more recently the Medinah U.S. Open victory.

So I've always loved Chicago.  It's a great sports town.  We've had great success here in this town with golf tournaments.  Coming to North Shore is, I think all the players are very impressed with the golf course, and Encompass is a fantastic sponsor.  I saw that last year in the interim there in Tampa filling in for that tournament.  There's very little that has not been done, if any.  I think all the bases have been touched and retouched.  I think that certainly this tournament is going to rank in the top 5 or 10 right now, and with a successful week of golf, I think it's going to rise very rapidly to the top of the heap as one of the best we have out here.

DAVE SENKO:  Now, you had a chance ‑‑ did you play?

HALE IRWIN:  I played nine holes yesterday and great condition considering all the moisture and rain that we've seen.  I think we can do without rain.  We've seen rain now for over a month and I think it would be great to have a tournament where we play in relatively benign conditions without all the moisture.  The golf course looks fantastic, I couldn't believe how good of shape it was considering all the ‑‑ I shouldn't say considering, there are no attachments, it's just in great shape.  But it has helped the rough, and the rough, it's not the worst rough you've ever seen.  I was at Merion last week and saw what the rough can be there.  We don't have that, thank goodness, but it is something you have to think about this week.  It's not just poke it out there and keep it between the trees, you had better keep it out of the rough, too.

Q.  What's the secret to longevity?

HALE IRWIN:  I don't know, Mark, would you like to take that one?  Well, I think part of keeping yourself in the game for as long as I have and look at the players that have gone before me and what they did to continue the game and they always kept themselves active.  Part of, I think the reason for the success of some of the guys that are just coming on, the 50‑year old, aside from maybe those that are qualifiers or maybe laid off for a while or coming right onto the Champions Tour from the regular Tour, they're not really skipping a decade or years which they didn't compete so they kept their games active, it kept that competitive spirit alive.  We're seeing these guys coming out here in better conditions than many of us were when we started.  It's a combination of things.  I think you certainly have to keep yourself active.  Aside from all that, if you don't want it from within, it will never work, so I think these guys are bringing out the desire to compete and be everything they can be as a senior player.

Q.  Staying active, do you run, do you work out, and what do you eat?

HALE IRWIN:  Well, let's put it this way, I was pretty active with all that stuff for a long time and a couple years ago I was just kind of hurting.  I was using the football mentality trying to play golf; a little is good, a lot is better, that kind of thing and my body couldn't keep up, but I was still pushing the weights and doing all the things I was doing 20, 25 years ago.  So I backed off and I was feeling pretty good, so I backed off a little more and felt even better, and then I backed off and used all that time I was using to work out to do something else. 

So I've got to change again.  I haven't really done a lot of physical stuff in a couple years, but frankly I feel a little better so I need to do things a little more now that a 68‑year old should do and not a 28‑year old should do.  It's getting through this cranium that seems to have more rocks in it now than it used to what is appropriate for me.

Q.  When you're relaxing, when you're not working out, are you watching sports on TV, are you fishing?

HALE IRWIN:  No, I don't watch a lot of that.  I try to keep myself ‑‑ not that I don't, but I don't watch a lot of TV simply because there's so many other things I need to do when I'm home.  A lot of it is maybe just do nothing or do the chores, just do things away from golf.  People, I think, may have the misunderstanding that we all go home and play golf.  This person does not go home and play golf.  I belong to several country clubs, one in St. Louis and one in Phoenix where I live, Paradise Valley, and I can count on one hand the number of rounds of golf I've played on both in the last 10 years.  They're very expensive restaurants.  But at the same time I do go practice there, I do spend a little time on keeping my game relatively current.  I don't let it go completely.  Yeah, with three grandkids, I try to spend as much time as I can if we're in St. Louis where two of them live and if we're out in Colorado or if they come down to Arizona, and then my wife we like to do things together.

Q.  For my perhaps final question ‑‑

HALE IRWIN:  Perhaps final question?

Q.  Perhaps, I'll give you a few more.  When you think about highlights in Chicago, I'm thinking Medinah is number one, but I don't want to assume.  Can you run me through some of the highlights of your career?

HALE IRWIN:  Obviously I'd have to put at number one was the big putt on the 72nd hole at Medinah in 1990.  Number two would have to be the birdie putt on the 19th hole on Monday to win that Open Championship.  Number three would have to go back to Butler, a long time ago, which would be 1975 I guess.  We had a 36‑hole finish and I, let's see, 13 or 14, is 14 a dogleg left, had to go over water with the second shot and I hit it in the right‑hand bunker and I had a one‑shot lead at the time and it was probably about a 5‑iron shot over the water and I was debating can I do this, if you're going to win, you've got to do it, and I knocked it on the green from there.  So that comes out as one of those. 

Oddly enough I go back to Kemper Lakes and the 17th hole par 3, a very difficult hole location there and the wind was off the left and it was real tight back there and I took a 4‑iron and just drilled it right left of the hole and knocked it in there about six feet from the hole and made a birdie.  There's probably a hundred other shots I can think of but those are my favorites.

Q.  Have you met any people that said they got high fives from you?

HALE IRWIN:  Oh, yeah, about 10,000 of them and I think I touched hands with about 12 but apparently there's 10,000 I shook hands with.  There's one guy that brought out a Sports Illustrated and said, There I am, and he was on the cover; not necessarily on the cover but he was there in the photo.

DAVE SENKO:  Hale, as a former U.S. Open winner with Justin Rose winning last week, how does that change that person's life, winning a major like he did?  You've done it.  What does one take away from that?

HALE IRWIN:  Well, I think it depends largely on the individual, Dave.  I'm not saying it doesn't change your life.  If you allow it to change your life, it will.  If you like the life you've got, then stay with it, don't let it change your life.  In other words, you need to make your own decisions about where your life's headed, it can't be done by your manager, it can't be done by your trainer or your nutritionist or your psychologist.  It can't be done by anyone but you and your family. 

I think Justin seems to be a very well grounded, nice young man.  He's certainly got the golf game, we've known that for a long, long time.  Will it propel him to greater rewards in terms of more championships?  Perhaps so, but I think, and I want to digress just a little bit here because I think it's important to figure out the psyche of the international player and what we're seeing in the American player right now. 

We've seen the comeback at Medinah in the Ryder Cup and how our players didn't stand up to that challenge.  We've seen Adam Scott now win at the Masters.  We've seen Justin Rose win at the U.S. Open.  We've seen our players kind of not necessarily standing up to the pressure but they're not getting it done. 

So again it kind of goes begging, how's it change your life?  Well, these guys might be stronger, they might be stronger in the heart and soul and it won't change their lives.

Now, had an American player won it, with all the demands of media and outside and all the how‑do‑I‑look kind of stuff as opposed to how am I playing, more concerned with how I look and do I have the right toys and drive the right car, it may change their lives.  But I think that's all superficial stuff, it's all on the surface stuff, it's not coming from within.  I think that's where you look at how does it change your life?  Well, that's where it will change it.  Superficially that doesn't ‑‑ I mean, toys come and go, but if it changes it here, then you've got to really redirect your whole life. 

What I'm saying is that I'm not sure, I don't know to that question, but it is possible.  I tried to not let it, quote, change my life.  It presented other financial opportunities but I didn't want to chase around the world, I didn't want to do those things that I felt would take me away from the best part of my life, which was my family.  I didn't want to go chasing all the way down to the southern hemisphere to play every tournament, I didn't want to take every guarantee to go play, so I didn't want to do those things.  Yes, I did some, but not to the point where I was going to sacrifice my life with my family.

Q.  I have a question about the Ryder Cup and you might have been asked this before but with Tom Watson being the captain of the U.S. team and not being up here, the people that are going to be on that, what's your impression of that and do you think that's going to make a difference?

HALE IRWIN:  It should.  Again, I think the greatest challenge ‑‑ these are guys that can play golf, they can play, but the challenge will be to kind of break through what we just talked about, can you break through that psyche and get them to think more, okay, how am I going to play when I'm out there instead of waiting until I have my swing coach tell me something.  The swing coach has never been out there, they don't know.  They can teach you to swing but they can't play the way you play.  Your sports psychologist can give you what the books say, but you don't know until you get out there. 

Well, Tom's been there and he can talk to these guys about what it's like.  He's been there, he's done that, he knows exactly what he's talking about.  Not that Davis didn't.  I think we put so much pressure, if you wish, so much responsibility on to the captain to make the pairings just right and do the things they had to do.  I think when Paul Azinger did it, he did a great job but boy he analyzed it up one side and down the other and was successful with it.  But basically it's 12 guys that play golf and that's what you've got to get it down to, 12 players, and each of those players have to understand it's not the team that's playing, it's that player.  If you don't take care of business, then the team won't take care of business. 

If I was the captain, I would want to have 12 guys that wanted to play in that last position, I don't care what their ranking is, I don't care their money standings.  I would want 12 guys that say, Coach, give me the ball.  That's what I would want.  I would want 12 Ian Poulters.  As we saw, he put that team on his shoulders last fall and won.  That's what I'd want, and I think Tom has that capacity, but will the players understand that?  We'll see.  It's hard for a very young player to understand what Tom's been through because we're talking generations here.  Now, if I was a player on that team, I would certainly listen.  I've tried to listen, I've tried to be around the Nicklauses and the Watsons and the Players and the Palmers and the Trevinos to learn from them.  I'm not sure if today's player is willing to do that.

Q.  Pretty windy answer.

HALE IRWIN:  We're in the Windy City, though.

DAVE SENKO:  Any more questions?

Q.  Do you have a favorite restaurant?

HALE IRWIN:  You've asked me that before.  I don't know, I don't know where we're staying other than it's over there.  It's somewhere over there and I don't even know the restaurants.  We're in a different part of town.  Oddly enough I was here for the Ryder Cup for a little bit and I coincidentally think I'm staying in the same room.

Q.  Come on.

HALE IRWIN:  And I was driven in there yesterday and I thought I stayed here before.  In the lobby, I've been here before.  She gives me the room key.  I've been in this room before.  How odd is that?  I'm getting to the point where these coincidences are weird.

Q.  (Inaudible)

HALE IRWIN:  Here, the 45, I tell this story, it's kind of interesting, those of you that know, on my golf ball I have TaylorMade 45.  The 45 was originally the 45 Champions Tour wins.  Okay, let's continue on.  I was born in 1945.  I was 45 when I won at Medinah.  It's 45 years between when I qualified for my first Open as an amateur and my son qualified for his first Open as an amateur.  In September I'll be married for 45 years.  It is, exactly.

Q.  I want to know what jersey number you wore.

HALE IRWIN:  45, that was Charlie Greer's number.  Isn't that funny, you remember that.

Q.  45 wins (inaudible).  Do you feel that you've been appreciated enough for what you've done on the Champions Tour?

 HALE IRWIN:  Well, maybe a better question is, Mark, have I lost any sleep over it?  

Q.  Did you ever think, wow, that is pretty amazing?

HALE IRWIN:  Oh, I don't think that.  Perhaps I don't have the capacity to put things in perspective quite that way.  If I feel like I'm patting myself on the back, I don't do that.  That's just not in me.  Am I proud of what I've accomplished?  Absolutely, but I don't bask in that.  I want to bask in the 46th, so I'm always kind of reaching out.  The brass ring is a little further away now than it used to be and I understand that.  Most of my career is in the rearview mirror and I can't see beyond the hood of the car right now.  But I just have not ‑‑ it's just not been something ‑‑

Q.  (Inaudible)

HALE IRWIN:  On the bottom I'll put 45, put a line through it and put a 6.  I can't give up 45.  I think what I would want to say, the Miller Barbers, those people that went before me and helped set the table for me, not just on the Champions Tour but throughout my career.  I came out at probably the greatest time in which to play.  I got to know Byron Nelson, I got to know Gene Sarazen.  I didn't get to play with him other than a little 9‑hole practice round at Augusta one year, it was fantastic.  But I've played with and competed against Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, all the greats, Seve Ballesteros.  You name him, I've been able to do that.  I played with Sam Snead.  I didn't get to play with Mr. Hogan.  I was in an era which was fantastic and I got to know those people personally, I got to play with them. 

So if you talk about you're into heroes, I'm not a hero worshiper, but those are people that I really admired and looked up to and had great respect for, so I was able to glean from those guys some amazing thins.  That to me, I would rather bask in that than the 45 or the 20, the 65.

Q.  Just curious, are there any specific young players on the PGA TOUR now that you've never met or played with that you think it would be interesting to play with?

HALE IRWIN:  All of them.  I do think sometimes we do get a skewed version of what those people are like.  At the past champions dinner last week, very interesting to see the young people, Webb Simpson and Geoff Ogilvy ‑‑ not that he's terribly young, everybody's young ‑‑ Rory McIlroy and some of the younger people that will be leading the way, they're all very nice young men.  What they're like, I don't know.  I see them play and I talk to them for a few minutes and we kind of go our way.  I just don't know them.  I wish I could.  It would be a lot of fun to do a couple‑day outing, take all those kinds of people and make it a relaxed environment, not a competitive environment because then you don't get to see them, you don't really know who they are as people.  You know who they are as players but not as people and that to me is the most important part.  That's what I think will define these people is what they are away from their professional personality, but what they are as people.

Q.  Did anyone at the dinner, did any of the young players that were asked, did anything stand out to you?

HALE IRWIN:  No.  Then they put Andy North, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin and Angel Cabrera at the same table.  So, A, I can't speak Spanish.  I'm talking to two old cusses, one is older than I am.  No, it wasn't the opportunity because there were other people kind of milling around and it was difficult.  I wish there had been a little bit more ‑‑ because we were kind of inside, outside, roaming around, and then the picture was taken outside.  And they've got their own friendships, they've got their own circles of people that they run with.  It would be interesting at some point in time to have our own little two‑hour get‑together without others in the room, and there were others in the room, which is neither here nor there.

DAVE SENKO:  Thanks, Hale.