EDMOND — A two-time U.S. Open winner, 59-year-old Curtis Strange won’t be inside the ropes, but in the television booth for this week’s U.S. Senior Open at Oak Tree National.
Strange, who won back-to-back U.S. Open championships in 1988-89, was in the field when Oak Tree hosted the 1988 PGA Championship and again for the Senior PGA in 2006. So he knows exactly how tough the course can play when it’s set up for a major championship.
Q: What do you remember about Oak Tree National from your previous two tournaments here?
A: I thoroughly enjoy the golf course. It’s a hell of a good test, especially since I assume the wind will be blowing out there this week. There are some difficult greens. You have to play. You have to strike the ball well, especially if the wind’s blowing. With the wind, you have to hit the ball on the button every time to control the distance and the spin. What makes Oak Tree is the wind. That’s the No. 1 element you have to deal with.
Are events like this fun for you to broadcast, since it’s so many of the guys you’ve faced your entire career?
On a scale of easy to hard, this is the easiest, because I know the guys. The older you get, the farther you get removed from the current-day player, so there’s more homework and preparation to be done. And even then, I can’t talk intimately about the young guys like I can these guys — some nugget that nobody knows that I know from college days, or starting out on tour or whatever it might be. This is fun.
Who are some of the guys you think might be among the favorites this week?
I look at one guy, Bernhard Langer is his name (laughs). He’s phenomenal. He’s extraordinary in his consistency. His level of competitive drive and enthusiasm for the game at 56 is incredible. He looks like he goes at it as hard as he ever did. I know he doesn’t quite, because of physical restrictions, but I marvel at him. I love the game still, and I still want to play, but I don’t. But he does. He’s an anomaly in this game, and there are other guys like him, but he seems to be the guy who goes at it 24-7, plays well every week, the whole thing.
There are others. Kenny Perry is the defender. Tom Lehman just won a couple weeks ago. Jay Haas has played well, it seems every week, though he hasn’t won.
What do expect from Scott Verplank in his senior debut?
My gosh, he’s probably more eager to go than anybody in the field. He’s on his home golf course, in his backyard, sleeping in his own bed. Geez, you couldn’t write a better script for him in the U.S. Senior Open. So you certainly expect him to do well. I would be shocked if he wasn’t on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon.
How difficult was the transition from tour player to television analyst?
I did it when I was 42 years old, and at 42, you still want to play and do well, but I was floundering a little bit. None of us accept mediocrity very well, but I guess I saw another option. When you look at the long-range forecast of what you’re going to do, I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Although I still thought I was a player for four or five years — I still woke up as a player, and they allowed me to play most of those tournaments I did televise. But in reality, you can’t do something else and play this game. It’s too tough. So my game quickly went south after that, and that was OK.
I enjoy TV. It was a whole new life for me. It was work. It was something I was not comfortable doing, and still at times, it’s a little bit awkward. You’ve got to speak in front of the camera and hopefully do it without bumbling all over yourself. It stretches me, it makes me work and it keeps me right in the middle of the game, so I enjoy it. I still miss playing and I miss the competition. I play six or seven tournaments a year, go out and see the guys and quench my thirst a little bit.
This week, when I do the U.S. Senior Open, I miss playing, because all my friends are out there. I think, well I could if I really wanted to. Not really, but I will miss it when I see all those guys out there.
Does television work still push you in some of the same ways it did when you started 17 years ago?
Yeah, you try to improve every time you go on. You try to say something a little more concise for the viewer. I’m not a real wordsmith, so at times, I struggle. But I’m talking the game I know. What makes a good analyst or hole announcer? I don’t know. Just talk the game, inform the viewer. Hopefully they learn something. I just watched a lot of the Wimbledon match, and John McEnroe is fantastic. I learn something when I listen to him. I’ve always thought Tim McCarver was very good on baseball. And somebody we’re listening to a lot right now with the soccer is Alexi Lalas, and he’s very good. When I started doing this at 42, I never looked at an analyst the same way again. I looked at every analyst in every sport, how they do it, how they project on camera. Do they talk too much? Do they explain things to me? Do I learn something? All of those things, I try to improve every day.