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April 26, 2006

Fuzzy Zoeller

CRAIG SMITH: Fuzzy, thank you very much for taking the time to talk about old times (laughter). It wasn't that long ago, right?
FUZZY ZOELLER: No, not that long ago.
CRAIG SMITH: In dog years, right? Part of the allure of Winged Foot is how hard it is, but you don't think back there that often, but where do you want to go when you think about Winged Foot, the wonderful course, the Championship, the playoff? Where do you take it?
FUZZY ZOELLER: To be honest with you, I think the key to it is just beating the best at what they do at a very difficult venue. I'm telling you, Winged Foot is one of the best that we have in the country. I understand there's a link to it, they've made some changes, so I can only imagine what the players are going to be faced with when they get to it this year.
Q. What's the fondest memory or two that you have of winning that event that year? I mean, there were so many crazy things that went on. In the playoff, you won in a rout, and what were the things that really stand out in your mind when you remember back?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, what I remember back was the putts that Greg Norman made was I think it was on 15, 16 and 18 that were for pars. You know, I'm standing back there with Hale Irwin, and we got to see every shot, every putt, and I'm going to tell you, Winged Foot has got some of the most difficult greens to putt beside Augusta National because of all the undulations, and he was knocking them in from everywhere, especially the putt at 18 for par.
Q. There's been sort of debate back and forth about that putt on 18, about whether or not you knew it was for par or for birdie. Do you want to set the record straight?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, at the time when he made it, I was hitting my tee shot when I saw him hit from his tee shot, which was right in the middle of the fairway. The shot I saw was that putt, and I had to assume it was for a 3. I looked at my caddie, and I said, "My God, he just beat us. Look at the putts he's made coming in here." One of the USGA guys, God bless their souls, told me that was for a par. I immediately looked over, "for a par? Where did he hit his second shot to?" He said, "in the stands." I said, "you're kidding."
But it was kind of fun. It was two buddies fighting it out, but he did -- I'm going to tell you, I believe we can put him back up there on top of that hill, and I don't think he could get it within ten feet. He was a great player making a great shot at the right time.
Q. You seemed to be enjoying yourself so much back then. How did you manage to do that with the way the golf course was playing that week?
FUZZY ZOELLER: To be honest with you, I was playing well at the time, so it really didn't matter. I was enjoying the golf course. I mean, everything about it, the whole week was just good. I didn't have any troubles in the area. My nights were short, sweet, the days were short and sweet, hitting the ball well and I could find it most of the time without finding it in the high rough there that you find at the U.S. Opens.
Q. The 10th hole is referred to as his best par 3 that he ever built. Hogan said it was a 3-iron into some guy's window because there's a house behind the green. I'm curious, what do you recall about how you played the hole, and did you ever aim at a window in that house?
FUZZY ZOELLER: You know, all I ever thought about was trying to get my ball on that green where they cut it for a green. Very difficult par 3 hole. I've got to tell you, the bunkers -- I don't know if they've changed that one or not --
Q. It's pretty much the same.
FUZZY ZOELLER: That's good because they didn't need no do anything to that. That is a work of art right there. But that is a very difficult par 3, especially if you have a little 10-, 15-, 20-mile-an-hour breeze to it.
Q. Did you ever look at the house, or what was your aiming point, a treetop or a flagstick, or where did you aim on that? Obviously depending on where the flag was, but did you ever aim at any part of the house?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I never aimed at it. I aimed right at the middle of the green. My goal was to get 3, no worse than 4, and get the hell over to that next hole.
Q. I seem to remember that you and Greg had a chance meeting the night before. I'm not sure if it was the final round or the playoff, in a restaurant, is that correct, and one of you guys sent a bottle of wine over to the other?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I sent a case of wine over there (laughter).
Q. Was that before the playoff?
FUZZY ZOELLER: That was Sunday night, yeah. Greg had a group -- he had his family there, and I don't know if it was his agent and about seven other people, and just as a nice gesture, Barry Turtson (phon.), who used to work for me, we all sent a bottle of wine over to the table. A bottle of wine only gives you four glasses, so don't make a big deal out of it like it was a case.
Q. Do you remember what restaurant?
FUZZY ZOELLER: We were right there at the White Plains Hotel. I don't know what the name of it is now, but it used to be the old White Plains Hotel.
Q. Did anybody ever have as much fun as you did winning a major championship that year?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I'm sure they have. I mean, surely. A lot of guys just don't show it. Like I say, there's no greater thrill in the world than to beat the best at what they do under very difficult conditions.
Q. You mentioned before that it was fairly short days for you. I don't know if you remember this, but that week there were a lot of logistical problems, a lot of traffic in the area. Did you encounter that at all? I'm assuming by the short day comment that you did not, and do you remember players talking about that?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, I was very fortunate. Hell, my caddie, Mike Mazio, he found a back way, and he told me, he said, there's going to be traffic problems. We need to do this, so he would pick me up every morning and drive me in, and I had no problems at all. But there were some horror stories about getting in and out of the traffic there.
Q. Do you recall some of the players had been in their cars on the side of the road trying to get to their tee time?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Yeah, I've had that problem before, but it was not at Winged Foot, only because of my caddie finding a way back. I don't know how he did it. I don't know if he sent decoys out early or what he did to find a back road, but we really didn't have any trouble at all with traffic.
Q. When some people look back at '84, they kind of view it as this is kind of the confirmation for you, your second major, and some people look at it also as kind of a first hiccup for Greg Norman. Was there ever part of your thought process when you look back at that? Obviously Greg had a lot of close calls over his career, and this was definitely -- I don't want to say the beginning of a pattern, but he obviously had about a half a dozen opportunities to win and he didn't come through. I'm curious, you were there for that playoff for 18 holes, and I'm curious as a competitor what you saw and what you remember.
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, I saw a young man that -- we'd all just kill to be in his position, wouldn't we? I don't know if there's one golfer in the world who wouldn't love to be in his position. He hit a bad shot at the wrong time. It just seemed to come and haunt him in those major tournaments. It wasn't that he played poorly or thought poorly, it was just that shot just snuck out at the wrong time.
We're only human; we can't hit them all good. You wish the bad shots would happen early in the round, but as it happened with Greg, it happened toward the end of the round.
But, you know, that is golf. Being the professional that he is, he never hung his head, he just kept battling, which is great.
Q. You made a long putt early in the playoff, too, as I recall.
FUZZY ZOELLER: No. 2 there.
Q. Did Greg do something, too, at that point?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, he did and I did (laughing). You know, Greg had hit a tee shot about 40 yards to the right of the fairway on 2 in the right rough and then blew a wedge back into the fairway, and I was sitting there with a 7-iron in my hand, and being juiced up with the adrenaline still pumping, I hit it just a hair hard and put it on the back of that green. I'm thinking, I can lag this down for a 4, he makes 5, I've got a one-shot lead and I'm in pretty good shape. As it turned out, I made the putt. It was a very good lag, I can tell you that. It was a good lag and that's all I was trying to do.
I guess if looks could write a book, he kind of stared right through me like take a look at what you're doing. This is supposed to be fun.
Q. How long was that putt?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Up until I had LASIK surgery I couldn't see that far. It was in that 60- to 65-foot range.
Q. What did he do? I can't remember exactly.
FUZZY ZOELLER: It didn't happen on that one. It was on the 18th hole when he brought that back up.
Q. You mentioned the greens. We know about the U.S. Open rough, and of course Winged Foot has all those doglegs where you have to play certain angles. What kind of player does it take to win there?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I think a right-to-left golfer really caters to Winged Foot more so than the left-to-right player. I mean, Davis Love won the PGA up there, and I know he's playing more of a cut shot now, but I think back then he was playing more the right-to-left. He got to be a long ball hitter. Right now at 7,500 yards, which I hear they're at now, you're going to have to power it. Of course all the young guys do hit it a long way now.
Q. How about Phil's chances? It seems like you just described the kind of game he's going to play, especially if he cuts it with the driver so well.
FUZZY ZOELLER: I don't know. Again, it depends on which driver (laughter). I don't know if he's going to hit his right-to-left one or his left-to-right one.
Q. I think the draw driver is in the bag for this one.
FUZZY ZOELLER: It's amazing, but there's probably 30, 35 guys out there that have the opportunity to play that golf course and play it well, only because of their driving ability. If they can keep it in the fairway, that's the key to it. Hit that short grass, then the course opens up for you.
Q. The Monday of the '84 Open, was that the first time you had seen the golf course?
FUZZY ZOELLER: You know, no, I had played in a tournament with my older brother when I was 19 years old. I played with I think it was the Kuntz brothers if I'm not mistaken. They're on the board up there somewhere in the clubhouse.
Q. Did you play The Anderson there?
FUZZY ZOELLER: That's what it was, you bet.
Q. The two-ball tournament? I'm sorry, four-ball. Do you recall, whether it was then or '84, thinking this golf course suits my eye; for whatever reason it sets up well for my game?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, it did. I'll be the first one to tell you, I enjoyed playing Winged Foot. Again, all golf courses are different, but there are certain golf courses that a player stands on and he just likes what he's looking at. It was one of those where when I stood on the tee, I don't know, I just felt very, very good on the tee, had a good feeling about the driver and what to do with it and where to hit it.
Q. I'm going to test your memory. Did you have a favorite hole out there? Was it 10 or another hole or --
FUZZY ZOELLER: I have to tell you, they're all kind of favorites. That par 3 on the front, No. 3 or something, it's a cute little par 3.
Q. Isn't that where Casper laid up?
Q. It's 247 from the tips now.
FUZZY ZOELLER: (Laughing). I think there would be a bunch of them laying up now. I can't imagine going into that hole at 247.
Q. You played the PGA. Have you been back since?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I have not. Every time I've been invited up there, I've always had something else just come about, and I haven't been able to get my little butt back up to New York.
Q. The other thing about that Open, the Open that you won, was it was ten years after The Masters. I'm wondering if you can remember what the mood was. There was a lot of apprehension about how difficult that golf course was going to play, and you must have thought I don't see what the big deal is here.
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, again, Hale Irwin's scores kind of dictated that, when Hale won up there. They said it was so God awful hard you couldn't hold a ball on the greens. Yeah, that was tough. It was very difficult.
But again, I don't know, we didn't have the real severe conditions like that. I guess we were lucky. Mother Nature blessed us with a little rain, which kind of softened things for us a little bit.
Q. Along those lines, Fuzzy, do you remember when you showed up there in '84 people talking about what had happened last time and any apprehension?
FUZZY ZOELLER: We heard it a long time before we got there. There were a lot of war stories from all the older guys that were playing out there.
Q. Did it cause you to expect the worst or did you get a sense of how the course was playing in the practice round that it might not be as bad as what you've heard?
FUZZY ZOELLER: When we first got there, we were expecting the worst. It is a U.S. Open; it is a very difficult format because they always make things very, very challenging with the high roughs and the speed of the greens and the firmness of the greens. But if you want to win your Open, it should be the toughest tournament.
Q. Are you still trying to qualify or have you tried this year at all?
FUZZY ZOELLER: To be very honest with you, no, I'm not trying. I quit two years ago as a matter of fact. The 36 holes were taking their toll on my body, so I decided just to back off and leave that spot for some young person to go in there and try. But they did offer me an exemption this year and I turned it down, only because, hell, I've had my fun, I've had my time. I will be up there for a couple days doing the corporate work or whatever they need, but as far as playing, that's for the young guys. Let the young guys go out there and battle that golf course.
Q. Was there any temptation, Fuzzy? Obviously it's such a grueling task, and you said you've had your time. The fact that you were offered an exemption, how tempting was that for you to do?
FUZZY ZOELLER: How tempting? (Laughing). If I had a tremendous ego, I would probably do it. But I'm not a guy with a big ego. I'll just sit here and swallow my little humble pie and remember the good days.
Q. When did they offer you the exemption?
FUZZY ZOELLER: I got the letter about three weeks ago.
Q. And it was a foregone conclusion that you were going to say no?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Yeah. I would feel bad if I went up there and -- well, not necessarily wouldn't enjoy the competition part of it; I would enjoy that. But if I didn't feel like I had a legitimate shot of winning, why would I take a spot? There's a young guy trying to make his name and his mark and it's time for me to step aside and let that young man go in and try to win the greatest golf tournament.
Q. Is that the difference with Augusta?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Well, Augusta is a little different. You don't have any rough there. If we get lucky and scratch it around, you can still be competitive somewhat, even though they have made that a little bit long, too.
Q. I'm just curious, if you had won the Senior Open last year, which gives you an exemption into the U.S. Open --
FUZZY ZOELLER: I'd probably have to go up and play. That's one duty of the Senior champion, which Allen Doyle is going to do. We were talking about that. But he feels it's his duty being the defending Senior U.S. Open champion to go ahead and play in the U.S. Open, and I don't blame him.
Q. If that had been you, it sounds like you would have done the same thing. That's different than taking an exemption?
FUZZY ZOELLER: Yeah, in my eyes it is, yes.

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