Hale Irwin Shoots 66 at age 66 in the US Senior Open
Hale Irwin Interview - 7/30
July 30, 2011
HALE IRWIN: I shot my age, let's put it that way. Any time you can do that when you're at any age, it's pretty nice to do. I didn't even realize it until I was reminded after we finished the round. I was more intent on trying to make that putt at the last hole than I was anything else. It was a ‑‑ I think it was a little reminiscent of 32 years ago and how I played on Saturday of the Open week in '79. I recall starting really poorly and having two really, really good middle rounds, and today was similar to one of those rounds in '79. I hit a lot of really good shots. I played very well. I missed a few putts that I could have made. But all in all, I managed what I had very well, and I feel very good about tomorrow. I still have a little work to do in the sense that ‑‑ I played so well here Monday when I got here, I must have made seven or eight birdies out there in the practice round, but I'm having a little bit of difficulty carrying that same mentality into competition. It's a little more difficult to do now. Q. Can you talk about 8, 9, 10 and 11? That was a whale of a stretch. HALE IRWIN: You know, the way they've got the course rerouted I have a hard time finding 8, 9, 10 and 11 anymore. Let's see, 8, the par‑5, hit a very good drive there. They had the tees forward, and I hit a very solid drive over the bunkers downhill a little bit and hit my second shot just short right of the putting surface in the long grass and pitched it fairly close, made about a two‑foot putt for a birdie. 9, I hit a very good drive and hit ‑‑ what did I hit? I hit a 7‑iron, just a little 7‑iron, tap‑in, probably a foot. 10, I hit a nice 3‑wood in position, then I hit a little 9 about 12 feet, made that. 13, again, I hit in the fairway. I hit a little 9 just short, probably about 14 feet or so, made that. They're the kind of putts, if you hit the middle of the green on all these greens, you're not going to have a long putt. So what I was trying to do today was rather than just knock the flag out was just trying to put it in the bowl in the section where the flag was. I haven't been reading the greens particularly well this week. They're a little slower than I think all the players were anticipating and they're a little soft, so the pace is not quite where they want. So instead of trying to do a lot, trying to get the ball close, I'm just trying to put it in the area, and that was pretty much the game plan today if you can have a game plan in golf, put it in the fairways and just put it in those areas where the flag is and go from there. Q. How about 15 and 17, birdies there? HALE IRWIN: Well, I made a bogey at 14. I didn't hit a particularly good drive. It's in the fairway, but I had to hit a long iron, hit a 3‑iron and pushed it a bit, and it bounced down into the hazard, although not in the water. I had a very difficult stance, and anyway, got it up just over the green and got it down and made a putt for a par. Then I hit 3‑iron at 15, almost made a 1. It went by about six feet, made that. And 16 I actually hit a very good drive, hit a poor second, then I had a putt of probably 40, 45 feet and ran that by about six feet, but I made that coming back. 17, hit a wonderful 4‑iron in there, very close, again, the tap‑in from one foot. I hit a great shot, hit a very good drive. And then 18 I played very well, but I missed about probably an eight‑foot birdie putt. Q. You said it's reminiscent of '79. Are the shots reminiscent themselves or ‑‑ HALE IRWIN: I can't remember. Somebody might be able to tell me. I opened with kind of a 74‑ish, 75‑ish kind of a round, and then I just really played well in the middle rounds. I don't remember specifically, it could have been like a couple of 67s or something like that. But I do remember playing very crisply, and that's kind of the way today was. I hit a lot of good shots. Today I kind of hit a couple of scrapey shots, but boy, I don't remember the course being as long then as it is playing now. They've got some big‑boy tees out there now, and not too many of us are that big anymore. Q. So I guess when you shoot your age now, you kind of still wish you were 62, right? HALE IRWIN: Yeah, I like your thinking, yeah. I would take this score at any age at any time. Q. I mean, depending on ‑‑ obviously you don't know what the guys up front are going to do, but do you have to kind of have an aggressive mindset still? HALE IRWIN: Yeah, I have to shoot this or better probably tomorrow to have even an outside chance of ‑‑ I think I just started a little too far back of a lot of guys, and there's a lot of really good players, and not every one of them is going to go out and shoot 74. I've got to go out and really play exceptionally well tomorrow. All those shots I hit well today, I've got to do it again, and then hit more good shots and make more putts. Q. What is it about Inverness in general? Is it just that they're little greens and you're a good iron player and you can take advantage of that? HALE IRWIN: Well, my focus through the years has always been, I don't care how narrow it is, if I get focused in on it, that's fine. Where I have the most trouble is the big courses where it's wide open where you don't have a really defined target. I don't care how narrow it is. If it's a nicely defined target then I'm better, and that's what this kind of course does for me. It's set up ‑‑ the elimination of some of those tees gives it some breadth where to go, and I'm better off when it's tighter. But you're right, the iron game for me seems to be better suited when the greens are small and the targets are well defined. Q. I know you didn't win it, but how much did being in the hunt at Valhalla convince you that you still had some good championship golf left in you? HALE IRWIN: Well, I think Valhalla was ‑‑ I've always felt that I've still got that kind of golf left in me. The problem is I've still got that golf left in me that led me out of the lead. The hardest thing right now is to maintain that level of confidence, that level of intensity, that attention span that seems to be just part of my game, my makeup 30 years ago, 20 years ago. That's the hardest thing to do right now. It's not always hitting the shot, with a few exceptions. I think the body doesn't work quite the way it used to, but more than anything else, it's that level of intensity, that competitive level you have to maintain to play against the Russ Cochrans of the world that are playing so very well. And that is the hardest thing to do. There's just other interests. Your life evolves and changes and ebbs and flows and I'm not worried about raising a family, I'm worried about spending more time with grandchildren, and that's a good thing. Q. Have you ever say talked with Tom Watson about that type of challenge? He's obviously come so very close to making history in his 60s. HALE IRWIN: No, I haven't, but you know, Tom has just been one of the modern era great players. Simply put, Tom has kept his level of achievement very, very high. But we've also seen a little bit ‑‑ when he had the opportunity at the British Open, we saw ‑‑ even though he hit a great shot, you kind of saw it wasn't quite what it used to be, and that's the difference. Yes, you can play, but there's just a little bit of a ‑‑ the teeter‑totter kind of tips the other way now. Yes, you can get it back that way, but it's still not quite the level playing field that it might have been a while back. But Tom, what amazes me is his swing. He still seems to have that very long swing, still has that great hit through the ball. There's always been a suspicion, and he'll admit, to kind of the short game, but he does so very well with that. He's a very strong‑willed individual. But just watching Tom you can learn a lot. Q. With all the things you've done in your long golf career, how much of a kick is doing this type of thing at this age to you? HALE IRWIN: Regardless of your age, doing this kind of thing is always fun; I don't care at what level, if it's at the club level, if it's at the amateur level. When you go out and you post this kind of a score in whatever competition you're in, it's always great fun. It's been a long, long time since I've gone out there and really ‑‑ yeah, I knew what score I was shooting, but it wasn't how many under. It wasn't look at the scoreboard. Yeah, it was, but it was almost like you get into that. That's just what I was referring to. That's kind of that "zone" that you want to get in, and I haven't been in that in a long time. So it was really nice to kind of experience that once again. Q. Do you still have that feeling, that confidence that you know you can still win an event like this, or is it now I'm pretty sure ‑‑ I mean, is there any element of doubt? HALE IRWIN: It would be foolish for me to stand up here and say there's not an element of doubt. Hell, there was an element of doubt in '79 when I stood on that first hole with a five‑shot lead. How in the world do I hit the ball in the fairway? I wasn't even worried about winning. Of course, there's always that. There's always those demons that want to crawl up your leg and get inside your shirt and inside your head. There's always those. But I think I mentioned the best players through the years, Tom and Jack Nicklaus ‑‑ and in my era I've played with some of the best players that have ever played this game, and you learn from that, and you can see it's there in everybody, but they have a way of overcoming that doubt. That anxiousness they turn into a positive, and it becomes their driving force. And when I was playing my very best golf, that's what I did. Yeah, it's there, but you acknowledge it and you move on and you say I'm just not going to let it overcome me. Now, can I still play at that level? Yeah, at least to myself, other than a little 30‑minute nap I had at Valhalla, I had my senior siesta on holes 5 and 6, and if I don't have that, I win the tournament. But therein lies the challenge.