Last June, Corey Pavin finally put to rest the tag of "best player not to win a major" by winning the 100th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. He was the only player to match par at Shinnecock putting together rounds of 72-69-71-68_280, two shots better than runner-up Greg Norman.
Born in Oxnard, CA, the 36 year old Pavin turned pro in 1982 and qualified for the Tour in '83. Winner (at press time) of 13 tour events, Pavin last year also won the Nissan L.A. Open and finished fourth on the Tour money list with $1,340,079. As in the case of 1993, he was a stalwart on the U.S. Ryder Cup team at Oak Hill last fall, compiling a 4-1 record for the losing side. Pavin lives in Orlando, FL with his wife Shannon and sons Ryan (10) and Austin (3). Recently, Pavin sat down to talk with George White, currently a writer with the Golf Channel in Orlando, for an exclusive interview for Michigan Golfer. Here are excerpts of their conversation.
Memories of Shinnecock, especially in the early rounds.
Well, I didn't play very well on the first day. On the first hole I actually drove it into an unplayable lie and had to take a penalty. I made a good bogey there. Then I bogied the third hole so I was two over going to the par five fifth hole which was into the wind. I had a nine iron left for my third shot and I holed it for eagle. So I'm immediately back to even par which made feel so much better. That was the most dramatic shot of the week until the last few holes of the tournament. The eagle put me in better frame of mind because it was a shaky start and I wasn't feeling too comfortable about my game. It could've been a disastrous round. Actually, I didn't play well the whole day but that one shot just held my round together. (Pavin shot a two over par 72 for the day.)
Swing adjustments after first round
Uncharacteristically, I hit a bunch of balls after Thursday's round since I played so poorly. I was definitely looking for something that was wrong. I discovered I was taking the club too outside on the takeaway. So I made an adjustment and started moving it slightly inside and making a better turn away from the ball. And it worked. The rest of the week I just concentrated on those two swing thoughts and I hit it much better.
When did you consider yourself in serious contention to win the Open.
Certainly after the third round I knew I had a reasonable chance to make a run at it. (Pavin was at two over 212, three shots back of leaders Tom Lehman and Greg Norman.) But interesting enough, no one interviewed me and I was not asked into the press room. I was thinking, gee, only three shots back and only four players to pass and no one wants to talk to me. As a matter of fact, the only media interview I did the whole week was with NBC's Roger Maltbie just before the final round.
Course strategy during the last nine holes.
I just approached the last nine like I did the entire week. I wanted to play smart golf meaning trying to hit the greens and keeping the ball below the pin. And if I missed the green at least try to miss it again below the pin to give me an easier chip. That was my thinking for the week but on the last day I executed it better than any other round. I don't recall how many greens I hit but I never put myself in a position to give me a difficult up and-down when I did miss a green. So it was a smart round of golf. I knew if I was one or two under for the last day I'd have a good chance to win. When I birdied the ninth hole on Sunday I felt very good about my chances because the course was playing so tough. That brought me back to two over for the tournament and two shots from the lead.
The four wood shot on the 72nd hole.
I had 219 yards to the front of the green and 19 more to the hole. It was a longish four wood for me. 220 yards is usually my normal distance with that club. Also, it was little uphill and the wind was blowing right to left. But I was pumped up and I didn't think I could go past the hole with a four wood. I didn't want to go by the cup and have a tricky downhill putt. As it turned out, I hit the shot as good as I could and it ended up exactly pin high. I was trying to hit a hard low draw to keep it out of the wind. It was certainly the right club.
Battling the nerves.
The only time I became nervous during the final round was after I birdied 15 because that's when I went into the lead. That's when I knew I was in the driver's seat for the first time. I had been chasing the leaders the entire week up to that point. I felt if I parred the last three holes I'd have a good chance to win. I just missed a birdie on 16. But I really think the par putt I made on 17 was more important than the four wood shot on 18. It was a six footer and by making it I was able to play 18 more conservatively. That's why I didn't hit a very long drive. All I wanted to do was get the ball in the fairway so I could have a decent shot into the green.
Previous disappointments in the majors, such as '86 Masters and '93 British Open.
Those two tournaments were miles apart in terms of difference. In '86, I just kinda blew it at Augusta. I hit a really bad shot on 16 and I found the water. That case for me was just basically messing up in the final round. In '93 at the British Open, I played fine the last day after being tied for the lead after three rounds. I didn't play great but I played solid. I believe I shot par which normally isn't bad in the final round of a major championship. That situation was not discouraging to me in any way. Actually, it was more encouraging. Norman shot 64 and played great. I mean, Faldo finished second and Langer finished third. I tied for fourth behind some formidable competitors. But I did learn from that last day, knowing I needed to relax more on the course. I also learned a good deal from my third place finish at the '92 Masters when Freddie (Couples) won. I came from way back there.
After the first 33 holes I was actually in danger of missing the cut. So I was very pleased with how I came back there and I've drawn upon that over the years.
That famous competitive, on-course bulldog nature.
It's really something God-given; you're born with it. You really can't teach someone to be competitive. You can teach the mechanics and all that but it's something in your heart that must give you a competitive nature and attitude. I've always had it, always been a competitive person. I love the competition out on Tour. But it also has a flip side that I have to watch. When I'm not playing well, I have to be careful not to be so frustrated. I have to be sure I grind it out and still score. It's a double edge sword in that sense. In my younger days especially in college I used to become both frustrated and angry when I started to play poorly or not up to my standards. I used to let bogies get the better of me. Now if I bogey a hole and I'm up on the next tee of a par five, I say to myself, 'hey, let's hit a long drive here and make a birdie. 'You have to learn to bottle up the frustration and use it to play better.
Early golf memories growing up and evolution of your swing.
I started playing when I was six years old. My older brothers played and I wanted to do whatever they did. I just tagged along with them from six on. Most of my early golf didn't involve serious instruction. Between the time I was six to 15, I bet I only had four or five lessons. My first formal instruction didn't occur until I was 15. Up to that I learned to use my hands really well and play by feel. Then I started to learn more about the fundamentals of the swing and beware of certain positions. My swing was never pretty. Over the years, my swing evolved to become more fundamentally sound. When I playing well, I'm hitting the ball very solidly and I'm controlling my shots. If I do that I know my short game is strong enough for me to contend. Improving my swing fundamentals have been key to my consistent play over the last five years.
Talk about 'The Chip' on the last hole at Oak Hill against Faldo on Saturday in last year's Ryder Cup.
That's the epitome of the type of situations I like to be in. I like the pressure where in that situation something's gotta give. It's a lotta fun. The importance of the match was certainly not lost on me. I knew what that match meant to the team. If we won that match we'd be two up; if we tied we'd be one up; and if we lost we'd be even. My mindset was to get the ball in the hole any way I could. But actually I think my second shot into the green was even better than the chip. It was a difficult shot. I thought if I could just get the ball near the green it would be good. So when I saw I had a reasonable chance to chip in for birdie, it was a big time bonus. Loren (Roberts) had a foot and a half for par. So as I was walking to line up my chip, I literally asked him if he was going to make his putt. He said, 'Oh yeah.' And I replied, 'That's all I needed to hear.'
With his assurance about par, it allowed me to be more aggressive on my chip shot. In stroke play, it would've been a tough shot to get up and down. But in match play, I was in a situation to just go for it and not worry about making par. When it went in, I didn't want to act crazy because Nick still had a birdie putt. When I looked up I looked at the team and they were jumping up and down and going crazy. Honestly, that's the way I wanted to react but I didn't think that would be appropriate for the moment. I was so into the match and my concentration was so keen that I just looked up with a stone-face. But that's type of situation I love in golf. It's a exponential feeling.
How do you relax away from the pressure of the Tour.
The normal kind of things at home. We go out to see a few movies or go see the Magic (the NBA Orlando Magic) play. We just went to see the Solarbears (IHL hockey team) play and it was great fun. One of the Cleveland Lumberjacks players after recognizing me during pregame warm-ups, tapped his stick on the glass in front of me and later flipped a puck to my son Ryan. I really enjoy sports and especially basketball. Other than that, I enjoy hanging out with the family and doing my share of the car-pooling for the kids. When I'm gone I know Shannon has to do things by herself. So when I'm home I like to do my part so she can relax a little. Spending time with Shannon and the children is very important to me.
I don't know what the most important tour stat is. Over the years I've tried to figure it out. I always thought Greens Hit In Regulation (GIR) was the most important one. But then I read an article where it showed that the top 10 players on the money list were not in the top 10 of the GIR list which was very surprising to me. So who knows? Although I wasn't in the top 10 of any stat list, I was in top 10 of the money list. But one new stat could be where you showed how often players saved par on a hole where they missed the green. Personally, I would think that would be the most important stat of all. Every stat has its own little quirk. For example, the putting stat is measured only on those greens hit in regulation. Well, that can be misleading because a leader there could be a great iron player and hitting the ball really close to the hole. Another player could be hitting a lot of greens but not close enough to the pin to hole his share of putts. The all around stat, combining elements of various stats, can be a good guide. Last year, Justin Leonard led that category which surprised me because I know he was down the list on driving distance. That distance stat keeps down from the all-around list because I usually finish 150th or so in driving distance.
Overcoming Lack of Distance.
Every player likes to add a few yards. And this year I'm picking up some yardage because I'm using a new ball, the Titleist HP Tour, which is a two piece ball. Before, I had been using the shortest Titleist ball ever made. I was using its 384 Tour ball which they weren't selling to the public anymore because it was outdated technologically. It spins and curves a lot which I liked because it fits my game and style of shaping shots. But I was giving up some distance because of it. Now with the HP ball I'm hitting it farther and even hitting some par 5's I've never hit before. And it still spins fine on the green.
The person I most respect in golf is Byron Nelson. Obviously, what he did on the golf course was fantastic. But having met him, I really admire him as a person and as a great golfer. How he presents himself and how he acts are very impressive. He's just a great guy. I look up to Byron more than any golfer I've ever met. He's the closest person I could say has been a hero or idol for me.
The switch to VAS Cleveland irons.
My biggest worry was how much grief I was going to receive from my peers for playing with the VAS irons. But I tested them very thoroughly before I even started talking about any contract to play them. I was very comfortable with the club before I signed on the bottom line. I wouldn't change clubs unless it was a positive change for my game. I felt some pressure to play well with the clubs for Cleveland Golf's sake. In my first three tournaments using the clubs, I finished fourth, second and first. Whatever tiny doubts I might've had, were blown apart by that good start.
Finally, comments on Oakland Hills
It's an outstanding golf course. It reminds me of Oak Hill in Rochester. It's a very basic, solid test of golf that requires you to hit every club in your bag. In 1985, the greens were softened due to all the rain_so it wasn't a true test of Oakland Hills' challenge. If the weather stays dry this year, those greens will be very interesting.