NOTHING is over until it’s over. In no sport is that truer than in the game of golf. You don’t celebrate until it’s done. Even with a lead of six shots going into the final three holes of the 1986 Open Championship, I didn’t feel it was a fait accompli to win my first Major. When I hit the green with my second shot on 18, that’s when I could relax knowing I could six-putt and still win. Every top golfer strives to win a Major championship. That’s the ultimate goal of every player and winning my first was truly special.
The year 1986 was a great one – I was playing really well week in, week out, month after month. But I had lost out at The Masters and the US Open, so when it came to leading the British Open I was not going to come up short at Turnberry. I felt the conditions really played into my game that week, even though everyone was complaining about it. Mentally, I felt I had an edge before the tournament had started.
The golf course was set up the toughest it had ever been; really narrow fairways and the greens were firm. The weather was horrendous, but that suited my strengths – being a great driver of the golf ball. I didn’t change my game plan and ultimately that’s what helped me win.
Back then, spectators were still allowed to walk behind the final group. There’s that famous footage of me trying to get through the enormous crowd onto the 18th green and people were slapping me on the back. In many ways, it reminds me of how much the game of golf has changed in 30 years.
It’s always exciting looking ahead to the British Open. It’s difficult for me to say who will win because Royal Troon is a tough golf course. The tee shots at Troon are incredibly challenging and to pick out any one person is almost impossible. However, Jason Day is the No.1 player in the world. He certainly has the most runs on the board for the past 12 months, so I don’t see him falling off the perch for the next couple of months, that’s for sure.
Comparisons between Jason Day and myself are difficult, but I think I was a better driver of the golf ball than he is. Jason’s strengths come into play with his extremely good short game – anything inside 80 or 90 yards he’s probably getting up down maybe seven or eight times out of 10, which is a great asset. I think Jason has one of the best short chipping motions in the game of golf; it’s very sound.
Jason has got a lot of confidence and as he says himself, he wants the No.1 tag. He’s very vocal about it and he’s not running away from it – he’s embracing it. Put it this way, he’ll only continue to get even better.
I met Jason when he was a young kid coming out of Queensland. He was very shy and a little bit introverted. I loved his game then. I made the comment many years ago when I first met him that he has the fastest hip motion in the game of golf. That’s why he drives the ball so far and is so good with his long irons.
Jason had a lot of talent, even way back in the beginning, but he’s refined it. He’s embraced the situation, the pressure and the attention of being the best golfer in the world … he’s not scared of it. In fact, he wants to dominate the sport even more.
Am I surprised to see many of the world’s best golfers pull out of the Olympics? Not really, the Zika virus probably added more angst to the athletes. But at the end of the day Rio de Janeiro was probably the wrong location. Golf could’ve been reintroduced in Sydney, Los Angeles or London – in countries where they embrace the game of golf and where they have great golf courses.
In every other sport, you don’t see athletes pulling out of the Olympics. They’ve trained hard, it’s once every four yeas and they’re representing your country. Under the circumstances, every golfer who has the chance to go to the Olympics should.
Would I have played in the Olympics had golf been reintroduced? Yes, if I could’ve qualified for Rio I would’ve gone, regardless of where it was. I don’t buy into the excuse that the scheduling wasn’t good enough; it’s a bit lame as far as I’m concerned. Every athlete knows where the Olympics is going to be six years before the event. Most of the guys have known the dates for maybe two years.