When Wes McClain joined the UH golf program as a freshman, the program was still searching for its identity. It was the second year of head coach Jonathan Dismuke––now the director of golf––and the team was hardly a blip on the national radar. Through McClain’s four years, and through solid recruiting by Dismuke and his staff, the Cougars began their rise through the national rankings to No. 10 in the nation at this year’s NCAA Men’s Golf Championship. En route to its finish, UH won four golf tournaments this season.
McClain talks to us about the program’s rise, working with Dismuke, qualifying for the U.S. Amateur, and the next steps in his golfing career.
For 24 years, CJ & D.E. Chester of Houston have collected autographs from golf’s biggest names––from Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer. If you can think of a golfer, the Chesters likely have his or her autograph. We sit down with the Houston couple to discuss their collection, their thousands of signed pieces, and how you can start a collection of your own.
We had a late cancellation on Monday, so we’re going to have to take a mulligan on this week’s episode of Tee Box Talk. We’ll be back next week as we sit down with C.J. & D.E. Chester, two of Houston’s most avid autograph collectors. The Chesters have amassed more than a thousand autographs of professional golfers since they began collecting in the 1980s. We’ll discuss how they’ve done it, their tricks, and how you can start your own collection.
Until then, be sure to subscribe to Ace In The Cup, and help us fund our first issue on Aug. 25 by visiting our Kickstarter page.
Owen spearheaded the Missouri City’s efforts to buy the nearly defunked Quail Valley Country Club in 2008 and helped revitalize it into one of Houston’s premier public golf courses. The 36-hole course fully reopened in 2009, and this year it celebrates its fifth anniversary. Owen talks to us about leading the city’s charge to purchase the property through eminent domain, the process to bring the course back from the brink, and his advice on how to go from an 18-handicap to scratch golfer, a transformation he made himself.
Paulson is overseeing the project that brought Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods Design back to Texas, and will be Tiger’s first course designed in the United States. Bluejack National, the former home to Blaketree National, is reconstructing the 755 acre lot with a brand new 18 holes, 384 private residents, nearly 100 cottages, and countless other amenities for the golfers and non-golfers alike.
The fact we can have this kind of canvas and this kind of place that we can create something special is really awesome
[4:37] Time is the most finite resource we have
[5:47] We have a very diverse set of amenities
There are a lot of holes out here that have taken great advantage of the topography
[7:00] How exciting was it to get the word that Tiger was going to come here?
[10:28] I think that his vision and our vision are very aligned in a similar direction
[10:35] A little piece of heaven
[12:05] We think we’re really going to create an iconic place in the entire south part of the country and something that’s going to be respected on a national level
[16:44] We’re trying to limit cart paths as much as possible, just to restore that look of pure golf
[19:44] There’s nothing like seeing your golf ball fall against the trees
[21:03] We’ll certainly respect that legacy and respect the heritage and those who came before us
[24:02] There’s only a couple of places I’ve seen that have the elevation like this at all in Texas
[28:52] People love golf courses that are maintained impeccably and we’ve hired who we think is the best agronomist in the state
Tiger: “He’s very down to earth and very engaging and very focused on what he’s doing and very concerned with the quality of the golf course
[41:19] Timeline of Blujeack
[48:44] We’re really excited about what we’re about to do
Special Guest: Don Bachman, director of operations at Topgolf Houston North
70 percent of our golfers, Topgolfers, who come in here have never touched a golf club in their life.
Topgolf has moved in and is drawing a big––and much needed––interest in the game of golf in Houston. This week, we sit down with Don Bachman, the director of operations at Topgolf Houston North in Spring, and discuss the Topgolf experience, how the company is bringing a much needed change to the game, and his .50-caliber Nerf gun.
“No. You’re a golf shark. Don’t ever play golf against that guy, because he’ll beat your ass.”
Tee Box Talk: Episode 1 – Winning Never Gets Old
Special Guest: Dan Keyser
Matt Keyser: Dad thanks for joining us on Tee Box Talk. You grew up playing Houston golf and have been playing golf your whole life, tell us about some of those experiences.
Dan Keyser: Well I started playing when I was 8 years old. There used to be a little par 3 down on 59 South called the Red Barn, and after we got our chores done on Saturdays and Sundays—of course we were up early with my dad, who was a staff sergeant in the Army—we got our chores done and he’d take us up there and drop us off at the Red Barn and me and my brother would play golf till dark, then they’d come pick us up.
We’d look that nine holes over and over and over and over and over. So I did that until I was probably 12, and then Dad joined a country club. I’ve just been playing literally my whole life.
MK: How was it playing with uncle Ron and all them back then?
DK: It was always fun to beat your brother, and so I beat him most of my life.
MK: Even being the younger brother, does that make it a little better?
DK: Being the younger brother, yeah.
MK: God, I hate that. I can’t stand when Ethan beats me.
“If you have a job where you have to work past noon, the job is too big for you.”
MK: Talk about playing with Grandpa [Bill Keyser]. He was quite a character.
DK: Yes he was. He was a very good player in his middle 30s until probably through his middle 40s, he was a really good player—he was probably an under par player. So I got to start playing in the gambling games, because Dad said, “If you have a job where you have to work past noon, the job is too big for you.”
So he would go to work about 5 a.m. and work until about 11:30, go have lunch at the Ramada Inn—go have him a French Dip—and go to Willowisp Country Club and we he’d play in a noon game every day Monday through Friday. And probably starting when I was about 15 he let me play in that gambling game.
Of course he would cover my losses and pay me my winnings. So it was, it was a no-risk deal for me, and I just loved playing golf with my dad and his cronies, cause they were all a bunch of characters: Oil Grange, Randy Lewis, that’s where I met Jon Matthews, he was a lifelong friend until he died a couple years ago. But just playing with a bunch of grown me and I was just a kid. It was awesome; I really enjoyed it.
MK: Get out to beat some of them, too?
DK: Oh yeah. I started really playing good by the time I was about 17 I could really play. But I had grown up on the golf course. I had lessons from Gene Hill, Bobby Palmer. You know, I worked at the golf course, I picked the range, I just pounded golf balls all the time. That’s what I enjoyed doing.
I played high school golf and went into the golf business. I worked three Houston Opens under Doug Sanders, and Doug, when he threw a tournament, everybody showed up: Bob Hope; Andy Williams; Gerald Ford, the former president; Hollywood movie stars; golf pros: I met Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Willie Nelson. It was just an amazing experience when you’re 19, 20, 21 years old running around with Doug Sanders. It was pretty awesome, for sure. That was at The Woodlands.
Willie Nelson almost ran me over with his big black Mercedes.
MK: Any good stories to tell from back then?
DK: I used to run a lot, and Willie Nelson almost ran me over with his big black Mercedes. I rolled over the top of his hood (laughs). Of course he stopped and I met him and it was just an amazingly fun time in my life, my early 20s on the golf course. You got to play The Woodlands course, it was called the East Course back then, it’s now called the TPC, but it was just a monster of a golf course: impeccable condition. It was an amazing time in my life. That was before I got into the restaurant business.
MK: I’d imagine you played a lot more back then than you get to now.
DK: Well not then because I worked nights, so I played golf all day and bartended all night. I had plenty of cash in my pockets to gamble with. I’m still in the restaurant business 35 years later but obviously not playing as much golf as I’d like to.
MK: You were telling me earlier the guy who saw you and called you the golf shark. Tell us a little about that.
DK: I was in having a conversation at work and a couple guys approached me, and they were actually talking to the guy I was talking to, and I saw one of the guys and he had a very recognizable face, and I said, “You know, I know you from somewhere.”
He didn’t recognize me, and I said, “Do you play golf?”
He said, “No, I haven’t played golf in five years.”
I said, “Well, you sure look familiar to me; it must have been on the golf course.”
So he asked me, “What’s your name?”
I said, “Dan Keyser.”
And he looked like he saw a ghost, and said, “Well you’re a golf shark.”
I said, “Well, I played a lot of golf.”
“No. You’re a golf shark. Don’t ever play golf against that guy, because he’ll beat your ass.”
This is some random guy I’m talking to in town.
But Houston is a great town for golf, just tremendous golf courses here, and tremendous golf professionals at these golf courses here in Houston, and it’s pretty exciting that you’re covering Houston golf now with your magazine.
MK: It amazed me that there’s 170-plus courses just in our coverage area and I’m sure we’re missing one or two in there, too. I never realized how big it was.
DK: How’d you enjoy winning that Texans cheerleaders tournament out at Cypresswood?
MK: That was pretty incredible, considering the day we had, start with a blown tire and no practice and next thing you know—what’d we shoot, 53?
DK: 59 we shot. I think it was 59. Getting to play with you two boys (the younger brother, Ethan, makes three) is a real treat for me in my life. I got to grow up and play golf with my dad, I taught you guys how to play, and we’ve played for—how old are you now? 25 now?
DK: About to be 26. I mean, I remember for your fifth birthday I got you a new golf club, and you smoked it over the back fence in the backyard.
MK: Was that the wooden…wooden…black wooden driver?
DK: 3-wood. Man, you smoked that ball. We’ve grown up together playing golf and it’s just a real highlight in my life.
MK: Do you know how many generations it’s been now, that…from Grandpa to Grandpa’s dad, too?
DK: Yeah. Great grandpa’s dad played, taught Grandpa to play, Dad taught me, I’ve taught you two boys, you know it’s a lesson in life, golf is.
MK: I hate that Ethan, the youngest one now, is the one winning all the time.
DK: Yeah, that kid can play. But all you do is work and all I do is work, and we don’t get to practice. Ethan works at a golf course, Grand Pines, and he gets to practice whenever he wants to.
MK: Must be nice.
DK: And golf is a game that requires a tremendous amount of practice.
MK: What about Grandpa—talking about Grandpa, Bill Keyser, for any of you who have played out there—but he played a lot of celebrities, too. I know he always told stories about Lee Trevino.
There was a story that Lee Trevino beat a guy that used to have those big glass Coca Cola bottles, and that story is true, and that person was my dad. But it was a Dr Pepper bottle.
DK: Well he and Lee, before Lee made it on the Tour, Dad played a lot of golf with him. There was a story that Lee Trevino beat a guy that used to have those big glass Coca Cola bottles, and that story is true, and that person was my dad. But it was a Dr Pepper bottle. And what Lee Trevino would do is he would put a towel down on his knees and tee that ball up and hit it with a Dr Pepper bottle. He’d hold the bottle by the neck, swing it one-handed and hit it.
Lee was running a par 3. Par 3s used to be big, you know. They were cheap to play, cheap to build, and it was just nine holes of par 3s. They were all over the country. And Lee was running one, had a driving range and a par 3 on it, long before Lee ever made it on Tour. Well you saw the pictures in Dad’s house of Trevino and him.
MK: It was crazy to see him on T.V. and be like, “Grandpa knows that guy.”
DK: It was funny, when I was out at The Woodlands during the Houston Open, Lee was playing at the Houston Open and I invited my dad to come up and we would follow Lee around. So I’m out tending to the range, and of course the range is roped off and I go up and down this range and there’s Hale Irwin, and there’s Hal Sutton, and there’s Gene Littler, and there’s Arnold Palmer, and there’s just one pro after the other. And down towards the right end of the range there’s Trevino, and he’s out there practice, and I saw my dad coming up through the crowd so I went and got him, and Dad walked right up to that rope, cupped his hands around his mouth, and said
“Hey, who’s that little short Mexican with the flat swing?”
That’s Grandpa. I would have liked to crawl out of my skin. Trevino turns around and says, “Hello, Bill Keyser. Come on over here.” (laughs).
MK: (laughing) Oh my god.
DK: That was like Grandpa when we were at the Astros’ game—this is during batting practice—he kept trying get one of the Rockies players to give a ball to Ethan, and Ethan’s just a little tiny tot standing there. Grandpa said, “Hey, give me a ball, my grandson is crippled!” And the guy throws a ball up in the stands to Dad. And one of the guys a couple rows up said, “My dad taught me such and such to never say that.” And he said, “Yeah, well my dad taught me to take it any way you can get it.” Shut that guy right up.
“Throw me a ball my grandson’s crippled.”
MK: (laughing) Ethan is in no way crippled, either.
DK: And he, playing out at Sealy one day, you remember Sealy the second shot at 18 is over that big ravine and they have that bridge over that ravine, and Grandpa, of course he had his bottle of Jim Beam in his bag, and after 18 holes he had a few pops of Jim Beam, lost his golf cart into the ravine. He was pretty crazy. Fun guy to play golf with.
MK: I’ll always remember the story of he was playing down in Galveston and he went to pee in the ocean and he ended up gagging a Great White.
DK: It’s all about fathers and sons and carrying on the traditions of golf here in Houston. I’m a very proud Dad to teach you boys how to play; I take great pride in watching you guys play.
MK: It’s a helluva game. It’s frustrating. We played yesterday and just can’t get a ball off a tee or hit an iron like you used to.
DK: It’s funny, Ethan showed me the video tape on his phone (Ethan had previously recorded one of my atrocious swings during the round) and I saw just a split second and I could tell immediately what is wrong with your swing. That’s what so great about raising your kids in golf is I can take you to the range and straighten you out, I can take Ethan to the range and straighten him out. It’s seeing you guys play since the time you were just boys
MK: It was fun back—its been awhile now—but I remember you’d always beat me growing up, but we finally got to that point where we kept up with each other and it would be a two-shot swing on 18 holes.
MK: Playing up at Lakeview in Oklahoma was always a ton of fun.
DK: That’s a great golf course: Lakeview in Ardmore, Oklahoma. We’ve played in Tulsa, we’ve played all over. It’s just an amazing day to play golf with you two guys.
MK: Something we need to start doing a little more—it’s been a couple of years now.
There’s a tradition with me and my dad that every Father’s Day we got together and had some great food and watched the U.S. Open
DK: Well, and too, there’s a tradition with me and my dad that every Father’s Day we got together and had some great food and watched the U.S. Open, because Sunday at the U.S. Open is always on Father’s Day and it was just something me and my dad did for 25-30 years. Every year he would come to my house and watch Sunday afternoon at the U.S. Open.
It’s my favorite golf tournament, is the U.S. Open. All the majors are special, but the U.S. Open, to me, is truly an open tournament to where if you’re good enough and you can go out and qualify locally, and you advance to the next round, and if you qualify there you can play in the U.S. Open as an amateur. And I believe Ken Ventura is the last man who ever won the U.S. Open as an amateur.
MK: Was that back in the ‘80s.
DK: Back in the early ‘60s. I think it was ’64 when he won the U.S. Open as an amateur. But golf has evolved into a game today, it’s still fundamentally the same, but these guys are just stronger and they’re in better shape and they’re…
MK: There’s better technology out there, too.
DK: Better technology. You know, the game has to grow with the technology and these guys can just flat play today, man. They go out and shoot ’64.
MK: The guy who won, Cory Whitsett, he shot a pair of 66s to qualify for the U.S. Open out at Lakeside Country Club. That’s incredible.
DK: That’s amazing golf. That’s amazing golf. Golf is hard enough to get to even par, 72. But for these guys to go out and shoot 6, 7, 8 under par is just phenomenal.
MK: On tournament style courses, too.
DK: Yeah on the toughest conditions there are.
MK: It’s exciting. That’s coming up on Thursday.
DK: At Pinehurst No. 2.
MK: What’s your favorite course to play in Houston?
DK: I have to say my favorite course in the Houston area is a Pete Dye course called Waterwood National. These years it’s not in good shape. I hear they’re putting some money into it now and a new outfit bought it, but it’s a Pete Dye design: it is long, it is tough, you can hit the ball 12 feet from the hole and be in hazard—be in grass waist deep. The guy is a twisted architect designer. He’s very famous, all over the country. It’s a Pete Dye course where they play The Players Championship. To have a Pete Dye design here locally is pretty special.
The TPC at The Woodlands is a great golf course. I’ve had the opportunity to play Lochinvar National a dozen, 15, 20 times. It’s a very special place. Memorial Park is a municipal golf course with a brilliant design on that golf course: long, tough, you can shoot even par at Memorial Park you can play.
MK: That seems to go for everybody, though. If you can shoot even par, you can play. It doesn’t matter what tees you’re playing from or where you’re playing.
DK: But you know you know as a golfer to get to even par is one of the most frustrating things you can do, because once you shoot par, you don’t want to shoot par anymore—you want to shoot 69.
If you can shoot even par, you can play.
So to go out there and shoot 72 you’re really kind of disappointed in yourself, because you’re thinking, “Man, if I would have made that birdie putt, or if I wouldn’t have three-putted that hole I’m in the 60s.” So it’s a funny thing about golf you have to turn around and look backwards and go, “Holy shit, I just shot 72.”
That’s a good score; that beats everybody. But yet you’re like, “It’s not good enough.”
MK: I left that shot there.
DK: I need to practice more. It’s a very addictive game, and it’s a very difficult game. Each level that you go from—100 to 90 takes a lot more skillset, and to go from 90 to 80 is a tremendous leap in golf, and then to get below 80 is tremendously hard to do. You have to have your focus for five hours, just razor sharp focus. To get to 72 is an accomplishment in life very few individuals ever accomplish, but it’s not enough for you individually. It’s a crazy game.
MK: Because you can always do better. There’s always that one shot.
MK: It seems like going from 100 to 90, but it’s not as much going from 80 to in the 70s almost.
There’s five fundamentals you have to learn and perfect.
DK: There’s five fundamentals you have to learn and perfect. That’s it. If you can master five positions with that golf club, you can shoot 72. It just takes thousands and thousands of golf balls on the range.
MK: What are your five fundamentals?
DK: They start with the grip. You have to have a proper grip, it doesn’t matter if it’s interlocking or overlapping—the vardon grip. Your hands have to be on your hand properly to work together, and if they’re not in correct position you’re not going to hit the ball right.
If you look at any quality player they start with a very good grip.
Second fundamental is the backswing. Those hands have to get in a certain position at the top of the swing. Then there has to be a very smooth transition to No. 3 the downswing.
You have to have proper alignment. You have to have foot position in the right—if you’re not lined up at your target you’re never going to hit your target. That’s something that is constant in the golf swing is you constantly have to adjust your line.
You’ll get to where you’re closing your stance up and your shoulders are out of line and then you come in way over the top to try and correct it, because your brain works, and if you’re lined up too far right your body is going to open up to your target and you’re going to end up hitting a big banana ball.
And you have to have a nice balanced finish.
If you master the five fundamentals of the swing, you have a chance to shoot even par one day.
I grew up with a fellow named Cecil Rhodes, and Cecil would come out to Willowisp Country Club with his wife, and he would carry a little old canvas bag that we all used to have when we were young. And he always walked. His wife would pull a pull cart, Cecil would carry his clubs. He was 69 years old the last time I got to play with Cecil Rhodes and he shot 69. He was an old, thin, pretty good shape guy—wrinkled. Smoothest golf swing I think to this day I’ve ever seen. He swung it a lot like Hogan, like Ben Hogan. He went out, I don’t think he ever shot over par in all the years I knew him. He did it not for gambling, he did it for the love of the game, and to get out and to walk the beautiful fairways for four hours, because he didn’t miss any shots, so he played pretty quick—he’d get off the course in about three hours. Walk 18 holes, never missed a shot. It was awesome. One of the nicest guys in the world. And he could play.
That’s been a real treat for me over the years is knowing some guys who can play: Bobby Palmer, pro out at Willowisp. He could shoot par right-handed or left-handed.
MK: That’s some talent.
DK: It was amazing.
MK: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
DK: Probably from Joe Clemens. They call him the Con Man. He’s in his 70s now and he can shoot par or better—69, 68. He’s a really great player, great big ol’ player, too.
One time we’re playing and we’re at Cypresswood and I used to hit the golf ball an incredibly long way. I hit this drive this one time, and it’s an old TaylorMade with a real stiff graphite staff in it, and I could crush it. So I hit this driver and BOOMED it and I’m telling the ball to bite!, bite! because it was headed towards this hazard, and Joe made a comment, he said, “Dan, you’re the only guy I’ve ever known who hits the ball as hard as he can and says bite.” It made me realize something: maybe I should control my swing a bit more.
The difference between amateur golfers and professional golfers is that amateurs don’t understand that golf is a game of score.
He made another comment to me one time that really improved my game. He said that the difference between amateur golfers and professional golfers is that amateurs don’t understand that golf is a game of score. That made an impact on me. Because you know yourself, Matt, that to shoot even par it takes an incredible amount of focus. When you hit a bad shot, it doesn’t matter. I’ve seen Joe 100 times top the ball off the tee and make a par. The guy is a machine. SO you just don’t let golf rattle you. You have to understand that golf is a game of score, and just because you hit the ball good, doesn’t mean you’re going to make a putt. Just because you hit it bad doesn’t mean you’re going to make a bogey. Just because you hit the ball doesn’t mean you’re going to make a big number. You have to stay in the moment, and that’s what Tiger Woods says, “Stay in the moment.” The only shot that matters is the shot you’re about to hit.
Most amateurs don’t have that focus to play a four, four-and-a-half hour round and keep their focus that long.
Very few guys that I know can play better golf when they drink on the golf course.
I used to play with Baron Jacobson and Dennis Wilkerson—Dennis did the Tour 18 concept, that was his baby—so we used to gamble a lot out at Tour 18 with Dennis, big gaggle of us guys. We played some big money stakes. We played $100 one downs for years. And Dennis Wilkerson, the more he drank, Miller Light, the better he played.
Most guys aren’t like that. I don’t drink when I play golf, and I haven’t for 35 years probably. That’s not the place I do my drinking. You know I don’t mind having a cocktail every now and again, but not on the golf course, because it gives me an advantage over other players. There’s no intoxication, there’s no emotion getting involved. I’ll let these guys drink all they want to drink and I’m going to take every dollar out of their pocket.
When I’m done playing golf, then I’ll have a drink. But never when I play. I took it seriously. When you’re out there playing $100 one-downs, you better take it seriously.
Joe is a great guy, a really fine player. His golf bag was stuffed with cash. Joe made a lot of money, and he wasn’t scared to gamble. But he had more money in his golf bag than I have in my bank account (laughs).
Just some of the characters you meet on the golf course, those are lifelong memories that you have, and you’ll be able to reflect on them always.
When I lie in my deathbed, I’m going to remember some really fun things I did on the golf course.
MK: I don’t know if you’ll remember but it was you, me and Ethan playing once out here at Panorama and we were swinging on to 19—and speaking of drinking on the course—there was that big fat guy who was bending down to stick his tee in the ground and he was bending his driver shaft so much that it looked like it was going to snap.
DK: He couldn’t even put the ball on the tee. He was in the bar drinking kamikaze’s and beat us to the tee. We ended up going and playing a different nine holes because he was going to be there for a while.
With you boys being out here on the course it’s been a real treat to pass that along to y’all, live on the golf course, y’all go through the junior golf ranks, and each summer you’re in the junior golf programs playing in tournaments. You remember that tournament you have that playoff on No. 1?
MK: I was writing about that the other day. We were playing 18…
DK: No it was 1, the playoff…
MK: No we were playing 18 to get in the playoff—18 out here at Panorama—and there’s water on the right side and I hit a good 3 wood off the tee and I was still 200 out. And for whatever reason the kid before me hit a 3 wood in the water on his approach, and all I was thinking was I was going to hit the green. I pulled out my 3 wood, as confident as I’ve ever been, knowing I always slice it with a 3 wood and should have hit it in the water, and I hit it on the front of the green and I’m 80 feet out to a back pin and I don’t know what I was thinking there pulling out a 3 wood when I should have just laid up.
DK: Yeah because he’s already in a hazard and going to make a double bogey and all you have to do is make bogey and you’re in.
Anyway you get in the playoff and beating that kid on the first hole—getting it up and down from over the green on No. 1.
MK: That was after topping it on my tee shot, too—not even getting it to the ladies’ tees. What did Grandpa always say then, “drop your pants…”
DK: A Double Oklahoma.
MK: (laughs) Is that what it’s called?
DK: A Double Oklahoma. Hit the next shot with your pecker out.
A Double Oklahoma. Hit the next shot with your pecker out.
MK: (laughs) I remember the first time he told me that on the course, I was young, and I had never been so embarrassed. I remember him doing that a lot (laughing).
DK: Uh oh, a Double Oklahoma.
MK: “Do you breathe in or out on your backswing” was one of his favorites, too.
DK: He was a needler.
MK: For sure.
DK: It probably helped me in my game because I grew up with my dad needling me all the time.
MK: Shake his keys…
DK: Yeah he’d rattle his keys, spit, or he’d try to get in your head. “Have you always had that little extension on your backswing like that? Have you always had that little movement?”
That was my dad. And most of his cronies were like that. And I grew up facing that and it’s pretty tough to rattle me on the golf course now.
MK: Yeah I’d think after that you’d have to be pretty mentally strong on the course.
DK: For sure.
Do you breathe in or out on your backswing?
MK: I remember the first time I was about to beat Grandpa, he pulled the “do you breathe in or out on your backswing” and I could not shake that standing above the ball. That drove me crazy. He beat me that round, too.
DK: You’ve got to be mentally invincible on the golf course. I’m not saying being cocky, I’m just saying being in control—in control of your emotions, in control of your thoughts. You can get pissed off that you hit a bad shot, but it’s got to go away; you’ve got to recover from that bad shot. Remember, golf is a game of score; it doesn’t matter how you hit it. It doesn’t matter if you hit it long or shot, it doesn’t matter.
Raymond Canal out at The Woodlands, he could hardly hit it out of his shadow—he was a big gambler—but, man, from 100 yards in he’d each your lunch. He was an older guy who liked to gamble.
I’ll tell you a story about The Woodlands and the Houston Open. As I mentioned before, a lot of celebrities came to play at Doug’s tournament. One year Evil Knievel was going to play. I got to meet him and he was a really nice guy. He stayed for a week after the Houston Open and gambled with Raymond Canal. Okay. Evil Knievel was the larger than life personality. He was big time. You probably don’t remember him in your lifetime, but me growing up he was the king of daredevils—he jumped the Grand Canyon and he was always doing crazy shit. And Raymond Canal cleaned his clock. He was infuriated that he couldn’t beat this old guy.
MK: So he kept playing him?
DK: So he kept playing him. I think he played him five days straight, and Raymond Canal cleaned his clock with that little old bunted ball down there—always in the middle of the fairway. Always in the right position. He couldn’t maybe get to the par 4s in two, in regulation, but he’d throw that wedge in there two, three feet from the hole, and he was a brilliant putter. And he’s wear your ass out all day.
When I first started playing out there he beat me. I was like, “How can this guy beat me? I’m 19 years old and I can hit it 350 yards. How is this guy beating me?”
So it’s a maturation process you have to go through. Golf wins almost every time.
MK: Just about every time.
DK: Just about every time golf has the edge.
It’s like going to the casinos in Vegas: Yeah you might have one good day and clean their clocks, but if you go there every day they’re going to own you and everything you own. And golf is really the same deal.
MK: That seems like it has to be one of the biggest jumps to even get into the low 80s, in the 70s is you have to be mentally tough. DK: Yeah you have to be mentally tough and understand that you keep it in the short grass; it doesn’t matter how far you hit it. That golf ball doesn’t go through those trees at all.
You play out here at Panorama Village you better keep it in the fairways. When I first moved out here and was playing—I was still a really good player—the golf course gave me trouble. So to prove a point to myself, I played off the tee with nothing but a 1 iron.
MK: You can get a 1 iron?
DK: I played for weeks and weeks and weeks I left the driver in the bag. Well my handicap goes to a -2.5. This course here, this is not a driver course, because you’ll end up in the trees, and that ball ricochets. Any time a ball comes backwards towards you, you’ve got a tough lie. Because it will come back and snuggle up in front of a tree and you’ve got no play on that ball.
MK: You can go sideways.
DK: That’s exactly right.
MK: That’s all you’re going to do.
DK: Now you take a course like some of the more rural courses that don’t have the big trees on it, sure hit the driver all the time.
MK: Go hit the shit out of it.
DK: Distance is a big equalizer. That’s why they have different tee boxes to hit off of. You take some of these old guys out here and they play off those senior tees and you’re playing the back tees, that’s an equalizer. Take your distance when you can, and when you can’t, you don’t focus on distance you focus on accuracy. I could hit the 1 iron about 240. But that 240 in the middle of the fairway, you can make a bunch of pars.
MK: It’s better than 300 in the trees.
DK: There’s no question about it.
MK: It’s kind of the same at Grand Pines. You have to keep the ball in the fairway there otherwise you’re lost, and almost all the trees are OB there. Now you’re hitting three off the tee box.
DK: You look at this pros—you watch a Pinehurst this next week, because that’s a real short course that demands accuracy. You watch how many irons these guys are playing off these tees, because they know—they know these lessons, that’s why they’re professional golfers.
MK: That was like at the British one year Lefty, Phil Mickelson, put a couple wedges in his bag and took out a 6 iron because he didn’t hit a 6 iron all throughout the practice round.
DK: I used to do that, too, depending on the tournament or the course you were playing, you adjust the clubs in your bag.
You’ve got to learn a lot about golf to be good at golf.
MK: To play consistently good golf.
DK: For sure. And now they have these places like Topgolf, which is all well and good, but if you want to be a scratch player, that’s not the place to practice. You need to be at a driving range with mown grass on it, where you can carve your shots and learn shots and you can learn your exact distances. I can’t tell you how many times—and you probably remember me doing this—when I hit a shot and I hit it just right, I’ll step it off to that ball. So I know that if I hit this 6 iron right, I can hit it exactly to that yardage. I’ve been doing that for decades.
Back when I was playing a lot at the TPC, if I hit a driver just right, just like I liked it, I stepped it off to the exact distance to that ball carried, and I knew that I could carry that driver 286 yards I could fly that ball. When you play on a golf course with good sprinkler systems, that ball leaves a divot when it hits, leaves a ballmark. So I’d step it off to the ballmark and know exactly how far I carry it.
You have to know that with every club in your bag.
I used to go out and ride around with Doug Sanders. Doug was an amazing guy. He could do anything he wanted to do with a golf ball. So he’d say, “Come on, Dan, let’s go play nine holes.” And I wouldn’t play, I’d just ride with him. He’d say, “Get me a sleeve of balls.” So I would get him a sleeve of Titleist Balatas and we’d go out to the East Course, now the TPC, and he’d play nine holes and hit three balls on every hole, so in essence he was playing 27 holes. It was amazing to watch this guy do that. He’d hit it and then say, “No I missed that one by a groove.” And I’d step it off for him. And he knew that if he missed it by a groove he missed it by 10 yards or 12 yards or whatever it was. And when he hit one right he’d say, “Step that off.”
He was amazing, what he taught me. It was just like law to Doug. This is what you do.
He was a character. He was an amazing player, there’s no doubt about it. That foot-and-a-half putt he missed at the British Open changed his life.
(Editor’s Note: Sanders’ 1970 putt at the British Open. Start at 22:20.)
MK: What year was that?
DK: I don’t know, ’71? I’d have to look it up. But he had a foot-and-a-half putt to win the British Open, and he missed it.
MK: Talk about some pressure standing over that putt.
DK: And it followed him the rest of his life. I know, but a foot-and-a-half putt you don’t just get over and putt it until you can breathe. He went up there and missed it. And it followed him around forever. That was like Van de Velde at the British.
MK: When he made a triple.
DK: Yeah he melted down. It was like watching a trainwreck in slow motion. It was like, “NO! Stop the madness!”
MK: You talk about golf chewing you up and spitting you out. It brings you to that point of glory and, “Oh, just kidding! Not today!”
DK: Well, and I hope we see it again at Pinehurst: somebody leading it, then choking it off at the end to win a Major.
MK: It’s almost like—you never see a first-round leader or a second-round leader win it.
DK: It’s just such a brutal course setup. The rough is six inches, the primary cut of rough is four inches, and you don’t hit it there because you’ll lose your ball. It’s just mentally brutal.
MK: It’s funny, you mention rough and rough around here, yeah it kind of sucks some times, but playing up in Colorado last week it was a whole different cut of rough—it’s sticky, it’s long, it’s thick.
DK: That fescue grass.
MK: You don’t hit it in there.
DK: It’s a wedge. You have to hit a wedge out of there, and you’re not going to hit that wedge more than 50 yards out of that stuff.
MK: That’ll turn your club over quick. That’ll break a wrist almost.
DK: Sure it will. You can injure yourself. That course ate me up, Pradera. I played about the first five holes really good and then it just ate my lunch, because the ball travels so much differently in that atmosphere up there. I hit a wedge on this one hole, I’m about 110 yards out, and that’s just a nice smooth pitching wedge, and I flew it into the grass 20 yards over the green and I make X.
That requires a little more consistently playing in Colorado to play those courses.
MK: It was a little weird playing up there compared to here, because you get an extra 10 yards on your ball. You’ve got to adjust coming back here.
DK: A lot of elevation and a lot of speed.
Any time you put speed with elevation, you’re going to have fits on the green.
MK: It all goes back to you have to know the course when you go out to play, to play well.
DK: You have to be able to stand on the tee box and look at the hole. Most guys don’t do that. You stand there before you even peg the ball and look at that hole, what does the hole give you, where you need to hit it, where you don’t need to hit it?
You stand there and you’ve generally have an outline of the course on the scorecard, but these are all tools for you to use to make your day better. But don’t just get up on the tee box, peg your tee and say, “Okay, I’m going to line up the middle and hit it as hard as I can.” You have to look at what that particular hole is going to give you. And if you can understand that you can take 10 shots off your game in a round, just by paying attention to the golf course is telling you.
Which is fun. For all these years that is why I’ve loved to beat my buddies. That was always motivation for me to be medalist.
You have to be able to stand on the tee box and look at the hole. Most guys don’t do that.
It’s been a great golf life for me, I look forward to getting out and playing some more.
MK: You mention the Houston Texans Cheerleaders tournament and that was crazy because we just show up, “Oh god! We have to be on the tee box right now.”
DK: Yeah, we have a blowout there and we’re on the side of I-45 with three golf bags lined up so we can get to the donut. So we change the tire, 90 mph to Cypresswood, we show up, we’re on the tee.
MK: Actually it’s like, “Who are y’all?” And we’re supposed to be Ramon something or another.
DK: And we throw our spikes on, throw our clubs on the cart and go to the first tee box. We didn’t even get in a warm up swing and we end up shooting 59 and winning the tournament. That was a nice golf tournament, I’ve got to say.
It never gets old, winning.
MK: That’s one of the best feelings.
I remember walking up to the clubhouse and thinking, “59, that’s good but probably not good enough to win.”
DK: We eagled 18 to shoot 59. You roped that 3 wood up there, I boomed that driver off the tee, and you roped that 3 wood up there, and Jon knocked that putt in.
MK: First putt, too.
DK: First putt for a three. That’s a good way to finish. We all played good that day. Ethan knocked it in from everywhere.