A DEEP DIVE WITH JOHN FEINSTEIN
By Bob Weiner
In John Feinstein’s latest book, “The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup,” he interviewed nearly all the players, vice captains and captains from both the U.S. and European teams that squared off at Hazeltine, MN a year ago last month. A lot of trust was involved. Pro golfers can be tough to deal with at times.
One person he didn’t interview was the great Tiger Woods, one of the U.S. vice captains who surprised almost everyone with how well he accepted and accomplished his non-playing duties. Woods recently announced his return to the PGA Tour later this month after dealing with his latest back surgery. The 41-year-old is second all-time with 79 PGA Tour victories (106 professional wins) to along with 14 major championship wins.
“Tiger doesn’t do 1-on-1s,” Feinstein said in a recent phone interview. “He hasn’t done one since Charlie Pierce in 1997. But I did have dinner with him in 1998, at his behest. He wanted to understand why so many other guys on the tour liked me. He said why do guys like Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman (from Rochester) like Feinstein so much?
“I told him that I was always honest with them, so they could be honest with me. So Tiger contacted me. We had dinner. I never taped it or took notes. We argued about his father. For a while, we had a rapprochement of sorts. His dad told him to stay away.”
Feinstein, never a huge fan of Woods the person but very respectful of Woods the player, had to gather much of the information regarding the legend from other players.
“Tiger didn’t speak to me for the book, although his agent told him he should,” Feinstein said. “I had stories about his role as vice captain. It was life-changing for Tiger, to be so involved with something like that. He cared about only the majors before. He only played on Ryder Cup teams before. His involvement this time was so intense. He called the players constantly before their matches. It got to the point that Brandt Snedeker told him he needed a hobby.”
DEVELOP TRUST WITH PLAYERS
Most of the players got along great with Feinstein and were very cooperative with him. “One of the beauties of writing this book is that I had time to develop trust,” Feinstein said. “Obviously, I’ve been around, and a lot of the older guys know me. I’ve known Davis Love since 1993, and I’ve known Phil Mickelson for a long time. But some of the younger guys didn’t know me that well. Fortunately, they were willing to give me some time and be patient with me.”
Feinstein said he chatted with Jordan Spieth for two hours but he needed more time. “I told him I needed to circle back to talk with him some more later. He said no problem, and to just take down his cell phone number. Rory McIlroy and Davis were the same way.
“It’s much easier to look in your phone for the number and not have to deal with an agent. It’s always easier to deal with them directly and it gives you a chance to know them and for them to know you. I also think Jordan Spieth liked me because I was a basketball guy who wrote about the game. His brother (Steve, who played at Brown) was a basketball player, so we had some common ground.”
Although many pro golfers have a reputation for being prima donnas, Feinstein said he never had any serious problems in his dealings with them. “To be honest, Rickie Fowler’s agent is a pain in the neck, but he’s a nice kid. I didn’t really have a problem. All pro golfers can be a little selfish at times. Rory McIlroy understood the situation better than anybody.” Feinstein said that that the brutally honest McIlroy even joked about pro golfer’s reputations with the media but turned out to be a great interview.
WHAT A BOOKSHELF
Feinstein has written 38 books. His latest effort took four months to write but 14 months to research.
“The good news is that I had done 90% of the reporting before the Ryder Cup itself. Then I needed to circle back when it was finished. I was ready to write then,” he said. “I’m an old newspaper guy, and I’m a fast writer. I don’t take days off.”
Feinstein said he preferred to keep the focus of his book on the players and the captains – not the PGA officials. He said he did talk to former PGA president Derek Sprague, the longtime Malone Golf Club head pro who was recently inducted into the Northeastern New York PGA Hall of Fame. But it wasn’t a long interview. “I’m not into talking with all the executives,” he said. “I talked to the guys at the PGA, but it was mostly about (former PGA president) Ted Bishop.”
“I read John Feinstein’s book, and he’s a great author,” Sprague said at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Saratoga National Golf Club in late October. “I think he captured the essence of the Ryder Cup.”
Feinstein currently writes for the Washington Post and Golf Digest. He is a regular contributor to the Golf Channel and Comcast Sports Regional Networks. He lives in Potomac, MD with his wife, Christine. They have three children.
Editor’s note: This is part two of a two-part interview with Capitalareagolf.com and John Feinstein. Click here for Part 1 and click here to listen to our podcast from the Augusta National press room in 2016.
OTHER GOLF BOOKS BY JOHN FEINSTEIN