Understanding the Game of Golf
You may think that you don’t know who Doug Ferguson is, but I can almost guarantee that you have read some, if not many, of his golf stories. Doug works for the Associated Press, mainly covering the PGA TOUR but also the LPGA Tour. His byline appears in approximately 760 different publications, mostly in the United States but also in such foreign lands as Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Japan, Scotland, India, and Singapore.
Doug understands the game of golf and the personalities of the players, and he is an excellent writer. His leads always capture the attention of the reader, and the content that follows always develops that main idea to the fullest. Take, for example, these three leads from one week in April that speak to events most important to golf fans everywhere.
“Lexi Thompson might be more famous for the way she lost than if she had won.” (April 4)
“The Masters began Thursday with two ceremonial tee shots and one empty chair.” (April 6)
“Sergio Garcia tugged the lapel of his green jacket with both hands, proud of his prize and how he earned it.” (April 9)
I first met Doug a number of years ago when he was the president of the Golf Writers Association of America and I was the newbie. I now see him in the media centers when I attend PGA TOUR events. He is always busy—on the golf course searching for news, in the interview room asking questions, or at his computer getting ready to file his next story.
I managed to steal 20 minutes of his time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March. He is as entertaining in person as he is in prose.
NEGM: It’s difficult to be here at the API without Arnold. What was your relationship with Arnold?
DF: I loved Arnold. I used to go up to his office here in Bay Hill just about every year and chat with him for about 10-20 minutes. He was just so much fun to be around because he made you feel good. In one of our conversations, he looked at me dead in the eye and said, “I like the work you’re doing. You do good work.” I’m telling you I floated out of that office. After I left his memorial service last fall in Latrobe, I remembered that moment and asked myself, “Did Arnold really read my stories?” I don’t know if he did or not. What I do know is that was always Arnold’s way—to make someone else feel bigger than life.
NEGM: What can you tell us about Arnold that we probably wouldn’t know.
DF: Here’s something you may not know about Arnold’s autograph. Sure, everyone is aware of his iconic signature and the very legible way that he signed his name and his messages. Well, he learned cursive handwriting in the first grade by using the muscle motion in his arm and not just in his wrist and fingers. And believe it or not, the name of this technique, he told me, is the [Austin] Palmer Method.
NEGM: Do you get to play with the pros from time to time?
DF: I do. I’m trying to remember the first time I ever did, and I do remember it was nerve wracking. I played with Fred Funk in a charity event at Sawgrass [Ponte Vedra, Florida], and I’ve played with G Mac [Graeme McDowell] and Notah [Begay]. But every year at Kapalua, I’ll arrive in Maui just before The Tournament of Champions begins, and I’ll tee it up with one of the players. It’s always fun, but I still get very, very, very nervous. I played with Dustin in his second year on the TOUR before we realized just how good he was going to be. I also played with Curtis Strange one time when he was sixty, so his form wasn’t like it was when he won back-to-back U.S. Opens, but it was a “bucket list” item for me.
NEGM: What are your favorite courses to play in the US?
DF: I’m a California guy so I lean hard toward Pebble Beach, Riviera, and Los Angeles County Club, North Course. I’ve played Pine Valley, Chicago Golf Club, and The Country Club and thought after each one, “I’ve never played a better golf course”—without saying it’s the best. My favorite trip of the year, by far, is to the Deutsche Bank and the courses that I get to play in that area—Hyannisport, Essex, Wannamoisett, and Newport. I have just loved those experiences.
NEGM: Who are the players you most enjoy interviewing? Why?
DF: I’ll never forget being at East Lake a couple of years ago when Rory, Jordan, and Jason entered the Media Center, one after the other, when they were 1-2-3 in the world. I’m close to all three, but I am just sitting there thinking, “Man, this is the new era of golf right here.” Listening to these three was not what we would normally get from the old guard like Tiger or Phil. They were fun but serious, they listened to the questions, they gave great in-depth answers, and they were engaging throughout. They were wonderful. In terms of the players who are not as well known and don’t make weekly trips into the interview rooms, give me someone like Kevin Chappell, Russell Knox, and Geoff Ogilvy, who are really good when prompted.
NEGM: What is the best part of the job?
DF: The best part of the job is the game itself, to be honest with you. If a writer doesn’t love the game, he’s not going to make it. I enjoy watching the week unfold so that I can put the whole picture together. It’s one thing to know what a player scores and to listen to him go through his birdies and bogeys. But I like to be out there on the course and watch these guys in Pro-Ams, in early rounds, and in how they handle themselves down the stretch. I like to pay attention to the players throughout the week and the year, and I like to store their actions and their accomplishments and their failures in my memory so that I can draw on them at a later date to make a point about why a player performed the way that he did.
NEGM: How do your deadlines work at a TOUR event?
DF: I tell people that I have a deadline every minute because AP serves so many newspapers with so many different deadline times. Basically, I write three to four stories every day of a tournament. When the morning wave finishes, I’ll write something about that. Then I’ll come back and rewrite it in the afternoon. Finally, I’ll do a wrap-up for the day. At night, I’ll do my last story of the day’s event for the morning internet crowd. The downside, in having the deadlines that I do, is that I can hardly ever be on the 18th green when the tournament finishes, because I cannot get back to the Media Center in time to get on the wire to file the story. I get to see everything I want from Wednesday through the first nine holes on Sunday, but then I’m trapped in the Media Center watching the final nine on TV.
NEGM: Who would be in your Dream Foursome of today? Of any time period?
DF: My father, Jack Nicklaus, Brad Faxon, and George Strait, the country singer. Could I also include Mickey Wright?
Byron Nelson, Gene Sarazen, Arnold Palmer, and Payne Stewart.
(Feature photo of Doug Ferguson, Jim Litke (AP golf writer) and Tiger Woods courtesy of the Associated Press)