The question golf writers get asked most is, "Who's your favorite touring pro to interview?" I used to hem and haw, but lately I just say "Geoff Ogilvy." Only 29, the defending U.S. Open champion has become the game's best talker among top players, and one of its most important voices.
Ogilvy, runner-up to Henrik Stenson in last week's WGC-Accenture Match Play, is intelligent, articulate and personable. He's an intensely curious, fully engaged lover of the game with a gift for the aphoristic that is about four decades beyond his years. Like the great-playing talkers of the past -- Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus in particular -- he furthers the collective knowledge of the game.
Perceptive talkers are the lifeblood of sports journalism -- or any journalism.
The best sports book ever written, "The Sweet Science," was dedicated to three old boxing trainers, Whitey Bimstein, Freddie Brown and Charlie Goldman, whom author A.J. Liebling called "my explainers."
But the quality of golf explanations by the men who know the sport best has been in decline for a couple of decades. It started with the late 1980s heyday of Greg Norman and Nick Faldo, who both developed a deep antipathy for a press they considered unfairly judgmental and largely ill-informed. Nowadays, interviews increasingly are looked upon as an intrusion at best and a trapdoor at worst. Sports psychologists in particular regard them the way old Big Ten football coaches used to think of the forward pass: Three things can happen, and two of them are bad.
Tiger Woods knows as much about golf as anyone, but he is by temperament and position stingy with his knowledge. He is in a pitched battle against his life becoming a reality show, fearful that even carefully phrased comments will be turned against him, and trained from an early age to answer only specifically what is asked and no more. He still manages to give some interesting answers, but they are the exception. Lately, the once voluble Phil Mickelson has taken a similar approach, deciding the risk doesn't merit the reward.
It's a far cry from the days when Nicklaus ruled the game and made a point of being as accessible as Arnold Palmer, but with a more analytical sensibility. Dave Anderson, the Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, calls Nicklaus his all-time favorite interview subject.
Ogilvy's figuratively old head, perhaps made wiser by growing up next to Royal Melbourne, startled me the first time I asked him a question. "Golf was better before," he said in October 2005. "There was more art. It doesn't create a really rounded golfer." At a time when the shortcomings of the emerging twentysomethings were still well below the radar, Ogilvy captured the issue in three quick sentences.
"The complicated thing is making it simple, if that makes any sense," he said, offering as good a definition of a first-class mind as any. Indeed, in quotes over the last year including an upcoming interview with John Huggan in Golf Digest, Ogilvy produces one pearl after another.
Of Woods: "I mean, Tiger is the angriest player on tour. He's also the best at controlling it."
Of Sergio Garcia: "When he starts making putts again -- which he is going to do -- he's going to win 10 times in a year. He is the best ball-striker in the world, probably. But he is so analytical about his putting and not about anything else. He's like Seve, only in reverse."
On golf architecture: "I like there to be a relationship between the quality of your drive and ease of your second shot."
On the golf swing: "Instinctively, all you need to know is where your ball is and where you want it to end up. And to stay out of your own way until that happens."
Also: "The best player in the world at any one time never copies anyone else. But every generation of golfer copies the best golfer in the world at the time."
Besides evoking Arnold Haultain, author of the 1908 classic "The Mystery of Golf," Ogilvy also passes the ultimate test, of which Nicklaus was the standard. He is as accessible and generous in defeat as he is in victory, as he was after his disappointing 2-and-1 loss to Stenson in Tucson.
"Everyone has their struggles with golf swings, and mine is getting it stuck on the way down," he said, opening a subject that didn't exactly facilitate a quick exit from the media tent. "I feel like I play 95 percent of my rounds like that, right on the edge of being stuck. I played the U.S. Open feeling like I was stuck. It's really hard to explain."
Tournament golf, inside the ropes, always is. But thankfully it's a lot clearer when Ogilvy is the explainer.
Jaime Diaz is a senior writer for Golf World magazine