18 Questions With . . . Scott Verplank
It’s been 25 years since Scott Verplank defeated Sam Randolph, 4 and 3, in the final of the 1984 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla.
The victory was one of many in the illustrious amateur career of Verplank, a four-time All-America at Oklahoma State University. After finishing as runner-up and helping the OSU Cowboys to a national championship in 1983, Verplank claimed two wins each at the Porter Cup and Sunnehanna Amateur. He was a standout in the 1985 Walker Cup Match conducted at Pine Valley Golf Club, leading the Americans with 3½ points in their 13-11 victory over Great Britain and Ireland. Verplank would later win the Western Amateur and the Western Open in 1985, becoming one of only four amateurs to win a PGA Tour event since 1954. He concluded his collegiate career by earning medalist honors at the 1986 NCAA Division I Men’s Championship.
Scott Verplank was a leader for the USA Team in the 1985 Walker Cup Match. (USGA Museum)
Verplank, 45, has won five times on the PGA Tour, most recently at the 2007 EDS Byron Nelson Championship, and has competed in two Ryder Cups and two Presidents Cups.
USGA Communications staff member Justin Hancher recently caught up with Verplank, a Dallas transplant who now lives in a home on the 16th hole of Oak Tree, to discuss his amateur career and his thoughts on both the upcoming U.S. Amateur Championship and Walker Cup Match.
USGA: What memories do you have of the 1984 U.S. Amateur?
Verplank: It was a long, hard golf tournament to win. You’ve got to play a lot of golf, but it’s definitely the crown jewel of amateur golf. It was just a great event and was great preparation for what I was going to face at other major championships.
Did it give you greater confidence that you could succeed at the highest level?
Verplank: Yes, there’s no doubt about it. It’s really a big-time event, and it closely mirrors playing in the biggest events in the world. It’s as close as you can get without playing at the professional level.
When you play Oak Tree National, now your home course, do you relive any particular moments from the 1984 U.S. Amateur?
Verplank: It’s been 25 years. I have a hard time remembering what happened yesterday. The golf course has changed some but I still remember a good deal of the final, particularly the last eight or 10 holes. It’s been quite a while ago but it’s still probably the coolest trophy I have. I remember making my long birdie putt on the final hole. It was a rainy day following a hot week. Playing a 36-hole final on a tough golf course is a long day, so that’s kind of what I expect Southern Hills to be like. Players will have to be in good shape and ready to go. When I made that putt on that last hole to win I think I was just relieved that it was over as much as anything. It was a long day, but it’s worth it.
What are your thoughts on Southern Hills, host of this year’s U.S. Amateur?
Verplank: I played in two PGA Championships and one U.S. Open there. It’s a great golf course. It will be the perfect place to have a U.S. Amateur.
Why do you think it is the perfect venue to host a U.S. Amateur?
Verplank: It’s a great golf course. I think that it tests all parts of your golf game. There are a handful of holes where you have to drive it well and then there are other holes where you position off the tee. It’s a great driving course and it’s a great second-shot course. It just tests everything.
What do you think of it as a match-play venue?
Verplank: I think when you get a strong course like Southern Hills then it’s going to be harder for a guy who’s not on the top of his game to beat a guy who’s playing well. The stronger ball-striker and better-managed player who can keep it below the hole with his iron shots should have more success. You’re not going to be able to scrape around that course and do very good.
What about the heat in Oklahoma? For the U.S. Amateur, they are calling for temperatures above 100 degrees.
Verplank: In 2007, the PGA Championship was around the second week of August and it was miserable. I think the weather is going to be reasonable for the U.S. Amateur, so it will be hot but not unbearable.
Do you have any advice for the competitors playing the course?
Verplank: Hit it in the fairway and keep it below the hole. That usually works everywhere but it’s especially important at Southern Hills.
With this being a Walker Cup year, what memories do you have of the 1985 Walker Cup?
Verplank: I was really lucky in that we played at Pine Valley Golf Club. It would be a hard to find a better venue to have that event. That was a great time; it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great team event. I’ve been lucky enough to play a couple Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups and they’re a lot of fun, too, but I have a lot of great memories from the Walker Cup.
What was it like playing on such great teams with future stars like Davis Love III, and against Colin Montgomerie and guys like that?
Verplank: Those were a lot of the guys I had been playing golf with through my whole junior and amateur career so to be in that select company was a great honor and experience.
This year’s Walker Cup team includes Oklahoma State University golfers Rickie Fowler and Morgan Hoffmann. What do you know about them, and do you still follow the Oklahoma State golf team?
Verplank: I follow them. I’ve played a little bit of golf with Rickie but I’ve never played with Morgan. They’re both really good. I’m sure they’re both thrilled to be on the team and I would guess that they’re going to represent the United States very well. They’re both really good young men and very good players.
When did you play with Rickie and what was that like?
Verplank: We just played a couple practice rounds, but he can play, there’s no doubt about it. He’s a good, young 20-year-old player and he’s got a lot of game. I think he’s going to have a nice long career.
Recently, Fowler nearly won a Nationwide Tour event as an amateur, losing in a playoff. You have experience in that realm, having won the 1985 Western Open as an amateur. Do you think we’ll ever see another amateur win a PGA Tour event?
Verplank: Yes. It will happen. I don’t know when or where but it will happen again. The only reason it wouldn’t happen is because some of the kids turn pro so early now, but it will happen. The kids are better now, there are better athletes playing golf at a younger age, and the competition is as good as it has ever been.
It seems like the best amateur players are getting younger and younger. What do you attribute that to?
Verplank: I think Tiger Woods has caused a little bit of sensation among kids that you don’t have to be a non-athlete to play golf. A lot of these young kids that are playing now, they could all be playing football or basketball, but they put their time and effort into golf and hit it a mile. They’re good athletes and they’re skilled at a lot of things but they decided to play golf. It’s raised the level of play across the board.
What was it like to win the Western Open?
Verplank: Obviously it was a great thrill. It was kind of a dream scenario for me but also in the whole world of golf because an amateur doesn’t win a professional event very often. It was just a unique situation, me coming down with Jim Thorpe, who had never won. He was one of the two or three African-Americans playing on the tour at the time. It was pretty neat theater.
What were the crowds like?
Verplank: They were great. They were huge. The Western Open back in the 1980s was a premier event in professional golf. Other than the four majors it was one of the best tournaments there was. It was big then anyway, but then it was just kind of a rarity to have that kind of setup with a college kid and a black man, who was a great story himself, just battling it out. It was pretty cool.
Do you think there’s more pressure going for the win in a stroke-play event or going down the stretch in match play?
Verplank: They’re so different that I don’t know if you can say that one is tougher than the other. I do know that in match play every round is like the last round of a tournament, so in that sense every day is Sunday. I guess they’re not totally comparable but if you’re not real confident in what you’re doing then match play is tough on you mentally because every day is the last round.
What are your thoughts on golf as an Olympic sport?
Verplank: It’s a pretty neat deal. It’s a big deal for the game in general because it would increase the worldwide exposure. I’ve always thought the Olympics should stay amateur and have only amateur players in all sports but obviously it’s gone way past that. For the kids coming up I think it’s a great deal. I know playing in events like the Walker Cup, the World Amateur Team Championships, the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup is always a great honor to play for the United States. Representing the United States on an Olympic team would have to rank right up there.