In this edition of the Hurricane Golf Exclusive, Jason Hiland got a chance to speak with 29 year PGA Tour veteran Bob Estes. They covered a wide array of topics during the course of the interview, everyone at Hurricane Golf really appreciates him taking the time to talk to us.
Jason Hiland: You have played the PGA Tour for 29 years straight. You have made 445 cuts on the PGA Tour. I don’t think the average golf fan has any idea how hard that is to do. What in your opinion, has let you play at such a high level for so long?
Bob Estes: I think the main reasons I've been able to stay on Tour for so long are my self-discipline, determination and love of competition. I love to COMPETE at golf and I enjoy the process of trying to get better. Having one of the best short games in the world for many years has helped quite a bit also.
JH: So what are you more proud of--the four wins or the length of your career?
BE: It's hard to say if I would choose four wins and maybe a shorter career over fewer wins and a much longer career, but I think I'll take the trophies. For most of us, it's incredibly hard to win on the PGA Tour.
JH: What are the biggest changes you have seen in the PGA Tour in the years you have been out there?
BE: Obviously, the money that we play for now is MUCH greater than when I started playing on Tour in 1988, but the game itself (because of the equipment revolution) has changed dramatically. Graphite shafts, oversized club heads and "hot" golf balls have made the game much more about distance in the last twenty years. Prior to that (with a few exceptions), the players at the top of the money list were the straightest hitters. Luckily, not every course that we play favors the longest hitters.
JH: Being on Tour for that many years, what is the hardest part about playing professional golf? What are the downsides, such as travel or injuries?
BE: The toughest thing about playing the Tour is the competition. We're competing against the very best every single week. The "grind" of professional golf is another difficult thing about what we do that most people don't understand. They typically don't see all of the hours that we spend practicing on Tour and at home to get ready for upcoming tournaments. Most of the guys work out now, too, which means even more of your day being filled. Time management is very important to get it all done each day. It means a lot of time away from your family and friends for most guys.
Injuries are something that just about every Tour player has to deal with at some point, whether that means playing in pain or having to take time off. Either way, you're probably falling further behind, which can add more stress.
Obviously, the time on the road can really wear on you and also take a toll on your marriage/family. When a player's kids reach school age, the wife and kids stop traveling as much. I don't have any children but I know it must be really tough on most of the guys to spend that much time away from home.
JH: How old were you when you started to play golf? Who introduced you to the game? Did you take to it quickly? And when did you think you had the talent and desire to play golf on a professional level?
BE: I started playing golf when I was 3 or 4. My Dad got me started. I was playing in and winning junior tournaments when I was 5 or 6 years old. I knew when I was 10 or 11 years old that I wanted to play on the PGA Tour.
JH: Let’s go back to 1994 and your first win on the PGA Tour (Texas Open). What are your memories? I have talked to other tour players and they have told me that sometimes when you are close to first winning on the Tour things can “start going fast.” How did you handle it and being from Texas, what did that win mean to you?
BE: I shot 62(-9) in the first round at Oak Hills and led wire to wire. At the end, it was me and Dr. Gil Morgan. I had a one shot lead playing the last hole, which is a par three. We both hit the green. Dr. Gil putted first and missed. I rolled mine up close and tapped in for the win. The tournament wasn't televised, so we don't even have it on tape. Winning for the first time on Tour was very satisfying after working so hard at it for many years. It meant that I could get it done coming down the stretch. I didn't win again until 2001 but I had a lot of confidence knowing that I was already a Tour winner.
JH: Are there any other interesting stories from your other three wins? Did it become easier to win as you progressed as a player, in terms of, you have done this before and knew how to handle it? Also, do other players treat you differently as a multiple winner on tour versus a 1-win player?
BE: I won my last three Tour events using a ten finger grip. I often struggled with the overlap grip but when I messed around with the ten finger grip, I always seemed to hit the ball in the sweet spot with a much shallower divot. I had to go to a larger grip size (to eliminate a quick pull or hook), which I did at Colonial in May of 2001. I won in Memphis one month later and then won again in October in Las Vegas. My last win was the Kemper Open in 2002. In all three of those victories, I hit a very good approach shot with a 7 iron and then two putted for par for a one shot win. Players on Tour know who has won on Tour and who hasn't but ALL of us know hard it is. There is great respect amongst all the players.
JH: You have had some good showings at the majors over the years. Is the pressure any different when you are in contention at a major versus a regular tour event? Also out of the four majors, what tournament do you like competing in the most and why?
BE: For me, the pressure of trying to win a major and a regular Tour event was about the same. In 1993, when I was leading the PGA Championship with nine holes to go, I still had not won on Tour yet. I'm sure it would've helped some if I already had. In 1999, I had a good chance to win the Masters. I played well on the back nine but my ball just wouldn't go in the hole. I ended up tying for fourth.
My two favorite majors have always been The Masters and The Open, especially when it's played at St. Andrews. Augusta National is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable courses I've ever played. The Open Championship was always the major that I most wanted to win. Links golf is the purest form of golf and I still remember getting up early as a young boy to watch as soon as it came on TV.
JH: What is the best pressure golf shot you have ever hit on the PGA Tour and what were the circumstances?
BE: The best shot I ever hit under pressure in a Tour event was probably the 5 iron that I hit on the last hole of the '94 Texas Open. I had a one shot lead on Dr. Gil Morgan and we both hit the "smallish" green on the par three eighteenth. Dr. Gil missed his birdie putt and I rolled mine up close to the hole for my first win on the PGA Tour.
JH: Over your career, who on Tour impressed you the most with just raw talent? What struck you the most about their game?
BE: The player that impressed me the most on Tour because of his raw talent was Fred Couples. He played with a strong, unconventional grip but he had effortless power and also hit the ball so solidly. With better putting, he would've won a lot more. I remember being paired with him a few times in the '90s at Riviera when we were both in contention. He was fun to play with and certainly a crowd favorite.
JH: There has to be some great guys out on Tour. Who were some of the players you most looked forward to being paired with and what made them so fun to be with on the course?
BE: Most of the guys that I had the most respect for and really enjoyed playing with were not always the "superstars." Some of my favorites were/are Loren Roberts, Larry Mize, Scott Simpson, Don Pooley, Doug Tewell, Kenny Perry, Joe Durant... All of those guys (and so many others) are just great people and so pleasant to be around. As far as the younger generation, there's never been a better group of guys on Tour from top to bottom as we have right now. That's one of the reasons I want to keep playing on the regular Tour, too.
JH: With the length of your career, you have seen a massive shift in equipment and ball technology. I assume you had wooden woods when you first came out on tour (or something very small compared to modern standards). How has your swing changed over the years and did you have to make those changes because of the equipment? Also, what is your take on the modern ball versus what you first played on Tour? Is there anything you miss about the older equipment?
BE: I grew up playing wooden woods, blade irons and a lower launching softer golf ball. I did need to learn how to hit the ball higher with my irons when I got on Tour but switching to cavity back irons helped me with that more than anything else.
It took me quite awhile to get comfortable with launching the driver higher when we started transitioning to larger titanium heads with more loft. I didn't ever make major changes to my swing because of the new equipment, but hopefully it's still getting better. The balls that we play on Tour now are high launch and lower spinning. Back in the '80s and '90s, we would never consider playing a ball like that because it was a bad match for the low lofted drivers in particular. We also didn't want to give up all of that spin on short shots around the greens. The Tour game has obviously changed from being more about accuracy and control to power. I miss the days when you could make the ball stop on a dime from 10 or 15 yards off the green from a good lie. I miss being able to make bunker shots back up. I miss being able to hit a knock down shot under the wind that would still hold the green.
JH: What are the 3 or 4 best golf courses you have ever played and what made those courses so special?
BE: Augusta National, St. Andrews (Old Course), Cypress Point, Muirfield (Scotland)
Sometimes it's hard to put into words what makes a great golf course. To me, a great course is very challenging, strategic and fun to play all at the same time. If you can easily remember each hole after playing the course for the first time, there's a good chance that you just played a great one.
JH: What are your thoughts on playing the Champions Tour? Are you going to play the regular Tour for a few more years?
BE: Well, I did miss all of 2014 and most of 2015 and '16 with injuries, but I'm back to playing a pretty full schedule. I started playing PGA Tour events again last November. In 2017, I've played most of my golf on the regular Tour, but I played three events on the Champions Tour as well: Tucson, Sr. PGA and the US Senior Open. I turned 50 on February 2, 2016 but I still have 8 or 9 tournaments left on my Major Medical exemption from 2013.
JH: I had the pleasure to interview your good buddy Robert Damron. Although he now sits on the set of Morning Drive, he still reeks of talent (I hope you read my sarcasm)! Do you think you can still pound him in a match play or is his game just too dominant and intimidating?
BE: I'm sure Robert still has a lot of game. If we were to go out and play, I certainly wouldn't be giving him any shots.