U.S. Open Preview: A Conversation with Jim Colbert

U.S. Open Preview: A Conversation with Jim Colbert 1
Jim Colbert (Photo: Taylor PR)

JIM COLBERT was an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour. His second career on the Champions Tour was even more fruitful: 20 victories and two player-of-the-year awards. Colbert played in nine U.S. Opens. His best finish was a third-place tie in 1971 at Merion, where Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in an 18-hole playoff, 68 to 71.

This week, alongside Jim Kelly, Colbert will be providing commentary on the U.S. Open for DIRECTV. Following are excerpts from our Tuesday conversation.

The Return of the Driver

If you recall last year they widened the fairways a little bit at Torrey Pines. The first cut of rough was a little lighter and a little wider. And, of course, the second cut was real Open rough. That was in an effort to put the driver back in the game. I like that idea. I don’t like seeing guys hit irons and hybrids and 3 woods on every tee. So I’m pretty sure they’re going to do the same thing here at Bethpage Black and put the driver in.

Soft Versus Firm Fairways

It’s about 7400 yards, but right now it’s a little bit soft, which is an asset for the players. Everybody’s concerned with length, but most of these guys are long enough if they hit it straight enough. And everybody’s concerned with firm, firm greens. That’s not the real problem for a golf pro. The real problem for a golf pro is real firm fairways. That’s why you see them hitting irons because the ball runs so far. It’s not that they can’t land their driver in the fairway; it just runs through and they can’t keep it in the fairway. So I think you’re going to see a lot of drivers this week with the length, and if the fairways stay reasonably soft without the ball rolling 50 or 60 yards, that favors the player.

The Wedge Rules

JIM COLBERT: The longer the course, the more important the wedge is. If you get in the Open rough, very few times can you get it on the green. A lot of times you throw it out in the fairway, 80 yards short, 50 yards short, 40 yards short, requiring a wedge shot in. Or the greens firm up a little bit, you hit a good shot, it bounces over in the long grass or in the bunker. What club do you use? You use a wedge. So the longer the golf course is and the more difficult, the more the wedge comes into play. Or all series of wedges, however many you’re carrying, three or four. Now that sounds like it favors someone other than Tiger. That’s not necessarily true. Tiger and Phil might be the two best wedge players I’ve ever seen. And they’re also the long hitters.

‘Par Is First’

Par is the score you’re looking for in the Open on every hole. Believe me, I don’t care if it’s a 105-yard 3-par or 530-yard 4-par. Par is first. That will be the mindset of everybody.

‘That’s Some Start on 10’

JIM COLBERT: On the actual playing of the course, you get one early time and one late time in the first two rounds. You start on 1 one time, and you start on 10 one time. The one that looks not too good to me at this time, not knowing the weather, is starting on 10 in the early morning − 7:30, 8, 8:15. Those first four holes are a pretty big order starting on 10. You could be a couple over par and only played four holes starting out. I don’t like the setup on the back nine, especially early in the morning for the people that draw that 10th tee. But for most of them it might not be a problem. Maybe they’re early morning people.

How He Approached U.S. Open as a Player

The Open was always the biggest tournament for me. That was the one I grew up thinking was the championship of the world, certainly the championship of the United States. Five or six weeks in advance, I was hitting shots pretending like I was at the Open, which also helped me in those tournaments leading up to it because I was really working on my game. Even if you’ve never seen the course, there’s not a lot of mystery to it. It’s high rough. You better hit it straight. You better get it on the green. You better know how to play out of the high rough. But I was hitting shots, practicing for the Open, getting ready, so I was pretty keyed up by the time I got to the Open, knowing what it would take.

1971 U.S. Open: ‘Daggers in My Heart’

JIM COLBERT: I lost at Merion to Nicklaus and Trevino when they tied. I think they shot 280. I think Rosburg and I shot 282. That was one of the daggers in my heart. I couldn’t think of a shot I could have saved. I didn’t get any terrible bounces, bad luck. It’s probably the only tournament in my life I felt like − I didn’t hit all good shots − but I maxed it out. I didn’t waste any. I lost. That was kind of hard to take. Colbert, you’re just not good enough. Overall in the Open, for a big part of my career, I didn’t drive it straight enough. In that Open was the first time I ever used a PING 3-wood. I only hit nine drivers in that whole tournament. That was the first PING in my bag. Later on, I played with all PINGS. I hit all 3 woods off those tees with the exception of 2 and 18. The last day on 16 it was kind of into the breeze − that’s the only nine drivers I hit in the whole tournament at Merion.

‘You’re Pretty Keyed Up’

JIM COLBERT: But the preparation − most of the guys have been thinking about it, hitting shots. You’re pretty keyed up. I always took Wednesday off or maybe played nine holes, or maybe hit a few balls, or maybe did nothing. I wanted to be really fresh mentally and physically, try to stay off your feet, be ready to play. You’ve seen Phil and Tiger come in last week. They’re not going to spend a whole lot of hours actually on their feet on the golf course.

−The Armchair Golfer

Photo of author
Neil Sagebiel

3 thoughts on “U.S. Open Preview: A Conversation with Jim Colbert”

  1. Nice post, Neil. A lot of people did not like Colbert on the regular tour, but he was a heckuva ball striker and put together a little nest egg on the Senior tour where most people remember him. I used to wear my collar up and a lot of friends used to call me 'Colbert'…

  2. Vince: Did you also wear the bucket hat? And did you do the little pointing thingee Jim used to do when he made a putt?

    Maybe I can start calling you One-Eyed Colbert.


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