Lanny Wadkins has done commentary for the Golf Channel’s coverage of the PGA Tour Champions for 10 years. He designed the most spectacular public course in Texas, Black Jack’s Crossing, in Lajitas. And he’s a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. With the first major championship coming to Frisco this month, we wondered what he thinks of the course. Keep reading for his assessment and to learn why he didn’t sign up with the controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf.
You’ve got 21 tour wins, including the PGA Championship. You played on eight Ryder Cup teams. You’re in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Whatever, blah, blah. Every golfer knows the milestone that really matters. When did you first shoot your age? Oh, jeez, I guess I was probably 68. It was at Augusta. I was a touch on the hungover side. Dan Marino and I had been up drinking bourbon and smoking cigars at the clubhouse, and we closed it down. And then, the next day, I went out and made 10 birdies at Augusta.
Let’s say, God forbid, you get kicked out of Preston Trail. Now you can only play at, oh, Firewheel, in Garland. You have to deal with slow play and making tee times and all the rest. Do you give up the sport?
I’d go play with one of my boys at their clubs. They both live here. One is 35 and the other is 30. It’s probably the best way you can spend four hours with your boys. They’re both very good and beat the crap out of me. But I’m a very social golfer these days. I don’t worry about playing well or keeping score. I go by whether my back’s behaving. I’ve had six back surgeries. I’m triple fused in my lower back, and I’m fused at my neck.
Do you ever lie awake at night and replay an old round in your head, either a good round or a bad round? I have gotten past that stage of lying awake at night, worrying about that. But the things that eat on almost any golfer worth their salt is the losses and the mistakes they’ve made that cost them wins. I lost a playoff to Larry Nelson in ’87 at the PGA Championship. The loss at Augusta in ’91 by a couple shots. Maybe the British Open in ’84. I was really close, played the best golf I ever played in a week, tee to green, but I didn’t win because I couldn’t make any putts. Those are the ones that stand out.
LIV Golf just called your agent, and they want to pay you five times whatever your Golf Channel salary is. Do you take the gig? No. We got approached a long time ago, me and my agent. It’s just not where I want to go. I don’t believe in what they’re doing. I’m a stickler for history and the tradition of the game. It drives me nuts seeing pros playing in shorts. Even in the practice rounds on the PGA Tour, I think Palmer and Hogan are probably turning over in their graves, with today’s players out there wearing shorts in practice rounds. It’s not a good look. Especially on the Champions Tour.
David Feherty is also a Dallas-based golf commentator. Have you talked to him about why he went to LIV? You guys must be friends, right? It’s funny. We have the same driver that we use to the airport. We communicate more through our driver. It’s kind of wild. But I haven’t talked to him about this. He stays busy. I stay busy. When we’ve communicated a couple times, we just haven’t talked about it.
“I’m a stickler for history. It drives me nuts seeing pros playing in shorts.”
Have you gotten into Full Swing yet? I watch Netflix a lot, but I haven’t watched that series. Too many young kids flying around in private jets, acting really rich for me. I’m sorry. Maybe it’s a little sour grapes, and I’ll admit it. The amount of money they play for today compared to what we played for—I mean, when I won the Byron Nelson, I won $35,000. [Editor’s note: last year, K.H. Lee won $1.6 million at the Byron Nelson.]
You design golf courses. So what do you think of the Omni PGA Frisco, especially the Fields Ranch East course? It’s an outstanding piece of property. It’s as good a piece of property as I’ve ever seen in Texas, taking away the mountains and stuff of Big Bend. You’ve got elevation changes. You’ve got water. You’ve got movement. You got everything you could want out there. I’m not an overly big fan of what [course architect] Gil Hanse has done elsewhere. But they’ve got a real chance. I’m hoping it works out.
This story originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine with the headline, “We Are the Champions.” Write to [email protected].