And, oh yeah, Phil Mickelson. And, oh yeah, Bubba Watson. And, oh yeah, Geoff Ogilvy. And, oh yeah, Slugger White, the lead PGA Tour rules official this week. It didn’t work out like I imagined or thought it would…but it worked out beyond my wildest expectations.
Jhonattan Vegas’ agent, Florencia, told me yesterday that they were going to do two hours of media in the media center. Be there at 8:00 she said. I arrived at 7:45.
My first stop was for coffee and Danish from the media dining niche. I mean, first things first. I dropped them off at my work station and went over to the media desk at the other end of the room to find out when things were going to begin. I was very curious because the interview room was empty and there was no one around. How come I didn’t get the memo? My primary contact told me that he didn’t know when things were going to begin and I said that I would stay in touch.
So I found my row and walked all the way back down to my station. And as I pulled my chair out and bent over to sit down, I suddenly realized that Jhonattan Vegas was sitting in the chair diagonally to the left in the row in front of me…with Florencia…and Florencia’s boss. And moving back and forth in front of their row was a PGA Tour media coordinator. I suddenly had the sense that I wasn’t anywhere on his list.
But I still had Florencia. At first she didn’t recognize me when our eyes met, so I just let it go. But when she did, I got a very warm and gracious greeting. But she didn’t say anything about an interview, turning instead to the matter of Jhonattan’s joint conference call with Angel Cabrera and Camilo Villegas to South America. Technology is grand; I have no idea where Cabrera or Villegas were calling in from, but the call went on for almost twenty minutes to half an hour…in Spanish, of course. Here’s the link for all you bilingual folks.
And then he did one or maybe two live call in radio shows, one in Austin and one locally I think. I wasn’t eavesdropping, he was just right there!…and projecting himself in a warm, self-assured way. Florencia whiled away the time on her laptop.
That done, the media room royalty began being led over for one-on-one, sit-down interviews at a nearby table. I could see their backs, but I couldn’t see him behind a support column. And there was nothing even vaguely suggesting the cache of the PGA Tour; it was stark utilitarian with people trooping back and forth for food and the rest rooms. And there sat the hottest player in the game right now, enthusiastically answering questions. You might think that he had been media-trained—and certainly he’s had a lot of experience going back to his University of Texas and Nationwide Tour days—but as much as anything, it’s his upbeat, gregarious personality.
After about three of those interviews there was a sort of lull. I chose not to say anything to Florencia because she knew I was right behind her. And because of our conversation on the course yesterday, she knew I wanted to ask him questions about what distinguishes his talent from all the other players right now.
And so keeping my head down, before I knew it, Jhonattan was at the other end of the room, the Tour media coordinator announced to the room, “Jhonattan Vegas in the interview room now,” and Vegas disappeared through the curtains.
So I bolted for the room. It is very small with a table on a small stage and two microphones, one for the player and one for the Tour’s interview kickoff guy. And there are two microphones on stands pointed out to the media to pick up their questions. There are video cameramen up against the back wall, their large cameras perched on tall tripods. From them to the stage is maybe fifteen feet and there are three rows of about six chairs for the media to sit in. Since I was coming from the other end of the media room, I was the last one to arrive and chose to stand off to the side, even though there were only three people sitting in the chairs. It was too late to step over them and since this was my first one, I wanted to get the lay of the land.
After the preliminaries, anybody can ask whatever they want. One guy began a veritable dialogue with Vegas than ran to about five or six questions. But it was great because they were all about his win at the Bob Hope Classic and his “almost” at La Jolla.
And then, with three people sitting expectantly there and all the lions having had their one-on-one, I went for it.
There was no transcription of this interview as they were for the other four, and I was determined to stay present to what he was saying rather than getting distracted by an attempt at rookie scribbling in my notepad. I basically asked him a starter question and two follow-ups on his initial answers.
My first attempt was to find out if, with a win in his second tournament and almost another one last week, he yet understood the full dimensions of his talent. He basically described his positive outlook and staying in the moment. I followed up by saying that everyone out there had great swings and understanding of playing in the present; why was he able to do it when they couldn’t? He did a smooth job of helpfully reiterating what he’d just said in another way. And I said, “yes, but,” did he understand how he did that? At which point, he graciously responded that he didn’t really want to think about it…as if exploring that keystone idea would lead to its diminution rather than strengthening it.
He’s a young man, so I’m not surprised that superstition and fear of jinxing himself operates in the background. Who among us didn’t think that way when we were young and uncertain? But for right now, he is at peace, comfortable in his skin and his towering early accomplishments. Given his trust in himself and his game, it’s hard to imagine this juggernaut being derailed.
Maybe Florencia will give me another shot after he’s pressed ever higher and had an opportunity to ponder his gifts and why they remain so durable.
Note: After teasing the other four interviews, in the interest of brevity as to this post, I’ll handle them in a separate post or posts. The Tour transcribed them, but didn’t post them on their site. Some good stuff.