Gritty Little Bruin. Bulldog.Mr. 26. Call him what you like, Southern California’s Corey Pavin epitomizes the gentleman for which the game of golf was conceived. At once humble and fiercely competitive, this soft-spoken superstar has earned the respect of pros and amateurs for his work ethic, passion and resilience. As he approaches birthday number 56, Pavin may no longer be churning through 200 range balls a day. But, maturity has taught him new ways to maintain his edge and remain a force to be reckoned with. He still grinds it out. He still gives 100%. And, three decades in, he’s still in contention.
Many golf enthusiasts consider you the “Everyman” of the game of golf and relate to your brand of play. Why is that?
CP: Obviously, I’m not ‘big and strong and hit it long,’ so I’ve had to find a way to get the ball into the hole. I don’t do it through power, but through finesse and working my way around the course. I think that’s how most people play golf. They have to figure out a way to score. Most players spend years climbing the leaderboard, but you hit your stride right out of college.
How did you maintain your focus at such a young age?
CP: In my first year as a professional I went head-to-head against Seve Ballesteros and beat him. That was huge. I didn’t have my PGA Tour card yet, and the win gave me a great deal of confidence. When you’re young, there’s so much ahead of you. I worked really hard when I came out [as a pro]. I’ve always been passionate about competing on the golf course, and I felt like I’d be cheating myself if I didn’t do everything I could to be the best I could possibly be. I would never have guessed, at age 23, that I’d have such a long career.
You are known as one of the shorter drivers of the ball among pro golfers, but you also are admired for your ability to work around it. How did you turn that aspect of your game to your advantage?
CP: There’s a frustration level that sets in for other players when they face me. I don’t hit the ball far, yet I find a way to be competitive. I don’t make a lot of mistakes and I generally won’t beat myself on the golf course. That makes it hard to play against me. Draining putts, hitting good chips, making some ridiculous pars when it looks like I’m going to make bogey … it can be ntimidating to an opponent. But that’s up to them. I do whatever I can to score well, and if it bothers my opponent, that’s OK, too.
What advice would you give amateurs who struggle with their distance off the tee?
CP: It is really important as a golfer to play within your ability and not worry about impressing anyone. If amateurs can avoid
trying to overachieve, they’ll play a lot better. Go for the miracle shot and you’ll pull it off one in 100 times. Instead, hit the shot
you can make 80% of the time. I only take the big risks if I need to birdie the last hole or make it into a playoff. If you can go out
there and play your own game, you’ll improve your handicap by quite a few strokes.
Your career is like a highlight reel: a U.S. Open win at Shinnecock; the record for the lowest 9-hole score in a PGA tour event (26); playing on three Ryder Cup teams and captaining another. You even got your shot at stardom with a cameo in Kevin Costner’s Tin Cup. Are these your Kodak moments?
CP: I’ve been very fortunate. What happens on the golf course is wonderful, but the opportunity to play with and meet sports figures, movie stars and many others is a huge benefit to being a professional golfer. Tin Cup was great. I’m just like anybody else; it’s fun to be in a movie. Freddie (Couples) and I tried shooting a couple of scenes as the writers had planned them, but then director] Ron Shelton suggested we ad lib. So we “walked through frame” and used our own dialogue, and that was what ended up in the movie. It was kind of neat that they used what we made up.
Your career has taken you around the world, and you still call California home. What keeps you here?
CP: With all my travels, with everywhere I’ve gone and all the places I’ve seen, you just can’t beat Southern California. The weather’s fantastic. The ocean’s beautiful. I like the people and all that you can do, from golfing to surfing, from tennis to skiing. It’s where I like to hang out. Home is always home.