An Interview With Marvin "Vinny" Giles III
KEN KLAVON: We're here with Vinny Giles, our 55th USGA Senior Amateur champion. In the process, he also set a new mark for going the longest periods between USGA championships. But first of all, Vinny, describe your feelings at winning this championship.
MARVIN GILES, III: Well, I have to‑‑ I guess my reaction on 18 sort of said it all. I don't usually get too excited or too emotional. But I had one goal left in golf, and certainly in senior golf, and that was to win the USGA Senior Amateur.
Quite honestly, at 66 years old I thought that goal was unrealistic, so that's how excited I am, the fact that I was able to accomplish it, quite honestly, well past my prime.
KEN KLAVON: Let's talk real quick about 18 and that putt. It was roughly about 17‑ or 18‑feet downhill putt, and the things goes in. Take us through that sequence.
MARVIN GILES, III: Well, it was a ‑‑ you know, I have to say, I had not putted very well all day. I started off with a great chip in at the first hole. Made a nice putt at 3. Made a nice up‑and‑down at 6 where I made a short putt in.
From then on, I could not get the ball to get into the hole. The greens were perfect, so you cannot blame any missed putt on anything but yourself.
So it was the kind of putt, a very difficult putt, because it was straight downhill, and if you hit it the least bit too hard it's gonna go four, five feet past.
I looked at it twice. First time I said, It's two balls there on the left. I looked again, and, I said, No, you got to hit it, I think it's three. I hit it solidly, and it was just trickling down the hill. It was rolling at the hole.
I knew when it was about two feet from the hole it was going in. That's when I kind of lost it.
KEN KLAVON: Sort of shades of Hale Irwin at Medina.
Q. Can you put into words how you felt when the ball is two feet from the hole?
MARVIN GILES, III: When you play as much golf as I have, it's somewhat reactionary. I just knew you don't ever early call a putt. I have a good friend, Bobby Wadkins, who always says, Early call, ball won't fall.
But it just didn't look like there was any way for it to miss. I mean, you could see it. It was quite honestly excitement more than elation or more than accomplishment. It was, you know, I've gotten it done. And as I say, when you putted as poorly as I did all day, it's probably the easiest putt I could have had. All I had to do was get it started.
I didn't have to put a good stroke on it or do anything special to it. All the members, that's the hardest putt in the whole world, and was of it a hard putt. But the hole got in the way.
Q. If I can go back to the short before that, you got about 60 yards to the green.
MARVIN GILES, III: I had 50 yards to the front edge and 56 to the hole.
Q. But was your lie kind of uncertain, because the shot you hit certainly wasn't whatmost people would've expected.
MARVIN GILES, III: I had an iffy lie. I pulled that sand wedge first and put it behind the ball and I said‑‑ the ball really sitting down in the funny sort of spot. I said, I don't think I can flock it to get any spin on it. It's gotta be absolutely very precise. The ball's gotta land in about a six‑foot area.
I said, I can take a pitching wedge and bump it up the hill. If I hit it hard enough, at least I'm gonna have a chance to makefour. You always assume your putter is gonna make the putt.
So, yeah, I just played the shot I thought was the most appropriate shot at the time.
Q. Throughout the match, I think both players missed some shorter putts that maybe you could have made. Did you think any of them were any more vital than another?
MARVIN GILES, III: Well, I missed a tiny putt at the 8th hole. Couldn't have been more than eight feet for birdie. I mean, it was a simple straight‑in putt. At that point, that could've gotten me two‑up. The way I was playing‑‑ we were both playing obviously very solidly, other than a couple bogeys that we made in the middle of the backside.
You know, I was never in a position to make a bogey, except on 13 where I drove it over there. I didn't think that drive was that bad, but it obviously was worse than I thought.
The three‑putt at 14 was really bad. I mean, I tried to drive the ball in the bunker, the greenside bunker. It's like the simplest shot in the world. The ball stopped at one revolution, and that's on the downslope on hard pan. I had no grass under the ball.
Q. Was that shot from there about the best you could have done?
MARVIN GILES, III: Maybe not the best I could have done, but it was you had to be short to at leastslide. And the ground is so hard, the club still bounced. I didn't want to try to be cute and dump it in the bunker. I mean, he looks like he has a chance to make 5, and he might make 4 because he's got a wonderful short game.
But I wanted to givemyself ‑‑ if I had been 25 feet I would have been happy. But I had to be sure to hit it hard enough to make sure the ball did not just jump right in the bunker.
And quite honest, my chipping and pitching, I used to be an magician. Now, man break is nowhere near my name. My chipping and pitching is not great. That had a little bearing on the shot on 18. I wasn't gonna try to hit the perfect shot. Wasn't the right time.
That three‑putt was bad. I mean, I missed so many putts today. I had so many good chances. I missed a very makable putt at 10; I missed a little putt at 13; a little putt at 14. 16, easiest putt in the world. It was a right edge putt, just getting it rolling up the hill.
I missed a good putt at 4, good putt at 5; 8 we talked about. So, you know, I didn't putt worth a toot all day.
Q. Sounds as if this was a match where you really played within the limitations.
MARVIN GILES, III: Well, my feelings here, because the golf course ‑‑ the golf course has got a lot of short holes and birdie holes, and the par‑5s are not birdie holes. They're long for the most part. 7 is. I had a bad bunker shot there. I should have birdied 7.
But the greens are very, very good. I mean, they're perfect. They've got a lot of slope in them, so you got to be careful. You know, the golf course is so firm and fast that you got to be careful. Par is a good score, yesterday especially.
I mean, yesterday I made in 36 holes I made 30 pars, three bogeys, and three birdies. I know from what somebody said, some of the other matches, if you made par on every hole you would have won 4 and 3 or 5 and 4.
KEN KLAVON: You were one‑under today.
MARVIN GILES, III: And I was one‑under today, and quite honestly putting terribly. I should have been three or four under just making what you're supposed to make.
But, you know, you make the one you need to make and it doesn't make any difference if you didn't make any of them.
But par a good score. I felt like if you could get the ball the greens and make a putt here and there, you're gonna be okay. You'll have some matches‑‑ I mean, if you played the morning early in the week, the greens were likesofter. They put some water on them and they retained the water. The sun really baked it out. The wind was blowing yesterday. The greens got hard.
If you had an 8‑iron shot normally, you hit 9‑iron. You were playing for a one‑club release. There's a 30‑foot release.
Q. Vinny, said earlier that you thought perhaps your reasonable chances to win this had passed you by.
MARVIN GILES, III: Oh, yeah.
Q. Even think you made the final eight the last two years, I'm wondering why you thought that considering that you put yourself in the final...
MARVIN GILES, III: I mean, you never say never, but realistically, as I told somebody a few days ago, when I was 32 playing amateur golf, I thought I had an advantage over the 18 and 22 year olds, you know, the college players. The college players dominate the early amateur golf.
But I had more experience. You know, I could hit the ball back there about as far as they can now. I couldn't get it within 50, 60 yards. I hit the ball today as far as I did when I was 32. But that's equipment, that's isn't me. That is just true equipment.
The big difference between 55 and 66, I mean, is a tremendous difference. They're in better condition, they're sure as heck stronger and got more stamina. So that was the main reason.
I mean, you gonna catch somebody almost every time that has one of those hot rounds. Like when Paul Simpson played Randy Nichols. They were both four or five under par. You got to avoid that if you can, or be one of the guys that shoots the five under when the other guy shoots four.
This was an unusual week, because I never played a bad round. The worst round I played the whole week was the second qualifying round. I made four birdies that round and shot three over par and made seven bogeys.
I made no bogeys to speak of the whole rest of the week. I shot around par, one‑under, even, pretty much every round. I mean, every round was consistent. I thought today was the best ball‑striking round I had all week. I missed four greens. I had the ball in position to make birdies today, which I haven't had in the past.
So it was unusual, because usually you have to shoot, let's just say par here is 71. You shoot a 75 and some guy shoots 77 and you beat him, you get lucky one time. As I said, I played 180 holes in six rounds. Played 18 three times, 21, and 17 twice.
And you go back and look at the first match I had, I mean, the guy gave me the second playoff hole. He gave it to me, I gave it back to him and then he returned it again. That was lucky.
Q. Coming into this, you obviously knew John. You guys were teammates on the '75 Walker Cup team. What did you know about his game, if anything, at this age going against him?
MARVIN GILES, III: I knew I had a distinct advantage length‑wise. It's not often you can say that anymore at my age. But in senior golf, I'm probably long for senior golf, even today.
But I also know that, one, he's played a ton of competitive golf over the last, what, six, eight years. Played the European Senior tour. I also know, one, he's a great competitor. Two, he's got a wonderful short game. Yeah, he's not gonna make mistakes.
He made the one bogey on 13 because he hit a bad tee shot. He made the bogey on, excuse me, 14 where he hit the bad tee shot. I always think that's 13 for some reason. He really didn't leave himself any shot because he was coming out of the rough to the right, and that green is hard as a brick.
You know, 15, I'm not sure he can get to 15 with the wind blowing the way it was. I'm hitting a 6‑iron to the green, and he's back there trying to get to the green. Yeah, that's a big advantage.
This golf course really doesn't put the a great premium on length because the par‑4s are short, except for 15. But, yeah, 7, I've got a big advantage at 7. I mean, granted a tough shot to fit it into that the green. That's a wonderful hole. A great risk/reward hole.
But, you know, I can get to that green in two. He has to layup. He laid up to 140 yards or something. I'm in the greenside bunker. If I'm in the greenside bunker and he's 140 yards on every hole, I promise you I'm not gonna lose.
But yeah, John, he's a heck of a player, as you saw. That was solid golf. I mean, nice to play a final match and it was just solid golf. I mean, I think four bogeys were made all day.
Q. 37 years between the US Amateur down at Charlotte and today. Does it seem that long? What does it mean?
MARVIN GILES, III: It feels like it's twice that long. (Laughter.) You know, until youmentioned it yesterday, never even crossed my mind. To me, if you won a U.S. Open 30 years apart, that would be something, some feat.
But USGA chain, I'm surprised carol Semple hadn't 50 years in between 'em she's won so many of 'em.
But to be honest, it doesn't mean a thing. I was told the other day, we had a state amateur in Virginia, and some kid shot 133 in the qualifying. It's a match play tournament, two rounds, just like this. They said, He broke your record. What record? You had the qualifying record in the state amateur for the last 30...
I said, Hell, I never knew I had the record to start with, so good for him.
Q. You also mentioned that you've accomplished everything you want in golf. Does this mean that you'll sort of take your foot off the pedal next year when you try to repeat?
MARVIN GILES, III: I haven't had my foot on the pedal. I love to compete. I've actually had a heck of a year just winning some silly things that people don't think about. I won the senior in the regular club championship at Seminole, and I beat some people like Mike McCoy and Kelly Miller and Buddy Marucci, and they're better than I am. So that was fun.
But other than that, I think I mentioned yesterday that I lost in the quarterfinals of the Virginia State Senior Amateur to a friend of mine. I played like a goat and he played like‑‑ he played fine and I didn't play very well. So how do you figure? You know, that's match play.
But, no, I don't play a lot. As a result, I don't feel like I'm‑‑ I'm not trying to prove anything. This was special because of what it is. It's the ultimate in senior amateur golf. I mean, it's so far the pinnacle to anything else. I won't say what I'm thinking, but it's chicken salad to something else. (Laughter.)
But, you know, I never played a lot of senior amateur golf. Maybe five, six, seven events a year, things locally, like our state or something like that. I've only won our state senior amateur twice now. I think the first time I played in it I was 58 or 59, so I played eight or nine times.
But, you know, as I say, the only goal I've ever had since I became 55, the only reason I really stayed in amateur golf in the senior amateur part of it at all, was to try to win this championship. I did honestlythink ‑‑ I knew Mike Rice won it when he was about the same age. I know it can happen.
But, yeah, I'm the realist, also. I thought I would be ‑‑ a lot of pegs would have to fall into the right holes.
Q. Seminole and Beverly. Similar enough that you felt...
MARVIN GILES, III: Yeah, uh‑huh. Yup. Bunkering is very similar. Slope in the greens is similar. Length is very similar. I mean, Seminole is not a long golf course. I was tickled to death yesterday when the wind started blowing. I played golf all winter at Seminole in the wind where you got to shape shots.
Nobody shapes golf shots anymore. They all just take it and just beat it as hard as they can. I can't even hit a ball straight. I can't aim a ball straight. I've either got to hit a right‑to‑left shot or left‑to‑right shot. I don't feel comfortable.
I go to the practice tees, and I hit balls yesterday before we played yesterday morning, and I'm trying something that I watch all the time. I'm hitting it, and the ball's just going... I said, I wouldn't anymore take that to the golf course than flying to the moon. It's just not me. When I get home I'm gonna try it, but not now.
Q. On the 12th yesterday in the semi you cut it into the wind. Most people try and right it the other way, which is the wrong thing to do.
MARVIN GILES, III: No. This golf course is fun. This golf course passes the test that I think is the ultimate test in golf, a golf course you can play every day and never get tired of. I think that is the ultimate test of a golf course.
I mean, you've played a million of them that are big and long. I love places like Oakmont and Pine Valley, golf courses we've all heard of. I don't want to play them every day. Too they're damn hard.
If I had one criticism of not the golf course but the set up, we should have had two or three more par‑4s moved back. 15 was the only par‑4 on the golf course that really had any length to it. I think I probably hit some type of wedge to ever other par‑4 on this golf course on some day.
Granted, the ground was very firm. It had been soft, would have been different. The most club I hit today was a 6‑iron to 15. You can get the sand wedge to 1. I think I hit 8‑iron to 4, but I hit a 5‑wood off the tee. I hit a pitching wedge to 5. I about hit a tree on 8 because I hit 8‑iron.
That's the other part of the other longest hole. That green was 57 yards deep. 13 normally is a wedge. 14 you can almost drive. 16 was a wedge. See, it was mainly short irons, which is great for me. I don't like long irons anyway.
Q. Anything special you're gonna do to celebrate this?
MARVIN GILES, III: No, I've been changing airline reservations for three days. When we get home, we'll probably figure out something to do, but haven't thought about it a whole hell of an a lot yet.