Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Grant ("Biggie") Spaeth. Stanford men's golf team letter winner 1952, 1953, 1954. Member of the
1953 national championship team. USGA President 1990-92.
Intro: As part of an ongoing project to create a new website for the Stanford Men’s Golf Team, and to preserve the oral history of Stanford golf, interviews with notable Stanford golfers will be made. This is the part IV of IV of an interview with Grant Spaeth. On Monday, October 8, 2007, Grant Spaeth was interviewed overlooking the 18th green at Stanford University Golf Course. The interviewers were Lyman Van Slyke, Bob Stevens and Richard Peers.
INTERVIEWER: Can I take you back for a second to Stanford - your undergraduate days. You were here for four years I assume.
INTERVIEWER: Can you think of one person who stands out as having had more influence over you, in your Stanford experience? Could have been relative to golf or a professor, or it could have been I suppose somebody outside of the University.
GRANT: Oh, gosh. I’d have to think on that, but the fact of the matter is that I got very close to Sandy Tatum when he was around, and I got very close to the president of the University. His name was Wally Sterling. One of the great people of all time. And my dad! That was a pretty good three-some of friends to have. So somehow, as a kid, I can recall turning to them.
INTERVIEWER: Since you mention Sandy Tatum, and he has played such an important part in the history of the program.
INTERVIEWER: Could you speak about him a little bit.
GRANT: Sure, actually Lyman ought to do that because he interviewed him with great care a few years back.
INTERVIEWER: Specifically with respect to his friendship with Alistair Cooke.
INTERVIEWER: Not in a more general, broader way.
GRANT: Well, Stanford was very important to Sandy. His brother had gone, been a Rhodes Scholar. Sandy worked very, very hard and got very good grades. Pop identified that very quickly when he first came here and he hired two guys to run the law school for him: Sandy Tatum and Warren Christopher. They are both, obviously, hard working, brilliant people. What Sandy, in his career, which has been a very successful law practice, very important charitable contributions, including being a Trustee at the University, he’s very bright, very careful, very organized. He is a very compelling person. He can talk you into just about anything. But golf has been just an integral part of his life. But it hasn’t deflected him from what I consider important achievements. I’ve always thought he ought to go into politics. I think he could have been a winner in politics, but that wasn’t to be. And so, he’s an intense person and he cares a lot and he thinks a lot about things that matter to him. And he’s otherwise been a very loyal friend. I could go on at great length, but that’s my summary.
INTERVIEWER: Is there a player since you left that you built a connection to and sustained that relationship over the years?
GRANT: I can’t think of anyone other than Dick McElyea. I got to know Tiger very well, but it’s tough to sustain something in the last five years.
GRANT: I’d have to think on that one a bit. No one pops out, but I’ll keep thinking.
INTERVIEWER: Certainly Watson and Woods stand out in the world of golf.
INTERVIEWER: Your interactions with Tom Watson?
GRANT: Not very close. Sandy Tatum and he – Tom’s had a very complex life. From upbringing until today, and Tatum, I’ve always thought, though we don’t talk about it a lot, is almost a surrogate father for Tom. We played golf here not so long ago, and the relationship is one which I felt almost like I was intruding. There were three of us.
INTERVIEWER: I understand, yes.
GRANT: And because the unsaid things were obviously ones of intimacy between two men, father-son kind of things, but I get along with Tom fine.
INTERVIEWER: Your experience with Tiger? You mention you did have some interaction with him when he was here.
GRANT: Well, Earl. Tiger was appointment to the World Cup and one of the things the president is invited to do is be the captain, whether you’re a good golfer or not. I’d like to think I know something about the game. Anyway, I happened to be captain and Tiger, who was on the team, he was picked. He should have come with us, but I told him to stick around for the three days of introduction to freshman to Stanford. They have those various occasions, and I said, “Come late, I’ll meet you at the plane.” Which is what I did. So he stayed here and he arrived late. In the meantime his father had called me and said that Tiger had gone on a foreign trip and had been really mistreated, that the person who organized took care of himself rather than the kids, and he was worried. And I said, “Well ,don’t you worry, Earl.” I’d come to know him a bit. I said I’ll assign Laurie, my wife, to make sure that he’s okay. And so we did. And so when Tiger sees Laurie, he calls her “Momma”. Anyway, so we had a week, an intense week and we won of course, but he was very impressive. The press was bugging him so I said to the press, I said, “Look, let’s have one meeting and take an hour and half, answer your questions, and then I want you to lay off him. We’re here to play golf. Is that agreeable?” People from all over the world, big turn-out. 50 members of the press, and so we did. So I kind of MC’d it for a moment, and then somebody started asking a question which I felt was – “Have you contemplated the death of your father? Have you contemplated loosing and the psychological impact….” and I stepped forward and I said, “You know, it seems to me there’s a limit for a 17-year old man, what you can…” and Tiger interrupted me and said, “Never mind, Coach, I’ll take ’em.” So he answered this rather personal questions, and to this moment, I have been impressed with Tiger’s abilities. [laughter]
INTERVIEWER: Quite remarkable.
GRANT: He’s a very attractive and very strong guy.
INTERVIEWER: Did anything stand out about his golf during that Walker Cup?
GRANT: That was a World Cup.
INTERVIEWER: World Cup, sorry.
GRANT: Well, no, he just played wonderfully. Allen Doyle…The British head was Michael Bonallack. He came up to me in the 10th green and said, “We’ve got you!” And at that point, 10th green, last day, four rounds, we were 10 strokes behind. Allen Doyle shoots 30, Tiger shoots 32 and Frank Harris shoots 33. We win by 12. [laughter] So, yes!
INTERVIEWER: That’s good coaching!
GRANT: Of course, [laughing] I took all the credit! But he was very, very well received and we had a meeting beforehand and I said, “You know, we’re gonna win!” But you never can tell. The one thing we are going to win, we are going to be the finest diplomats to ever play in this golf tournament. I want every single player to be able to go home and say, “I met Tigers Woods, I met Allen Doyle, and they were nice people.” And they won that one going away! So I feel good about that particularly. And I did tell Tiger once, “coaches can coach” and I went up to him on the 8th green at this course and said, “I just want you to know, Allen Doyle had the same putt. About a 25-footer uphill. And it didn’t look uphill. And I just want you to know that he came up 6 feet short. And I don’t know what you’re going to do with that information, you know, but it looked to me that Allen thought he had hit the putt right.” He didn’t do those motions that we do when we get it on the toe or do something. And he said, “Thanks!” and he knocked it in! [laughing]
INTERVIEWER: Good coaching! I remember Wally Goodwin saying to me once that when Tiger came here that Earl called me and he had a conversation with Earl and Earl said to Wally, “Tiger’s here, you’re his coach. I’m not going to be interfering and always present.” And I think Wally… This wasn’t just as Tiger had arrived, he’d been here a year and was in his second year, and I had a feeling that Wally felt that that had been the case. Is that your impression as well?
GRANT: I don’t know. I’ve gotten mixed reports about the relationship and I don’t know the specifics. I think it’s fine now, but …
INTERVIEWER: Between Wally and Tiger?
GRANT: Yes, you’d have to talk to Mark Soltau to find out really what was the dynamic, because I never thought of Wally as working on Tiger’s golf swing, and so that’s interesting that Wally reported that. My talks with Tiger were not about golf. I’d say, “Goddamn, Tiger, you know, you’re going to be mixing it up with Tiger Woods of drama, poetry and science and computers, and you don’t understand what extraordinarily powerful roommates and dorm mates.” I said, “Eat it up! You’ll never have another experience like it.” And he said, “You were right.” [laughing] But I don’t know about his golf swing.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t have the feeling that they were talking specifically about Tiger’s golf swing, but he wasn’t going to be the hovering father who was always second guessing everything that Wally was doing.
GRANT: An idea I think you ought to toss in is that, my impression is that Eddie Twiggs had an impact on the players in terms of their education. I think Wally did, and I think our current coach did. I think other coaches haven’t, and I had a suggestion to the University would be the next time around, I think you ought to have a golf coach which also has the capacities of an adviser, a student advisor, just like I’d have a Lyman Van Slyke if I’m a freshman, to whom I reported on occasion and talk through what should my major be, you know these issues that arise with kids. I personally feel that one of the strengths of Conrad and the strengths of Wally was a larger impact on the lives of the players. I think it helps. So that would be my suggestion to the Athletic Department.
INTERVIEWER: Anything else Rich or Van or Grant that you would like to add? We’d certainly like to thank you.
GRANT: No, I do hope that you concentrate on the ‘30’s and early ‘40’s and on the Rosburgs. That as I’ve been thinking about this, now it’s gone on for what, 75 years. It’s an extraordinary, wonderful story, the early part. It’s one that’s totally forgotten and you know, it’s just like the Korean War. They were writing things about the Korean War and I forget that half the country doesn’t know what the Korean War was. And similarly to restore those people. There is no man in America who’s more of a delight than Charlie Seaver. Just go down to LA Country Club, his picture is everywhere because he won everything in California. And Lawson Little was a complicated guy, you know, an alcoholic, and winner and was Stanford too much for him? I don’t know. You can get a lot of psychological analysis. But the point is, a real person that really mattered in American golf. And there were others and I hope you get to Tatum quickly. Not that his health is… but just to chat with him about some of these people. Even he said – how about Art Doering? Whatever happened to Art Doering? And Bud Brownell, he knew Bud Brownell. And, I don’t know.