Kenny G on Tiger Woods, Presidents Cup, courses he'd love to play, more
From September through December SI will be speaking to musicians of all genres about the intersection of music and sports.
This week, SI sits down with recording artist Kenny G, a Grammy Award winner and avid Pro-Am golfer.
SI.com: You're out on the course all the time. What tournament or course gets you the most amped to play?
Kenny G: The most exciting golf I play is when I play the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, because I'm on the links with the top players in the world. A lot of them recognize my face, so they allow me to talk to them and hang out and ask questions and learn. It's just that when you're playing those Pro-Ams, you need to make birdies, and I don't get very many strokes. I think they gave me two or three handicap strokes last time. I'll make a lot of pars, but that's not good enough to compete up there because you're playing against 15 handicappers who end up making like 10 pars for net birdies. I'm not going to be able to compete with those guys unless I'm actually making more birdies. I'm trying to learn to change my game so I can get more aggressive and just be a much better ball striker so I can have more birdie opportunities rather than relying on my short game to get me a good score.
SI.com: Which tour pros have you learned the most from on the course?
KG: Phil Mickelson was my partner one year [at Pebble] so I was around him for four or five straight days watching him play and asking him questions about his game. He's such a nice guy, just real open to being friendly and sharing information. Of all the guys I've played with, Ian Poulter was the one guy who I never had to ask for help from on the greens. Every time I'd line up a putt, he'd come and just stand behind me and tell me what my putt was going to do. I wouldn't even ask him, because I didn't want to get in the way of his game, but he just did that, which I thought was really cool.
SI.com: Do you watch the sport on television as avidly as you play it?
KG: My Monday morning [musical] practice is actually my favorite practice day, because I've recorded Sunday's final round and haven't watched it yet. So I'll just watch it with the sound down while I work on my scales. It's a really fun day, but don't tell me who won yet!
SI.com: Tiger Woods nearly turned the corner at the Wyndham Championship at the end of last season, but struggled mightily overall in 2015. Does he make a comeback in 2016?
KG: I don't know Tiger intimately, but I've probably played four or five rounds with him and I think I'm a pretty good judge of people, in the sense that I've been around a lot of really successful people. He's a smart guy. … He's not a quitter, obviously. We watch on TV and we hear the commentators and it's easy for us to judge. But I'm sure that he's smarter than most people about what's right for him, and I'm sure he'll figure it out.
SI.com: Your home course is Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles, where you're a two-time club champion. If you could play any other course, where would you play?
KG: I want to play Bandon Dunes [in Oregon]. I hear that's one that you have to play. Chambers Bay [in Washington, the site of the 2015 U.S. Open] was pretty cool—it looked amazing on TV, the shots were gorgeous—but also looked kind of massive and kind of weird. I was thinking that the golfers were probably thinking, "This is such a different kind of golf course."
SI.com: Judging by the way the players had to adapt to the greens at the U.S. Open, I think Chambers's "differences" have been well documented.
KG: Yeah, I was happy for Jordan Spieth but I also felt really bad for Dustin Johnson [after the U.S. Open] because he's a really nice guy. He plays out at Sherwood a lot so I see him hitting balls and he's an amazing golfer. Gosh, when he hits balls it's ridiculous. I hit drivers next to Dustin Johnson and it's like he's hitting the ball twice as far as me. I ask him, "How do you do that? Can you explain how you do that?" and he says, "No, I can't really explain it. I don't really know."
SI.com: You performed at the opening ceremonies of The Presidents Cup (which runs Oct. 8 through Oct. 11) in South Korea. If you're U.S. team captain, Jay Haas, who do you want to have on your team, regardless of who the top qualifiers are?
KG: I would pick Phil Mickelson because I think he's such a good competitor and I think he would really bring the spirit of the team up. Jordan Spieth, obviously. And I've gotta pick Jim Furyk. Furyk's an animal out there, man. He's just so competitive. And you know what? I'd pick John Daly. I just love watching him play, and he's so fun. I'll bet you he would really get the crowd going.
SI.com: Speaking of John Daly, I was captivated by your 2014 duet of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
KG: That was really fun. I had performed earlier that night at the big dinner at the World Celebrity Pro-Am in Hainan, China. Morgan Freeman was there. Chris Evans, Nicole Kidman, and Jessica Alba were there. And Daly says to me, "Come on man, we gotta do something in the bar." And I said, "Man, forget it. I played already. I'm done." So he starts swearing and swearing at me, of course, and he made me get up and play with him. It was so much fun. It was so right. I was surprised how good he was. He was very charismatic on stage. I think he's an entertainer in golf.
SI.com: I saw a quote about your most recent album (Brazilian Nights, Concord Records) that said it paid tribute to The Masters. I read that as paying tribute to the golf tournament, but you meant the masters of the bossa nova genre. Will there ever be a Kenny G golf/jazz crossover album?
KG: That's hilarious. I don't know what it would sound like. I could have the sound of somebody hitting the golf ball in there as part of the rhythm I guess. It could be a percussion instrument of a really nice, flush, ball compression hit by one of those great ball strikers.
SI.com: We would listen to that.