I caught up with PGA Tour rookie Alex Prugh on Thursday night. We know each other from playing in many of the same tournaments growing up because we’re both from Washington State. I asked our mutual friend, Andres Gonzales, who is a pro on the mini tours, to put us in touch. (Thanks, Dres!) I hadn’t spoken to Alex in, oh, like, a decade, but he was easy to chat with and I appreciated his candid, entertaining answers (he hasn’t been 2.0’d yet).
Alex has played very well, right out of the gate. He competed on the Nationwide Tour in 2008 and 2009. After finishing 16th on the money list last year, he earned his 2010 PGA Tour card. In four starts this year, he’s placed top-10 in three consecutive tournaments. This week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he is 8-under through two rounds, good enough for T8. He’s definitely one to watch for the weekend.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
SW: What do you attribute your success to right out the gate?
AP: It’s been weird. At the Bob Hope, I was striking the ball really well, just hitting tons of greens and, you know, giving myself tons of birdie opps. It’s funny, looking back, I’ve been hitting the ball shi..[sic]. Sorry not [sic]…worse and worse throughout the weeks, but my short game has gotten better and better. I’ve been making up-and-downs and putting pretty well, fortunately. When it comes down to it, I’ve been making most the putts that I’ve needed to.
SW: Are you generally a better ballstriker or short game player?
AP: Ha, generally ballstriker. At least throughout my career, it seems I hit fourteen or fifteen greens in all my good rounds. I definitely know looking back at my college career, I’ve had tons of two-putt birdies, just on par-5s and drivable par-4s. I mean, even today, I shot four-under and had one two-putt birdie. And a couple of my other birdies were literally kick-ins, so I mean, you can attribute those to ballstriking.
SW: You played Spyglass yesterday. Had you ever played there before?
AP: I played there yesterday. So, if you count that or Tiger Woods PGA Tour on Xbox. The only problem with Tiger Woods is you hit your drives 320 yards with pinpoint accuracy in the game. Honestly, the ball goes about 270 yards out here it seems like.
SW: You obviously played well at the Bob Hope, and now you’re playing at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the other tournament where celebs run rampant. How do you feel about these events?
AP: It’s been fun. Just in the fact that it’s more relaxed. I tried to be relaxed on the golf course and generally I guess I do play better, it definitely takes the edge off. It’s kind of hard to get down and mad at yourself when you’re trying to show these amateurs a good time and entertain them, so I think that helps mentally a little bit. It makes me a little more…sane.
SW: Have you played with anyone really interesting?
AP: Probably the most interesting — I didn’t play a practice round at Monterey Peninsula because I didn’t play that many rounds in a row. So I walked around the course and on the last nine holes, I ran into a Steve Wheatcroft who was playing with Jeffrey Donovan. I don’t know if you know him or not…
SW: Is that the Burn Notice guy?
AP: Yeah, the Burn Notice guy. So we walked around nine holes with him, which was fun. He’s a real nice guy. I think he pretty much quote for quote recited every line from Anchorman. I asked him about his show and found out it was all filmed in Miami.
SW: What’s the transition been like from the Nationwide to the PGA?
AP: For me, it’s been really easy. The Nationwide definitely prepares you very well for the PGA. The only difference to me is that you have more media, spectators, grandstand and that sort, but when it comes down to it, you still have to put the ball in the hole somehow and some way. Fortunately, most the guys out here are very nice and welcoming and as long as you play well, life is all good.
SW: In your PGA Tour media profile, you listed Andres [Gonzales] as your hero. Explain.
AP: Honestly, last year we were at the final stage of Q-school and staying together that week. We were both sitting there, filling out this media form. And we looked at each other and said, “Who the heck are we going to put for our hero?” I just said, “I’m going to put you, Andres. You are my hero. I mean, look at you with your mustache and those handlebars. How great is that?”
SW: Have you seen Ryan Moore, the other guy from Washington [State] who has made it to the bigs, at all?
AP: I’ve ran into him a couple of times. It was funny last week at Riviera. Before the tournament started I saw him and he was like, “Oh, hey Alex. I just want to remind you, you are on the PGA Tour, you know.” He meant I was playing really good golf and he was kind of more shocked [how well I was playing]. He was like, “You are playing on the biggest level here.”
SW: What’s your favorite part about playing on the PGA Tour?
AP: Playing at this level of competition. You look down the range and there’s Phil Mickelson or Vijay [Singh] hitting balls. It’s pretty nice knowing I grew up watching those guys for the last 10 to 15 years and now I’m playing with them.
SW: So I saw what you said about Rickie in your presser.
[Ed note: This was the question and answer: Q: You’ve flown under the radar a bit as far as the big rookie coming into the year, this week we have Ishikawa; do you like kind of being a little under the radar unnoticed?
AP: I’m not going to lie, I’m not a flashy guy. I’ve played with Ricky before. Just to show how flashy he is, he has six pairs of shoes and color-coordinates them with his outfit, which to each his own. Ricky has gotten a lot of publicity and attention. That’s fine with me. I would rather let my golf talk for me. In the long run, that’s what I’m out here for. I’m out here to compete, and hopefully make a bunch of birdies, and show the crowds a good time. But a lot of them do tend toward Ricky.]
AP: I think that was taken out of context a bit, but it does blow my mind how many pairs of shoes he has. They asked me something like, “Do you mind not being in the spotlight like Rickie Fowler and Ryo Ishikawa?” I said I didn’t mind and I’m not a flashy guy. Then I gave the example of Rickie traveling with six pairs of shoes. Then they somehow spun that to sound like I was almost making fun of him, but that wasn’t the case.
[Ed. note: I believe he was referring to this article at PGATour.com]
SW: Are you friends with Rickie?
AP: Oh yeah, we played together at Riviera last week and had a great time. I asked him because for every outfit he has, it seems like he has a matching pair of shoes for it. So I was just playing around with him and asked, “How many pairs of shoes do you have?” He was like, I have this, this, this, and so on, but only travels with six pairs.
SW: So, how do you feel about the spotlight? Do you mind it?
AP: No, I don’t mind it. I think if I keep playing as well as I do, eventually I’ll get that spotlight. You know, obviously coming out, there are certain names people know and they’re going to sell more tickets. But hopefully the tides are turning a little bit, and I’ll get some of that action.
SW: Why do you think people should watch you and follow you? Why are you interesting?
AP: I wouldn’t say I’m interesting. I mean, I’m just a kid from Washington [State] that likes to play golf. I’m pretty laid back. I don’t let a whole lot of things bother me. I’ve had a ton of people hype up the PGA Tour, like, “Oh My God, you’re on the PGA Tour!” You know, I’m just playing golf. I’m trying to have fun out there. I take things seriously, but I don’t necessarily ever get down on myself — I just feel lucky that I’m playing golf as a living and try to appease to the crowds.
SW: Who’s been your favorite to play with?
AP: Honestly I had a really good time playing with Rickie last week. Also playing with Bubba Watson and Bill Haas in the final round at the Bob Hope was fun. They’re two younger guys and obviously they were in my shoes not too long ago. It was relaxed, but also had that atmosphere of being in the final group. We were cracking jokes all day.
SW: Have you been told who to avoid? Do people talk about that?
AP: Not really. Most the talk of the town has been about Tiger. There were some pretty funny moments in San Diego. They had planes flying over with those banners. The first day, there was one that said, “We miss you, Tiger,” from Deja Vu Showgirls. The next day, it was, “We miss you, too, Tiger,” from the Hustler Club or something like that. I got a pretty good laugh out of that. Every day it seemed like they had a jab at him. I feel awful for the guy, but at the same time, he dug his own grave, unfortunately.
SW: When do you think Tiger will be back?
AP: I’m guessing he’s playing The Masters.
SW: What do you think of the grooves controversy?
AP: I play Ping myself. When it comes down to it, I look at it, if someone wants to use the old Ping Eye 2 wedges, then go for it. But if you really think that’s going to help you, that’s your own choice. Thing is, any of those clubs you’re buying, they’re on eBay right now and you can’t get new ones. More than likely they’re going to be used ones, anyway, so they’re going to be worn down a little bit. I mean, I guess I also just really like the wedges I have, which are the new conforming ones. We’ve been playing in so much wet weather lately, I’ve almost been getting too much spin. There were a couple of times in San Diego where I actually laid up in the rough to control the spin.
SW: So is there any advantage to using them?
There might be a little one when we get some deeper rough and firmer greens. But for me, I know I’m not going to find any.
SW: You play with a Ping Craz-E Belly Putter. When did you switch to the broomstick and why?
AP: Yeah, sometimes I feel like a little old man doing that. I switched the summer before my senior year, so that would be summer of ‘06. I had a really bad putting round at the last round of the Sahalee Players Championship and I was like, I’ll just mess around with one, and I never switched back
SW: What’s your favorite event been so far?
AP: I really liked playing Riviera last week. It’s one of those courses I’ve played on Tiger Woods Xbox. That course is just pure. The way they treat you there is great. The only reason I got in was because I placed in the top-10 the week before.
SW: Have you purchased anything big with the half million you’ve earned yet? If not, what will be your first buy?
AP: I have a house in Vegas now, but I’ll probably get one in Spokane [where I grew up], too.
[Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images]