Back in March my friend and WUP’s head researcher, Intern Kevin, introduced me to Steve Elkington’s website, Secret in the Dirt. I finally checked it out after weeks of hearing him rave about the hysterical and legendary videos. Turned out Intern Kevin was right — the content was unique and interesting (some more than others, but depends on what you’re looking for), and I couldn’t believe this was the first I’d heard of it.
Elk, the ’95 PGA Champion and ten-time winner on the PGA Tour, doesn’t mince words. The Australian tells it straight (and considered one of the best interviewees on the Jim Rome Show) and that’s not common among professional athletes, especially golfers, these days. You may already be following him on Twitter, where he’s started an “old school vs. new school” meme, and seen his clever cartoons.
I caught up with Elk in the Champions Locker Room (yes, they let me in almost without question) at Atlanta Athletic Club a few weeks ago during the PGA Championship. Alright, strap on your boots. Here we go!
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. You created a golf social networking site called “Secret in the Dirt” — what motivated you to start it?
STEVE ELKINGTON: We just went over 500 videos. We’ve done our 500th, and one of the things we know that’s going to happen is in social networking, if you take the leader of all, which is Facebook, we have 900 million people out there. There’s probably 40 or 50 million people inside of Facebook already that list golf as one of their things they like. We think as years go on, there will be lots of miniature things come out, like there will be social network sites for ‑‑ we already know they’re for singles, for gays, whatever. There will be sites for cooking, sites for golf, sites for tennis, whatever, so we feel like we’ve jumped ahead.
Q. What kind of content do you produce in these videos?
SE: We film every day and then we put them online ‑‑ one thing we know that’s in the world is that it’s very hard to create content, but we’ve got it. We’re on content overload. All of our guys, we also do a daily cartoon, which you’ve seen on Twitter.
We want them right out on the edge. The Golf Channel is great and there’s a certain amount of people that watch the Golf Channel, and there’s the same people that watch the Golf Channel are probably the same people that buy the Golf Digest. But we also know there’s another 50 million people that don’t do either of those two.
It doesn’t mean that they don’t have the Golf Channel or they don’t have Golf Digest, it’s just we think that there’s another vibe, another underground vibe, that we can create to fill that void for them. That’s me, basically, in a nutshell. I’m a little bit controversial when I do stuff, and I have fun with it. I’m not really Golf Channel material.
Q. How did the site get started?
SE: Well, there’s five of us that do the site. Mike Maves is my partner. The way the site started, it’s a great story, because there’s a guy in Canada that walked into Maves’ office, and said, “Hey, I heard you played golf when you were younger.” Maves said, “Yeah.” The guy said, “Will you give me a lesson?”
Maves said, “Sure, I’ll give you a lesson.” So they went out to the lake and hit balls into the lake, and Maves started explaining — he had a great swing, he was a good amateur, so he started explaining what he did and so on and so on, and the guy said, “Well, I’m going to put these up on YouTube because they’re kind of cool.”
Well, a million viewers later, I saw it, and I called Mike Maves on the phone. I said, “Hey, I want to talk to you about this move that you do with your feet — Secret in the Dirt, boom.” Mike wrote an e-book called Secret in the Dirt.
So he flew down and we met in New York and he was able to make about $40,000 selling his little e‑book online with an insurance guy hitting balls into a lake. We hit it off really good. I said, “Why don’t we take this one step further? Why don’t we create some sort of little company or little business, got to have Steve Elkington and Mike Maves together, people love my swing and so on, but we’ve got to be able to do something else.”
Q. Who are the other four members of your team?
I took Terry Okura, who’s worked for me for 15 years. He’s a Japanese kid that is great with a camera. He’s filmed me since 1986. We have all that footage. We took in Calder Chism, who’s a cartoonist, which if I had an alter-ego I would be a cartoonist.
We’ve got Jimmy Nissen, who is a young little kid in college who helped Mike do his e‑book, and Jackie Burke, who we added to the site as the older guy. The funny thing about Secret in the Dirt, we’ve been in business for a year and a half and we’ve never all stood in the same room.
Q. Well, that’s the internet these days, right?
SE: That’s the internet. But we’re really excited because we’ve proven ourselves to ourselves, and we’ve produced now four videos that you can download online. I just did a short game video called “How to Have a Tour Short Game.”
We’ve discovered three guys inside of our site that Golf Channel or anyone else in the world would never have heard of. I put my money out to produce their videos for them. I know you’d never heard of Jeff Mangum. He’s one of the smartest guys; he has four Ph.D.’s, gave up four Ph.D.s’ to study putting for the last 15 years. We produced his video. It’s called “The Reality of Putting.” It’s fantastic.
There’s a guy from Australia named Martin Ayers, who I think is one of the greatest teachers in the future. We produced him, it’s called “The Most Powerful Move,” and we have two other guys that we’re looking at.
I feel like one part of our site is almost like American Idol; all these people pile in, and I sort of sift through it all. I get so much stuff sent at me.
Q. I know there’s more to the site than videos, a discussion forum, etc. What else are you working on?
SE: We’re in the process of building a golf game where you can buy your own land from Google, micro-payments, and you can design your course, you can design it on the side of Mt. Everest if you want. You grow the grass, you choose the grass and then you play it and then you can sell it. So we’ve got a lot of things going on.
Q. When do you have time to play golf?
SE: Oh, I like that, too, but the point is I like social media, and as you know I just got on Twitter. I’ve got a lot to say. I think Twitter was invented for me. I’m that guy, 140 letters or less — that’s my deal. I love it.
Q. You go on Jim Rome’s show quite a bit and I know you have quite a following over there. What did you guys talk about on Monday (the week of the PGA Championship)?
SE: On Monday we talked about Steve Williams and all that. I read the transcript because I was playing Reno, I didn’t see it on TV, but I didn’t read anything that he said was either not true or whatever. It was all true. It should have been a Monday news conference instead of a Sunday, and I think he already said that. Steve is a friend of mine. We go way back.
He has been considered an asshole to everyone in the world, but I said, he’s only a reflection of his player. He only reflects what the player wants him to do. In other words, if (my caddie) Bullet is not doing what I want him to do, he’s going to get the boot; here’s what you’ve got to do to be working for me, do these things, keep people away, get the press ‑‑ get everyone away from me. That’s all Stevie’s been doing.
Q. Stevie was apologizing to the media, and I wasn’t around during those golden years, so I don’t know what that was like. I have kind of a fresh outlook on it.
SE: He’s great at what he does. And the other thing I talked about with Rome was I said there’s a lot of people out there that listen to Rome. There’s 8 million people that listen. There’s a lot of guys out there that are listening to the show that are little that sit behind a big guy and make a big guy look good. They don’t always have to be considered pushed back. Why doesn’t the little guy get to say something every once in a while?
I know four guys that work for Rome that make him look unreal. They give him stats in his ear, they make it all happen, make the music happen, the whole show, and no one knows who they are. They all work to make him look big. Why do they always have to be shut up, stay up, don’t show up, all that. What’s wrong with the caddie being the man?
The facts are that Stevie Williams has won a lot. I think he said it better than anyone, emotionally he’s all flattened out by it.
Q. That’s what happens when you don’t or can’t talk for 12 years!
SE: Yeah, it’s like no one has seen his teeth in 12 years…Adam and Stevie make a great team, though. They’re going to be tough to beat. Adam (doesn’t have pressure) on him right now. The opposite of that, for example, would be someone like Lee Westwood.
Q. Can you elaborate on the pressure that you think Westwood has now?
SE: Lee Westwood was No. 1 in the world, had a few chances, and all of a sudden three people in his stable (who are also managed by ISM and Chubby Chandler) that were below him, Rory McIlroy ‑‑ he was always going to do something; Charl Schwartzel won the Masters — I picked him after I played with him in the Houston Open; and Darren Clarke, who is way below Westwood, won the Open.
Q. Don’t forget Louis Oosthuizen won the Open last year, too.
SE: And Oosthuizen. Now Westwood who was at the top of the heap, he had no pressure on him, now he’s the guy in the management group who hasn’t won. Now he’s got pressure on him, and I think that doesn’t work in his favor. I think he was better before.
But to round that out, when I listened to the comments from Charl Schwartzel after he won the Masters, he said a very important thing in the press conference. He was coming around 15, 16 and he said to himself, “It’s now or never. I’ll never get this shot again.” And he took it on the chin and said, “It’s now.” He did it.
I know Rory didn’t say that to himself at Augusta — now or never. I know Darren Clarke said that to himself, right. It’s going to be now or never. So you have to turn into a man at some point, mentally.
Q. There’s been a lot of chatter over non-traditional putters lately, with winners of the last three consecutive events using a long or belly putter. Do you have any objections to them?
SE: To me it’s irrelevant because it’s legal…But give Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer and Adam Scott back their short putters and see where they finish.
Thanks to Elk for his time and the enjoyable chat! Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter (seriously, you won’t regret it). If you need any recommendations for videos to watch in the 500+ vault on SITD, I’m sure Intern Kevin can suggest a few.