The PGA Tour is in the Miami area this week for the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral's famed Blue Monster. In anticipation of a great tournament, we caught up with world-renowned PGA Master Professional Jim McLean, head of the Jim McLean Golf School at Doral, for some local knowledge.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, Jim. Let's start with the 2010 winner of the Cadillac Championship, Ernie Els. His victory at Doral was the start of one of the Big Easy's best seasons in ages. Down the stretch, he battled with his friend and countryman, Charl Schwartzel. Do you think it makes it easier or more difficult when a friend is your main challenger at the end of an event?
McLean: I would have to think it makes it easier a little easier when the pressure gets turned up to play with someone you're whose also a friend. Playing with someone you're comfortable with helps anyone, but especially someone who has not been in the last group as often, which was the case with Charl, particularly on the PGA Tour.
PGA.com: People might not realize this, but last year at Doral top-10 finishers included Matt Kuchar and Martin Kaymer (both tied for third), and Graeme McDowell (tied for sixth). All three players went on to have the best season of their respective careers. Kuchar was the money-list winner on the PGA Tour, while Kaymer and McDowell each won a major. Do you think that has anything to do with the confidence they gained with their performances amongst the world-class field they faced at Doral so early in the season?
McLean: I have seen the cream rise to the top year in and year out at Doral. This course favors the ball striker. Also the battles that have been waged here make it special and memorable. Like the battlefields in war, or arenas where big sporting events have been contested. The small exclusive country club has never had the great players all together in a contest. Doral has for 50 years.
PGA.com: Speaking of Kaymer, he tees it up at Doral as the No. 1 player in the world this week. A lot has changed in the world ranking since we last chatted. What do you make of the current top 5 and do you see it changing at all this week? After all, Tiger Woods -- currently No. 5 in the world -- is a former three-time champ at Doral and he's hungry to win again.
McLean: Tiger has played good here every time just about. It's a great course for him because, along with ball-striking, it's a long hitter's course. As far as the question, it's an interesting time in golf right now. There's no clear No. 1. Tiger has been the clear No. 1 for nearly two decades. Right now, I think a lot of the young players are more comfortable competing against Tiger than they have been ever.
A number of guys have a chance to trade off at No. 1 this year. The Europeans are doing it now. Any one of the top 5 could be No. 1 in the next month, or after the Masters for sure. It's an interesting time because the quality of play has risen. Tiger has come back to the field and other countries have great players too, which gets the rest of world interested. Johnny Vegas is a tremendous talent from Venenzuela, Ishikawa from Japan... There's a big opening for a lot of players.
PGA.com: What's new with your golf school at Doral?
McLean: We've had a great winter in Miami. As you can attest being in the Northeast, it's been very cold. It's been like that pretty much everywhere else too. That probably helped us at Doral, where it's just been beautiful.
We've been unbelievably busy. I have 25 professionals at Doral, who have been busy all winter and it feels like the golf economy is getting better. We're working in social media, which is new for us. We try to be very high tech. We've got three Trackmans at Doral, two in Texas and one at PGA West. We've done well with the technology which is very important to me and Trackman is invaluable. It's absolutely amazing and being able to have that kind of technology to offer our students is what seperates our schools from others. I don't see too much competition in the golf schools right now and I feel like we're in a little more dominant position than two years ago.
PGA.com: Final question and it's not golf-related... Being from New England, I'm a huge Boston Celtics fan and I'm taking great delight in watching the recent struggles of the Miami Heat. Jim, what's wrong with the Heat?!
McLean: I'm a big Heat fan, but also a big Doc Rivers fan and a Ray Allen fan, he's a golf guy. Miami has hit a bad patch here, but it's been fun to go to the games. They have the Lakers here tonight, a game that I'll be at. It'll be unbelievable to see the playoffs. Boston is so great with four Hall of Famers. Doc is a great coach. It's fun watching him coach a game. I'll be rooting for the Heat, but I love basketball it'll be great watching these playoffs coming up.