Interview with Bill Felber, one of the world’s leading sports commentators

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

We are talking again with Bill Felber, one of the world’s leading sports commentators on international golf on some personalities and changes.

What Thai male golfers are the most successful?

The most successful Thai male golfer on the U.S. PGA Tour is Kiradech Aphibarnrat. A Bangkok native, Aphibarnrat enjoyed his best season in 2019, winning USD$1.63 million. His best performances included a tie for fourth place at the WGC HSBC and a tie for third at the WGC Mexico.

Jazz Janewattananond is a 24-year-old Thai pro who has made eight starts on this year’s PGA schedule. His best finish was a tie for 14th at the WGC HSBC. In 2019 he tied for 14th at the PGA Championship. On the Asian Tour, he is a six-time champion, his victories including the 2019 Thai Masters.

Thongchai Jaidee is a multiple event winner on the European and Asian Tours. He is the only Thai player who has competed multiple times in all four Major Championships, having made 16 cuts in 32 starts in those events. His highest finish in a major was a tie for 13th at the 2009 British Open.    


What got you interested in golf?

When I was about 10 or 11 we went down to visit my sister and her family in Florida. My brother in law was an engineer and he played golf a lot. He was good at it. He would take his kids (my nephews) out, and so one day I tagged along. It seemed like a lot of fun. I had no background in it; nobody in my family had ever played. But when I got home my dad bought me a set of clubs and I started playing at a course near my house.


 Can you summarize the technological changes in sports equipment?

Technological changes? They are too vast to itemize. My first set had cherry headed two woods, and five or six irons that were literally pieces of iron with grooves cut into them. I gave up golf when I went to Kansas State University (KSU), and never really played much for about 15 years until I became an editor. By then my clubs were totally outdated. I had to buy a full new set: lighter metal woods and cavity-backed irons. The ball was different, too. The old ones I started with, if you hit them wrong the club would cut right into them, leaving visible gashes. We called them ‘smiles.’ Once a ball got a smile, it was basically finished because it would not fly straight. Over time, balls changed several times. Today I could not make a ball ‘smile’ if I tried hacking at it.

Other sports like baseball and football are seeing many rules changes. What rules changes are there proposed for golf, if any?

Golf passed a whole series of rules changes three-four years ago. One of them involved changing the way you dropped a ball in a lost ball penalty area or free drop situation. When I started, you dropped a ball over your shoulder to prevent you from seeing where it landed. Then you held out your arm at shoulder height and dropped it. Now you drop it at knee level. The idea is to reduce the amount the ball is likely to roll. Another rule change that I like allows a player to keep the flag stick in. Until a few years ago, if a putt hit the flag stick that was considered a penalty. There were others involving how long you have to look for a lost ball and a few others. Golf adapts very, very slowly to change. I do not anticipate any more in the near future.

How has the pandemic affected golf?

I believe golf is positioned to be less affected by the pandemic than virtually any other sport. First, it is a non contact game. There is really no reason for competitors to be within 2 meters of one another. Players and their caddies need to be, but frequent testing should control for that. Playing out in the wide open spaces is the most ideal setting for a game these days. The biggest problem is obviously the lack of fans, but every sport is going through that. Golf is no different. But it seems to me these days the best possible game is where there is no need for you to touch either your opponent or his equipment. That’s golf. It is not football, soccer, baseball, basketball, and hockey.

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