Basil van Riet interview – 200 weeks at World Number One

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To mark Basil’s milestone of hitting 200 weeks at GWT World Number One, Cravo sat down with the great man for an in-depth conversation to learn more about who he is, how he does it, and what the future looks like. 

Tiger 683 weeks, Norman 331, van Riet 200 and counting…..

First up, we at the official GWT Blog would like to congratulate you on reaching 200 weeks at World Number One.

Thanks, thanks Leigh.

That’s a phenomenal achievement, only bettered by two men in golf history – Woods and Norman.

Wow.

How does it feel?

Yeah as I chomp through my sandwich, yeah its pretty good. More than that, its just great to have a social group of golfers willing to share in the experience of the Gentlemens tour – whether that’s on a weekly basis, or whether that’s in a big event, its just great to be out there trying some new courses and hanging out with the fellas.

A typically humble response from the man there, thanks Bas. To me it seems a little weird that you don’t have a nickname of a predatory animal, like Woods and Norman, as in Tiger or the Great White Shark. I was wondering if we could fix that today. And which  animal, bird or fish would the great Basil van Riet be known as?

Well good question but I’ve always had this feeling of thinking about my initials (BvR) and the fact that they abbreviate to beaver, so I love being a beaver so I reckon that’s the one to go with. Chomping those trees, but more than that, if you want to save some trees, eat a beaver. I used to have a tee shirt with that motto, and I think that’s a good motto for me, save a tree eat a beaver. Maybe not eat me, but eat a beaver.

(Laughter) Sounds a bit like back when we were 18 or 20 or something you might expect that tee shirt to go round, but good to see we can still do things like that in the mid 40s. haha – great answer. So Basil Beaver, fantastic.

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Despite the satisfaction and achievement, your contemporaries Kennedy, Hermanis and Stevens have spoken of the burden of being Number One. The endless media, sponsor engagements, fan sessions and VIP events. Do you find that stuff a grind, or do you thrive on it?

I love that attention, I love that media, I love that pressure, and I think that’s what motivates me to be at my best, that’s when the pressures on, the chips start to fall, that’s when the beaver gets into gear, starts chompin’ away. (Laughs)

(Laughs) Your career is unusual amongst pro golfers in that you’ve won all your Majors after starting a family. Do you credit Jen, Zoe and Amy as being the inspiration for your success on the golf course?

Oh definitely, it comes back from the first tour event back up at Smithton in the Wanderer, and good old Zoe tagging along in the pram. Pressure was on, I mean there were days when I thought how am I going to do this? Push the pram, play golf, and concentrate when the chips were down. I mean it was tough, especially when someone like Leigh Craven was putting everything from 10 metres out, it was too hard to comprehend, but it got me into the right gear until one of the holes really spooked me when Zoe did a number two and it was pretty messy and we had to clean it up on the course. Boys had to wait another 5, 10 minutes and they were getting a bit edgy, come on Bas, come on Bas hit your shot. Zoe needed a new nappy so she came first. But she gave me the inspiration to keep charging forward even though I lost that one, to come back and fight another day.

(Laughs) Awesome. At 43 you’re still a fine physical specimen. Tell us about your training regime.

Well the training regime is really important, as all top golfers would know on the gentlemens tour. Its that fine balance between hanging out with the family, playing a bit more golf, hanging out with the family and doing a bit of cross training. I think its really important to change it up and not get just sucked in to thinking I just need to practice golf, because practicing golf will just drive you insane. (laughs)

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Bas – sand running out the back of Lost Farm

Just trying to hit so many balls every day. Just break it up, work on your body, maybe a bit of weight training if you’re that way inclined like the big Jigger would say, get on the weights if you wanna hit it long. (laughs) But for me its all about endurance, so get on the bike, run a few laps, keep on working on that little ticker ticking away, so when you get up to the 3rd round of 18 at the Lost Bougle coming into the back 9 Sunday you can still push it home, plenty of strength in the legs.

How often do you play? How much practice do you do, and what is it? And what’s the mix between the range, chipping and putting and playing holes?

It pretty much varies on where you’re at, what stage of life, what handicap you’re on, how low you want to go. Its about playing against yourself – do you want to bring your handicap down, do you want to stay where you are. If you want to get your handicap down I’d advise playing at least once a week, get into the groove. Once you’ve got down to a certain level I think you can get away with, you can play every 2 weeks, (or) once a month and still retain your handicap.

The real key is your short game. If you don’t practice your chipping and putting you’re going nowhere. Once you’ve got your swing sorted you can get away with hitting the occasional bad drive, bad iron, but chipping and putting that’s half your shots right there. If you’re not practicing those, get on the course now. Maybe once a week hit ten balls (for) half an hour. A few chips, a few putts, get the line right, think about lagging it up a bit more often, especially on the chips and you’ll drop 3 shots straight away.

Very good advice for the young kids listening out there.

We’ll touch more on the mental side of golf later, but let’s go way back to the beginning and find out about your childhood in Wangaratta. What was it like growing up there?

Good old Wang, where the big two rivers meet, the Ovens and the King. North East Victoria. I have some fond memories. A bit of cross country skiing, bit of badminton, bit of golf, fun times with the family, hanging out with Jig and Marty, playing a bit of backyard cricket, good times, but also just being in the northeast just made you realise that playing summer golf is hard work. Getting out in forty degree heat and hitting a few balls is really hard work and through that hard work comes improvement. So even though it seems really hard going maybe the wrong way, just keep pushing forward and eventually things will turn your way. So that was Wang, some good times, especially on the bmx, going down the river going on the rope swings jumping off the cliffs, good times to be had cooling down in the summer time. Finding the occasional magazine down by the creek, all those fun things you do as a young teenage boy (laughter) – there was never a dull moment.

Hahaha sounds a bit sketchy (laughter)

That one’s for Mr Sexy.

What age did you first pick up a club. Tell us about your early golf memories.

Well the first time I actually picked up a club was in Toolangatta. End of grade 4. Mr Brown was the teacher there at the local high school, and he was also a very good golfer, and he taught me the basics of the game.
And it wasn’t until I went to Wangaratta in grade 5 that I started getting a bit more coaching from a young lady called Gail Johnston, a very good golfer in her mid 20s who was keen to set up a clinic for young boys and girls to play on Saturday mornings before the mens comp and that really propelled quite a few young aspiring golfers to get out there and have a hit 6 holes 9 holes and ah start to realise their potential. Lots of practice chipping and putting. Usually at least half an hour of that before we started our round and then we went from there.
Once we started to develop a bit of strength in our mid-teens., 14 15 some of us couldn’t believe it we were hitting more than 150 200 metres – so exciting it was like another era had opened up. We could actually reach most of the holes in regulation if we hit 2 good shots, 3 good shots so yeah it was pretty exciting times.
Especially when I watched my brother at the age of 13 (or) 14 hit a terrible shot on a par 3 and watch it roll down the hill and he got so angry he threw his club and I’m going Jigger, watch the ball. And he’s going nar that was a crap shot, shit, and I’m going its going in and he says nah its not. He threw his club down on the ground got really angry and it hit the pin and the ball went in the hole for his first hole in one. He didn’t even see it go in because he was so worried about his terrible shot he didn’t see the end consequence. So I think that’s a lesson for all of us, even though you might hit a bad shot sometimes, it can still finish in a really good spot -so don’t get so uptight about hitting that bad shot because sometimes it can actually finish up in a better spot than if you had’ve hit a good shot and got a bad bounce.
Did you have a golf hero?
Oh yeah, for me and everyone. Leading the charge, everyone was behind big GN Greg Norman the Shark. Whether he was down and out at the Masters, whether he was winning the Australian Open, on the PGA Tour,  everyone was behind him. With his cool Akubra and.. were they Cobra clubs? Anyway. He was a great man to watch, especially under pressure, except for the Masters.
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And did you, or the local golf pro, know that one day, like that hero, you’d be a star of world golf and a hall of famer?
No. It was just out of the ballpark that one.
Now, after all your success, Do you still go back to Wangaratta? How do the people treat you? Do they mob you in the street, or is it that famous Aussie attitude we hear of where they just treat you like a normal person?
(Laughs) Well funnily enough I go back to Wang and settle in to my old life, but its not really my old life because everyone I grew up with’s not there any more. Everyone’s scattered to the big smoke – whether that’s Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, London, Paris, NewYork. Everyone’s gone. So it sorta feels a bit empty when you’re there.
But its great to hang out with the family, great to hang out with Mum and Dad – have a hit at the local Jubilee golf club where I got to play my first game with Gail Johnston, and I get to go out and have a hit with my Dad now and he only started playing about 8 years ago and he’s really enjoying it so its great to go out with Dad and have a bit of a hit.
I go out with my brother Jigger sometimes, go check out Shep and ah yeah I can feel there’s something there. Maybe something subliminal where people think oh yeah, that’s Basil van Riet, he once was a (local junior) golfer but I did hear that he was climbing the ranks down South in Tasmania.
Do you remember the coverage in Australia when you made it to the then Gentlemens World Golf Tour? And how did you deal with the crushing weight of expectation back home? I hear all the young mums were calling their babies Basil. It got a bit out of hand there for a while. How did you deal with it?
Yeah it was tough times back in those days. I mean its tough because I find it difficult because you’re in the street and someone says Basil but theyre not talking to you they’re talking to their kid. And that’s scared me a bit but its also made me excited because I know that all those Basils out there have got big potential in World Golf. All they need to do is move to Tasmania and they could be heroes.
They could be heroes its so true (laughs).
So now lets talk about your record on tour which is unmatched, but we’ll start back when it wasn’t a certainty that it would be that way…Two runner ups and a third in your first three Majors. At the time, did it feel like you might go down in history as the best player never to win a Major? Or did you always know you’d break through?
Yeah it was tough early on, you’re right. Really had to dig deep and think if I stay in the game long enough I think the class will finally shine through. It took a while, some tough days out there some windy conditions wet conditions as everyone knows you’ve been out there on a golf course in different conditions, different pressure conditions you know what its like. But you’ve just got to remind yourself that everybody’s feeling that, everybodys feeling that cold, the wind and the rain. It’s not only you. So all you can do is just hunker down and concentrate on hitting the best shots you can hit. Don’t worry about anybody else. Just focus on yourself.
And sometimes its not going to work, other people are going to play better than you, and you’ve just got to take it on the chin, suck it up and go next time, next time I’m going strong, going to hit some better shots next time. Practice a bit, things will come good. And suddenly you’ll be on top.
Tell us about that first triumph in the inaugural BashNDash at Barny in 2012. What do you remember about the day?
Phoo. Back in the day at Barny. Trying to remember. All I can remember is just trying to hit em straight. Don’t think you’re there until you’ve crossed the line. Because anybody can grab it off you – whether you’re ten shots in front, twenty shots in front, thirty shots in front. Two or three bad holes and suddenly you’re back in the field. The field’s caught up to you. So more than anything its just about enjoying yourself. And that’s what I felt, I was enjoying myself – walk around the park with some friends, hit some good shots, gonna hit a bad one every now and then but don’t take it too hard, keep soldiering on and then suddenly it was there.
I remember the golden claret, suddenly got to lift it up, and oh what a feeling, shake the shells, shake the sand. What I would do to have that feeling again, to lift that lost bougle up high to the atmosphere, celebrate that moment, oh it brings a tear to my eye. Oh maybe next year (Laughs)
(Laughs) I have no doubt you’ll be lifting it again soon. I had a couple more questions about the bashndsash back then but I will move, and I’ll move on to a question I really want to ask you about when you really dominated the Tour. ….
Because you totally conquered the Tour – from there you won 4 out of 5 majors in a 16 month period. In the modern era only Tiger, when he won the Tiger Slam has had that kind of dominance. How did you do it?
Well like I said before I think its really important to separate the good shots from the bad shots, clear your head, have a clear mind and focus on what you can do. Don’t worry about the others, just focus on what you can do.
And when I was playing well, when I was practicing I think that era I had a bit more time  I had a membership at a couple of golf courses close to home  I could get out and play once a week with friends and also play in a comp on the weekends suddnely I was playing twice a week and that’s when you start to see improvements in your game, start to see that consistency, move forward. And that’s when it felt like I can’t hit a bad shot, I’ve hit so many good shots, maybe every 50th shot I might hit a bad shot, I can deal with that. But you start to realise that your percentage of good shots suddenly brings you to the fore, and this is your glory days, things to remembers and things to hopefully relive in the future.
(Laughs) For sure mate, for sure. Do you have a favourite Major win? Which one of the seven so far, and why?
Interesting, very interesting. Trying to think back on all those moments when the pressure’s really on. I think the pressures always on, but sometimes you’ve got a few shots up your sleeve on the last day. Trying to think back of which moment. I can’t think of any definite shot or definite tournament that really stands out other than of course all of us know, for me, in the old era it was the British Open, in the new era it’s the Lost Bougle. So being a traditionalist its gotta be a linksy course, its gotta be over 3 or 4 stroke rounds, bring up the cream of the crop over those 3 rounds so yep its gotta be the win at the Bougle.
Your 2 bougles
(continuing) Epitomises the best golfing experience that anyone can have and if they play well, they get to lift that wonderful piece of metal that’s etched in history with the glorious names of the winners.
(laughs) Ok well lets get to, I reckon we can separate those out, So you’ve had two Lost Bougles which is fantastic. In one of them it was really a duel between you and the World Number one at the time, Ian first couple of days up until about the 8th at Lost Farm when Ian went in the sand beach and lost it and you pretty much, you ended up winning by 28 shots. I think you probably were pretty safe for the last 20 odd holes (laughs) so that’s one of them. And the other one was that famous duel between you and Felix with Cravo just behind. Of those two Bougle victories, nominate your favourite.
Yeah I mean for sure its gotta be the tight finish, that’s what you live for are those tight finishes where you’re under the pump and you can play that pressure moment on the last moment on the last hole and keep something in play and just hope that the other person might do the same, they might not, but its not up to you, you’ve just got to stay on you’re A Game. Not take too many risks, but just try and get that par or bogey without getting that double, and if it gets you there then it gets you there, if it doesn’t then that’s the law of the land.
But in saying that the joy of winning on the 18th is just as exciting as coming a draw on the 18th, which happened this year with Mr Leigh Craven. I mean its as close as it gets, you can’t get any closer. A draw after three stroke rounds with handicap taken off. So for me, even though the win is seen as a highlight I think a draw can also be as good a highlight. For me it was, and I love that feeling of yep I played the best I could play, someone else played the best they could play and we’ve come a draw. And ah hopefully next time it’ll go my way, and it’ll go back to what’s on the scorecard and maybe not go to playoff holes. Really the pressure was on and Leigh Craven just shone through, showed his goods after last year not quite getting over the line, but this year he was strong to the end. So thanks Leigh for a tight tussle, thanks Felix for a tight tussle, I think every Major if you can get to the last hole and there’s one shot in it then the tournament has really been a success.
Yeah lovely (laughs). Well I’m going to move on, I realise I’ve probably written a few too many questions (laughs) so I’m going to move on a little bit here, but you’ve said that sometimes it can seem quite simple and that you’re not going to hit a bad shot. What is it with you and Victorian Wanderers – three from three, no one else got close? Why do you win those ones so easy?
It must be the home State advantage. Born and bred Victorian. Not quite, South Australian maybe early on.
Born in SA Bas?
Yeah, born in Adelaide but after 3 years old I was in Vic, so for me, Victoria’s pretty much where its at. I mean quality of golf courses, number of quality course, just crushes Tassie. Tassie’s trying to catch up, has some of the best in the world here but just needs a few more King Islands, Barnbougles, Lost Farms and we’ll be there. Yeah but Victoria, I love that feeling of going home, trying new courses, and I think that’s really important making sure that you don’t get stuck on the same old course day after day because when you come to the Wanderer you’ve got to play different courses. Not every course is the same.The greens break different ways, the fairways are different. Different weather conditions
The galleries are different too.
The galleries are different. True, big crowds in Victoria so you’ve got to handle that pressure. Thousands of people screaming at you. Coming into the 18th at the Wanderer. Whereas back in Tassie you might get a few hundred. So yeah, love that pressure.
I do want to ask you this one, I will wrap it up because I know you’ve got other engagements and we’ve been going almost half an hour already um but up to now – who has been your biggest rival? Looking at the stats the answer is Leroy Stevens, but does it feel that way to you?
I think for me at this stage of my golfing career everyone out there is a rival but also a good golfing friend. It’s a tricky situation when you’ve got that tough rival going into the 18th and you know you’ve gotta be focussed on your game, not too friendly, but not not a friend. So its tough.
But I love having a few rivals out there and I LOVE watching rivals hit good shots and sometimes that is the highlight in the tournaments that we play, if I don’t win or even if I do win I love watching those rivals hit those drives. Whether its Felix hitting a drive 300, Ian hitting a crunching fade drive 290, or even Leroy hitting in from 120 130 out, or Leigh Craven not even in a major tournament gets the first hole in one GWT. But it was great to see those shots, that’s what we live for. Whether it was Gary’s chip in, his first chip in, one of the holes at Kingston Beach. I remember, watching that smile, watching that excitement, its all there. Looking forward to lots more days like that where someone hits that brilliant shot and everyone goes wow. This is what life’s about. This is what the big Tour pushes those moments to the fore and people suddenly come out with excepetional prowess and really show their limits, push themselves. Exciting times.
That’s a wonderful answer Bas (laughs). I’m just going to have a quick scroll through and see if there is anything else I really have to ask you I know you’ve got your publicist tugging on your sleeve, um. Ok look I’ll just ask you another couple because I do have thirty more. (laughs) I want to quickly ask you about your shot routine and swing thoughts, and have they changed over the years?
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I don’t think its changed too much, although in the past few years it has changed slightly with the focus being just trying to make sure that you only think about one or two things at the most. Somewtimes early on in my golfing career I was trying to think about too many things, maybe I was only thinking about the wrong thing, focussing on the negative, the thing you didn’t want to do.
So I think its really important to focus on what you do want to do, not what you don’t want to do. You can think about what you don’t want to do before your shot, but then you need to focus on what you do want to do the positive shot.
For me its all about getting the inside line at the moment, and making sure that that draw is on track to be consistent. A few years ago I always used to hit a fade and I was happy with that coz that was all that I did. So just always aimed left. But now it helps to get a bit more topspin, a bit more draw, a bit more control in the wind, bit more control on your drives and a little bit more distance so I’m really excited about that swing thought. As I come back trying to turn the shoulders and the back – don’t turn the legs – it’s all about the shoulders and the back, making sure the hips are getting ready to swing through and that’s pretty much it but the one thing I really focus on now when I take the club back is not taking it back too quick and not bringing it down on an inside line. 
Mmm. Awesome. Alright I’ll finish with one more (laughter). Last question, lets have a prediction for the future…..roll the GWT forward 5 years. How many more Majors have you won and what’s your total weeks at World Number One? How close are you to Jack and Tiger’s all-time Tour records?
Well I don’t like to put pressure on myself, but I’d be happy with another 3 or 4 Majors in the next 4 or 5 years. I think if I can get 1 a year I feel like I’ve still got my A Game happening.
But I’m really looking forward to seeing those new young guns coming through that have started to join in on the tour, starting to show their potential maybe win a couple, maybe a few outsiders that just come from nowhere unknowns like Mr Keith Cameron-Smith that comes onto the tour every now and then. So yeah I’m just really looking forward to those moments of seeing a few different people win, but also for me win 1 a year and I am more than happy. Keep doing that then I’m not too fussed whether I lose that number one, but I’m just really focussed on making sure that I’m there that last day the last nine the last few holes in as many tournaments as I can to just give myself a chance.
Thankyou very much for your time, you’ve been most generous and we look forward to interviewing you again when you hit 400 weeks at number one.

 

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