What we learned about Barstool’s Riggs from a 99-day Pinehurst quarantine
It’s early afternoon on a Sunday in late June, and Samuel Bozoian is on the road. The 33-year-old is driving from Erin Hills to Hazeltine National, where he’ll serve as tournament host to a full field of avid golfers who double as avid fans of Bozoian — known better as Riggs.
Five years ago, Riggs was just Sam and he was slogging through a day job in sales at Chase Technologies Consultants and moonlighting as a political blogger for free. Now? He’s one of golf’s most high-profile media members, leading Barstool Sports’ emerging coverage of the sport. He’s built up a brand that includes hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram. But it’s the real-life followers that he’s on his way to see, cruising from one Midwestern major championship site to the next, ready to be greeted like a conquering hero.
Riggs has become known in part due to the fact that he’s always on the road. At Cabot Links, taking on one of modern golf’s most iconic holes. In South Carolina, rubbing elbows with Kevin Kisner. In Melbourne, Australia, fist-bumping Tiger Woods. But in recent months he’s gained notoriety not for travel but for lack thereof. He just finished up a 99-day stint at Pinehurst — Golf Heaven.
Around the world, people have spent months living in small worlds, trapped in unexpected confines alongside unexpected company, making the most of their surroundings. Riggs’ surroundings just happened to be, well, Pinehurst. What follows are Riggs’ recollections from three-plus months there, some cross between Tom Hanks in The Terminal and Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2 — and how those 99 days taught us more about a new approach to covering the game.
The below interview has been edited lightly for clarity.
It’s March 18, Riggs’ first day on property at Pinehurst. He’s fled New York City via $62 airplane fare and pulls in for an afternoon round of golf, nervous about having brought the virus with him from the big city. He posts several photos to Instagram, including one in front of a deserted Carolina Inn. “I think if you take a few extra precautions (not touching pins, rakes, and keeping some distance), golf can be an excellent escape during this awful time,” he writes on Instagram. It captures a moment in time, when little was known about the coronavirus except that it was spreading — quickly.
Dylan Dethier, GOLF: What was the scene like when you got to Pinehurst? Were there other people around? How did it feel?
Riggs: It was really quiet. And when I first arrived, too, I was very nervous. I didn’t want to be the guy that comes down from the epicenter with coronavirus and brings it to North Carolina.
So I just didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t look at anyone. I didn’t ride the shuttle. I literally just woke up in the morning, I went and teed off by myself. I walked 10-12 minutes from the main clubhouse back to the Carolina Hotel. And I was just alone. I needed to make sure I went 10 or 15 days there before I really felt comfortable. I was very, very nervous about that.
Riggs was already scheduled to come to Pinehurst this week alongside more than a dozen college buddies; their 7th annual golf trip. But soon enough, the group expressed some concern. 20 young Harvard grads drinking and playing golf might be a tough look against the backdrop of a country in the midst of a shutdown. Two days before departure, everyone bailed at once.
How did you decide to still go? What was the setup with Pinehurst? This felt like a mutually beneficial arrangement, a golf vacation for you and a ton of exposure for them.
Riggs: It was like a 65-degree day in New York. Everybody was out on the streets and there were photos from beaches and all kinds of stuff — people being out and about. And that canceled our trip. Everyone was like, ‘We’re out, we can’t do this. We need to postpone.’
And [Pinehurst President] Tom Pashley said, ‘Well, look, I know you guys are postponing the trip, but if you still want to come down, we’ll put you up as long as we can.’ I was looking at the writing on the wall and I was like, man, this is going to get ugly. It’s going to get ugly before it gets better. I don’t want to be stuck in my Manhattan apartment. I would rather be stuck somewhere else. And so I’m coming.
So I booked a $62 flight for the next day and I packed as many golf clothes as I could. And I flew down to Pinehurst. I was planning that ‘hey, I might be there for a week or two. We’ll see what happens.’ And I was there for 99 days.
Every evening, Riggs takes to the course to film what he’s calling “The Daily Nine,” where he hits nine putts from a certain distance and sees how many he can make. This is the sort of content Barstool Sports fans dive into headfirst — it’s a chance to roast Riggs’ putting stroke (a hard slice), get a window into his day-to-day life, live the vicarious resort quarantine life through his videos.
Somewhere in there, Nick Faldo joins the chorus.
“Oh no not another nine putts! I can’t watch,” he writes on Twitter. “Please tell me how it went? Or where they all went a-wandering.” It was just a tweet, but it speaks to Riggs’ existence in the mainstream. This isn’t a renegade fringe media member. Riggs is being hosted by Pinehurst, one of the USGA’s traditional venues, and he’s in an online back-and-forth with one of the modern game’s greatest players. But the exchanges with golf’s more traditional media members haven’t always been so friendly. The Fore Play squad has delighted in picking fights online with “old man golf media,” and given their voracious social followings, those fights don’t tend to go well for their opponents.
Clarify for me: What is “old man golf media?” What are some of its characteristics?
Riggs: There’s a thing in golf that oh, you have to dress a certain way. You have to act a certain way. You have to speak a certain way. If you don’t, you’re not accepted. And I think that “old man golf media” was sort of our way of categorizing that exact same thing in golf media. If you don’t do things a certain way, you’re not worthy and you should be looked down upon.
That was the sort of reaction we got at the Presidents Cup. We were in Melbourne, we were posting videos of us interacting with the players. Tiger gave us a little fist bump to each one of us. He dapped up Frankie [Borrelli, a Fore Play co-host] right after he made his putt to beat Abraham Ancer. That was what really set people off.
Was that justified?
Riggs: No! Because we’re playing by the same rules that they are. Instead of a boring longform interview about the Xs and Os, we’re going for real-world player interaction. Their way of doing things is completely fine and I think our way of doing things is completely fine. It just didn’t make sense for them to come after us the way that they did, so that’s where the old man media thing came about.
The Presidents Cup seemed like the boiling point, but I think in general a lot of people in media are frustrated that the landscape has changed so much and that they haven’t necessarily adapted to that change as successfully as we have. It’s not just us; there are others in golf media who have clearly found a market niche and have done an incredibly good job of being successful, growing, getting eyeballs on the game in their own way, which is awesome. I think all those things are phenomenal for golf in general. And I think there are certain people who are getting left behind. What they used to do is less relevant. I think the reaction is genuine jealousy, frustration, whatever you’d like to call it. It’s probably more aimed at the system and the way things change.
If you don’t like our content, that’s fine. I might not like your content. But when you disparage it or when you try to make it seem like it’s beneath you, that to me is when we’re going to come out and defend ourselves.
There was a point when it all suddenly amped up. Longtime golf writers suddenly got the firehose of the Barstool social following turned on them. But do you think there are any legitimate criticisms of Barstool’s golf presence? Is there anything that you look back and think twice, or think, ‘Man, I wish I handled that differently.’
Riggs: I mean, 99% no, I don’t. I think it almost all comes from a place like I just described. Not that we don’t ever get anything wrong — we do. But it always comes with good intentions. And we’re just guys who love golf and talk about it and have acquired a pretty big audience doing it. But I think the one moment that I wish had gone down differently was the Kessler Karain quote.
[In the wake of Karain, Reed’s caddie, shoving a fan, he sent a statement to several media outlets including Barstool and ESPN. When ESPN’s Bob Harig published the quote in a story, Fore Play fans turned on him aggressively, indignant that he hadn’t attributed Fore Play’s reporting.]
We had been messaging with Kessler, who is, of course, Patrick Reed’s caddie. He’s a fan of what we do. We chat with him whenever we see him. So we were DMing that morning and he was just telling us what had happened and we were like, ‘Hey, do you mind if we release that as, like, a statement from you?’
He said, ‘No problem. Let me just touch it up really quickly, if you don’t mind.’ So he did. And then a couple minutes later, he sent us basically everything that he had said. He just touched it up a bit and then even said to us, ‘Hey, can you clean up my grammar?’
We post it right away. Then about a half-hour, Harig writes his article and uses the same quotes. Now, in the rare case that we actually get the quote first, we’re pretty much mocking the entire situation. Like, how everybody cares who got there first? In reality, nobody cares.
But that clearly turned into Harig being upset that it was coming after his journalistic integrity. From their vantage point, they were just given a quote. So I wish that would have gone differently, because I do think that was a little bit unfair to Bob Harig, which I said to him. Bob called me a month or two ago and we had a great chat for 20-30 minutes and he said he wished he had handled things a little differently. And I said, ‘Look, I think that it gets tricky that we wield this social following who will be very vocal.’ Because on one hand it’s like, ‘Hey, if you take shots at us, we’re going to defend ourselves.’ And you can’t then cry about it when you got attacked or that people said mean things to you on social media. We’re going to fire back.
Now, again, we are conscious of the fact that we’re not trying to ruin anybody’s life because we decided to hit back at them on Twitter. We try to be conscious of what we build and the power that we can wield.
Riggs’ original pitch to work at Barstool had nothing to do with golf and everything to do with politics. For years, the company had stuck to sports and a variety of nonsense — and stayed as far as possible from the political world. But by mid-2016, everybody was into politics. Barstool founder Dave Portnoy hired Riggs on a trial basis. His work stuck. Now, four years later, circumstance called him back into action as a political blogger.
You drove up to the White House to meet Mike Pence’s chief of staff. How did that come about?
Riggs: So I have this kind of relationship with a few different people at the White House where they love Barstool. And they said, ‘Hey, with everything going on, we were wondering if you’d like to speak with Marc Short, who’s the Vice President’s chief of staff? And come to the White House to do it.’
I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’d love to do that.’ Whatever that was — March 26th. Nobody really knew what was going on with coronavirus and the response to it. Did we blow it? How do we do it right? What’s going on with testing? Like, we would go every day trying to get answers.
So, yeah, I went to the White House. My girlfriend and I drove the six-and-a-half hours, we did the interview, we walked around the Oval Office, we had a great day. I actually ran into the Vice President; he had turned the corner and was like, ‘Are you the guys from Barstool?’ So, yeah, it was kind of surreal. Then we got back in the car and drove back to Pinehurst.
I didn’t picture Pence himself being a big Barstool guy.
Riggs: Yeah, I don’t think Pence is like a ‘Barstool guy.’ I think a lot of times it’s like, they’re told that Barstool’s cool and that they should be like, friendly to us. Or their kids are Barstool fans, we get that a lot.
Now it’s not just Nick Faldo and random Barstool fans jumping on Riggs’ putting stroke. Pros like Max Homa and Justin Thomas are piling on in the comment sections, too. This is the modern media landscape, where the coverage doesn’t just move in one direction. The media can comment on the pros and the pros can comment on the media, too. That seems to be Barstool’s comfort zone.
GOLF: First of all, when you go to golf events, if it’s a PGA Tour event or it’s a major, do you consider yourself a member of the media?
Riggs: I do consider us golf media, because I think that we’re bound by the same rules in terms of what boundaries are set by the host. So if it’s the USGA at the U.S. Open or if it’s the PGA Tour, I mean, that video that we got with Tiger Woods dapping us up has millions of views (the original video had 1.5 million views at the time of posting). Was that an accident? No. That was weeks, months of conversations with the PGA Tour about, ‘Okay, if we go all the way to Melbourne, where can we actually interact with the players? Where is it going to be legal for us to have video?’
So technically we got this video near the media’s interview area right after that round. That was essentially our version of asking, ‘Hey Tiger, how do you feel about the balls out at Royal Melbourne today, skipping and getting that extra bounce because of how the conditions are?’ This was our version of that. That’s not us playing by different rules. That’s us creating and looking at our content creation in a different way than the typical, classic golf writer.
It took us a lot to get to that point. It’s frustrating because people think that we’re able to be successful because we’re bound by different rules, but I don’t think that’s true. Now, you could argue that we’re bound by different rules from a journalistic standpoint, in which case I would say that we are media, but we’re not journalists, which is very different.
Last year, at the PGA Championship at Bethpage, Francesco Molinari kept getting confused because as your team was walking inside the ropes, everyone was yelling “Frankie Butterknives!” to your co-host, Frankie Borrelli. It strikes me that you’re a rare member of the golf media who is independently famous. How do you process that?
Riggs: It’s awesome. It’s just awesome. It’s super cool that people know who I am or know who my co-hosts are. Ninety-five% of our interactions with people are great. They’re friendly, they’re cool. People just want to say hey or tell you a story or take a picture. And it’s phenomenal. The fact that they show that much appreciation for what we do is awesome.
And then it’s also really weird. It’s just like, weird that people know who I am, know who we are. The example you used, of the PGA Championship and of going to golf tournaments, especially in the Northeast, that’s going to be as big as it gets. It’s not like that everywhere for us. But there is a certain level. People know who I am. And it’s definitely a little weird. People are just kind of watching you.
But it’s awesome. And it’s very much a validation of what we do.
As the days tick by at Pinehurst, Riggs’ Daily Nines get increasingly creative. He gets fitted for new equipment. Tries out different putting drills. Sets up challenging chips to change things up. He’s in a routine now, he says. A quarantine routine. But like plenty of quarantiners, he’s been unable to take advantage of one basic service: A barber.
Just how different is Samuel Bozoian the person from Riggs the Barstool public-facing character?
Riggs: My thinking is not really different at all. Some people probably would expect that there’s like a level of ramping it up or like, arguing, creating takes. But everybody who knows me knows I don’t like to go to clubs, I’d go to a bar or a pub and argue about stuff. That’s pretty much what I like to do.
But do you keep certain parts of your life? Is there anything that you wall off a little bit? Because when so much of your life is there for public consumption, you have to draw a line somewhere.
Riggs: You definitely do. And everybody kind of has a different line in a different place. Big Cat, for example, is one of our biggest personalities and really one of the bigger personalities and figures in sports media. I think about a year ago he posted out of the clouds that he and his wife were expecting. They were having a baby boy. And a lot of people had no idea that he even had a girlfriend.
So there are a lot of different ways to handle it. If you’re thin-skinned, it’s probably smart to keep as much of your life private as you can. But there’s a benefit to opening up your life to our followers and our fans. The more you’re out there the more content opportunities there are going to be, the more relatable you’re going to be to a bigger audience. If it were a pure career choice, I think you’d be as open as you possibly could about your entire life.
I would say I’m closer to [Barstool founder] Dave Portnoy. I’m pretty much out there. I think a lot of people at Barstool are. There’s a certain personal line that I definitely try to draw, but overall I’m pretty much an open book and you’ve got to kind of learn to deal with it. If you can’t, you might have a really hard time trying to do doing what we do, I would say.
I’m curious if you think you have changed at all personally, since you started Fore Play and since you started at Barstool, really. And I wonder if there’s a little bit of being a Barstool personality where you adopt that personality of Dave Portnoy — back-against-the-wall, us-against-the-world mentality, because I can see a little bit of that in you guys.
Riggs: Yeah, I think for sure. I would say a lot of it comes from the fact that at my core, I believe in Barstool Sports, what it does and what it stands for. And I always have. I was a massive fan for a decade before I was ever an employee.
So I do genuinely believe in what Barstool stands for: calling things in the way that you see them, being honest and upfront. Not trying to spin-zone things, not taking yourself too seriously. Being able to laugh at yourself and being able to find the humor in everything in life and trying to basically have a laugh about anything.
I also do a radio show with Dave every day. Our flagship radio show, Barstool Radio, for a year and a half we did two hours a day, 4-6 p.m., the rush hour show, which has nothing to do with golf, where he and I sit right next to each other and [Barstool personality] Tommy Smokes and the three of us do the radio show, and Frankie Borrelli produces and it has nothing to do with golf, we just talk about the world. A lot of that becomes inside Barstool chatter because people just seem to love that. People want to know what it’s like to grow a mega media company in 2020, in this current climate.
So if I’m going to be in those environments, I’m sure it has to seep in and affect the way that we do things, which I think is probably a good thing.
The Fore Play Travel Show debuts with a longform, 36-minute deep dive on a round the crew played at Tobacco Road. It’s a buddy trip combined with some course analysis, replete with the trappings of golf’s new-media travelogues: Dramatic visuals, high volume of drone shots, post-round look-back interviews. Riggs oversees the launch from — where else — Pinehurst.
GOLF: This feels like a piece of the newer golf media. You’ve got your drone shots. You’re on a buddies trip. You’re vlogging. Who else falls under that category? Is there anyone else that you kind of admire or look to?
Riggs: A lot of people put us up against the No Laying Up guys. I don’t know them really at all but they’ve clearly carved out a niche and have done a great job with it — I know they’ve got really passionate fans.
I would say that I think Andy over at the Fried Egg does an awesome job. When I’m wanting to geek out, I’ll go scroll through the Fried Egg and the way he made it relatable and younger and fresher is drawing more people into that world.
I’ve told you I thought your video when you went up to, where was that qualifier, up in Alaska? I thought that was amazing. [Ed. note: Check that out here!] When something like that pops across my screen I’m all for it, I think that stuff is more likely to draw people in from other sports and get them on the course that weekend.
But there’s also an element of competitiveness everywhere. We want it to be big. We want people to like our stuff the most. But it’s all really good for golf, and I hope people realize that.
Riggs’ girlfriend is a Boston-based nurse, and her sporadic schedule allows her some time to get down to Pinehurst. Thing is, she’s never played golf before.
In late April, you said that your girlfriend played her first nine holes, I think at the Cradle. What that was like?
Riggs: At first she started walking with us and maybe just hitting a couple putts. Then she started on the Cradle playing with just a putter for a few rounds and having a good time doing that. And then she started saying, ‘Hey, I want to hit like, one of those full-shot things.’
We just played Erin Hills this week. She was able to play 18 holes three days in a row at Erin Hills and have a great time and had several holes where she posted a legitimate 5 or 6. I’m like, ‘How are you able to do this? Golf is so hard for me.’ And I’ve been playing my whole life and I’ve been really playing for like fifteen years, trying to get better.
There’s so much little stuff learning the game from scratch that’s fascinating, like how you’re supposed to align your shoulders with the slope. How do you know if nobody tells you? And then witnessing the satisfaction when she hits a good shot, she just throws her arms up in the air. It’s so pure.
And the Cradle! It’s the best place in the world. I think if we weren’t at Pinehurst, she never would have learned golf. But how can you possibly have a more inviting, accepting and playable scenario than the Cradle? It’s like 700 yards, it’s nine holes, it’s 50-yard holes, you can putt it if you want, she can go out and make a birdie after having played for the first time of her life. There’s music in the speakers, there’s a bar out on the 3rd hole, she’s like, ‘This isn’t as intimidating as I thought. This is great. This is just like a fun time playing a game,’ which is really what golf is supposed to be.
Several weeks in, Riggs gets invited to a local standing tee time at the Cradle by a Pinehurst employee named Dave. He’s been mostly playing solitary rounds until now, but the invite begins a new phase of his stay: familiarity. Money games. Post-round beers. Friends.
At this point, are you getting to know a bunch of the people at Pinehurst? What was it like, starting to make friends?
Riggs: My first 10 days, I was pretty much on my own. I wasn’t talking to anybody. I was avoiding everyone. I didn’t want to be the guy that brought the global pandemic to Pinehurst. And then after several weeks, I just started to get to know the people. Like, I’d go into the pro shop every day and look at tee times or I go into the restaurants.
At this point, the Cradle and Pinehurst in general was pretty much shut down. They were doing rounds, but relatively speaking it was dead out there. Hotels were all closed. Restaurants were pretty much all closed, except for a little bit of takeout. So the golf courses were empty. And so they had a little bit more free time on their hands and some of them were furloughed or laid off.
We would do a couple days a week, playing the Cradle at about 5:15. We still have kind of a running joke on the group chat that’s like, ‘5:15 at the Cradle?!’ with, a sad face, because a lot of us have left town now. But we really did become close with a bunch of people down there, my girlfriend as well and a couple other friends that were down there — we just got close with the people that run the place. Those just became my best friends for three weeks, which is crazy, but it was also really cool.
Beyond the walls of Pinehurst, another wing of Barstool — the “Call Her Daddy” podcast — is getting national attention because its two hosts were in a contract dispute that had gone extremely public. That’s just part of working at Barstool, Riggs said. “I mean, you’re just kind of on edge all the time.”
It was hardly the only time Barstool made headlines during Riggs’ time at Pinehurst, but it was by far the most high-profile (at least until several old videos of Portnoy and other employees resurfaced this week — after our interview with Riggs — which drew widespread condemnation). Most companies would try to keep drama in-house, but Barstool does exactly the opposite. “That’s Barstool’s secret sauce,” Riggs said. “That’s like, what we do.”
Deep-dive stories about Barstool always include a litany of criticisms that the site is offensive or insensitive, citing some newer examples and some dug from the publication’s earlier days. Does anything about being associated with Barstool trouble you?
Riggs: No. No. For me, it’s really simple. Barstool has a 16-year history, something like that, of trying to make people laugh. And the biggest criticism of Barstool over those years is a handful of quotes that were written or said on a podcast over 16 years that paint us like we’re an offensive company or that we’re misogynistic.
In reality, if you look at the actual substance, the way that Barstool has actually been managed. Our CFO, our CRO, and our CEO are all women who have nothing but a phenomenal experience and story to tell about their time at Barstool.
The many women that we’ve worked with, whether it’s doing golf podcasts, interviewing folks, merchandise shoots, videos or whatever. All have phenomenal things to say about their interactions with Barstool. And so what people try to pick are words and instances in which Barstool was trying to be funny or someone was trying to make a funny comment. None of it came from some bad place, and that’s supported by our history of being very good, honest, normal, friendly people.
I have legitimately zero concerns with the controversy or to being attached to any of the controversies, because I know Barstool at its core is a great thing that’s there to make people laugh. It’s there to entertain people. And if you read the wrong article, I completely get. If you read the wrong headline, I completely get it. You might think that we are horrible people, but I know the truth. And so therefore, I have absolutely zero concerns whatsoever.
There are only so many individuals who could bring the Fore Play squad together during a pandemic, but one of them is Kevin Kisner. Some idle smack-talk has led to a very real challenge: The Barstool guys playing a four-man scramble against Kisner from the tips at Pinehurst No. 2.
You have a stable of guys that you’re close with on Tour, but Kisner seems like the one you’re most aligned with. How did that relationship start?
Riggs: Years ago, one of Kiz’s buddies from Aiken, South Carolina hit me up. He just kept saying ‘Hey, you’ve got to get Kiz on the show.’ I was like, ‘I don’t really know much about him. He just seems like a cookie-cutter guy out on Tour. But if you say he’s great, of course, let’s do it.’
And he came on and he was amazing. He was funny. He’s down to earth. He’s self-deprecating yet he’s a really, really good player.
That next week in the FedEx Cup Playoffs after he came on, they were in Boston — and New England is our stronghold. And he was like, ‘Man, you guys got a lot of fans here because I just had more people following me during a practice round than I’ve ever had on a Thursday or Friday round in my PGA Tour career.’
And so he clearly saw the value in the relationship as well. And there’s a reason he’s so well-thought of by his peers, he’s a very thoughtful, smart guy. So we just stayed in touch, we had him on a few more times, it just blossomed from there, from being inside the ropes at the U.S. Open to working with his foundation which does a ton of awesome stuff around Aiken.
People ask me whether I’d rather have Kiz or Tiger win the Masters and I always tell them, well, Kiz is the only guy on Tour that I’m not a fan of. He’s my friend. We’ll get beers, we’ll have too many drinks after a good Sunday night finish and we’ll text about stuff that’s going on in the world. He’s just our buddy. To have somebody like that who’s the 35th-ranked player in the world is crazy. And it’s crazy how good he actually is at golf given how he’s such a normal person. It’s stunning.
So who else is in your stable then? Matthew Fitzpatrick comes to mind. Justin Thomas to some extent.
Riggs: Matty Fitz definitely belongs up there for us. I love that dude, I think he’s hilarious and as an American guy from Missouri, it’s incredible to have a golf friend from England. He’s our go-to European.
And J.T. for sure, but he’s just on a different level. I mean, he’s one of those five or six guys in the game with that star power and talent level. He’s our only guy in that in that circle. We got off to a rough start with J.T. when we roasted him after he got that fan kicked out of the Honda for yelling get in the bunker, but about a year later we finally had him on the show.
You never know, some guys always like to go through an agent or keep things distant, which I totally get. But J.T. just gave me his number and if I ever hit him up, he always responds, which at that level is pretty crazy to me. He’s not in our stable because he’s too big to be in our stable. But that’s been pretty cool.
The day after taking on Kisner, Riggs makes good on a previous lost bet — to a 12-year-old named Petey — by buying lunch for 128 front-line workers. It’s a reminder that his day-to-day existence is providing a form of escapism during a time when plenty of viewers at home are stuck or suffering.
You were at Pinehurst during a turbulent time, obviously, across the world. There was the pandemic, which is what sent you there, but while you were still there at the end of May and into June there were Black Lives Matter protests going on. What it was like being in such an oasis during such a contentious time in the country?
Riggs: Look, we were in a little bubble, no doubt, away from everything. So you have to be sensitive to that fact. I kept alluding to it in Daily Nines and on that podcast that I felt a little guilty, for sure, that I was having these experiences during quarantine with everything going on in the world. I was very much aware of that.
But I think at some level, I was just doing the only thing that I could do. Should I pretend that I know or can relate to the reasons that people were protesting around the country? No. Who am I to tell you what race relations are like? Who am I to tell you what interactions with law enforcement are like for black people all across the country? I’m not that guy. Luckily I think most people understand that.
Riggs sets off an internet wildfire on June 9 when he begins virtually tracking Tiger Woods’ yacht, which leaves home base in Jupiter, Fla. and heads north. It seemed like a potential indicator that Woods would be making his return to golf at the RBC Heritage. Widespread yacht-tracking was on.
Somehow we’ve gotten this far without talking much about Tiger Woods. But you were trying to figure out if Tiger is going to play the RBC Heritage. It turned out he was just on a yacht trip up the coast. What is your relationship with Tiger Woods?
Riggs: You know, we’re just naturally, genuinely the biggest Tiger guys in the world. We’re all massive Tiger fans. He’s by far my favorite athlete, bigger than any hockey player, bigger even than my love of the St. Louis Blues, which was my team growing up.
But I mean, Tiger Woods is also Tiger Woods. He’s incredibly protected and protective. His boat is literally named Privacy. So that makes it tricky. And we’re not necessarily the most subtle group of media figures in the in the game.
So I figured it would never happen, but it turns out Tiger’s team are fans of what we do. His guy, Robbie McNamara, is awesome. So he was able to kind of facilitate a couple different times. We’ve been on camera with Tiger, we’ve chit-chatted with him and Joey LaCava as well. Joey’s son is a college kid and a big Barstool fan. And I got to know Joey, we got drinks with Joey a few times. Joey comes to Rangers games, and the Garden is not far from our office so we get a couple beers, we talk Tiger, we talk golf, we talk life.
We kind of surround him, if you will, without trying to be too invasive and we’ve been able to get him that way a few times. In terms of tracking his boat, I mean, what a head fake! Like, to go north when the RBC Heritage is in town?
Is there anything that you learned that surprised you about Tiger? Is there any insight that you gained into Tiger from his surroundings?
Riggs: I would say just the way those guys talk about him. It’s like he’s just one of the boys. They say he really does love to just bust guys’ balls. He’s always giving them a hard time and that’s kind of his way of saying, ‘Y’know, you’re one of my guys, I trust you, I like you.’
So, yeah, Joey’s told us stories about being on the job. Watching TV together. He talks about him so admiringly. He genuinely admires and enjoys his relationship, his friendship with Tiger, which I think says a lot about him. You know, you can read the wrong stuff and draw some conclusions about Tiger. But the two guys that are around him all the time, they love him. I think that says a lot and that’s the coolest insight, to me.
Over the past couple years Riggs has assumed the role of “commissioner” of the Barstool Classic, a series of tournaments the company puts on nationwide for an eager golf audience. That’s why he’s headed to Hazeltine, the host site of the next day’s Classic. That’s also why, as he pulls to a stop on the road as we’re talking, another voice crackles over the phone.
“Welcome to McDonald’s, what can I get for you?”
For the first time, Riggs puts his phone on mute. A couple minutes later, he’s back.
In some ways you seem like you’re in your comfort zone as Commissioner Riggs, when you’re hosting events, putting them together, showing up and making sure people are having a good time. What’s the Barstool Classic been like for you?
Riggs: It’s amazing. It’s something that I genuinely thought the world was missing — a tournament experience for the weekend golfer. You can be a really good golfer or a pretty bad golfer and it all works. Golf is different from, say, football, because if you’re a big football fan but you probably don’t go out and play football on the weekends. But if you’re a golf fan, you probably play a lot of golf.
On some level, we all want to be good and we all want to test our games when it matters. So there’s serious stuff like the U.S. Am or the Mid-Am, but there’s more of a member-guest vibe that we were chasing. I call it America’s member-guest. It’s not the Mid-Am, but it’s not some random scramble, either. Your game matters.
I think people are stunned when they come to these events just how seriously people take the golf. Yeah, some people are there just to drink, but generally people take this very seriously. It’s just super fun. This year sold out, I think, in seven minutes. There’s so much that goes into it from a logistical side and we do take it so seriously from the Barstool side that I think it feels like a real storied tournament. I want people nervous on the first tee and they are, which means you’ve got something pretty special.
The upcoming Classic in Minnesota dictates that June 23 marks the official end of Riggs’ Pinehurst stay. Tom Pashley organizes a group of employees to help walk him out and they cheer as Riggs walks around the corner. Over 2 million people have watched the video.
Your final day in Pinehurst, Tom Pashley organized a group of employees to help walk you out. You were clearly emotional leaving the property and you got a bunch of grief because of just how emotional you got. What were you feeling, walking out?
Riggs: I’ve gotten a ton of grief for the video, which I get. I’d make fun of it too. But honestly, that video meant a lot to me. I teared up just watching the video. It made me think ‘I’m a dude from nowhere, Missouri who somehow found my way to be able to get access to Harvard and get a degree and somehow got this really cool job where I’m able to cover golf for a living.’ If you’d told me five years ago that I could even go to Pinehurst and they’d have my name on any sort of list, even if I paid for everything, I’d be moved because that would be so cool. So the fact that they thought I had a positive impact on them? I couldn’t believe it. Those were my friends, and they care so much about that place, and so for them to have that reaction just meant the world to me.