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AMERICAN CENTURY CHAMPIONSHIP MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 9, 2014
STEVE GRIFFITH:¬† Annika Sorenstam, John Elway, Corporal Chad Pfeifer and Notah Begay are on with us now.¬† The American Century Championship is upon us next week in Lake Tahoe.¬† And of course Notah is not playing.¬† He's actually in Oklahoma now at Oak Tree National for the U.S. Senior Open this weekend, and then he'll come and he'll be covering the American Century Championship for Golf Channel and NBC for the second year.
And Corporal Pfeifer is an Iraq war veteran who lost his left leg to an IED explosion while on patrol.¬† He focused on golf as his rehab and has become a scratch player and will test his skills out at the tournament to this year for the first time.
Annika, just I know you're on the golf course now.¬† We're going to try to get Annika in and out in the next 20 minutes or so.¬† So please keep that in mind.¬† How is the course playing and how is your game, Annika?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† Well, first of all, it's great to be here in Lake Tahoe.¬† It's a beautiful day.¬† And just making the turn, the course is really in good shape.¬† They're preparing the greens.¬† They're a little slower than normal.¬† But as far as tee to green, it's really in good shape already.¬† Everything is setting up like a big championship.¬† I'm excited to be here.
I've been practicing a little bit but really haven't been on a golf course too much this year.¬† So feels great to be out here and really starting to play a little bit.¬† Scoring.¬† I'm used to playing in scrambles where you pick up balls.¬† Here I'm trying to put a score together.¬† So it's nice to get in this mode again.
STEVE GRIFFITH:¬† John, you've been out there every single year.¬† Can you just give us a sense of 25 years later what this was and what it's become?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† Well, I mean, it's grown tremendously.¬† And I think that we were talking about, played with Mark Rypien yesterday, and we were talking about back in 1989 or'90, the first year, to where it is now, the number of fans that come out and watch the tournament, I think the first five years totalled what we see, total, what we see on Saturday or even Sunday in the tournament now.
So NBC has done a tremendous job growing this tournament.¬† It's a tournament everybody wants to play in.¬† And for us old retired guys, it's a great chance for us to get out and compete and plus see everybody that we don't get to see very often.¬† So not only the golf, but the camaraderie that this tournament affords us has been tremendous.
Q.¬† Corporal Pfeifer, considering that you're an Iraq war veteran, considering your Iraq war veteran status, do you expect some support from the galleries out there at Lake Tahoe?
CHAD PFEIFER:¬† Yeah, absolutely.¬† The American Century Championship is all I've heard since I got the invite.¬† And even before, watching it on TV, I mean it's just a great group of fans and supporters for the organizations that they're supporting.¬† So I wouldn't‑‑ I don't feel like it would be anything short of more great support for the veterans like myself.¬† And if any are out there watching, I feel that they'll be great supporters.
Q.¬† John, how do you think your game stacks up to, your golf game, and those of the other kind of favorites who have been at the top of the leaderboard, whether it be Rhodin or Tolliver, stack up to Annika?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† You know, that's going to be a‑‑ obviously I think with Annika playing back when she was playing year‑round, it doesn't stack up, I think when you look at what she's done and what she's accomplished.¬† And so not knowing how much she's been able to play.¬† But also in probably playing golf for her is probably like riding a bike.¬† So knowing she's going to be the one to beat, and realize with her history and the great career that she had on that, she's definitely going to be the one to beat.
Q.¬† Notah, can you address that same question?¬† Annika's game against these guys who‑‑ they can play, but we just really don't know how those two games compare.¬† You were out at the event last year and you were obviously familiar with Annika.
NOTAH BEGAY:¬† Most definitely Annika has been great.¬† She played in my charity fundraiser a few years ago, and I can attest to the fact that she is going to be hard to beat.
And I got a chance to follow‑‑ I followed John last year and a handful of the marquee players at the event.¬† And they certainly are capable of putting up a good fight and certainly can make a lot of birdies.
But it's going to take one or two of them to get hot and string together some good rounds and some good holes.¬† And more importantly, you gotta avoid the double bogey.¬† I mean, I think that's going to be important.¬† I think that's where Annika will have a big advantage, is she just has tremendous experience over the years in the big events.
She's used to being the one to beat.¬† For the majority of her career she was the one to beat every week out there on the LPGA and the biggest tournament.¬† So that's not going to be anything different for her.¬† But I think she'll be able to avoid more of the pitfalls of double bogeys.
That was the only thing I saw with some of the celebrity players was that they made a couple of double bogeys here and there.¬† It would certainly knock them down the leaderboard quite a bit.
Q.¬† John, Peyton recently came out and said he likes to kind of get to know a new teammate by playing golf with them.¬† I was wondering if you ever do that with players that you're looking to bring to the Denver Broncos, and also if you encourage your players to play golf throughout the year or if you kind of tell them to keep that to the offseason?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† Well, first of all, we try to get to know everybody the best we can when they're coming out, whether it be through the free agent market or even through the draft, and I think that is one of the things that we really like to get to know is them as a person, we try to do that the best we can, because it's a big part of how they're going to fit in with our football team.
So that's a big part of what we do on top, as well as what kind of football players and the talent they do have.¬† But as far as golf, I don't encourage but I don't discourage them either as far as playing the game of golf.¬† I think it's good for them.¬† We have a lot of guys that are competitive and a lot of guys that play during the offseason as I did when I was playing.¬† I didn't play during the season.
But I don't have a problem if guys get out on Tuesday on their day off to be able to get out and play some golf and get outside and get their mind off the game for a little bit.
Q.¬† Annika, you can hit the ball further than most of the big guys you're going to be playing against.¬† You have more control on your shots.¬† Is there any truth to the rumor that they're going to give you the handicap of having to play all three days with Charles Barkley and Larry the Cable Guy?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† The rumor has not gotten to me yet.¬† But, I do know that these guys‑‑ I mean, they can hit it a long ways, and I'm very much prepared to be hitting maybe first into the greens.¬† But I'm hoping to keep it in the fairway.
The way they set the course up, and John, you know this, they make it some really fun holes, drivable par 4s, several par 5s you can reach in two.¬† And for me it might not be really a question of doing that.
I'm a little bit more of a conservative player and trying to play to my strengths.¬† So there are a lot of birdies out here to make and maybe a few eagles for some.¬† That's one of the reasons why I'm playing in this type of format, there's going to be a lot of ups and downs.¬† But the key, like Notah said, is stay away from bigger numbers.
So it's a fun format.¬† But I'll be curious to see who I will be playing with and how much fun we'll have.
Q.¬† John, I was curious if you've ever played with a top LPGA or women's player and maybe at some level how curious you are to see‑‑ Annika is obviously one of the greatest women players ever‑‑ if you're curious how her game compares to yours and other guys in this field?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† I think one of the biggest things is that so many times anytime, even Notah, when he was playing, too, that anytime you talk about celebrity golfers, scratch golfers compared to pro golfers, there isn't a comparison.
So I think that when you look at Annika and the fact that the career that she's had there, in her day there was no comparison for how we play the game.
We can ask (indiscernible), but the fact that they can put consistent rounds together day in, day out and play with that consistency and all the different shots they've learned over their careers is far above any of us that play in this championship.
But I've not had a chance to play with a lot of LPGA golfers, but I've played with quite a few guys on the PGA TOUR.¬† So I know and watch them on TV.¬† You know, they're all very good golfers and play the game great.¬† They know how to play the game, which is the big difference from us amateurs.
STEVE GRIFFITH:¬† There are comp tickets available to the military.¬† And all you have to do is go to tahoecelebritygolf.com to take advantage of that.¬† In addition, Harrah's Tahoe odds, Annika opened at 2‑to‑1, has now been bet down to about even money.¬† John is 12‑to‑1 to win.¬† Chad Pfeifer 15‑to‑1.¬† And the other top contenders, Billy Joe Tolliver, who won last year, 9‑to‑2.¬† Rhodin, who won eight times, 5‑to‑1.¬† Jack Wagner, Mark Mulder, Jeremy Roenick, all 7‑to‑1.¬† Mark Rypien and John Smoltz, both 8‑to‑1.
Q.¬† Annika, I'd like to know‑‑ and also the guys‑‑ are there some other women celebrities who should be playing in events like this or who could be playing in events that could add some interest to it?¬† And Annika, what is your real motivation for doing this?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† There are other women playing, other celebrities, in the field, absolutely.¬† And there have been in the past.¬† And I'm sure it will be continued moving forward.
The reason I'm playing this is I spend a lot of time here in Lake Tahoe.¬† As a matter of fact, this is our second home.¬† We spend three to four months here.¬† So the last few years I've been a spectator on the 17th hole.¬† So I'm very aware of the tournament and the stature of it.¬† And this year the tournament really reached out to my camp and asked if I wanted to play.
And I don't compete any more, as you know.¬† It's been six years since I stepped away.¬† So I'm not an active professional golfer, really.¬† And the reason is just I do enjoy the game.¬† I'm still a golfer.
And it will be interesting to see how my game stacks up to these world‑renowned athletes and actors, et cetera.¬† It's a fun format.
I mean, this is not by any means a sign of me returning to competitive golf at all.¬† I know that my competitive juices would flow once I step on the first tee.¬† But it's also a fun format.¬† If you've been here, it's really a lot of fun for players playing but also for the spectators.
STEVE GRIFFITH:¬† Holly Sonders from the Golf Channel is also in the field.¬† In the past there are other women.¬† And we do make an effort to get women into the field and that will always continue.
Q.¬† Annika, did you pay much attention to Lucy Li and what she did at the U.S. Open and what are your thoughts on somebody playing that well at age 11?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† I did pay close attention to Lucy Li.¬† I was doing some other broadcast for NBC actually.¬† So our eyes were on her pretty consistently through the tournament.
I mean, when I heard that an 11‑year‑old qualified, I mean, I think I was surprised because I was trying to think of when did I start to play.¬† Well, I started at the age of 12.
So you start visualizing what it's like to have an 11‑year‑old in the field.¬† And then this young lady shows up and she was just such a breath of fresh air with her pigtails and eating ice cream and just being her normal self.¬† Then you go out, watch her play.¬† She really played well.
She shot 78, 78, and I know she missed the cut, but that was a tough golf course.¬† There was over 30 players that shot 80 and more.¬† And to be 11, to handle that golf course and to handle the pressure and the media attention and the exposure, it was very impressive.
So the way I look at it, I thought it was a good sign of youth and golf and women's golf, and it certainly brought a story to it.¬† And I know that this will not be the last time we hear of Lucy Li.
And that's the things that golf brings to the game, these stories, and especially these cute stories and hopefully other young kids will see that and want to pick up the game and that's how we grow.
Q.¬† John, how far do the longest guys hit the ball in the tournament?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† I mean, there is‑‑ I mean, especially up at altitude where Tahoe is, you have guys that can hit it 350 yards at times.¬† You look at Mulder is very, very long.¬† Rypien is very long.¬† Billy Joe Tolliver is very long.¬† I know I'm missing a bunch.¬† But there are a lot of guys who can hit it.¬† Smoltz is another one that's very long.
Especially up at altitude, as I mentioned, the ball really stays in the air and they can hit it a long, long way.
Q.¬† Annika, how far are you hitting the ball right now off the tee with your driver?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† Well, I'm counting an additional 10 percent with the elevation, like John mentioned.¬† At the course at the moment it's very wet.¬† They are going to dry it out.¬† But I'm certainly shooting for 250 carry at the most.¬† I've lost some distance since I stopped competing.¬† But that's just the reality, I guess, of a new phase in your life.¬† That's really what I'm shooting for.
Q.¬† Annika, what tees, if you're playing from the tips or the back tees, and also how big of a sports fan are you and does it mean a lot to kind of play with some of these celebrities like John Elway or Charles Barkley?¬† Just curious how into sports in this country you are.
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† To answer the second question first, yes, I do like sports.¬† I'm not a sport nut as far as always watching every day.¬† It's hard with being a mom and the business.¬† But I'm certainly going to be honored to play with somebody like John.
I've played golf with some of the baseball players and met Aaron Rogers not too long ago.¬† Yeah, I'm a big fan as much as anybody and respect what they have done.¬† And I have to tell you, in playing this last few holes today, this is not an easy golf course.¬† And it's impressive how well they do out here.¬† I mean, this is not what they do for a living.¬† This is kind of what they do for fun.
So really have to respect them more to be able to play another sport at a pretty good level.¬† John Elway mentioned about scratch golfer, but it's not that easy.¬† You don't just hit a few balls and become a scratch golfer.
I certainly admire them more.¬† And I look forward walking inside the ropes with them.¬† And that will be fun.¬† As far as the tees, I'm playing the tees wherever they play.¬† I'm not sure it will be the tips, but wherever there's championship tees, that's where I'll be.
Q.¬† Kind of redundant to what was just asked, but how long this course is expected to play for the tournament, what's the yardage.¬† And Annika, to sort of follow up on that, how big a challenge is that going to be?¬† I think you mentioned that before that, that's maybe the biggest difference or the biggest challenge here for you is dealing with that extra distance?
ANNIKA SORENSTAM:¬† You know, I don't have exact yardage, but I'm thinking 69.¬† Maybe they have the accurate exact tournament yardage.¬† But that's really what I think it will be.
Again, we are at a little higher elevation.¬† But I think that to me is I don't have the distance as I used to, and so I really have to rely on trying to hit it straight, trying to stay out of trouble.¬† And that's going to be my strength.¬† I know how far I do hit the clubs and how to maneuver out on the golf course and the experience, that's really what I'm relying on.
STEVE GRIFFITH: ¬†The course distance is going to be 6700 plus.¬† And it will be exact when we get there that week.¬† Annika, thank you very much.
Q.¬† Corporal Pfeifer, I just wanted to kind of get your take on how golf helps you through your rehab and what it meant to you to kind of find a competitive sport to play after the accident, and also how did you get invited to this event and what your expectations are for the event?
CHAD PFEIFER:¬† Yeah, I was approached by a fellow wounded soldier when I was going through therapy down at San Antonio, Brooke Army Medical Center, and he suggested we go out and hit balls.¬† And I kind of hit a couple of balls and just fell in love with it.
I grew up as a big baseball player, played basketball and football as well, but played a little college baseball.¬† And golf was just a sport that allowed me to be a competitor again.
And as far as the physical aspect of the therapy, it got me outside and then it got me walking around on my prosthetic leg and really gave me good practice with that prosthetic, walking around up and down hills, into bunkers, just different terrains that the golf course has.¬† It gave me great practice and gave me confidence on the prosthetic.
And then my expectations for the tournament, well, to answer the first question of that, I think they approached me‑‑ I had won President Bush's Warrior Open tournament for the last three years, and I think they took that avenue to get my name and I was just ecstatic when they invited me to the American Century Championship.
But my expectations are just to have fun.¬† I mean, this is an incredible opportunity for me, not only to test my golf game, just to be on the golf course with legendary athletes.¬† There's so many names in the field that have been huge for their sports.
And so I mean, my biggest goal is to just have as much fun as I can.¬† I know I'll have a great time with whoever I get paired with and then just to test my game against all these guys and gals.¬† So that should be a lot of fun and I'm really excited for it.
Q.¬† Corporal Chad, sir, I just want to say not just thank for your service, but I run the Improv up here, we have the athletes come over, comics who do like sports‑oriented humor.¬† And I did two tours, one in Kuwait and one in Iraq, and I gotta tell you, hands down, other than the fact that it's 138 degrees over there and you can't drink, all the soldiers over there, seriously, were the best audiences we ever performed for.¬† You guys and gals are probably the most appreciative audience we ever had.¬† I want to say thank you for your service.
CHAD PFEIFER:¬† Thank you very much.¬† I appreciate it.
Q.¬† And I can't wait to have you up here.¬† It's going to be a real honor.¬† And John, real quick, you're one of the four‑‑ only four‑‑ who has been up here 25 years.¬† And I was joking with Michael Eruzione, that they planted twigs when he first came here and now they're full‑grown trees.
JOHN ELWAY:¬† That's one thing, for sure, those trees have grown up quite a bit since the first year we've been up there.¬† 25 years later those trees they have in the middle of the fairways are a lot larger than they used to be.
Q.¬† And I gotta ask, I know every single one of you has this huge competitive spirit.¬† And I was going to ask Annika as well.¬† All of you can rest on just your accomplishments.¬† But considering all the stuff that you're doing now, the dealership, the restaurant, being executive vice president of football operations, is it a constant drive that makes you want to just get out there and just perform every single day; is it something that's inert inside of you ever since you started taking up the game and now where you're at now?
JOHN ELWAY:¬† Yeah, especially with golf, I mean it's kind of a release for me.¬† That's where I get‑‑ that's our ability to compete.¬† Even being the GM of the Broncos, you still get to be a part of that, put that team together.¬† But you're not in the middle of pulling the string game day and the players are doing that as well as the coaches.
This way, when you go out playing in this golf tournament, it's back on your shoulders again, because once you retire from the game you don't get a chance to do that very often.¬† This is the one time that during the year that I get to do that, play that competitive golf, plus I love playing in the situation because I feel like it makes me a better player.
So that is the drive that as an athlete that you never really lose.¬† And so that's why I've been back to this tournament every year because, as I said, not only a chance to compete against all these great athletes and entertainers, but also rub elbows around them, get caught up with them.¬† So it really is‑‑ it's a special weekend.¬† It's one I celebrate that it's the day before we, the last day or day before we go back to camp and I go back to work.¬† So I always look at it as my last hoorah before I go back in the office.
Q.¬† I'm putting out the offer because you've challenged a lot of different fields.¬† I think you should come up with five minutes of humorous material and we'll throw you on the stage at the Improv next door to do a guest set.¬† You would be the last comic standing, John.
JOHN ELWAY:¬† (Laughter).¬† I'll think about that, see if I can find some funny bone or find some funniness in my history or in my body.
STEVE GRIFFITH:¬† Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports