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THE SENIOR OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP ANNOUNCEMENT
February 2, 2016
GORDON SIMPSON: Thanks for coming her today. A historic setting – the R&A Clubhouse – for a historic announcement in relation to the Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex. Before we introduce the top table, we have a special guest on the telephone line, all the way from Hawaii, five‑time Open Champion, three‑time Senior Open Champion, Tom Watson. And I just wonder, Tom, can you hear us, please?
TOM WATSON: Aloha, everybody.
GORDON SIMPSON: I'm glad you made it. 5.30 in the morning, I believe, in Hawaii.
TOM WATSON: It's a pretty nice morning here. It's always about 70 degrees. That's about as cold as it gets in the winter.
GORDON SIMPSON: Well, it's nearer seven degrees here, I would think. Andy Stubbs was saying it's two woods to get across the Swilcan Burn today at the first hole.
TOM WATSON: Well, that means I have to lay up (chuckling).
GORDON SIMPSON: Anyways, it's great to have you on board today, and thank you very much for joining us. We'll hear from Tom in a moment, but first of all, I would like to introduce some of the main dignitaries in the building today.
First and foremost, on the far side of the top table there, we have Martin Slumbers, the Chief Executive of The R&A. Next to Martin is Keith Pelley, Chief Executive of The European Tour and we'll be hearing from them in a moment, as well.
I'd also like to point out that Rolex are Presenting Sponsor, would love to have been in attendance today, but unfortunately weren't able to make it in person. But they are really thrilled and excited at the idea of the Senior Open coming to St Andrews in 2018.
In the room also we have Euan Loudon, who is the Chief Executive of St Andrews Links Trust, and it's lovely to see you here. Next to Euan is Paul Bush, Director of Events at EventScotland, and they have been fantastic supporters of the game for so many years and going forward in the future. So welcome, Paul.
I'd like to take this opportunity now to introduce Martin Slumbers who will say a few introductory remarks.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Good afternoon, and good morning, Tom. It certainly is a lot colder here than you're experiencing.
For golfers far and wide, there's something really special about the Old Course here in St Andrews. With the Open and the Women's Open having been played here over this great links course, it is great joy, it's a real joy to see the Senior Open finally come and being played here, and it really will round off and complement the history of this wonderful golf course.
Over the years, many of the competitors who will be competing in 2018 will have graced these fairways and performed and enjoyed themselves in many ways. For me, and I think for many others, it will be a real pleasure to watch them tackle the course again and bring back many memories, as well as new experiences.
From the R&A's perspective, our sincere thanks to the Links Trust for agreeing to host this. Thank you to Paul and EventScotland for putting in your support, and I am sure the town of St Andrews will be very enthusiastic, and look forward to supporting this wonderful event in a few year's time.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you, Martin.
KEITH PELLEY: Good afternoon everybody, and good morning, Tom.
TOM WATSON: Good morning, Keith.
KEITH PELLEY: It is a pleasure to be here. First of all, it's a pleasure to be in this room and looking up at Sir Michael Bonallack, who I had the privilege of hearing all of his great stories just mere months ago as he left our board at The European Tour. So it is a privilege to be here at such an historical sight.
Thank you, Martin; thank you, Euan; and Paul, EventScotland. We thank Rolex who is our Presenting Sponsor. Coming here to the Old Course for the Senior Open is special. I have a lot of memories but my memories go back here to 1995 when I was a producer at FOX, and I was producing at that time NFL Europe and there were six teams, and one was the Scottish Claymores playing out of Glasgow. I lobbied the producers every week and tried to get as many home games in Scotland as I could. I would come and produce a game and then take my two days, come up and stay at the Dunvegan with Jack and Sheena. I think they still own it; they owned it back in the mid 90s. Shared some great stories with some caddies and played some golf with some of my NFL players. And it was a special time. So to be here personally here at the Old Course in this room is absolutely wonderful.
Thank you, again, for everyone putting this on and making this possible. The key reason why we're here, I believe, based on the support from the Links Trust and The R&A, it is because Mr.Watson suggested that this would be a wonderful place to come play the 2018 Senior Open Championship.
I'm looking here at the Claret Jug and I see the winner in 2003, 2005, 2007; to have a legend like Tom getting up so early in the morning, being part of this special event, agreeing to play here in 2018, he's a three‑time Senior Open Champion, four times won The Open in Scotland. He is a key ambassador for our game, and it is wonderful to have him here on the phone and it will be exciting to see him play in 2018.
So I'm looking forward to being here. Thank you for coming this afternoon, and look forward to seeing you here in 2018.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much, Keith.
So now over to the gentleman in question. Tom, the last time we saw you here it was the late night show on the Friday night at last year's Open Championship. Just tell us how you feel about the thought of coming back to tread these fairways yet another time.
TOM WATSON: My final walk across the Swilcan Bridge was really something that obviously I'll always remember, especially having the vision of what Bobby Jones must have felt like when he played his friendly match there so many years after he retired from competitive golf walking up the 18th hole with the whole town of St Andrews literally coming out to see him.
I don't put myself in the same shoes as Bobby Jones, but I just had a vision, a flash, a vision of what it was like walking up the 18th hole with so many people around it.
The one thing that I hope that I can rectify is I left my competitive Open Championship history with a 3‑putt, and prior to that a shank. So I hope that I can do it a little bit better in my next appearance at St Andrews.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to have that next appearance at St Andrews. Indeed, one of the things that I said to the organisers of the Senior Open, The R&A, The European Tour. The fact that it is played on The Open Championship venues, the Carnousties as it is this year, and the Royal Birkdales is one of the main reasons that people come over and play it.
Like you said, many of the players have played in The Open Championship. They have played these golf courses and are familiar with them. They have learned the ins and outs of them and they want to try them again. That's the way that the Championship will last and be a prime championship on our tour, the Champions Tour.
And that's happening, and that's what's happening right now. With a sponsor like Rolex to come in and be such a big part of it is essential to its survival and its well being, and I can't say how grateful I am to them, as well. I've had a great run‑‑ I'm 66 years old right now. I don't feel 66. Especially over here in Hawaii, where you wake up every day and it's a perfect day and golf is in the air over here.
But I still feel as if just yesterday I played in my first Open Championship at Carnoustie. I remember the trip over; the times with Keith Mackenzie; the subsequent years of success and failure. But I remember them very, very well. And it's part of who I am, and I'm very grateful for having had the opportunity to play in it, and obviously do so well.
So with that said, I turn it back over to you. And I think with the event being at the Old Course at St Andrews, it's going to be a complete success. I don't think that there could be a more successful tournament on our tour.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you very much for the introductory remarks, Tom. We have a large media attendance in the big room at the clubhouse today. We'll do a question‑and‑answer session now.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit more about last summer and that Friday night? It was very, very dark, it kind of felt anti‑climactic; it wasn't the send‑off we wanted you to get from The Open. Do you feel that way and can you put that right when you come back here?
TOM WATSON: Well, I really did feel that way. At the end I finished with a shank and a 3‑putt on the 18th hole.
It was dark. It really wasn't too dark to be able to read the putts. My playing partners, Ernie Els and Brandt Snedeker, we were approached on the 17th tee to see if we wanted to continue, and I said, "It's not up to me. These other two players are in contention for the tournament. It's their decision whether they want to play."
Both of them just looked at me, they said, "What are you thinking? We're finishing."
Again, there is always a time that things do end in life. And although I still feel as if I might be able to compete on some of the links courses against the kids, this year is a good example of where I can't compete, and that's at Augusta National. I can't compete on that golf course because of its length.
At St Andrews, I had some difficulty. I had some real difficulty with some of the distance there, particularly on 17, but almost everybody had difficulty with that into the east wind. But there's a time. There's a time that you have to say, ‘no mas’.
And as I said to my son, Michael, on the 18th tee, I said, "You know, son, no tears, just joy." I've had a great run here. Let's just walk down the final hole of The Open Championship in my career, and enjoy it, enjoy the memories and enjoy the time.
And that's when I looked up at the crowd at the 18th and thought of Bobby Jones coming up that last hole. He had started out with very few people and it ended with a multitude of people from the sound of St. Andrews to watch him finish his round of golf. That was just a wonderful experience and it will always be a mark in my memory of my career, big mark in my memory.
Q. You were talking about the length on the 17th and difficulty of the distance, is it possible you think that what we might see in 2018 is an Old Course played as it used to be, rather than the modern length it is now?
TOM WATSON: You mean a little bit shorter off the tee? Yeah, I think once they take a look at how it played with the east wind there; it's all due to the wind. If there was a west wind, which we normally get at that time of year, 17 would have played just fine.
But we had the east wind in our face almost every day, if I'm not mistaken, even the last two days, I think the wind was coming from the east. And that made it play very, very hard. So it's really up to the organisers, to the people who set up the golf course, but again, it's a wind factor and I think that it maybe played differently if it comes from the east again. But how many times have you played St Andrews when the wind has changed; it does change. So it wouldn't be fair to play the tee forward or back, depending on how the wind is playing, if it changes during a round of golf. But that's the game.
Q. Keith was making reference to you advocating for the Senior Open to come here. What form did that take? Were you surprised that the Senior Open had never been played on the Old Course before?
TOM WATSON: I was surprised that it had not been played there. Talking to Peter Dawson and the organisers of The European Tour, I've said that it would be‑‑ I think there's a missing hole in the Senior Open's history, since it had not been played at the Old Course, and that's essentially all I said. I don't think it went any further than that, as far as the discussion was concerned.
Lo and behold, here we are today talking about 2018 and The Senior Open Championship being played at the Old Course.
Q. Just wondering, we are seeing more players competitive well into their 40s on the main tours. I'm just wondering how you feel the senior game has evolved in recent years, how competitive it is these days?
TOM WATSON: Well, the senior game is very competitive. Look what Bernhard Langer has done. It has not been any different. Hale Irwin had his great run and Lee Trevino before Hale. We have had a lot of people dominate the senior game. Yeah, it's not unexpected. The players who were great before are great as senior players.
The thing that I like about the senior game is that you have players, so‑called unknown players who come to the front of the pack a lot of times and give that story that, you know, I can play; I just couldn't play when I was a younger man on the Tour.
We had a guy like Allen Doyle that came on our tour and just played just wonderful golf, not particularly classic golf swing, but man, could he play. There are stories like that that are wonderful stories about players that you had never heard of to come out and really do well against the best players in the over‑50 group.
Q. I think it's your 45th year as a touring professional; a secret to that longevity?
TOM WATSON: Longevity comes from genes, and not blue jeans. It comes from Mom and Dad's genes. I've been very fortunate not have injury and kept myself in pretty good shape. I do work out with a trainer who keeps me honest far as my body is concerned. I still practise. When I have an event, I practise hard to get ready for that event.
But I don't practise and play every day as I used to when I was a kid. But I still enjoy the preparation. I enjoy‑‑ most importantly, I enjoy the competition that I play in. It still thrills me to be under pressure and to be able to hit some shots. I shot my age here a couple weeks ago here in Hawaii. I broke my age; I shot 65. You don't know how big a thrill it is for a 66‑year‑old to shoot 65. I mean, it still gives me a great thrill to do that.
Q. Can you just recall, probably done it a number of times, your first ever visit to St. Andrews, your first taste of the Old Course; any recollections, special ones from that?
TOM WATSON: I remember the first time I was on the Old Course was with Peter Alliss. We were doing a for‑TV interview and I was absolutely awful, and I was just absolutely amazed how smooth and professional and wonderful Peter Alliss was. We were standing on the 18th hole being filmed there. That was the first time I set foot on the Old Course.
1978, that was my first trip St Andrews. It was a time that I was playing pretty good golf. I had the game going pretty well. And just to be able to be on the Old Course was special. It was much like being on the first tee of Augusta. Going to the first tee at the Old Course was‑‑ with the history of the people that had played off the tee, it was palpable. It was real. That's how I felt about the Old Course, and I still do.
It's a little bit different preparation now. It's a lot easier preparation playing a practise round on the Old Course, I have to add, though. Back in the old days, we were walking through the gorse trying to walk the yardages and get the exact lines off the tee with the blind tee shots.
Nowadays with the yardage books, having the photographs of your tee shot to tell you which part of the gorse to hit over to, which makes the ball end up in a certain place in the fairway, that makes it a lot easier to play the golf course, I can tell you.
GORDON SIMPSON: I think that's it for the questions, Tom. Obviously it's been a great pleasure as always to talk to you. We are going to have a Q&A with Keith and Martin. You're more than welcome to stay on the call and listen in and interject if anything else comes your way. But thank you again for getting up so early, and we look forward to seeing you next year at Carnoustie, of course, another of your favourite haunts, for the Senior Open Championship.
TOM WATSON: I'm looking forward to that. But don't worry about me getting up early. I always get up early. This is a normal time for me to be up.
GORDON SIMPSON: We are going to pass on the Q&A with Keith and Martin, thanks again one more time.
Okay, everyone. As I said, we have the gentlemen available at the top table, if you'd like to raise your hand, we'd like to get a microphone to you.
Q. Just wondering in terms of what we have all heard, the senior golfers, if you're looking at expansion or how do you feel the tournaments we have and the status that we have for the senior golf; it's a good offering at the moment.
KEITH PELLEY: It's not where we want to be. I think the Senior Tour, it needs a transformation. We are looking at a plethora of different concepts, ideas, working with the current Members, have brought in an external group to look at it. It's safe to say that the Senior Tour in 2018 will be significantly different than it is today.
Q. Can you give us a clue? Can you give us a hint to how different it's going to be?
KEITH PELLEY: Well, I think there will be more consistency in terms of the number of tournaments. There will be not many gaps in between the tournaments. We're looking at a condensed schedule in terms of the time of the year with tournaments every other week.
But the goal will be to have more tournaments and more sustainable prize purses over time. It won't happen overnight. The 2016 schedule, as I said, will be drastically different than the 2018 schedule.
Q. What do the seniors themselves have to do to aim with your aim?
KEITH PELLEY: Well, I think similar to on the main tour, I've engaged with the players, whether that be Rory, whether that be Henrik, whether that be Justin, Sergio or any of the other players. I've taken their feedback and I've taken their guidance and tried to develop a plan, and we'll start to execute such a plan in the next year.
Similar planning process is now happening with the Senior Tour. We've put out a detailed questionnaire to all the Members in November. That came back and I read it thoroughly throughout the holidays, responded to the Members last week, and we'll now start developing a more comprehensive business plan and use the next six months to start to plan, and then the following 18 months moving into execution phase.
Q. Can you tell us what were they saying?
KEITH PELLEY: Yes, I think first and foremost, they wanted more events; consistent events in terms of schedule. Sometimes there's a gap of five or six weeks, which I don't feel is acceptable. And more sustainable prize purses.
So that's something that we're going to work on diligently. Like I said, this won't happen overnight, but it is a transformation of a tour.
Q. You mentioned the main tour there. I know you've implemented some changes, such as wearing shorts in practise rounds. Are you happy with the positive feedback over quite a lot of media outlets?
KEITH PELLEY: Yes, today in Dubai, we also extended this to our staff, and I received a number of pictures of some of our staff in shorts. It's more than just the players that are enamoured with it; it's the staff, as well.
As Martin and I discussed earlier, the history of the game, the rich tradition is critical. But at the same time, we need to look at modernising the game in areas where we can. That doesn't in any way jeopardise the rich tradition and majesty that this game has.
Shorts was a lot bigger story than I thought it would be, but it is something that the players have certainly embraced.
GORDON SIMPSON: Thank you everyone for your attendance today.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports