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February 11, 2019

Jared Rice

Webb Simpson

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

EMILY TILLO: Good morning, everyone. Thank you so much for coming. Thanks to all the media members for making the morning a really special one for THE PLAYERS Championship. We're really honored to be joined by defending champion Webb Simpson, and I just want to thank you all. My name is Emily Tillo, I work in the communications department at the PGA TOUR. We're really appreciative of your coverage of this tournament each and every year. It helps showcase this event on the local, national and international stage, so we're really excited for another great event.

We officially T-minus 29 days away from the next PLAYERS Championship, so super excited one month out. Webb Simpson, we're honored to be joined by him. Thank you so much for joining us. You just donated your sand wedge from the incredible hole-out eagle bunker shot during the third round, and he actually just walked through the kitchen to sample the dish that he's holding --

WEBB SIMPSON: I'm not donating this sandwich, just the sand wedge.

EMILY TILLO: But that's actually the last part of our unveil this morning. Each and every year our defending champion has a dish named after him and chosen by him that will be featured on the TPC Sawgrass menu, so I'd like to welcome Chef Azir Muhammad to come in, introduce himself and explain the dish that we're all about to try, which is called the Simpson Sandy.

For many of you, I think this is the first time you're seeing our new PLAYERS Championship trophy in person, so Jared will touch on that a little bit in his remarks.

Chef, we'd love for you to explain the dish, talk about what's in it, how it was created.

AZIR MUHAMMAD: It's just I think -- one of the dishes that Webb said he loves barbecue brisket, and we wanted to create something that we enjoyed, as well. It's a great sandwich. We have got brisket that we have smoked for almost 16 to 18 hours, and then we cook it at a slow temperature for another 24 hours, a nice, soft potato bread that we use, just to kind of get that -- soak in all the flavors from the sandwich. There's a carrot and jalapeƱo slaw and then we do have the crispiness. We have some fried onions, and it's just a great sandwich that goes well with the bleu cheese chips, and I'm sure later you'll get to taste.

EMILY TILLO: And this will be featured on the TPC Sawgrass menu through tournament week. So definitely be sure to try the Simpson Sandy.

With that, and while you all are trying, I'd like to start some Q and A with executive director Jared Rice and Webb Simpson. Jared, I'll start with you. Can you talk a little bit about the move to March and what it means from a tournament perspective? I mentioned we're 29 days away, so it's fast moving from here on out.

JARED RICE: It's coming quickly. That's for sure.

Again, thanks to everybody on behalf of the THE PLAYERS Championship team, our players, again, for all the coverage and content you all provide. It does amazing things for not only the tournament but also for our community when it comes to charitable and economic impact. Thank you very much for that.

Thank Webb again for joining us today, but maybe more importantly, thank you, Dowd, for letting us have you for a few hours today. I know that you have a couple-month-old at home, so we appreciate her letting you come down for a couple hours today.

WEBB SIMPSON: I just want to say something to you guys. Last year there was a lot written about my win and for Paul Tesori and Michelle, their foundation, so I just want to say thank you to you guys for just the great stuff that you wrote about me, my dad, who we lost November of 2017, and just couldn't be happier with what you guys did for me and my family and also Paul's family, so thank you very much.

JARED RICE: So your question about the move to March, and Webb will certainly answer it for a competitive standpoint, but from a tournament perspective, it's really exciting to be a signature part of a new or a compressed PGA TOUR schedule, and really kick off a season of championships with THE PLAYERS in March. It really again puts us in a great position to start this cadence of significant events all the way through the TOUR Championship in Atlanta. That's an impressive position to be in.

And again, speaking further to an operations standpoint, seeing a lot of uptick in interest from national and international partners to be a part of this tournament, and I think being in the first quarter helps us accomplish that.

EMILY TILLO: Webb, from your standpoint you've never played THE PLAYERS Championship in March, so after having just been out there, what are you most excited about teeing it up here in a month's time?

WEBB SIMPSON: Well, being out there, you guys have probably seen some of it, the course is in phenomenal shape. I've been living at Quail Hollow since 2010, so I'm familiar with the overseeding process and how tricky it can be, and how you need a lot of things helping you, weather and rain and all that kind of stuff. So it looks like they've done a phenomenal job here.

Really blown away with -- I walked around 11, around the greens, and for us players, I think everybody is going to be happy because chipping around these greens is usually really tough, but now it's going to be a little easier.

But I think the obvious things, the weather is going to present a challenge possibly, the golf course is going to be a lot softer possibly, so it's definitely going to be different.

But one thing I think that is going to bring even more prestige to this event is when it used to be in May, we already had a very big event on the calendar, the Masters. Now it's in March. So I think the season -- every tournament is a big tournament, but this is the first really big tournament of the year, and I think that's special knowing that when the guys come here, they know that the best players in the world are going to be here for the first time maybe all season competing for the trophy.

I think the new date is actually going to make the event even bigger and more special, and I think more attention will be on it, because like I said, it's the first event of the year where you really do -- you're going to have everybody here that you want to have. Guys take off certain events that are big events, but no one has ever taken THE PLAYERS off from what I can remember.

JARED RICE: I'll just add, too, with that new schedule, that from a competition and eligibility perspective, how one becomes eligible to play at THE PLAYERS has not changed. It is statistically the most difficult tournament to win top to bottom, 144 of the best players, so when Webb won last year, he knew that he beat the best players in the world on a golf course that was built to favor no one style of play. It's the ultimate in democratic golf. And those parts -- our eligibility parts of the tournament have not changed, and that's, again, what sets apart the tournament.

EMILY TILLO: Jared, a follow-up question for you because I know THE PLAYERS prides itself in rolling out fan enhancements and overall tournament enhancements for players and for fans. What can people expect to see besides the 2019 champion hoisting this new trophy? What's new for 2019 for THE PLAYERS?

JARED RICE: This is a long list, everyone, so you're going to have to bear with me a little bit. It's exciting. I think the tournament really has taken -- with the opportunity of moving from May to March, having a chance to take an outside in approach to the guest experience and making a significant upgrade investment in enhancement in our first impression, and that being our Nicklaus Gate entryway. So now it's been completely reimagined, much easier for fans to come into the tournament grounds. They'll now proceed over a 30-food wide elevated boardwalk that will take you over the wetlands and bring you right in behind No. 17 where we have our new players welcome experience, where we have our 17th hole challenge, our Stadium Village area, our PGA TOUR fan shop, some great local restaurants, really a hub of activity, and it was also designed in a way that makes it easier for fans to be connected to the front nine or the back nine, so it's similar to the golf course in that it was purpose built from day one.

How we have that first impression with our fans and getting them in and around the golf course was also purpose built and a big upgrade.

Now, a lot of those things were a part of our Davis Love III entry over here just behind us, so a lot of those interactive elements have moved back behind 17, and in this space we have another PGA TOUR fan shop and also some local flavor from a mini-bar and Four Rivers Smokehouse, good but not nearly as good as the Simpson Sandy. But that's a great spot for an area of respite and a place to come on the front side of the golf course.

And we've really opened it up with an understanding that fans will be seeking more milder climate and sunshine in March, so we've removed some shade and making sure that we give fans great opportunity to take advantage of the warmth that March will have.

A couple other points is ride share. So we are -- one of the things that we focus on is how we get fans to the golf course. Not only that entry I just explained, but really transportation and working with our partners at Uber, we've dedicated almost four times the space than we did last year to a ride share infrastructure zone, if you will, closest to the Fred Couples gate next to No. -- enters behind No. 15 tee, so it's never been easier to get to the tournament, and it's never been easier to get in and around the tournament, and we feel like ride share is going to be a really good help for us, big part of that for us.

We've worked with our partners at Coke. Coca-Cola is bringing in a Coke Kitchen, so when you arrive you'll be able to sample some food from local chefs and some Coca-Cola product.

And the final two things I'd mention, you'd start to see today a little bit, but there's blue mesh -- we have talked about the trophy a little bit. We have upgraded not only the color scheme of THE PLAYERS Championship by customizing our blue and also our swinging golfer being a more true gold color. You also see that out on the golf course with the meshing and signage being blue and gold, and then finally with THE PLAYERS Championship trophy, working with our partners at Tiffany and developing and designing a new trophy for THE PLAYERS Championship going forward, a sterling silver trophy dripped in 24-karat gold vermeil, and we're pretty proud of what we've developed, and we have a short video here of how it came to be.

(Video shown.)

EMILY TILLO: Webb, we haven't had a back-to-back champion yet. Are you going to be the first to hoist this? What would it mean to do that?

WEBB SIMPSON: It would be great. It would be really cool to put this side by side with the trophy that's already at my house. But it's a beautiful trophy. I love what he said about taking old ideas and fusing them with new, and that's how the game is changing. We're still doing things we did 100 years ago, but there's also -- I think the average look of the golfer has changed a lot.

I'm looking forward to the challenge of defending here.

EMILY TILLO: One more question before I open it up to the group. Now that you're back here for the first time since your win, what sticks out to you most about that amazing performance last year?

WEBB SIMPSON: I think for me, when I think about it, what comes to mind quickly is the drought, the four-and-a-half-year drought of not winning, and when you haven't won in a while, you'll take any win. And I didn't really dream of or think my next win was going to come at THE PLAYERS. I've always loved playing here. It's always meant a lot to me for a lot of reasons, but I never played well. 16th place was my best finish before last year.

It was a great week, obviously, for many reasons, but to break that drought of four and a half years without a win, to do it here against that field that you mentioned was really special.

Q. Have you seen any kind of impact on ticket sales, moving from May to March? We're a month out, but can you quantify at this point how that's changed?
JARED RICE: Yeah, we have. It's been very positive. We're out-pacing where we were last year by about 10 percent, so we feel that's a good indicator of, A, how the market is aware of the change, and Jacksonville and Northeast Florida continues to come out and support it. But as I mentioned earlier, we're seeing a lot more engagement from Charlotte; maybe you had something to do with that, so thank you. Atlanta, Orlando, drive markets of interest, strategic interest to us, but also seeing purchases out of Chicago, New York. I do think that ties into what we call climate dollars in some respects, national companies looking to engage in a warmer climate during the first part of March. So that's going to be very positive for us.

Q. Webb, there's a tendency when someone wins to focus on the final round, but for you was there a moment earlier in the tournament that stands out that was key to your victory?
WEBB SIMPSON: Yeah, I mean, I think there was one hole that was like a real big momentum booster for me, and that was Friday after I hit it in the water on 17, made double. Then you're walking over to 18, really tough hole. I hit it a good 5-wood, good 8-iron to about 40 feet, and that's a moment where I have a great round going at 11-under going into 17, make double, easy to get distracted and slip up and bogey 18, and now I guess the lead would have been four, and still a lot of guys within reach.

But I just kind of said to myself walking to 18, I said, it happens. Plenty of guys are going to hit it in the water this week. Got to refocus. Par here is going to be big. And I end up two-putting and making par.

I quickly forgot about 17 after parring 18. I think that gave me a lot of confidence going into Saturday. I think if I had slipped up again on 18 and made bogey, that would have been tough, so that hole for me was the biggest hole of the week.

EMILY TILLO: I have a follow-up question, too. With Paul being a local here, what types of conversations are you going to have in the next month leading up to PLAYERS? What will that look like with him having a little bit of that local knowledge?

WEBB SIMPSON: Well, he'll text me a lot about tickets, so I figure I can get some help from you guys this year if I need.

But yeah, he's caddied here -- I don't know how many tournaments he's caddied in March, but he's definitely been here before. And like I said, I think having been a part of Quail Hollow now for eight for nine years will help me, understanding how this grass reacts differently than the normal Bermuda, and it's very different.

I was just on 11 hitting a few shots. That same shot that I made on Saturday, and that shot Saturday I landed about halfway to the hole and it rolled out maybe 40 feet. Today I had to fly it maybe 15 feet short of the hole. So there's a lot of things that will change. The fairways here are known to be really tight, and they are, but with softer fairways they're going to play a little wider. I'm going to hit different clubs off probably four or five holes. Normally 18 I can hit -- I think I hit a hybrid in the final round off the tee and 6-iron in. Well, I imagine in March it'll probably be a 3-wood or driver. Like I said earlier, there's certain aspects with the golf course conditions that will be easier, but there's also certain aspects that will be harder.

EMILY TILLO: I also saw Webb hit a 3-wood from The Golf Channel set and hit a very nice -- well, I'm a lefty, so it would be a slice for you, very nice 40-yard slice that ended up on the back side of the green, so be on the lookout for that video. That will be a fun watch to watch between him and Paul, the little trick shot.

Q. You putted so well last year and the arm lock method continues to grow. Why do you think so many more guys are using it, and what has made it such an effective method?
WEBB SIMPSON: That's a great question. I mean, I think all of our stats are available to everyone, so I think when someone goes from 190th in putting to fifth in a matter of a year and a half, I think they're going to start thinking what changed. Well, you change the putting styles. Kuchar has had a lot of success, Bryson has won a lot of golf tournaments lately, and I think when you see that -- and Keegan hadn't won in a number of years and then he wins a big tournament, guys start paying attention, and if you get a guy who's not putting great, 50th, 60th, 70th on strokes gained and he wants a change -- I think a lot of guys are trying this at home. I certainly did. I tried it at a different golf course so nobody could see me because I felt weird about it, and I'm seeing more and more guys using it.

You know, so guys at this level I don't think care what they do or how they do it. I would have never done this as a junior golfer because you wanted to appear a certain way and look like a classic putting method, but at this level I think guys are smart enough to know whatever gets it in the hole they'll try.

Q. Webb, so few players in this year's field will have ever played in THE PLAYERS in March. Do you think that gives them any kind of advantage even though it's been 12 years?
WEBB SIMPSON: Maybe. I think that's a long time between playing in March. The golf course has changed a little bit. I don't think it's changed a lot. But I think they'll be a little more comfortable to a certain extent. But this is a weird game, and you might have a guy who's playing his first PLAYERS come out and win. So it's hard to say, but certainly if a guy has played in March, that means he's played here a lot of times, so he's probably got a leg up already.

Q. After what you went through with the change in putters and all, was it a huge relief for you to win? I mean, it's a big tournament to win here, but to win anywhere?
WEBB SIMPSON: It was. Any win I had was going to be great. Yeah, I mean, I went through I would say two years of really struggling, and doubt starts developing, and then you wonder how you're ever going to play well again, contend, make a team event, make it to Atlanta. I missed Atlanta two years in a row after being there four years in a row. And so all these things you see happening in your career that are different, and you just adapt.

I think the hardest thing in those moments is to not believe that you're becoming the player that your results are showing you to be. I think my World Ranking dropped to, I don't know, maybe 80s or 90s, so I just kept telling myself, I have experience, I've made team events, I've won some tournaments, and I've just got to keep looking for it, and if it takes two years, if it takes 10 years, like I'm going to keep trying.

So there were some -- I'm not going to lie, there were some really, really hard moments. I mean, there was nights with tears shed at the dinner table over frustrations with it.

But I hung in there, and you know, you start paying attention to what guys do, and that's kind of the trend in our game. I think even with the best players, they go through times in their career where they don't perform well, and they're not the player they used to be. But they get it back. You know, Tiger Woods, the best of all time, I think, of our generation certainly, it looked like he was never going to play again, not play well, and then amazing comeback and he wins.

It was a lot of me telling myself these things, that all golfers go through certain struggles to kind of keep myself fresh and motivated.

Q. 17 is probably one of those holes that you either love it or hate it. Much has been written about that. The fans obviously love it. The only other hole I can think of that brings anything like that to the game is the 16th at the Phoenix Open. How do you look at those two holes, and what's similar, what's different more or less from a mental aspect of playing it with everything that's going around externally?
WEBB SIMPSON: Well, the fans here behave. Not in Phoenix. Your adrenaline is running high at both. Probably more so in Phoenix. The shot -- Phoenix is longer. Here is roughly 130 to 140 usually. But I think here, I think 17 at Sawgrass is more intimidating because any ball off line or the distance off, there's nothing stopping it, whereas Phoenix the worst it's going to do is go in a bunker and you'll get booed a little bit.

So different experiences. You know, there's a long walk from 16 to 17, and you get to kind of experience the fans and how many people enjoy that hole. But it's a great golf hole, and I hope it never changes because it's a big enough green for a wedge but there's nothing stopping the ball, like I said, and it's 135 yards. So any other hole, you would rarely miss the green, but that hole just does something to people, and you bring in some wind and some pressure, and the green gets a lot smaller.

Q. We're the local family website letting everybody know to come on out for the tournament. I also live in the same neighborhood as Paul and Michelle, and we're in the same moms' group, so whenever she says, we need something, we all come together. We were all so excited for you both. How do you balance family life and work life, and what would be the best agenda for a family when they come out or what can they expect with the tournament?
WEBB SIMPSON: Great question. I mean, balance and family and golf is probably much like any line of work except I'm on the road half the year for long periods of time. But one thing that I try to do is when I'm playing golf at a tournament, be fully there, and then when I'm home, try to be fully there. The older I'm getting with more kids, I'm playing golf less at home, and when I get out on the road, I get some good work done.

But your second question about families coming out to the tournament, yeah, get a couple players that the kids like and follow them around. One of my good friends is Bubba. I tell people all the time, hey, go watch Bubba play because it's good for kids to see Bubba play the way he does. He plays kind of like a kid, like you imagine a shot and you try it, and his balls are curving every which way.

But yeah, I think this is a great experience for families to come out. Like you were saying in March, it's not going to be quite as hot, so better for the little kids. So yeah, it's a fun week.

JARED RICE: We have continued our program where kids 18 and under get in for free, so that is a great way to come out in a very affordable way for families. We also have on THEPLAYERS.com, Emily has done a great job of producing what we call "fan journeys," and there are these really step-by-step suggestions on how to enjoy your day out at THE PLAYERS. Within it is great spots and suggestions of where to get autographs on Tuesday and Wednesday, where you can get kid-friendly fare and spend some time to keep the kids entertained while also coming out and watching the players practice.

So the other thing is we are bringing back our Family Care Suite presented by Baptist Health, which is out behind No. 17 where nursing moms and young families have a climate-controlled private place to go to take care of the family and come back out and enjoy the rest of the day, so I encourage you to check that out.

EMILY TILLO: Also a Kid Zone presented by the First Tee in that whole welcome experience, so there's a ton for kids to do, which is fun.

Well, with that, I just wanted to thank everyone for your time. Just a friendly reminder, credentials close on March 1st and everything related to media day and tournament communications and media updates can be found at www.THEPLAYERS2019mediakit.com. And we'll send all that out to you, but again, we really appreciate it. On behalf of THE PLAYERS Championship and everyone here, thanks again, Webb, for joining us today. Thanks for your continued coverage of this tournament, and see you all in a month.

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