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SHARK SHOOTOUT MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 17, 2006
GREG NORMAN: Welcome this morning, everybody. Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen. Obviously for me today is a very, very exciting day. We've worked very hard for 18 years or 17 years to get the Shark Shootout to where it is today. We've had some tremendous sponsors along the way. 14 years with Franklin Templeton and before that with McDonald's, another sponsor.
At the end of the day, our main goal has been what Lee Patterson said... Paul Burke, President of CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation here with us today... to try to find a cure for childhood cancer. Along the way we've run into some tremendous people, and I'm proud to say here today that Merrill Lynch will be the new title sponsor for the Shootout. It will be called the Merrill Lynch Shootout.
A lot of people know Merrill Lynch as a successful institution in their professional field, which is certainly the case. What people do not realize is their relationships from a philanthropic standpoint are even greater than what ours is at the Shark Shootout. The allegiance between the two organizations is just tremendous from our point of view.
I want to recognize the lady standing in the back there, Paula Polito, she's been tremendous in consummating this deal behind the scenes. These guys have done a tremendous job behind the scenes.
As I mentioned, we have a new association with Merrill Lynch. It's going to go up to 2010. It's going to be just an integral part of the expansion and what the Shark Shootout is all about.
The relationship with the shootout is unique because it is a unique event. We all know there is a new network television deal starting in 2007 onwards. I know we've talked in the past about extending this tournament to a full-field event. But with the new TV network deal, obviously that doesn't fit in very well for us. It didn't fit in very well for the quality and nature of what the Shark Shootout is all about, the two day ProAm, the relationship between the corporations and the amateurs. It's a very, very tight, fun week. We decided for the format to keep it the way it is because of the quality of the sponsorship with Merrill Lynch.
Obviously there are other things to announce today. I am proud to announce also the fact that along with Merrill Lynch, Annika Sorenstam is going to play in the tournament this year and Freddie Couples who has already committed. Right off the bat, you know the Merrill Lynch Shootout is already off to a flying start, to say the least.
With the announcement, we've had a tremendous amount of calls from PGA TOUR players wanting to get their finger in the pie for this year's event, which is tremendous for us as well. I thought last year's event was one of the best we ever had here in Naples. But I think this year is going to eclipse anything we've done in the previous 17 years.
That having been said, I also want to thank David Fry, Jim Magnusson, Gary Wilcox with WCI Communities and Ed Staros and Mike McMahon with The Ritz-Carlton for also extending the relationship here for the Merrill Lynch Shootout to 2010.
I've been very open and vocal that I feel like every time I come over here in Naples, I feel like I'm coming home because of the reception, not only that I receive but all the other players and the sponsors and amateurs who come to participate. The Ritz Carlton and WCI have done a tremendous job of really rolling out the red carpet for all of us. We absolutely love that. We'll continue on with that for many years to come.
From my perspective, it's an extremely proud day for me. Franklin Templeton has been here for 14 years, I've said. We've started a new relationship that will be, in my mind, the new threshold of what the Merrill Lynch Shootout is going to be.
I'll hand it over to Bob McCann the Vice Chairman and President of Global Private Client Group at Merrill Lynch.
BOB McCANN: Thanks, Greg.
This is a special day for us at Merrill Lynch as well. Our sponsorship strategy is very straightforward. We like to provide our clients with unique experiences. We like to be in business with strong partners, whether it's a client event like this or any other business that we're in. We also as a company have a mission of making a difference in the communities that Merrill Lynch lives and works. With this event we're going to be able to do all that.
I met Greg for the first time back in December. We had a great meeting in New York. Immediately Merrill Lynch getting involved in the shootout made a lot of sense to me. We like what Greg represents, as a golfer, sportsman and also his history of being involved with different charities, we're very proud to be part of your work and mission. These are values that we have as a company, but they are also values that our clients share as well. Again, a very good fit.
We've done other work with Fred Couples and Annika. We're excited they're going to be part of the field this year. That is also a great attraction for us at Merrill Lynch.
In particular with Annika, we as a company have a very strong commitment to the success of women. So having her as part of the tournament is something that we find very attractive. We're sure our clients and our fans do as well.
I'll wrap-up by saying we're very happy to get to know you, to get to work with your organization. Cancer has affected too many lives in this country. To play a role in helping to beat that for kids will be something, in addition to having a great time, that the Merrill Lynch Shootout will contribute to. Good to be with you as well.
GREG NORMAN: Thank you.
LEE PATTERSON: Now we're going to open it up for questions here in the room first, then we'll go to our telephone audience.
Q. Is this something you considered in the past, inviting a woman to play, obviously more and more women played on the PGA TOUR in recent years, or did it come directly because of Merrill Lynch's involvement with Annika?
GREG NORMAN: I think I've been very consistent and public in some of the my comments prior to this in believing that anybody that plays on a regular tour event, whether it's in Australia, whether it is in Europe or in the US should earn their stripes to go play it. That's a full-field PGA TOUR event.
This Merrill Lynch Shootout is a totally different event. Even though it is cosanctioned by the PGA TOUR, it's still got that relaxed atmosphere that an individual like Annika Sorenstam will come and add a tremendous amount of value to it.
You heard Bob mention they have had some working relationship with Annika in the past. That conversation did come up with us, no question about it, during the whole process. But at the same time I thought for the shootout standpoint, just a fresh injection. When you think of Naples here, I don't think there's been an LPGA Tour event here since 2000. So you're going to add that extra catch really for the locals to see somebody of the stature of Annika playing.
Was it a two-way decision? Absolutely it was. Was it a decision I endorsed and supported all the way along? Absolutely it was. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Annika. I like the way she's actually conducted herself all the way going back to the first one at Colonial. I thought she was the epitome of a true professional, male or female. What she did is she conducted herself in the highest of esteem but also protected the integrity and the quality of the game of golf. So she adds all those components to it. And I still stand by it.
I like the way the British Open has gone. If you want to qualify it, it's an Open championship, go qualify. If you can qualify like any other person, please, come on.
I welcome the day if somebody can go through the Qualifying School at the PGA TOUR and come in day in, day out, compete against us, you're a golfer. If you're a golfer who's qualified to do that, please bring it on.
The other events, like I said, where there was special invitation when there are other guys who have qualified might miss a spot to get out on, that's where I thought it was just a little bit off.
BOB McCANN: Our relationship with Annika really goes back to the late '90s. She worked with us at some events out in California. As a person and as a golfer, we just hold her in the highest regard. Couldn't be prouder of having her in addition to Fred as part of the tournament.
Q. Where was that?
BOB McCANN: There's a golf tournament at Pebble Beach every year called the Callaway Invitational. Merrill Lynch has been the presenting sponsor for a number of years. In other roles I have had at Merrill Lynch, I was the host a few years out there. I think it was '99, 2000, somewhere around in there, Annika was out with us and just provided a great day for the clients that she was with.
One thing that I remember about it in particular was Annika not only showed up to play golf with a client. I was in a group behind them. When I came in, she was sitting, having a sandwich with the clients afterwards. Made an impression on me that I'll never forget.
Q. Greg, can you talk about Franklin Templeton leaving? Had they said they were not interested in extending the contract, this is how Merrill Lynch came in? Talk about getting a title sponsor with the television contract coming up and in this climate.
GREG NORMAN: Well, first of all, with Franklin Templeton, they've been with us for 14 years. It was more of a corporate decision than anything else. But they will stay involved with the shootout. They have been a tremendous ally for us. Their involvement really catapulted this event forward and upwards. They've been a tremendous support. Charlie Johnson, Greg Johnson, I can go down the list with all of them. We still remain very good friends today and we will continue to remain friends because they will continue to support it.
The second part of your question?
Q. Finding a title sponsor.
GREG NORMAN: The title sponsorship deal, the present network deal, it wasn't the easiest of tasks. When everything gets condensed down, remember, everybody kind of calls this September, October, November time the silly season right after THE TOUR Championship. There were a lot of people batting and there were a lot of dollars to be out there, corporate dollars. You had to make sure you had to identify the right corporation.
Our negotiations with Merrill Lynch has taken a considerable amount of time because we're all trying to protect our own interest and make sure we get to the end game, which is the same. And that's what I found, speaking with Bob and Paul, going through this whole process, is there's a tremendous amount of synergies out there. You just have to dig deep to find them. There's no better conduit to that than the golf game of golf.
Merrill Lynch has been involved with golf for a long, long period of time. We've seen that. The PGA TOUR has seen that and golf has recognized that. You have to have the right avenue that fits in very, very correctly with the right -- in a way, the right demographics for that corporation. Bob saw that through the shootout because it is a very, very friendly atmosphere week, just like he made comment with Annika. By seeing her sit down with the playing partners after a ProAm, that's what the shootout is all about. We intermingle every night. We get together every night. The amateurs come and play a practice round with the players even during the week, even the two-day ProAm.
There were a tremendous amount many synergies involved with that. Again, everybody has to protect their own domain in the right way. We have to make sure that the image of the Merrill Lynch Shark Shootout is exactly what Merrill Lynch wants. We have to go through the network deal. We have to make sure that 2007 onwards, the change of dates, we're changing networks. We're going from USA/CBS, who have been a tremendous supporters of the shootout, to The Golf Channel and NBC. That's not our choice. As you know, the PGA TOUR does a Collective Bargaining Agreement, so we actually basically have to go along with where we actually slide in.
To find the right date, for example, moving from November to December, we like that date because you get out of hurricane season. We all knew last year, two weeks after a hurricane came through here, the tournament was coming on. Everybody did a great job.
From our standpoint, moving maybe three or four weeks later into December is a good move, but then again you've got to make sure you have the right networks to go with. NBC I think is one of the premiere golf networks out there. They're going to give us an extra hour coverage on Sunday, which is right up Merrill's street because they want as much exposure that they can possibly get.
There's a lot of moving parts that you have to put together. At the end of the day fortunately we put it all together. There's a lot of hard work behind the scenes. I mean, Bob and I just sit up here and make the announcement. Everybody behind in the back of the room there...
BOB McCANN: All the work is in the back of the room.
GREG NORMAN: We have to recognize that, too.
At the end of the day, from the network deal, I think from our standpoint, I myself am going to miss CBS because I have a lot of dear friends with CBS. They've done a tremendous job. At the same time, I think from NBC's standpoint, they're really stepping up to the plate from 2007 onwards, being a major part of golf. I'm just proud of the fact that they've gotten the Shark Shootout.
BOB McCANN: One comment on your question about Franklin Templeton. From a Merrill Lynch perspective, we could not be happier that Franklin Templeton is going to remain involved with the shootout. I personally, our entire executive team, we have a high regard for Greg and Charlie Johnson as people, as professionals. We couldn't be happier they're still going to be involved.
The other thing I would add is the timing actually works quite well with us at Merrill Lynch. As I said in my more prepared remarks, you want the right partner, strong partner. With have that in Greg and his organization. In addition to that, the timing works very well. It not being on the Thanksgiving weekend is something that appeals to us. It's easier for us to get our clients to the event. Here with a two-day ProAm, a larger field, this is all going to work very well in providing our clients with a unique experience, and doing it obviously at a resort like this on golf courses like this in a world class fashion.
Q. Greg, did you have a chance to speak with Annika? Dean, one of the folks who wasn't in favor of a full-field event extending a sponsor's exemption to a woman, was there any bit on her part where she wasn't -- had there been any conflict between the two of you? Not conflict, but any hesitancy on her part to participate in the event?
GREG NORMAN: No, I haven't spoken to Annika. I will do now that we've made the announcement. We wanted to make sure that Annika was very comfortable in her decision to do that. Obviously, we want to make sure from Merrill Lynch's standpoint that she was comfortable in that at the same time.
From any discomfort from my part? Absolutely not. I think I've been very, very clear and consistent about my views. I think, like I said earlier, I think there is, and I'm sure Annika supports this, too, at the same time, I'm sure there is an open-door policy, as long as everybody knows what that open-door policy is going forward with golf, participation in professional golf.
Times have changed dramatically in the game. There's no question about it. Look, take Michelle Wie, for example. She probably has the capability to actually out-drive a lot of the men players out there nowadays. Is that a sign of the times? Absolutely. Did that happen back 25, 30, 40 years ago? I couldn't answer that because I didn't play back then with anybody who was a professional woman golfer. I couldn't answer that question.
But times have changed. Technology has evolved. Technology has created this ability, as well as physical ability and teaching ability, have helped the women to get pretty much comparable. They're never going to hit the ball 350 yards like a John Daly or Tiger Woods, stuff like that. You never know, maybe one day they will be able to.
That tells you that golf courses that they play now around the 6800-yard mark, 7000 yard mark, they can actually play. That's what we play. We don't play 7500-yard golf courses week in, week out. We do during the majors. Look at Hilton Head, for example, maybe 7100 yards. A golf course like that is very getable for a vast cross-section of players.
To really answer your question, I don't have any pushback from Annika. I think Annika has been very supportive through my office. I know Bud has been speaking to Annika's agent on a regular basis. There's been absolutely full support right along across the board.
Q. As you complete the field with the other 22, is there a possibility of another woman?
GREG NORMAN: Yeah, that's open, absolutely. It is open. Annika is sitting back because that was one of the wishes that I granted her, to consider who she would like to play with. She's sitting back there thinking about it right now.
Would there possibly be another woman? Absolutely. Time will tell who that will be.
Q. You were speaking of Hilton Head. I imagine you're trying to get yesterday's winner here for the shootout?
GREG NORMAN: It was great to see Aaron do that. I know he's gone through a bit of an up-and-down cycle through the last three or four years. He's changed his golf swing, gone off and gotten married. He's committed himself to staying over here on the PGA TOUR, based himself out of Scottsdale. For a young guy, he's going through a lot of transition in a very short period of time. I was very proud of him because I've known him since he was a young whipper-snapper. He still is a young whipper-snapper now. Since I've known him, I've known him a long time, played a lot of practice rounds with him in Australia when he was a young amateur.
I was proud. I called him as soon as he was finished, left a message on his phone because I know a lot of pressure has been put on him back in Australia after his two Australian Open wins to really be the next big Australian star. Adam Scott is there as well, but everybody thought Aaron would be that person. He put a lot of pressure on himself as well as the public putting pressure on himself.
Stepping up to the plate now the way he did, especially under the pressure, what I read and heard about, the pressure of yesterday's event, hopefully that will be just the catalyst to take him on to the next level. I'd love to see that, I really would.
LEE PATTERSON: We'll go to the media joining us on the phone.
Q. Based on what I could hear, this is going to NBC, Greg, you talked about your challenge, how much maneuvering is having to go on. Is it almost as fluid as what the TOUR's regular season went through in the last six months?
GREG NORMAN: I didn't say it was fluid. We just have to go with what they deliver. At the end of the day, like I said, it was part of Collective Bargaining Agreement. I don't care whether it's the PGA TOUR scheduled events or whether it's a cosanctioned PGA TOUR event like we have here, we just have to go with it. We actually try and work with them. They talk to us, no question about it. At the end of the day, we just go with what we're given.
Q. Do you have any clear picture of what's going on overseas at that time of the year? Do you get a sense that the boys will be pretty well staying home at that point? There's been talk about World Golf Championships in China, other parts of the world. Would that create a problem with the shootout in December or have you had any decision with the TOUR about that?
GREG NORMAN: No, we haven't had discussion with the TOUR from that regard. We're always going to go up at this time of year with other tournaments on a global basis. I know, for example, this year the Merrill Lynch Shootout is just prior to the Australian Open, so we'll be getting on a plane and heading down for that. I'm sure there are going to be other events in other parts of the world as well.
It's no different to what's happened in the last 20, 25 years in the game of golf. You are going to have conflicting events. We are independent contractors. We have the right to go play wherever we want to play. It's a player's choice.
A lot of the American players have a tendency of enjoying staying at home. Getting on a plane and going to China for five or six days to play four rounds of golf and coming back may not be the highest on anybody's list, especially Americans. International players, we travel a little bit more, so we're kind of used to that. We don't have a problem of thinking along those lines.
From an American player's standpoint, I don't have any fear that we are going to be degraded in the list of the tournaments the players want to play. I think just by looking at the field that I've got already, and we've already announced two of them, the strength of the players already committed or wanting to commit to this event tells me we're going to have a very strong field again this year.
Q. How did the pairings work down there? Can you rig them in a way where you would actually play with Annika? You almost make it sound like you've given her a choice to take her partner, to bring somebody in. Could you clarify all of that?
GREG NORMAN: I can very easily. I have carte blanche of who plays with who, simple as that. The only two people that will be together would be the defending champions. At the end of the day, basically what I've done over the years is I get the list of the players, the 22 other players, and I'll actually know who are really good friends, I know I'll pair them off, make a couple phone calls to make sure one is happy playing with the other. If they are, then I'll pair them off automatically like that. Then there's always about 50% of the field left over where you actually have to sit down and try to put them all together.
Yeah, I can pretty much put anybody with anybody. If Annika decides to want to play with another female, I have no problem with that. Her wishes will be granted.
Q. Would you play consider playing with her? What tees would they play off, or would they play off, if you have two women playing together?
GREG NORMAN: The answer to your first question is, yes, I would consider playing with her. Number two, they'd play off the same tees of what we play off.
Q. Greg, can you update us on your status as far as when you might be playing again and your health? Could you comment on Mickelson's win at the Masters and your view on how he sort of figured it out lately.
GREG NORMAN: With regard to my health, I should be back playing around about the first week of June. That will give me about three to four weeks of getting back for the Senior US Open, Senior TPC, Senior British Open, International and Jeld-Wen has been my sequence from July to August. I know that sounds like a lot of golf. Last year coming out of my back surgery probably was a lot of golf. I've taken a lot of time off. My last surgery I had on my knee was in February. I had to have my knee redone again. I have no problem with my knee right now. The only thing I have to do is redevelop my muscles, my thigh muscle, my calf muscle, some of my glut and back muscle because I hadn't used my right leg properly since September. So it atrophied by about one and a half inches off my right thigh. I'm finally getting strength back in there. It will be another six weeks when I go back to see the doctor. I'm sure he'll give me a clean bill of health to go out and start hitting balls in June.
As for Phil, I thought it was just tremendous because I think Phil has really redefined himself in a lot of ways. What I mean by that is I think he's really scaled back his aggression to a point where he now is quietly aggressive. I didn't watch any of the golf at Augusta, but I did read about it. I heard comments about him. But he seemed like he was in very much a Zen mode, I think some of the terminologies that I've used, where he was in a very, very happy zone on the golf course because he was very much in control of his game.
I always thought Augusta National anyway was a far better left-handers golfcourse than a right-handers golf course because he can hit driver where most guys hit 3-woods, like 13 for example, like 10 for example, 9 for example. He can hit a cut driver where most guys have to hit a 3-wood. A cut driver gets out there a little further with more control. I always thought the golf course was a better left-handed golf course than it is a right-handed golf course. Phil has a great short game and great touch.
I think it's going to set up very well. I think the rivalry is there. I think the game of golf needs a great rivalry. I know everybody talks about the big five or whatever it is, but you really need about two or three guys to step up to the plate. Phil has no fear. He believes in his game. He's probably a little bit more inconsistent than a Tiger, but at the same time when Phil puts the afterburners on, he can play against anybody.
I was proud of him because I like Phil. I like Phil because of the way he conducts himself.
Q. Greg, with all the other things you do in your business, with the flux in television, have you ever considered commentating on TV?
GREG NORMAN: Well, it's a very interesting question because, I tell you what, a couple years ago I was courted by CBS. They wanted me to come up and be I believe in the booth with Jim Nantz at the time. We did have a couple of lunch meetings about it. I basically said, look, I've been playing golf on the weekends for 25, 30 years of my life. For me to pack my bags on a Thursday, go away on the weekends for the next five or six years, I don't think you guys have enough money at CBS.
As much as it intrigued me, I just didn't want to be away on the weekends again. Travel is travel. I still travel a lot in my other businesses. I just decided to turn that down.
But I was very, very honored, to tell you the truth, that CBS would think of me that way. Maybe my frankness and openness in my discussion is good. And even at events when they've asked me to go up there after I played a round of golf, I still enjoy sitting up there in the tower and giving a frank point of view about what the state of union is with the game of golf, what I see is happening in the tournament itself.
Answer to your question, no, I will not be doing any commentating, but yes, I have been asked.
Q. Do you have any relationship with Annika at all? Have you ever talked to her, had conversations with her? What do you respect most about what she's done in the game of golf?
GREG NORMAN: The answer to the first part of your question is, yes, I have. Obviously, we bump into each other at functions, bumped into each other at golf events. I probably haven't seen Annika in over a couple years, to tell you the truth.
But second part of your question, I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. I think her consistency basis of her performance on the game of golf is probably far greater than anybody else's I've ever seen. You can throw in Tiger Woods, you can throw in anybody. When you see her performance week in, week out, the number of events she plays, she's still bit beating the best of the best in her field, I don't care whether it's male or female, you still got to get up there and win. To do that on a consistent basis is almost impossible.
The way she's handled herself, you know, I've been very, very impressed with that. She answers the questions the right way. She's very, very humble about her golf. One thing that really impresses me, golf, she doesn't put herself ahead of the game of golf. Golf is far, far, far ahead of where she thinks she is. That really is important to me, too, because she loves the game, she plays it with passion, she practices hard. All she wants to do is just pile on the victories, and her performance, the best way she can. You respect somebody for that because the hardest thing in the world is to be successful. Harder than that is to be the best at what you can be. She's done that on a consistent basis. She's sacrificed a lot. She's committed a lot. She deserves everything she has.
Q. Greg, a TOUR player once said, a fellow who left the game, that nothing replaces the feeling, no matter how much you are involved in business, coming up on the last hole with a chance to win a big tournament. You've been away from the game because of injuries for a bit. I know you're coming back to play. Do you feel that statement has merit?
GREG NORMAN: Yes, it has a lot of merit because at the end of the day you are a competitor. At the end of the day, I'm a golfer, professional golfer. It's like riding a bike, all these feelings come regurgitating back up when you get yourself back in that position.
The most interesting part, because I've been in and out of the game for the last couple years because of injuries, the most interesting part for myself is how you feel the first two rounds of golf. If you get the first two rounds of golf underneath your belt in a positive, competitive fashion, you put yourself in some type of position where you can actually let that all regurgitate back up, it's amazing how quickly it comes back. Absolutely incredible. It floods back into you.
I remember a couple of situations down in Australia where all of a sudden I knew I could do it again. You know it sleeps inside you, it never goes away. It's just a matter of pulling it back out.
This one will be interesting because I've probably been out of the game longer than I've ever been since the shootout last November to when I started hitting balls in June. That's a long period of time. I'm excited about getting back, but I'm also interested to see how excited I will be by come middle of June.
My hands don't have any calluses on them. I know my hands are going to be split and bleeding when you get back to playing. All your little muscles that you haven't used for a while, even though I practice, even in the gym, I use weight to say try to simulate that, it going to take a while to get them back up. Then you've got to walk again. You've got to go out there and walk 18 holes of practice rounds. I haven't done that.
It's going to be an interesting process, one that I'm looking forward to. I've really picked the golf courses where they're fairly flat, to tell you the truth, until I get to the International, where you're going uphill. I think I'll have my leg strength. Even though when I go hunting, I always hunt on foot. Still playing golf, concentration, not letting your mind wander, get back into it, it's going to be an interesting challenge, but I'm looking forward to it.
LEE PATTERSON: Thank you. We appreciate it very much.
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