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TRAVELERS CHAMPIONSHIP MEDIA DAY
May 7, 2007
CHRIS BERMAN: Well, last year, standing on 18, you had a lead that you worked 71 holes for, two- or three-shot lead. So before you uncork that drive, which I think it's estimated at 508, what are you thinking on 18?
J.J. HENRY: Well, of course it was nice standing on the tee at the time with like a three- or four-shot lead. Obviously it's never over until it's over, but to be up there as Nathan mentioned at the event where as a kid I grew up coming to, and with my dad and the pro at the club, and always the event where I'd come out and watch the players and be like, wow, how neat would it be some day to actually play in this tournament, let alone have a chance to win it.
Therefore, my caddie and I were trying to figure out what to hit, if we hit 3-wood out there, play it safe and make sure you don't plug it in the bunker. He said, look, you've been hitting it great all week. I took a driver, hit a high draw on the other side of the cart path, and from there I could almost kick it on the green. Once I knocked it on the middle of the green there and to see the Connecticut faithful and all of New England up there, must have had 50,000 people up around the 18th green there.
And to see the appreciation for, as Nathan mentioned, as well, someone that's grown up in the state of Connecticut that in a lot of ways I'm proud of the fact that I'm from here and kind of helped carry the Connecticut flag for professional golf on the PGA TOUR.
It was just a great experience and something that when I finally knocked in that three-foot putt for par and raised my arms and gave my caddie a big hug, really it was just an amazing feeling, and to be honest with you, this was the first time -- when I drove in the gates this morning was the first time I've been back since that Sunday.
It's really starting to hit home. You do so much and you get kind of caught up in the whole realm of traveling around and doing stuff, but to come see and see my picture in the clubhouse holding the trophy is pretty neat.
CHRIS BERMAN: Two bigger picture questions on this. Driving up today or maybe driving home on Sunday night, did you think about your days at 8 and 10 and 12 playing junior golf and being here with your dad and what kind of thoughts went through your head?
J.J. HENRY: Absolutely. Again, I touched a little bit on it, the fact that I played all sports growing up and was very competitive, but golf was something that I always wanted to do, and to be up here, and again, to watch the guys -- I just liked standing on the range when I was a kid and asking the guys for autographs and stuff. This is a tournament I used to come to. I grew up an hour south in Fairfield, Connecticut. My family is still there, have a lot of roots here in the state.
Again, to get the feeling of when I play here it really is neat that I have so much support from fans all over the state for that matter. You know, I'm grateful of the fact that I get to do something I love for a living. But I remember where I came from and I remember sitting out there as a little kid watching guys hit balls, and there I was, as you mentioned, walking up the 18th hole as the 2006 champ. It's pretty neat stuff.
CHRIS BERMAN: Have you had a chance to look at the list of names, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, first black man to ever win on TOUR, Charlie Sifford? There you are.
J.J. HENRY: You know, it's funny you mentioned that. I spoke at a breakfast this morning with the Hartford Alliance, and they had a two- or three-minute video right before I talked a little bit, and it was a great piece. They mentioned the names, the people, the names on the trophy, the players that have played in the event, from the celebrities on down to the pros, and my name is on that trophy of all places. My first win in my home state, I mean, you know, it's literally storybook. I couldn't script it any better. It's pretty unbelievable.
CHRIS BERMAN: What happened to your game last year to elevate it to that level to win and to contend?
J.J. HENRY: You know, it's funny, sometimes honestly you win when you least expect it a lot of times. This is a tournament that I've played well in a couple times, never really threatened to win, but it's always an event that I really put almost too much pressure on myself to play well because you want it so bad with those reasons about you have all the local support. It's just the one event that really hits home.
And for some reason or another, I was very relaxed last year. It was really almost surreal, really, how relaxed I felt and at ease, and a lot of that comes from experience.
This is my seventh year on the TOUR. I got a chance to play -- this is my first event I ever played on the PGA TOUR in '98 as an amateur. I was lucky to have a great amateur career and won the State Amateur I think three times and the New England Amateur, and Ted May and his crew were kind enough to give me a sponsor exemption as an amateur and to make the cut, so here it is my first event to ever play on TOUR and then my first win. It's pretty neat stuff.
CHRIS BERMAN: It opened up a lot of doors very quickly. Ryder Cup, among others.
J.J. HENRY: Yeah.
CHRIS BERMAN: Describe that whole --
J.J. HENRY: Well, you're the football guru. I compared it to almost literally the crowd and the atmosphere was 4th and 1 and goal, and it's just an incredible atmosphere.
You know, as a golfer, you don't get to experience team camaraderie like other sports. It's you against the golf course, it's you against the other players. And to have 11 other teammates arguably, obviously from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson on down the line, to spend the whole week with guys that you respect what they do on the course, but to really kind of see and hear how they think and how they react and what they do to prepare for arguably the most pressure you'll ever play under in a Ryder Cup is something that I've learned a lot from and I've kind of stored back here.
You mentioned the Ryder Cup. It really is kind of like a -- it's the most pressure I've played under, for sure. I was just trying to get it airborne off that first tee. I'm not going to lie to you.
You know, again, it's something that obviously I got a taste of, and for the most part, unfortunately as disappointing as it was, the outcome, when I got a chance to play, I played pretty well, and I'll take a lot of positives from that.
CHRIS BERMAN: Among others, you and Tiger seemed to bond some. You kind of knew each other growing up, and it kind of gave you a chance -- people don't know that you don't see all these people -- even though you're playing in the tournament, it's not like you're hanging around with 156 people every week.
J.J. HENRY: Absolutely, there's no question. As you mentioned, we're basically the same age. We played a lot of college golf together. Together, I mean we played a lot of tournaments. I played with him periodically or a couple times in an actual event.
But, you know, exactly. He's expecting his first child in July, which I have a young boy myself. Our wives get along. Really, you know, I've always admired what he's done on the golf course. But Tiger really is just a great person to spend some time with. He's just like everybody else; it's just he's arguably the best player to ever play the game and probably the most recognizable figure or athlete in the world. I'm just lucky, I mean, heck, it's neat to be a part of something or to be in the same era where you know you've got your -- it's a tough task to beat him, but at the same time it's pretty neat to be able to say you've played against the best.
That being said, I've enjoyed spending some more time with him as you mentioned. I played a practice round with him this year at The Masters on Monday. First Masters, I'm standing on the first tee at 8:00 a.m., which is really the first -- literally there's a guy standing there with a sign that says first time is 8:00, and who's on the tee is Tiger, just me and Tiger for 18 holes. It was my 32nd birthday, Monday, April 2nd, my first Masters, so it was a pretty neat way to start the week for sure.
CHRIS BERMAN: So he's won 50-whatever times, and you've got one, which to get one --
J.J. HENRY: Absolutely.
CHRIS BERMAN: What do you draw from him and other champions? Could have been Europeans, too, that have won 10, 15, 20 times on their Tours.
J.J. HENRY: It's just the will to win. It really is incredible. Even yesterday as an example, we're playing there at Wachovia down in Charlotte. I think Tiger is one or two back starting the last round, and it's a very difficult day. It's one of the hardest courses we play all year on TOUR, the wind is blowing about 20, 25 miles an hour out of the north, and it's not cold but not real warm, probably more like a day like today, and he goes out and shoots 5-under par on the front nine and basically wins the tournament the first nine holes.
He's just an incredible talent that -- even as a player you don't like to leaderboard watch, but it seems to amaze what he does week in and week out when he plays and what he draws to the tournament.
But, you know, that being said, he's just a great talent, but more importantly, too, he's a good person and a lot of fun to be around.
CHRIS BERMAN: Having won and having represented the United States and having played in the World Golf Championships and playing at Mercedes, now you've elevated. What do you expect out of yourself here?
J.J. HENRY: Well, I'd like to think that -- to be honest with you, I'd like to think that with the success and all the things that happened last year that going forward I can parlay that or turn that into obviously maybe moving my game up to the next level.
I mean, I'm realistic. Am I going to be the best player in the world? Probably not. But can I be a Top 20, Top 30 player on the PGA TOUR for a long time? I think so. I think obviously winning last year and playing Ryder Cups and stuff can only help my career as it goes forward, and being just 32 years old, I'd like to think my best golf is still ahead of me.
You look at what history has shown, most golfers peak in their early 30s, and now here I am with being in my seventh year on TOUR with six years of experience under my belt. I know the golf courses, I know what to expect, being a winner on TOUR, playing in the Ryder Cup, I think hopefully I'm looking forward to what lies ahead and I'm going to work hard and do the things I need to do to get better.
But definitely by doing those things, it gives you kind of a new self-confidence, there's no doubt about it.
CHRIS BERMAN: Anybody got some questions for our defending champ?
J.J. HENRY: Well, to be honest with you, I haven't talked to Tiger much about it this year, but I think that -- I know this year, as well, too, he's expecting his first child sometime in late June to mid-July somewhere, and I think to be honest with you, I can't speak for Tiger, but his schedule is a little bit up in the air depending on his wife and the situation with their obviously newborn baby.
That being said, I think with the excitement that we have with a great corporate sponsor, with what The Travelers has come in to do, and obviously some of the new things that Nathan has mentioned with the purse structure, with the Pro-Am, with the new practice facility, all these things are going to add to the event, and Chris talked about the crowds.
This tournament has always been -- I can remember even when I played in '98 we'd have 100,000 or 120,000 people out there on Saturday. It was always known for huge crowds, huge roars playing the last four or five holes, and it's just great theater.
I think obviously being from the States, I've always -- as Chris would agree, it's very close to my heart, and anything I can do to help promote the tournament, I'm looking forward to doing.
I can remember I talked a little bit about it earlier, I'm on the PAC, which is the Player Advisory Council, which is like sitting on the board of the PGA TOUR. It's made up of 16 players, and we have four player directors, which basically represent the TOUR.
I can remember this was 13, 14, months ago at a PAC meeting last February about how basically the Hartford stop was out. It was off the schedule, and then I'm thinking to myself, here is a community, the money they give back to charity, what the Jaycees have done for this area, what this tournament meant, to basically all southern New England. It was a big event, a big sports event, and it basically was closing shop.
To have an opportunity to see what Travelers has done to step in for the event, obviously Nathan and all his staff, the Jaycees I know with On-Sport, it's kind of like a -- the sky is the limit, as Andy as said, and I think we're all real excited. As a player, obviously I'm very close to it, but there's buzz out there. Whether we can accomplish it the first year I'm excited about it. There's no question we can.
I've seen differences out here today. That going forward I hope can attract the likes of say a Tiger or ongoing forward the fact that this is going to be a tournament that's going to be an upper echelon event, and I think the players are excited about it.
CHRIS BERMAN: We've got a New England defending champ, we've got Singh, we've got Mickelson, we've got the sky as the limit, and hopefully, again, it's still 42 days away, so as word gets out and guys really try to figure out their schedules close to the U.S. Open and such, hopefully there will be even more guys.
So I think the players and everyone is real excited.
Q. Obviously a lot of factors go into a player's decision as to whether to play or not. How much effect do you think that will have for the average TOUR player in terms of considering whether to come visit Hartford?
J.J. HENRY: Obviously it's the way we make our living, but at the same time, I wouldn't say the purse is -- let's be honest, of course as a player you want to play for as much money as you can, but at the same time, I don't think it's a make-or-break situation. I think the first thing -- we talked about first and foremost is the golf course, and I think no player would argue that we don't have a great facility, arguably one of the best if not the best TPC facilities we have.
A lot of people talk about Sawgrass, where we're playing THE PLAYERS Championship this week, but outside of THE PLAYERS Championship, I think it's probably in my opinion the best TPC course we play.
You can talk about the front nine, it's kind of through the trees and kind of winds back and forth, and then of course you get towards the back nine, still the same thing, kind of up along the river, and then obviously everybody knows about the finish, 15, 16, 17, 18. You can be three or four ahead and three or four back, and to see the people and the corporate village, and it's just a great theater, and the players love it, they really do.
15 is probably one of the best short par 4s probably anywhere. I can only think of one hole that comes to mind, which is the 10th hole at Riviera is the only short hole that comes close to being a great par 4 like the we have here we are at 15.
16, you talk about a neat par 3 over water with a green that slopes back to front. You know, you whip it over the green, you can practically chip it back in the water, the wind swirls through the trees there.
I mean, 17, it's a -- you've got to just suck it up and hit a good tee shot in the fairway. You bail out left in the bunker you can make 6 or 7, and of course you block it right in the water -- it's a great hole, second shot to a tough green.
And 18 with the amphitheater type setting is just a great, great finish.
Q. Just four months in, but how has the FedExCup format affected the TOUR at all?
J.J. HENRY: That's a good question. I've thought about that a little bit myself. I think the players are excited about it. I'll be honest with you, I don't think a lot of the players are really worrying about jockeying their position yet as far as where do I stand on the FedEx list because the fact that it's still kind of premature, early in the year.
But I think it's going to add excitement. I think it's going to give us kind of a bang at the end. I think that was a goal of the TOUR is we always had the four majors and then of course once football and stuff starts, things kind of tail off and golf kind of becomes an afterthought.
I think now with the Chase for the Cup and the marketing and the promotion of it and how the players have took to it I think is going to be a neat thing for the players and for the fans.
You know, something to kind of follow -- similar, I guess, you can kind of compare to what NASCAR has done with the Chase for the Cup or whatever they call it, but I think the players are excited, and of course someone is going to walk away with $10 million, too.
J.J. HENRY: I do not, unfortunately.
CHRIS BERMAN: But they deliver overnight. You can again that answer tomorrow right here at 10:00 o'clock.
J.J. HENRY: But I do know it's pretty parallel with the Money List. I don't know what I am on the Money List. I'll tell you what, I'll know probably three months from now when it gets closer to the finish or kind of maybe around the U.S. Open or say the British Open through July there when, heck, I'm going to probably have to make a little move -- we get re-seeded, too. I don't know how familiar you are with the list, but you basically get reseeded based on the last full field event, and there's three events, kind of like a playoff series, that lead up to the TOUR Championship, and it's cut -- it starts at 144 players based off the FedExCup, so I believe 120 for the second event. You've got to stay in, to the top 70 to the third event, so you've got to make sure you're in that, and then -- excuse me, top 70, and then the top 30 play in the TOUR Championship.
Again, it would be kind of neat. How cool would it be, somebody has got a four-foot putt on the 18th hole of the TOUR Championship for $10 million? I don't know if I could take it back, I'll guarantee you that.
Q. I hear very often about why can't PGA TOUR players come together as a team and win the Ryder Cup. As a first-timer, is there anything you noticed that the team needs to do to get up a little bit more for the event?
J.J. HENRY: Well, I will say this: Again, it was my first go-around with the Ryder Cup and the team camaraderie, but even the other guys that have been doing this for four or five Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups alike, there's no way that we weren't a team or we weren't bonded or we weren't a close group, from the players to the wives. We went over two weeks before the event with the 12 players.
I mean, it was the best week of my life, it really was. The camaraderie was great. You can't argue we weren't a close group. I'm not saying everybody is best of buddies, but for that week we were a team, we were a unit and we were ready to play. I wish I could say why we didn't come out better.
The bottom line is you've got to tip your hats to the Europeans. I think the first day, seven of the eight matches came down to the 18th hole. You play four matches in the morning and four in the afternoon. They have a knack for finishing it off, they really do.
I wish I had a better answer for you, but as far as the camaraderie and these guys aren't close and they're flying on their private jets and they don't talk to each other, that's all out the window, because I'll be honest with you, from Tiger on down to the captain's picks, everybody was a close group. I mean, we had a great time together, and unfortunately we just didn't pull it off.
Again, it seems to amaze -- I will say that the European team, from what I saw, there's no question they enjoy themselves and they enjoy what they're doing and they enjoy having a good time at night and before, similar to what we do. I'm not saying we don't, either.
But it's -- whether maybe they don't feel as much pressure because it's not like -- it's all of Europe and it's not just the United States. Granted, they're playing for their country, I don't mean that in a different way, but when it's just the United States and you're a group, whereas if you're from say a country that's helping Europe, I don't know if it's a pressure thing or what, but, you know, we keep saying what's going to happen.
But things go in cycles a little bit and you've got to tip your hats. Golf is a world game and there's great players all over the world. That's not to say that we shouldn't be winning the Ryder Cup. But at the same time you've got to tip your hat off to them and really see where golf has gone globally in the last eight to ten years.
Q. From a player's point of view, can you talk about how important it is to have a good practice facility and what that's going to mean in terms of drawing players here?
J.J. HENRY: There's no question, I'll be honest with you. You talk about this week, I can't wait to get to THE PLAYERS just to practice. We're playing THE PLAYERS Championship, I mean, you're talking about front end, back end, chipping greens, putting greens. It's like you don't even have to go out on the golf course. I can spend the day out here and work on what I need to work on.
The facility here, like I said, the golf course is great, but I think a little bit of the missing link was the fact that we didn't have -- I'm not saying it's a bad range, but a first-class practice facility with a chipping area, especially around this golf course with a lot of runoffs and falloffs and little chip shots that you tend to hit, there's really nowhere to work on it.
And I think having this facility out here is going to be a great asset that the players are definitely going to enjoy using, and I think everyone -- in general, I'm excited about the opportunities.
There's going to be a First Tee facility there. You know, we're only here one week a year, but the other 51 weeks there's going to be a great First Tee facility. From what I understand, there's a bunch of practice greens and practice holes where the kids can go out there and practice, and obviously as someone that grew up here in the state of Connecticut, to see little kids out playing golf and promoting golf, I'm excited.
I'll be honest, I'm excited, too, in some capacity I actually am proud and excited, I started a foundation myself last year called the Henry House, which is basically doing things, all tangible projects for kids in our area and facilities, and I'd like to think that -- I'd like to get involved and help out the First Tee and help promote the game of golf here in the state of Connecticut.
Q. I was just curious about your schedule up to the U.S. Open. What events do you plan to play, and talk about your preparation for the U.S. Open this year after what's happened to you in the past?
J.J. HENRY: You know, it's funny, I was in the airport last night and I happened to grab Golf Digest I think it was and was reading some of The Open preview, and of course everyone is saying how you're talking about possibly record high scores and it's the toughest Open arguably in the last how many years. It'll be interesting to see.
I've never played Oakmont, but I'm excited. I'm going to maybe try to sneak off and play before the week starts. But it's going to be a tough test. They talk a lot about the greens and the undulations, similar to Augusta in a lot of ways.
I mean, let's be honest, The Masters almost turned into a kind of U.S. Open like as fast and firm as it played. I'm going to play a lot leading up to it. I'm going to play this week at THE PLAYERS. I've always played pretty well in Atlanta next week. I'm going to play Colonial, actually living in Fort Worth now. And then Jackson, then Memorial. I'm going to play a pretty heavy stretch, probably take a week off before the U.S. Open, play the Open and of course looking forward to defending the week after the Open here.
J.J. HENRY: Travelers meaning the tournament itself? Yeah, well, I think there's no question that you get a lot of questions like, well, what are the biggest crowds on TOUR? And of course everybody says Phoenix, you know, the rowdy crowds, the par 3, 16th.
You ask any TOUR player who's played the TOUR for like ten years plus, they always say Hartford. It's an event that attracts groves of people, and I'd like to think that obviously with how we've marketed the event, the slot, the schedule, it's the week after the U.S. Open, which from a fan standpoint, people that enjoy watching golf, hey, they come in, wow, we just watched the U.S. Open this week, they're golf-hungry, they're craving it, and all those players are playing right here in our own backyard the following week. Hey, I just watched him on TV at the U.S. Open and now here they are right in our own backyard. I think there's a lot of positives this year being the week after the Open.
Again, as I mentioned this morning, growing up in Connecticut, The Masters was always like the kickoff week as far as in this area for golf. It kind of got people playing golf again getting out from the winter, and the weather gets better. And now with the tournament the week after the U.S. Open, everybody is going to be kind of anxious and excited about golf, yet everybody will be right in our own backyard.
Again, with what Travelers has done as to step up for this event I think speaks for itself. I think going forward, you know, again, as I already mentioned, this is an event that's going to be around for a long, long time, that players and fans alike, it'll be something that's going to be on their schedule.
Again, I can't speak for the players, but word of mouth will get out, there's no doubt about it.
CHRIS BERMAN: Just an observation I would make is when we were kids one of our first big gifts was a camera, so we had Canon. When we're a little older we get a car, a Buick. But you can't drive until you get insurance. So now here's Travelers allowing us to get going.
Now, what they've done, I know the, quote, off season like the fall and the winter and the spring, and I'm just peripheral. I'm not speaking as any -- you'll see. What they've done, it's different.
It's not a knock on Buick, who saved our butt, and we know that. And certainly Canon put us up to where we are. But what Travelers has already done, and we haven't hit a ball yet, you may not see it all this year as J.J. says, but you don't plan to see -- you'll see, in the next two or three years, I just think that this will be a big, big difference.
One other observation, which is what Andy referred to, within the FedExCup, and I think you'll agree with me, J.J., FedExCup is actually going to help us in other ways. Westchester was a June event. It's now the last week of August. Boston remains Labor Day.
My point is until Tiger's event, and that's Washington, that's a long way away, there is no golf, PGA golf, in this area, and I mean 300-mile circle, barring a U.S. Open at Bethpage or Winged Foot, until the end of August.
Now, we like golf. The weather is great, let's go out and play. I want to go see a golf tournament. I live in Westchester, New Jersey, New York City. I've got to wait until the end of August? Oh, there's Hartford. We're right in Connecticut, as we should, but I'm sure that in the next few years when the schedule kicks in because it's cemented for four years, I don't even mean us but --
J.J. HENRY: Absolutely, yeah.
CHRIS BERMAN: This is it from a 300-mile drive until the last week of August if you want to go see the best players in the world. That's got to help us. That's just an observation that I have.
J.J. HENRY: That's a great point.
CHRIS BERMAN: And the third thing is that we've got to let them know how proud we are that one of Connecticut's native sons is the defending champ. I know it's a press conference, but you can give him a round of applause.
J.J. will inspire youngsters from here. Thanks, and congratulations.
J.J. HENRY: Appreciate it.
End of FastScripts