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CHAMPIONS TOUR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 15, 2007
MIKE McPHILLIPS: I'm Mike McPhillips, director of communications for the Champions Tour, and we thank you for joining us for what is our third national teleconference of the 2007 Champions Tour season, featuring President of the Champions Tour, Rick George, and World Golf Hall of Fame member, Seve Ballesteros.
Rick George's stewardship of the Champions Tour is now in its fifth season. In addition to his role as President of the Champions Tour, last fall he was promoted to Executive Vice President and assumed responsibility for oversight of championship management for TOUR-managed events on the PGA TOUR, including last week's PLAYERS Championship and the Champions Tour. He is also a member of the PGA TOUR's Executive Committee.
Ladies and gentlemen, Rick George.
RICK GEORGE: Thank you. Before we get started, I wanted to introduce Mike Stevens over here to my right. Mike is Chief Operating Officer of the Champions Tour. A lot of you haven't met him and he wasn't here for some of the other announcements, so I wanted to make sure you were aware of who he is. He does a lot for this Tour.
I'd like to welcome all of you being here, and those of you on the phone. I think this is a great day for the Champions Tour, and certainly I know I'm glad to be here.
This is our 11th event of the Champions Tour season, and we're honored that we're able to welcome Seve Ballesteros to the Champions Tour family, and we'll do that in just a minute. Seve, as you know, joins the Champions Tour with a couple of other World Golf Hall of Fame members, Nick Price, who came earlier in the year, and then he's joined by Mark O'Meara. Donnie Hammond, I think, played two weeks ago.
So it's a stellar class already, and he's going to be joined by another one of his Ryder Cup friends, Bernhard Langer, later in the year, Jeff Sluman, Nick Faldo and others, so it's a great class on the Champions Tour. I'm sure all of you being here would agree with me that people have probably anticipated this debut other than any that we've had on the Champions Tour in quite some time.
It's also more appropriate that we're announcing a marquee player like Seve at a marquee place like the Regions Charity Classic. They do it as well as any. The crowds in this area have been tremendous. This tournament has been voted No. 1 by the players for a number of years. So for Seve to make his debut here, we think it's very appropriate.
A special thanks to Regions Bank for hosting this today and the Bruno Event Team. Bruno Event Team, as you know, being local, they do a tremendous job of putting on their events, so we really appreciate them hosting this today.
We've got a lot of things happening on the Champions Tour that we're proud of. We've had a great start to our year. This will be our 11th event. We've had nine different winners in ten weeks so far on the Champions Tour this year. Our attendance to date is up 24 percent, our charitable dollars are up 20 percent, our Golf Channel ratings are up about 28 percent from last year, and I think that's a clear benefit to the PGA TOUR being on The Golf Channel and the early round exposure that we're getting through those broadcasts and on the weekends.
We feel really good where we're at from a media standpoint, and we thank all of you for covering the Champions Tour. We certainly think we have a lot of great stories for you.
We think it's appropriate that Seve is making his debut here because this week we jump to the major season on the Champions Tour, and currently Seve is scheduled to play next week at the Senior PGA in Kiawah. And our majors this year in our opinion represent the best in golf. If you look at our five major championships, the Senior PGA is at the Ocean Course in Kiawah; the U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits; the Senior British Open is at Muirfield; the JELD-WEN Tradition is being played at the Crosswater Golf Club in Sunriver, Oregon; and the Constellation Energy Seniors Players Championship is at Baltimore Country Club, which has a tremendous tradition, as well.
And for the first time in our history, all of our majors are on network TV, and we're very proud of that. We're excited and enthused about where the Champions Tour is today, and it couldn't be in a better place. And I think with the addition of Seve coming out and playing on this Tour, I think we're going to make another big step, and as these other players come out through the course of this year, I think you'll see the excitement around this country and around the international golf world.
At this time it gives me pleasure to introduce the three-time Masters champion, three-time British Open champion, he's won nine times on the PGA TOUR and an astounding 87 victories worldwide. He's a native of Pedrena, Spain; he's a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame; he's competed on eight Ryder Cup teams, serving as the captain of the 1997 victorious European squad at Valderrama. Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like to have you join me in welcoming Seve Ballesteros to the Champions Tour.
RICK GEORGE: I'll turn it over to you for a couple comments and then we'll let the crowd ask some questions.
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Well, thank you for those nice words. Obviously I'm very happy, I'm very glad to be here. I think coming over to play the Regions Charity Classic is something very special, and it's something that really makes me feel like this is a second chance in my career. You know, obviously to come over and play on the Champions Tour with the guys that I compete before on the regular TOUR, and I know all of them or most of them, and I have a lot of friends in the Champions Tour. Obviously that makes me feel very comfortable.
It'll be really great to compete with the guys that I competed against on the regular TOUR and also to compete with a lot of friends which they are on the Champions Tour.
I follow the Champions Tour quite a lot because I can see that on the Spanish television -- yes, Spanish channel 51, quite a lot. I study them playing over here in Spain and mostly Europe, and I can tell you that the quality of golf that the players really play is fantastic. So I don't want you guys for one second to think that coming for me over here will be like a piece of cake (laughter). You have to be very tough, and I have a lot of respect for all the guys who compete on the Champions Tour.
I know that the first thing for me and the most important is to come over and center myself. That's what I want, to feel comfortable, to get into the atmosphere, and then to have the rhythm that I don't have right now because I haven't competed for a long time. I compete only in two tournaments in the last two years, and that was the British Open and The Masters this year.
I will do my best, but I don't want you guys to have too much expectations from me. Obviously from time to time there will be one great shot here, one great shot there, but nothing that you haven't seen before. Anyway, it's nice to be here, and I thank you for having me on the Champions Tour.
RICK GEORGE: There's probably not a guy more charismatic than Seve, and what we do on the Champions Tour and the interaction that we have with the fans and the sponsors, I think they're going to really enjoy having Seve out there, and I think he's going to be a tremendous addition to our Tour, a name as star-studded and that has as much name recognition from their players as any Tour in the world.
With that we'll open it up for questions.
Q. If you could talk a little bit more about your expectations for yourself coming into this year. Do you expect to win? And secondly, how would you adjust (inaudible).
SEVE BALLESTEROS: (Inaudible). I come here to try to reestablish myself, to come back and get into the atmosphere, into the rhythm of the competition. What I expect, obviously just to enjoy the tournament, and if I finish right at the top, it will be fantastic. If I finish at the bottom, it won't change anything.
Just for me it's to start to feel comfortable because golf to me is a lot of things because I haven't competed for a long time, I haven't been under pressure for a long time. The concentration may be there, may be not. It's just, you know, a lot of things, how it means on the course. I know that and I will accept that how it comes.
So just to progressively start to feel comfortable, that's my idea.
Q. You talked about it being a second chance in your career. How much of a revitalizing feeling is it knowing that on the tee on Friday you'll be the youngest guy in the field, not the oldest guy anymore?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: I was going to say that (laughter). I remember when I won The Masters in 1980, and I was the youngest champion. I was, I think, four months younger than Jack Nicklaus. I think Tiger beat that record. So it's like a replay of early in my career, you know? I get to feel very young. So that's great.
Q. I know it's obvious for you, but a lot of these guys that are playing at 50 are still playing competitively on the PGA TOUR. Talk about the fact that some of these guys don't seem to be getting old, that they are still out there playing really good competitive golf.
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Well, it's because they extend their career longer, you know? Probably they have better health or they keep the desire longer. I don't know, they may start their career really late. I turned professional in like 1974, when I was 16, and I joined the TOUR in 1976, and I was No. 1 on the European and the American in 1976. So it's been a long career.
For some people, they start much later and some people start really, really early. It's been a long time. It's been a long time, but it's been a short time at the same time (laughing) because it's unbelievable how quickly the time goes by, you know?
They say that it's like you're going to bed -- it's like a dream. Life is like a dream. You go to bed and you wake up with age. I don't know if that's a good translation, but we say that in Spain. Life is a dream. You know, you go to bed and you wake up with age. That's exactly what happened.
In one way it looks like it's been many, many years, and on the other hand it looks like it was yesterday when I joined the TOUR, you know? Time goes by very quickly for everybody. For everybody.
Q. You mentioned the word pressure. Is there some anxiety on your part because of all that you've accomplished and you still want to do well? Do you feel pressure to do well in your Senior Tour debut?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Of course any time you want to do well at anything in life you feel that kind of pressure. If you don't feel any kind of pressure, either you just don't care or -- there's pressure everywhere. There's pressure for me, there's pressure for you guys to make a good article. Everybody, we all have pressure in a different way. That's life. Life is competition. We compete every day to do things better and better. Sometimes we win, sometimes you lose; that's the way it is.
Q. You look like you're in the same shape you were when you were winning the British Open and The Masters. What have you done to prepare for this tournament and to get ready to come out here?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: (Laughing) well, thank you for that compliment. I wish you were right (laughter).
No, I feel good physically. I'm happy and things are going well. You know, all I want is just to go out there and just enjoy, and that's it. Obviously pressure is not an issue because I have other things to do back in Spain and things I would not be able to do when I came over here. So just I think a real golfer, we all turn the game into blood and heart, you know? And we like to compete, you know?
To compete it means not only just to play good shots; to compete is to feel the pressure when you have to produce a good shot at the right moment or make a good putt at the right moment. You know, that's the kind of adrenaline that goes on at that particular time, that's what I miss and probably what those people who love the game miss. That's why I like the competition.
Q. I was looking through some information I have on you. It looks like you have a different golf club manufacturer for every club in your bag. Have you switched equipment, and why is that?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Different clubs? I think you didn't look at the right bag (laughter). Different equipment from 20 years ago, yes. But no, the clubs are blade clubs and a couple sand wedges, and a normal putter.
Q. What I meant was you're playing clubs made by different companies. There's not one company that makes all of them. Is that usual for you?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Well, I mean, the set of clubs are made by Mizuno, the driver is by Callaway, and the wedges are Cleveland. That's all.
Q. Could I get you to comment on the upcoming Senior PGA Championship and playing the Ocean Course again?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: I have great memories from Kiawah (laughter). One memory is that the golf course is fantastic, great golf course. It's quite windy at that place. It's a links course and it's a great challenge to play that course.
The other memory, good memory, is that I won five points in the Ryder Cup, and the bad memory is that the European -- we lost. I would have liked to make that short putt on the last hole from four feet. But I think it cannot be a better course to host the Senior PGA Championship because it's a fantastic place.
Q. Thank you for your time. I wanted to ask you about Sergio Garcia. Have you been following his career, especially lately? There's been some talk that he's been struggling with putting. I'm just curious what your thoughts are on that and if you expect him to break through in the majors or with a lot more tournament victories.
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Yeah, of course I saw Sergio, and he's become a better player after time goes by. He's swinging the club better and better every year.
As you say, his putting is not very consistent. He's very young, you know, and he nearly won the TPC last week. You know, he has plenty of time ahead to win a major. But remember, to win a major, there's only four per year, and it's not easy.
In fact, neither have the Europeans; they haven't won a major championship for the last four years. I'm wondering what the hell is going on there (laughter).
You know, we've been beating the Americans quite easily, but when they compete in the majors, they -- I don't know. They can't win. Something is not right there. I don't know what.
Q. I wonder if you could tell me what in your opinion was the single highlight of your career to date?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: I think British Open in 1984 when I won in St. Andrews, when I holed that final putt to beat Tom Watson, the best player in the world at that moment. That was pretty special. Again, winning the British Open is something fantastic and very special, but winning in St. Andrews, the home of golf, is even more special. I actually made a tattoo on my left arm, so that tells you how big that victory was to me.
Q. Can you talk a little more about the tattoo?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Well, when I holed the putt, that was my action, the left arm, just to remind myself that I won that tournament.
Q. Have you been working with anyone to try to get your game in shape, or have you been trying to figure it out alone this time?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: What do you mean by this time?
Q. I mean in the last year or so, have you been working by yourself or with other instructors?
SEVE BALLESTEROS: No, I've been working by myself and try to -- my swing has always been a natural swing, and naturally over the years I've been listening to probably too many people and have become a little bit technical. I've never been that way.
I think in golf it's not good, obviously in my case, to have too much information. I think you have to see, you have to feel and you have to play the shot. That's the way it's supposed to be, and this is what I'm doing at the moment.
The problem is at the age of 50, you see a swing that's from 20 years ago, but I'm still trying.
Q. I know you played a couple U.S. Opens at Oakmont.
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Oakmont, yes.
Q. And with it going back there this year, I wondered if you had any particular memories about those two Opens.
SEVE BALLESTEROS: Well, the thing is that was my best finish at the U.S. Open. I think I finished third. Larry Nelson won that year and Tom Watson finished second. Obviously I did play very well, and I was the current Masters champion that year.
But I think the rough was (laughing) -- really beat me up throughout the week, and I think the U.S. Open has always been a fantastic tournament, but I could never win the U.S. Open because the rough is always -- the fairways were always very tight, and I used to use a lot of times 1-iron from the tee. I have good memories when I play in San Francisco, also.
But Oakmont is a fantastic course, very tight and very traditional. Whoever plays on that course must be very proud and very happy because it's great. It's the type of course that I try to pick up the best when I design my courses.
MIKE McPHILLIPS: I'd like to thank Seve and Rick George and also the hotel here, the Renaissance, and Bruno Event Team and Event Cable and Sound for all their logistical support.
End of FastScripts