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CHAMPIONS TOUR MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 16, 2008
MICHAEL McPHILLIPS: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Champions Tour 2008 teleconference. I'm Michael McPhillips, the Champions Tour Director of Communication. And I'm speaking to you from PGA TOUR Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where it's 59° and overcast. But we very much appreciate your interest in participating in this call.
We'll have remarks from our speakers on-site at the Mastercard Championship at Hualalai on the big island of Hawaii where it is 9:00 a.m. local time, followed by a Q & A session. Our speakers include Champions Tour President, Rick George, and Champions Tour player, John Cook, who still has rookie status for 2008, but already has a Champions Tour win under his belt in just two starts at the end of last season.
This call will be transcribed and posted on ASAPSports.com later this afternoon. Let me turn it over to the President of the Champions Tour, Rick George.
RICK GEORGE: Good morning, everybody. Actually, good afternoon to most of you. I think we're the only ones this far west. But good morning, good afternoon. I appreciate everybody being on this call.
It's hard to believe that I'm starting my sixth season on the Champions Tour. It's been an exciting ride with a lot more excitement on the horizon. Always enjoy, as most of you know, the opportunity to discuss our product, and I appreciate you taking the time to join John and I this morning as we kick off the 2008 Champions Tour season.
We're coming off what I think is one of the best years that we've had on the Champions Tour in recent memory. As we look at the indicators of our success, attendance, TV ratings, charitable impact that we're having in the community, the coverage that we're getting in the media, all of our indicators are very positive to this Tour. In my estimation, it gives us great momentum as we head into the 2008 season.
The 2008 season marks the 29th season of the Champions Tour, and I'm pleased to report that the competition on this Tour is as good as it's ever been. If you look at the competitive highlights from 2007, we had 21 different winners in 29 events. We had eight first-time winners, and that includes three from the class of 2007. Mark Wiebe, Bernhard Langer, and John Cook, who, by virtue of his win in just his second Champions Tour start, joins us from the Mastercard Championship at Hualalai. And you'll hear from him in a minute.
Denis Watson won twice and was still considered a rookie this past year after suffering injuries the previous two seasons that limited his play to three events. And Denis, by the way, as most of you know has been selected by his peers as the Champions Tour rookie of the year.
The golf writers association of America recently announced that Denis is the recipient for the Ben Hogan Reward for remaining active in golf despite a physical handicap or serious illness. He'll receive that reward in April in Augusta. Denis just had a terrific year on the Champions Tour.
We've also had six multiple winners and we've got two winners age 60 and over. We're fortunate on this Tour to have many recognizable names on this Tour week in and week out. If you look at the top 30 prior year money list going into this season, you can see the different players that are on this list.
We had four World Golf Hall of Fame members finishing in the top 30: Tom Kite, Hale Irwin, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw. We had three players in the top 30 that are age 60 or older: Hale Irwin, Dana Quigley, Dr. Gil Morgan. And we had two of our first time winners that had really been under the radar screen: R.W. Eaks and Lonnie Nielsen had both entered the winner's circle for the first time this year.
The cost of 2007 was also represented by Mark O'Meara who finished 14th on the money list, and three other rookies playing in their first full season had good finishes. Denis Watson was fourth on the money list, and both Scott Hoch and Fred Funk finished in the top 30 and are fully exempt going into this season.
As I mentioned the rookies, they also got in on the action after capturing one title in three Champions Tour appearances in. In 2006 Fred Funk won on both the PGA TOUR, the Champions Tour. The last one to do that, I think, was Craig Stadler when he won the B.C. Open a few years ago. But Fred kicked off the year winning in Turtle Bay in an impressive fashion.
As I mentioned, Denis won twice, and it took few starts for Bernhard Langer and John Cook to get their first win. All three won tournaments within a month of their 50th birthday. Pretty impressive start for those gentlemen coming on board late in the year on the Champions Tour.
All of this was accomplished on courses where the three round average length of a golf course is measured 6958, that is a 12-yard increase from 2006. Yet the average driving distance of our players went up 3.5 yards from 2006, 274.3, versus 270.8 in 2006.
As a matter of fact, five of our scoring records were set in 2007. Our average winning score was 66.8. The previous best was 66.98 in 2000. Our scoring average overall of 71.39 is the best in our history.
Our scoring average for our players age 50 to 54 was at 71. Our scoring average of our players age 60 to 64, and as we mention those three players that were 60 that won last year, that average was 72.26.
And a big step that everybody likes to hear is our average birdies were at an all time high of 779.81. I think that speaks volumes of the kind of quality of player that we have on this tour.
We always talk about the competition, but one of the things that really sets us off from other professional sports is what our players do outside the ropes. The interaction with the fans, the sponsors and their guests.
And I can tell you that our players do it better than anybody. Looking ahead at 2008, we have a new event on our schedule, the Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic, March 31st-April6. I think it is the first Professional Tour event in the Dominican Republic, and we're excited about that.
It's on a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course, and it is a terrific venue for us to host. I know Jay Haas and Craig Stadler and a few of the guys went over there during the holidays and just think it's a spectacular venue. We're hoping that some of you can come down there. If you're needing an excuse to go to a really neat place, tell them you need to cover this historic moment down in the Dominican Republic. It is a terrific place.
Our Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am is moving from February to April. And it is really important for that event given the Pro-Am format. It gives us more daylight time. I think you're going to find it will be a terrific event. The weekend telecast will again be on NBC. And we also have two consecutive weeks with that butted up against the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf telecast that's on Cbs.
The other notable change for 2008 that we're we announced in early December in case some of you missed it, it involves the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf tournament that sparked the development and the operation of the Champions Tour. It is returning to its roots with the team format for the legends division. Official money, official victory for each team member.
The players have been extremely supportive of this change. We've had a number of players that are really excited about it. It's kind of fun to watch the creation of some of the teams and the bantering that's already going on about their partners and playing against them.
We've got Dana Quigley and Allen Doyle, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Larry Nelson, Jim Thorpe, Loren Roberts, Scott Simpson, Craig Stadler, Jeff Sluman, and a number of others that I think you're going to find are going to be really entertaining and really fun. It's really going to elevate this event and bring a lot of positive exposure to the Champions Tour.
In addition to these new items that we just talked about, we have another crop of great rook he's coming out in 2008. Sandy Lyle joins the Tour February 9, Ian Woosnam joins the Tour March 2nd. Joey Sindelar, March 30th. Mike Hulbert April 14th, Hal Sutton, though I don't know how much Hal's going to play in his initial year, turns 50 as well. And Dan Forsman turns July 15th and becomes eligible at the 3M Championship.
Ken Green, Larry Mize, and then Blaine McCallister will be the last to join us on October 17th. Hopefully, he'll be able to get in the AT&T Championship, that would be his first event on the Tour.
As we talked about, we've still got a strong rookie class coming back in conjunction with that or in addition to that, because Bernhard Langer who only played in five events, Mark Wiebe, John Cook, Jeff Sluman, Fulton and Larry Winkler did not play the six events required to be considered a rookie. So they're all considered rookies again.
John, you're a rookie again. You can be a re-rookie. And going into 2008, so that is kind of exciting.
It's going to be a real exciting race for the rookie of the year. I think it's going to be a fun year from that standpoint.
We also have 29 official money events in 2008, with prize money totalling $55.5 million, and an average, which is a record purse on the Champions Tour of $1.91 million.
Charity will continue to remain a big winner on the Champions Tour. And we appreciate your coverage of how we give back in the communities we serve each week. Only the past five years we've averaged over $10 million, last year we were over the $11 million mark, and that speaks volumes to the quality of our tournaments.
Our tournament directors at each and every one of our stops have elevated their events over the last five years. Those of you who haven't been out to see what we do firsthand, I think you'd be highly impressed with what our tournament directors are doing. And our partnership with them has been terrific, and our title sponsor. So we're really excited going into this year.
Our major championships, we have great venues for all of our championships. The Senior PGA will be played at Oak Hill country club. The Senior British will be at Royal Troon Golf Club, the old course.
The US Senior Open will be at the Broadmoor Resort on the east coast. Hale Irwin will be serving as honorary chair. The Jeld-Wen Tradition will be at the Crosswater Club at Sun River Resort.
And Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship will be October 6 through 12 at Baltimore Country Club, Five Farms- East Course. We were especially pleased at how relocating the fifth and final major with Constellation Energy, it played such a pivotal role in the Charles Schwab Cup race when Loren Roberts became the winner and eventual winner of the Charles Schwab Cup, awarding double points. So having that tournament towards the end of the year really perks a lot of interest in this Tour.
The TV lineup will again be strong as we benefit from our second full season on the Golf Channel carrying the PGA TOUR broadcast.
The Golf Channel will be the exclusive cable television network, home of the Champions Tour. They'll provide coverage of all round of 23 Champions Tour events in 2008, which includes all four rounds of the Jeld-Wen tradition this year, a major championship. Since that event will not be on NBC this year, because of the Summer Olympics, the Golf Channel will also telecast all four rounds of the season ending Charles Schwab Cup.
NBC will televise four official events with ABC and CBS airing one each. And four of the five Champions Tour major championships will be on network television as well. You can see we've got, in my estimation, a real promising year ahead of us on the Champions Tour.
It will be difficult to top the positive enthusiasm that we've had for this year coming off 2007, but we're confident that a mix of our season veterans and the stellar rookies will really enhance the excitement of the Champions Tour season.
And I can tell you that I feel pretty strongly about the quality of player that we have on this field from their name recognition, from their past on the PGA TOUR and, most importantly, as people and what they do for our sponsors and their guests.
We hope that you'll all be out there reporting and watching what we do on the Champions Tour, because I think this Tour is in a real positive position and there is a lot of enthusiasm for the direction that we're headed with this Tour.
I also wanted to comment on one final item and remind you all as communicated previously. We do not anticipate starting drug testing on this Champions Tour in 2008. What we'll do on the Champions Tour is we'll start the anti-doping program education later this spring, and sometime in 2009 we'll begin testing.
I don't think we need to discuss that anymore, but I thought we'd tip that one off, and tell you that we'll start that education process this year and begin testing in 2009.
I really want to thank John Cook for being on the call and taking the time for being with us on his first trip to the Mastercard Championship at Hualalai.
He's just one of the new faces in our field of 42 players this week. He made the most of his two starts in 2007 by winning the AT&T Championship in San Antonio after turning 50 October 2nd. And that goes along with his 11 impressive PGA TOUR victories.
So with that, John, the one thing I will say is I send my condolences to you, since I haven't been able to do that privately, on your Buckeyes. But I've been there before. You know, my team went to the Rose Bowl in '83 and we got pounded, too.
So with that, I'll turn it over to you to make some comments about your short career on the Champions Tour, and maybe what you see ahead.
JOHN COOK: I appreciate it. Thank you for the condolences for our Buckeyes. That was a tough one. He thought they had a chance to win that game. But didn't happen that way, but I appreciate it. And condolences to your Fighting Illini as well. Got to root for the Big Ten.
I appreciate it. It's great to be here to kick off the year at such a great play as Hualalai and the Four Seasons. Definitely a place you want on your schedule early in the year every year. So that is my intention is to be over here as often as I can possibly be. This is quite a spot.
I'm very excited to be part of the Champions Tour. Got a little taste of it last year playing in two events. One in Houston, and then got fortunate enough to win there and at San Antonio, a great place. Oak Hills is always one of the great tour stops that we had on the PGA TOUR.
I remember it just it's just a great old golf course. Now that we get to play a lot of those out here on the Champions Tour. So I'm very excited about the year. I'm anticipating playing very, very full schedule 20 to 22 events at least. I really want to support and commit to the Champions Tour. I think it's just a great place to be.
The guys have been great. They were very kind to me early on when I started there in Houston. Great to see some old faces. We've been to battle a few times in my 28-year career and Ryder Cups and all kinds of major championships. It's just an honor to be out there with them.
That being said, I expect to play well. I've worked very hard this off-season and I anticipate being competitive. That's what it's all about. I know one thing, these guys really can play. And anybody that thinks that they're just going to come out and dominate this Tour, they're in for it.
These guys have not lost their skills. They are very competitive. They've got countless major championships and countless tournament wins. I'm just pleased as can be to be part of the Champions Tour, especially starting here in Hawaii. I've always enjoyed the islands.
I've had some good success there at Wailea and the Sony Open. I won in 1992 at the United Airlines Hawaiian Open. Always enjoyed coming to the islands. The people here are so kind. I've basically come over here almost every year since 1980, so my wife and I really enjoy coming over here.
So, again, thanks to everybody. The support of the Champions Tour is just going to get stronger and stronger. The guys are getting not only have they been great, they're going to get better and better.
There are some great young guys coming out here, I guess I can say. It's going to be very competitive. I'm very excited for these major championships at Oak Hill and Rochester, and Royal Troon. And the Broadmoor, good old Broadmoor. I remember playing in the Broadmoor Invitational countless times when I was an amateur. And it's going to be great to get back to that classic, classic property and wonderful Donald Ross golf course.
So we're excited for the year, and again, thank you for having me on. And anybody has any questions to throw my way, just keep the Buckeye Nation bashing down, and we'll get along just fine.
MICHAEL McPHILLIPS: We also are appreciative of you being in Hawaii this week as a two-time past champion of the Bob hope.
JOHN COOK: Yes.
MICHAEL McPHILLIPS: So we're excited to have you at our house. Before we take your questions, ladies and gentlemen, I have one other reminder -- tomorrow night on the Golf Channel will be the Champions Tour Season Preview from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. eastern on the Golf Channel. 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. eastern for our season preview.
We are fortunate today with our two speakers as Rick George and John noted. They are former student-athletes at Big Ten schools. Rick George at the University of Illinois where he played 44 consecutive games as a standout defensive back on their football team.
John was a three-time All American selection at Ohio State, and a member of the Ohio State 1979 NCAA Championship golf team, and a member of the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame.
So they'll now take your questions, and they may even comment on their respective athletic departments at their schools.
Q. You mentioned that you passed up the Bob Hope, what should we draw from that about your commitment to senior golf?
JOHN COOK: That's a good question. I had played the Bob Hope 28 straight years right from my rookie year as my first tour event, when I had gotten my tour card. Being from around there, I was always a great supporter of the Bob Hope and the tournament there.
I actually had intended to play again this year, then something happened to me in San Antonio that kind of set my schedule in a very, very positive way. That got me into the first event over here, the Mastercard Championship. That's exactly what it was.
I am very, very much committed to the Champions Tour. I've been looking forward to this opportunity for a few years. I was competitive there on the PGA TOUR the last couple of years and had some chances to win. This just kind of revitalized me and my commitment then to the Champions Tour got stronger and stronger as I got closer and closer to 50.
All my friends kind of kept reminding me that you're working hard, they can see that, and I said that's exactly it. I'm very committed to what is going on on the Champions Tour and being part of it.
I don't know if I'll play any PGA TOUR events. I might. I'm not sure. I'm not going to give that up. But the ones that have been very special to me, like the Bob Hope and the AT&T and a couple of others that may come along. But if they happen to be opposite a Champions Tour event, I'm fully committed to the Champions Tour, and that is pretty much what my schedule will be.
Q. As you neared 50 and were getting ready to have a birthday and your options opened, did you start paying more attention to the Champions Tour? Did you research it? Did you follow it more or golf is golf and when I'm ready to go play, I'll be ready?
JOHN COOK: I would say yes to all of that. I definitely did research it. Mark O'Meara had turned 50 at the very beginning of the year. Mark and I are very, very close. Have been since we were junior golfers in Southern California. So I was trying to keep up with what Mark was doing.
But I had always kept up with guys that I had played a lot of golf with in the '80s and in the '90s who are enjoying success on the Champions Tour. So I've always kept up with that.
I'm a golf fan. I watch golf. I enjoy that, I enjoyed my time on the PGA TOUR the last few years and getting to know some of the kids and some of the guys. I can say kids because my son pretty much played high school and college golf with a lot of these guys I was playing with. That are kind of showed me that I just kind of need to move along and turn 50 already and move on to the next opportunity in my golfing career.
So, yes, I did pay a lot of attention to what was going on. I watched, I tried to research to the point that I knew what I needed to get better at if I was going to be competitive right away. I found that out my first week at Houston where I didn't play that well. I was anxious to get going. Then the next week I settled down, and I got in my mind exactly what I need to do to get better and I went ahead and did that. So I prepared just like that.
Q. What were some of those things that you realized I've got to improve my game to play against the old guys?
RICK GEORGE: I think pretty much with three rounds to win a championship, you cannot have that mediocre middle round or first round or a bad nine holes. You've got to fire away from hole number one.
The winning scores out here are very, very low for three rounds. And if you're going to have a chance to win, you're going to have to fire away right away. And I needed to get just a little bit better converting opportunities.
So I was never really worried about my ball striking. I felt like my ball striking could carry me a pretty good ways out here, but I needed to take more opportunities.
On the PGA TOUR, it is a bit different. It was different for me because the courses are a little bit longer. And a 6-iron on down in my hands I feel like I could be as good as anybody what they're hitting in the hole. Once you get into 3 and 4-irons, I'm not going to be firing at many flags on the PGA TOUR. They're cut very close to edges, over bunkers. I just don't hit that sky ball 3-iron anymore like I might have 15, 20 years ago.
So I needed to get sharper. I needed to get my short game very consistent. And that's pretty much what we worked on from the last half of the year all the way through October.
Q. One thing that sticks out on the schedule this year is the three consecutive majors. How does that happen? And are you looking for ways to avoid it in the future?
RICK GEORGE: I can tell you that we took great pains to get away from the bunching of our majors. If you look at our majors prior to 2007, they were similar to what they were in 2008. And we had worked really hard to get those majors separated in 2007.
If you look at 2007 in the majors, the quality of our fields in competition was probably the best that it's ever been. Unfortunately, the USGA made a decision to move the U.S. Senior Open to that later date and as you know where the Senior British is they have very little flexibility to move that event due to their TV commitments with ABC.
It's unfortunate, but we're dealing with it. We're working to try to provide some more separation in the path. And I think if you look at the history of our majors we've really made a big push by moving our Players Championship from early July. If you remember around that time the Senior Players at the time was right next to the US Senior Open. So we moved that event to the fall and October. And we had them pretty much spaced the way we wanted to. And now we're back to this clog of our major championships.
So it's something that we'll be working on in the future, because I think it's important for us to space our majors a little better than we have. Unfortunately, some of it is dictated by network television but also on when the USGA and PGA of America can get golf courses to host these championships. So there are a lot of variables involved, and we'll work on it to try to make some changes moving forward.
Q. I have a question about rules for you. What is the most interesting or complicated rules incident that you've come across? Maybe something you've seen in a group, one of your groups or something that's happened to you personally?
JOHN COOK: I think I might have the one of all time to tell you the truth. You can talk with Tom Meeks about this one, and I still don't know what the heck happened.
I'm playing at the World Series of Golf, and I'm going to say it's 1993, so this is a while ago. I'm playing with Peter Senior, and it's the third round. We're both playing pretty well. I don't know if you guys know Firestone Country Club, but the sixth hole is a really good long par 4, and you drive it down a hill. It's kind of a blind drive, you don't know where your ball's going to end up. It's a very, very long hole.
We're both playing decently in the tournament. I draw the ball most of the time, and Peter hits a nice little cut. I hit a drive kind of down the right-hand side with a little draw, and he hits a nice little cut down the left-hand side with a little cut.
And we go down to our golf balls, and I'm thinking because the fairway slopes very, very hard from left to right as well. We just kind of hit -- went to our golf ball and hit our shots up on the green. I hit mine on the green. He hit his in the bunker on the left, and he blasted out.
I had marked my ball and given my ball to my caddie. Peter blasted out of the bunker. He was a little bit inside me and, of course, like caddies do they go up and claim the golf ball for their playing partner just to kind of move things along.
My caddie gives me the ball back, my ball to putt, and I putt with my golf ball. I putt out, and Peter misses his putt and goes up and taps his in.
We go to the next tee, and I look at the ball, and I go, that's not my golf ball. I had it in my hand the whole time. That's not my golf ball.
And like idiots, I mean, this is totally my fault -- we didn't know what happened. Had no clue. We knew somewhere along the hole we hit the wrong ball. Where that was, I don't have any idea whether it was off the tee. Whether it was the second shot. Did we get the balls mixed up in the towel when the caddie was washing the ball? I have no idea.
So like idiots, we kind of looked at each other and said this is just way too weird, too bizarre, something very strange happened. So we're just going to go ahead and play off the next tee. Well, that was the wrong thing to do. That's a DQ right then and there.
But my question has always been, and I still don't know the answer, and somebody may -- I still don't know. If you know you hit the wrong ball, but you don't know where you hit the wrong ball from, where do you go back to to replay the hole? So that was a pretty strange one in my book.
I still don't know the answer on where we would have had to have gone to replay. Whether it was replay the hole, go to the second shot. You know, my caddie has been around. He was very much of a veteran caddie at the time. He totally contends that at no time were the two golf balls in the towel at the same time, so he couldn't have mixed it up. So we were just at a loss.
Obviously, when we got done playing, we didn't need to come back for the fourth round. We just played along.
Q. So both of you guys were DQ'd?
JOHN COOK: We were both DQ'd, yes. Not for playing the wrong ball. But for playing the next hole and finishing out. Why we did that, I don't know. I don't have any idea why.
Q. Did one of you guys report it to a rules official? Or did someone figure it out?
JOHN COOK: We did. Along the day, we did. And they didn't know either. They couldn't come up with what happened. All they knew was you hit the wrong ball in a hole, and you played the next hole and that is pretty much a DQ. That's about all they could tell us.
Q. Do you think there would be or has there ever been any serious discussion about an alternative format for any of the events. There was a match play event that died, does it ever come up now in policy board meetings? Is it something that you think would have some value or not?
RICK GEORGE: I think we'll pretty much look at anything if we think it elevates a certain event or if it brings more positive exposure to the Tour. So I think we talk about different things quite often in those meetings. I don't think we've had anything definitive.
As you know, a lot of things are title sponsor driven, so we really haven't discussed the match play much. We haven't really discussed that. But different formats like going back to the team competition at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, that was one.
We constantly look at it and talk about it. I think the Champions Tour is a little bit different. We really do a lot of things differently from the different format that's we do have. We've got the Legends of Golf up in Minneapolis that's been real positive for that event. We do the event, the Small Business Classic in Houston with Roger Clemens and Johnny Bench, and that's been a real positive for that event.
We'll kind of look at anything and talk about anything. But is there something on the horizons coming up? Not yet. But I wouldn't be surprised in the future if we don't have a different format or two, doing different things.
MICHAEL McPHILLIPS: It's fair to say that Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf as a team event is a big step for players and obviously for the Tour.
RICK GEORGE: Oh, sure, and that was three years in the making.
Q. I just wanted to get the status of the two events that start the season as far as their contracts and the sponsors? What's happening for the future? Because I know they're both towards the end here?
RICK GEORGE: They are, and actually we've been just speaking with the Mastercard Championship at Hualalai, we're in conversations and have been with the Hualalai Four Seasons Resort to continue playing this event here.
Unfortunately, in Turtle Bay, we haven't been as positive. We're still looking for sponsorship. We're in the market for the event at Turtle Bay, and that does come to a conclusion at the end of this event.
Our hope is and what we've been working on collectively as a staff is that we continue to start our season in Hawaii. We think it's good for the Tour. We think the primetime television we can offer is real positive to start this Tour.
So we have every intent of coming back to Hawaii for our first two events. However, you know as well as I do that you've got to get the right title sponsors in place to continue those. Hopefully, the next time we talk, we'll have something positive to say about that.
Q. Is there a timetable? Like a time you need to get it done there?
RICK GEORGE: Our timetable, our objective in this regard is we'd like to have our schedule for 2009 complete by June 1st. I think last year we'd like to announced our schedule June 25th. That would be the same timeframe we have in place.
I'm in Hawaii the next ten days to talk to different sponsors and meet with different groups locally. Again, our intent is to be back in 2009 to start our year in Hawaii.
Q. Got a question for both Rick and John. It pertains to Oak Hill up here in Rochester. John's been here numerous times in his play. But both of you would like to talk about the Senior Tour coming to Oak Hill for the first time since the '84 Senior Open first, if Rick could explain the Champions Tour thought about going there and then some recollections of playing the golf course, thank you.
RICK GEORGE: I can just tell you that I know our players are excited about it. We think it's a great venue to host a major championship. The USGA works pretty hard in identifying the best places around the country to host the championship. It's been, as you just mentioned, over 20 years. So I think it's going to be exciting for our players to go back.
We're pretty enthusiastic about that venue and what it offers. I'm sorry, the PGA of America, excuse me.
JOHN COOK: My father ran the PGA in 1980, and I actually to be perfectly honest, I never played an event at Oak Hill. I wasn't in that PGA, unfortunately, and didn't quite get there the other couple of times. The US Open I missed qualifying when Curtis won.
So I actually have not played a the golf course during tournament play. I have played it with an old teammate of mine at Ohio State that was a from Rochester and a member at Oak Hill, Mike Mercer. But that was way, way back in the middle '70s, late '70s. So I'm sure it will be a little different test than it was then.
I'm certainly looking forward to playing. I know a lot about it, and I'm a huge, huge Donald Ross fan. Watching Ryder Cups there and major championships there, I'm really excited to finally get a chance to compete at Oak Hill.
Q. I thought you played the '89 Open?
JOHN COOK: No, I didn't. I was hurt that year. And I had some surgery that kind of curtailed my playing schedule that year. So I missed that year in '89, unfortunately. And I had just missed the Ryder Cup team when we played there. So, unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play Oak Hill.
But I certainly look forward to the opportunity, and know so much about it from television. I feel like I've got a little bit of a connection there in Rochester, so we'll see. Look forward to it.
RICK GEORGE: I can also tell you that time of the year is going to be really a good time of the year to play that golf course. It will be just in outstanding shape. So we're excited about it.
Q. That course will play about 7,000 yards when they have it set up. And you know the rough is lush even at that time of year, it will be tough, maybe even wet. As senior players, I know you're a rookie senior, but is that going to be quite a test? When you figure of the five majors that have been played there, only 11 men have broken par for 72 holes.
JOHN COOK: That's exactly it. I don't think that length really matters or has that much effect. I think that quality of design, the density of the rough, the firmness of greens. Weather plays a big part in scoring conditions.
I can tell you right now, like I said earlier, there are a lot of major championship winners playing the Champions Tour and they've had experience there at Oak Hill.
It's going to be a great championship. Like you said, there are very few players that have ever even broken par for four rounds around this golf course, and I anticipate the same. Like most real quality major championships, par is a great score.
We'll wait and see when we get there what the weather's going to be. I know that late may up in the midwest it can get -- chances are it will be very, very nice. Might still have a little moisture in the ground. Playing there at Ohio State for the years that I was there, that spring schedule is always a little dicey. So I'm sure it will be a formidable test, and I really look forward to competing there at Oak Hill.
Q. Wanted to ask if you were going to play in Naples? Also, from your time on TV, did you pick up anything that helped you when you got back out playing again? I know part of that time you were out with a shoulder injury.
JOHN COOK: Yes, I do plan on playing Naples. I spent a lot of time there when I was in college when Ken Venturi was down there at Marco Island. So I spent a lot of quality time there in Naples. Really look forward to getting down there and playing the golf tournament there. I think it's the ACE Group Classic.
So, yes, I plan on playing, and look very much forward on playing. I was out in most of '03 and first part of '04. Yes, I did do some television. And there is no doubt I got to see golf from a different perspective. It definitely helped me, there is no question.
Just covering early round coverage of a lot of events and watching from above what was going on. More than anything, it kept my mind in the game. It kept me thinking about golf, calling golf shots like I would be playing golf shots. I think that might have helped a lot of the viewers understand what we're going through, walking them through golf shots on Thursdays and Fridays more than just seeing the guy with the trophy on the end of Sunday. What is going on on Thursdays and Fridays for a lot of these players.
So definitely kept my mind in the game. I think it kept me sharp. When I went back out to play the middle part of '04, I kind of fell right back into. And I remember this. My mind was still in it. My body had to catch up, but my mind was still pretty sharp. So definitely I learned a bit while I was doing it, just by observing from high atop the television towers.
Q. How do you prepare yourself physically?
JOHN COOK: At 50, I can tell you it's a little different waking up than it did when I was 25. I'm working hard with a couple of great guys in the Newport Beach area. One trainer and one therapist that really put my body back into shape.
Last year I had some issues with my shoulder again, and my body was telling me to shut down and get this thing figured out. Tim Brown there in Newport Beach has been an incredible influence on what he can do to your body to get things back in shape. And Justin Franzen in Corona del Mar, acting as my trainer and working on just good stuff.
Not so much getting a lot stronger, but getting more efficient. So I'm in for the long run. So my body doesn't break down. I think that's the big key.
The schedule that we keep on the Champions Tour is great, because you don't play more than a couple of weeks in a row, and you have a week off. So you can pretty much play all you want and support the tour, but you have to listen to your body, and that is a big, big part of what we do just for longevity. We're working on longevity. I let my body tell me. Just listening to it and making sure that I'm healthy for the long run.
It's going to be a great haul. I'm really committed to this, and I want to play as much as I can. The only way you can do that is to train and stay sharp. And at 50 years old, you have these little aches and pains, and I don't want to have those aches and pains. So I'm working to better myself that way.
Q. I have a question about the business of golf. You probably don't remember when your father was in the auto business, I guess?
JOHN COOK: Oh, sure I do. I love that.
Q. You and your father have been in the golf business for an awful long time. Most of your life. Tomorrow at the PGA show there is going to be a big announcement there about the size of the golf business, how important it is to the economy. I wondered if you think the golf business is growing, is Stagnant, or what is your take on it from your experiences?
JOHN COOK: My family's been involved in athletics for a long time. My dad was a football coach for a number of years, like you said, he was in auto racing for a number of years. Got into the tournament organizational part of golf in the late '70s, early '80s, up into the 90's. And we've been a big golf family with my sister being a golf professional and a teacher. Her husband is doing the same.
We see the golf side of it. Being involved in a couple of golf courses, we see the business side as well. Not knowing the actual finances of things, I see golf kind of making -- I know it was huge for a long time. It kind of got stagnant a little bit. But I definitely see some upside to what is going on. More and more people are starting to play again.
There are good, quality golf properties being built and renovated. I think that the exposure of the Champions Tour, PGA TOUR, LPGA, Nationwide is going global now again. There's just a lot of excitement.
So hopefully that translates into the golf business and the green grass stores, the outlet stores. There are more and more things popping up, more technology. People are interested in that. I know there is a new company that has started up, and they're kind of bringing that technology thing into play. I think it's called cool clubs. So there are more and more things starting back up again.
I think the excitement is getting back, and the exposure ear there. And so many people play the game now or are starting to play the game. The business climate is great entertainment.
Being part of this game for 40 years, I am a little biased on what a great game it is, and people are starting to understand that. I think more and more people are playing. So hopefully that translates into good business dollars.
Q. What that's triggered this growth?
JOHN COOK: I think just, gosh, there are probably a number of factors. But I think that people are finally listening to what a great game it is. To learn, and be part of. There are great opportunities to play. You don't have to be -- there are so many great public facilities. There are programs and tournaments and how you can -- there is great instruction out there.
The First Tee organization has been outstanding and very successful. We're part of a couple of First Tee organizations.
My sister runs a First Tee organization, couple First Tee properties with 700 or 800 kids, and that exposure. I think parents really want their kids to learn how to play. I think just all translating and starting to peak again.
You get more and more kids involved, and of course, Tiger's influence with his foundation and how many thousands of kids have gone through his program. There is no better ambassador for the game than Tiger Woods. And when he's excited about what his foundation is doing that that only translates into even better exposure and getting more people involved in the game.
Q. When you were talking about not having that high 3-iron anymore, did you ever think about having a high 3 hybrid or something like that?
JOHN COOK: I actually was stubborn for a long time. The week of San Antonio I did put a hybrid in the bag, and bingo, it kind of opened things up for me. So it definitely opened up some opportunities for me.
There is no question that some of that type of technology can be very, very good. Most everybody out on the Champions Tour has a hybrid type of golf club. All the guys I play with at home, all very, very good players, they pretty much are on that hybrid train as well.
I was stubborn there for a long time, and I just kind of saw the light. So that definitely, that club that I put in at San Antonio I used quite a bit and have since. For some of the golf course that's we play, there's no question that it is a very handy club instead of taking out that 2-iron down there that looks like a butter knife, I've got that hybrid in there and I can hit it straight up in the air, so that's a good thing.
Q. Would you give that credit for the victory there?
JOHN COOK: I definitely would say that it -- I used it quite a bit. I hit quality golf shots with it most every time that I hit it. It was exactly what I was looking for as far as height and ball flight and trajectory. So, definitely. A bit of credit goes to making that switch.
Q. I was just wondering if you had gotten the chance to play the course at Hualalai yet, and if so, what your thoughts were on it?
JOHN COOK: I did. I played yesterday morning. It's fantastic. The condition of this golf course if it can be better than perfect, it is pretty much right there. It's as good of Bermuda Greens I've ever seen in my life. Hualalai always had great Bermuda greens over here for the Hawaii Open or the Sony or United Airlines Hawaiian Open.
We always felt those were the best Bermuda greens we've ever putted on. And these right here are perfect. There is not a spot on them. They roll true. There's not a lot of grain. I guess that's pretty much why the scores get low around here is you're putting on perfect greens, and that's a nice way to start the year.
But the overall condition of the golf course couldn't be better with 40-plus players playing. It won't get tracked up. And it's just a great spot to be. It's a great spot to start. The.
The golf course is at the mercy of the weather. If the wind blows or not. If the wind blows it's a very formidable golf course. There are some good par threes out here. With the lava rock all around, it doesn't come into play a whole lot, but it is there and you're looking at it all the time. You can get up on some tees, and it is kind of intimidating where you've got green grass and lava rock. Just keep your ball on the green grass, and you'll be okay.
MICHAEL McPHILLIPS: I think it's important to note that an elite field here in Hawaii because of the 41 players, Andy Bean had to withdraw. But you only getting to to Hawaii if you've been a winner of a Champions Tour event the last two years or a winner of a Champions Tour major in the last five, and we have four sponsor exemptions with Curtis strange, Ben Crenshaw and Lannie Watkins, and Lee Trevino. So it's a great field.
It's $1.8 million purse, $300 thousands going to the winner. And as Rick George indicated, it will be telecast in primetime starting this Friday at 3:30 eastern time. And then 7 to 10:00 p.m. eastern on the Golf Channel.
Rick George, anything you'd like to add to close?
RICK GEORGE: No, I really appreciate everybody being on the call. As I said, we're really excited about the 2008 season. And as good as 2007 was, I think 2008 is going to be another spring board to a great year.
We're excited about it. We appreciate you being on the call, and appreciate John taking the time to share his comments this morning as well.
JOHN COOK: My pleasure.
End of FastScripts