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May 28, 2008

Dottie Pepper

DAN HIGGINS: I know it's a small group, but I appreciate you guys calling in on short notice. On the line with me is Dottie Pepper. We are in line to talk about this year's event, which will be the third year of it being exclusively on The Golf Channel. This year of course we're pretty excited to have it. Once again we'll have over 12 hours of live coverage, all in high-def. We have a great team coming up there to Bulle Rock to put the show on. We really wanted to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about the event as we see it, Dottie being our lead analyst for all of our LPGA events. There's a lot of story lines going into this year. Without further ado, I'll bring Dottie in.
Dottie, there are a lot of story lines. Annika just retired. Lorena is going for her third straight major. Of course, we have a defending champion in Suzann Pettersen, who hasn't won yet this year. There's a lot of things going on. Wonder if you could address that a little bit before we start with Q&A.
DOTTIE PEPPER: Thanks, everybody, for joining in. I want to first say that we're all very pleased to be doing this for the third year in a row. I'm joined by my sidekick Brian Hammons in the 18th tower. We'll have Rich Lerner doing essays and actually bringing us on the air each day and signing us off as well as Mike Rich, who has such a good rapport with the LPGA players doing interviews. He's actually hosting these first couple days here in Charleston this week at Annika's event. And also on the ground, Kay Cockerill, who has been with The Golf Channel since day one, and Hall of Famer Beth Daniel also on the ground. We have a great bunch of people there to cover the event.
Yeah, there's a lot of story lines, chiefly of course Lorena, who has won six out of nine events this year, and Annika announcing her retirement a few weeks ago, and Suzanne Pettersen, who Dan said, hasn't won on the LPGA Tour this year yet, but won last week at the Swiss Open, so she comes in playing very well.
Anyway, we've got it all laid out in front of us, a championship golf course that has a great list of champions itself. We're very much looking forward to covering this event.
DAN HIGGINS: Of course, we're very proud to have Dottie in our booth, one of the best analysts in the business. I guess we'll open it up for questions.

Q. A question concerning Lorena. In your eyes, what is the biggest difference between her this year and last year? Obviously she's won two majors, but is that enough to catapult her game to this level? Is there something more at play from what you see?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, you know, I don't see that much difference. Statistically she's not that much different from where she was last year, but I think the confidence is the big factor. And I can tell you from reading interviews from other players, from talking to them, when Lorena's name goes up on the leaderboard, it doesn't go up without noticing. I think that also plays a factor. They know they're not going to get a free pass because this gal likes to win and she likes to win big.

Q. Does it seem almost surreal that a year ago the big question was, Why hasn't Lorena won a major, what's wrong with Lorena that she can't win a major?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think that was one of the questions a year ago. The other question at this time last year is how is Annika going to respond from her injury. This week actually was her first week back.
Yeah, it is a little bit odd that this has changed so much. Odd but maybe not surprising. She had all the tools. It was a matter of I think having a little more confidence down the stretch, learning from the mistakes she had made down the stretch in the past. The '05 Women's Open, and actually last year at the Women's Open she did a little bit of the same thing, hitting it dead left at the 17th, making a big number, enabling Cristie Kerr to finish a little more comfortably.

Q. I know it's been kind of discussed a little bit in recent weeks since Annika announced her intention to retire, but can you speak to not only the impact she's had but the ripple effect on the rest of the season, what that is going to mean for the rest of the field?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, you know, I suppose in a lot of ways a farewell tour, although she says this event they do out here in Charleston, she intends to stay very involved with it as it grows and goes forward. I guess there will be a little bit of a farewell in a lot of ways. And, frankly, sadly. I will tell you I put a lot of heart into the article I wrote in SI last week. I didn't quite know where to start. But when it started happening, it flowed right out. And, you know, she was a player that made everybody better in so many ways. She's really going to be missed.
I think, you know, another thing that I don't think has gotten a whole lot of attention is that the LPGA is in the middle of these TV contracts, putting a package together. Lorena being the really dominant player right now, and Annika not there to push her, it leaves a little bit of a question mark. I mean, she is really going to be missed.

Q. You hear a little bit about Morgan Pressel. Can you talk about some of the younger U.S. players coming up. Who seems to be positioning themselves to maybe step into a definitive No. 2 spot?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Paula Creamer is the one that pops into my mind first. She's made not a whole lot of secrets about the fact she does want to be No. 1. She's at the top of the list. I think some of the players that have gotten overlooked a little bit, including somebody like Brittany Lang, this kid is a natural athlete with a whole lot of get up and go. It's taken her a little bit of time to get adjusted to being on tour, being in a suitcase certainly more often than they were in college, and certain things that go with being a professional.
But I think American golf is in a very good place. Don't forget Christina Kim and players like that. Christina bleeds red, white and blue as much as anybody out here does. She's got a game. She's got the fire I think in her belly after being left off the Solheim Cup team a year ago, to come out and improve a whole lot this year.

Q. We've talked about Lorena, she's the dominant player, but are you surprised in any way that Paula, Annika and Lorena have won 13 of the last 15 tournaments on the LPGA Tour?
DOTTIE PEPPER: In a way no. There's a talent level. There's a push there. Would I like to see a few more players in there? Absolutely. I'd love to see a few more players push those players even harder.
But in a lot of ways I'm not. I'd like to see Pettersen push herself up there a little bit more. She's also been playing both tours really. So that really takes away her potential on some weeks.
But there are a number of great players out there that I think are just that far from being able to push those players. It's going to be a great deal when it happens. Let's hope it does happen.

Q. Can you talk to me about how tough it was for you when you were trying to win your first major. Did you ever hear that 'best player never to win a major' talk when it came to you? Paula is going through something right now that she is having to talk about over and over and over again. Talk about what it was like for you. Do you get a sense of what it's like for her?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Yeah, it did happen. My first year as a professional was '87. I got my tour card that fall. In '88 I don't think -- I contended maybe at Nabisco, but from a closing position. '90 I had a chance to win the Open. '91 went winless, although I think I finished in the top five on the Money List.
But, yeah, you hear it. The best thing you can do is know that your preparation and your scheduling is going to lead you into playing well in majors, and really stick to that. And I thought trying to practice in a manner, golf courses that I knew certain shots were going to be needed for those major championships, a lot like the way Nicklaus did. I thought that helped me out. Granted, I was very lucky that it only lasted I guess four seasons, then I won the first major of the '92 season. So it didn't take forever.
So, you know, the timing is probably pretty similar for Paula. You're learning what shots you need to hit at certain major championships, and familiarizing yourself with the Dinah, the Kraft Nabisco now. It's a golf course you see every year. It doesn't change a whole lot, so you can practice adequately.
But she did I think a great job for herself last year going over the women's British and playing an early practice round. Stuff like that I think will bode well for her in getting off this best player to not win a major.
And I think you have to throw Mi Hyun Kim in there as a great player who hasn't won a major. I think she's another player that is starting to rack up a number of major championship appearances without a win.

Q. Can you talk about the golf course? Does it favor certain players? Is it a good golf course for the majors? Thoughts on Bulle Rock?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think the close on both sides favors a player with some length. You've got a par 5 at the 16th, it's kind of a risk/reward par 5, where I think you have to drive the golf ball well across the golf course regardless. But the 9th hole was lengthened. That becomes a hole where your length is very, very important. The 18th, if the wind blows in out of the east off the bay, it can also be a hole that there's some length that matters. Se Ri Pak hit a Rescue Hybrid in there when she won two years ago. I think it's a golf course that demands some length, you have got to put the ball in play. We saw some players to the right last year at the 13th hole, which is just dead. There are places you cannot hit the ball at Bulle Rock and play well.

Q. So much talk is whether Lorena is going to be sort of a champion for the ages.
DOTTIE PEPPER: I just want to be clear with everybody. Lorena did withdraw today. She has a family medical emergency back in Mexico. She will not be playing this week in Charleston.

Q. Anything that would possibly keep her out next week?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Not that has been said. But she flew out first thing this morning and headed back to Mexico. Her uncle is very ill.

Q. Anything that suggests to you she will not have a long run at No. 1, an Annika-like run? Do you see anything that would suggest that?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I certainly don't. Her desire is going to be a lot like Annika. Her desire to play, compete and be No. 1 is what's going to keep her on tour, keep her dominating. I think she's going to be a player like her, too. When she realizes she's lost her get-up-and-push and want to be No. 1 every day, when your body starts to take a beating, it's time to walk away. But I don't see that happening for a while yet.

Q. She has a swing that is not sort of a classic picture-perfect golf swing. Do you see anything about that that gives you pause? Do you think it will hold up for the long haul?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I applaud the fact she hasn't tried to change too much. It was a golf swing that obviously served her really, really well through college, that incredible career she had at Arizona. Although she and her coach, Rafael Alarcon, have tweaked it, have tightened it up a little bit, the shape of it is essentially the same. I applaud her for knowing what worked and not trying to fix something that wasn't broken.

Q. Talking about Lorena and Annika, how different are they as players as well as people, given how much there is a similarity with what Lorena is doing right now?
DOTTIE PEPPER: They are I think two totally different players. The common denominator is definitely power players. I think Annika is much more calculating, more of a Point A to Point B player, who never really seemed to make a big number. Lorena always kind of keeps you on the edge of your seat because there's that potential there. And she is one that she has said over and over and over again, I play my best when I play aggressively and I can't play in a really conservative mode, where Annika was a lot, lot different. Really, like I said, played from Point A to Point B, and much more often would lay up off the tee or take the conservative route unless there was a hundred percent guarantee that was the shot that was going to come off.
There's a little sort of Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer flair there with Lorena.

Q. Do you get a feel at Bulle Rock that it's a major championship or it's a major championship in the making?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think it's growing into its new site. I think that's a normal transformation when you've gone from a place like up at Dupont that had so many tournaments, so many championships year after year after year. There's a natural time that it takes to build.
I will tell you last year there were a lot more people out there. Even the year before, there were a lot more people than there were year one. I think it's starting to grow its roots.

Q. You were talking about Annika and her farewell tour. Have you talked to her? What do you think her mindset is going to be? Is she really going to just enjoy the end of the season or do you think it's important to her to play really well and win some tournaments down the stretch?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I have not had a chance to talk to her. This is the first day I've even been at a site since she retired. So I haven't had a chance to personally talk to her.
Knowing her, I would say she's going to kill herself through the end of the year. She doesn't have a whole lot of just kind of 'mailing it in' in her personality. I think she's going to be really grinding.
Hey, I think an outside chance, too, you have Tiger Woods winning 13 major championships. She has a chance to tie her buddy this year if she wins out. If it was me, that would be in the back of my mind.

Q. What are your thoughts on Nancy Lopez's comments about Annika's retirement, saying she hopes that Annika will unretire?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, the thing that surprised me a little bit to take that further was Annika felt -- Nancy thought that Annika felt she owed the LPGA something. She doesn't owe the LPGA a thing. She has given 110% of herself and done so much for the game that I don't see that as being a real valid statement.
And should she unretire? Fine. But I think Annika is a pretty black and white sort of person. She puts 110% into everything she does and has to be very hands-on. I don't think she's a type to take motherhood lightly at all. She's going to be 100% mom. That's not to say that Nancy wasn't, because she was. But I think Annika is very segmented in the way she does things and how she prepares and how she applies herself. I think she's going to be 100% of everything she does going forward.

Q. As a former player, someone still involved in covering the LPGA Championship, are you happy or sad that Michelle Wie is not going to be there, the circus that has followed here the last couple years there?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, she doesn't have the credentials right now to be there. Over the last year or so, she doesn't deserve to be there. I'm glad to see that she's playing this week. I'm glad to see she's going to get some rounds under her belt before she goes to try to qualify for the U.S. Open. But the LPGA Championship is for the players who have earned their right into the field, and she hasn't over the last year, so...

Q. How do you look upon what she did, where she is now?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I think it's all very sad. As I've said and written, I think it's just sadly a child mismanaged. I certainly hope that for the game's sake things turn around because she is an incredible talent. But to be mismanaged this way I think is just so sad.

Q. Do you have a prediction which way this thing is going to go?
DOTTIE PEPPER: I wish I knew. I'm sure there are a lot of people that wish they knew.

Q. What is your gut feeling on it?
DOTTIE PEPPER: My gut feeling is that we're going to know something here pretty quickly in the next couple years. I think it's going to be hard to play at this poor level for very long for somebody who had been very close to the top.

Q. When Tiger Woods first came onto the scene, we all went out and did stories about the huge influx of young kids taking to the game, especially minorities. Have you seen anything comparable with Lorena that suggests she's getting kids, especially young Hispanics or girls, out?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Based upon the stuff I know, girls that are playing in Mexico now and have been given the financial ability to through her academies and through foundations and stuff that she's doing, yes. I think you're going to see a difference. You have like Violeta Retamoza out here, a couple other players from Mexico, who will tell you directly that Lorena had an impact on them growing up and their choice of golf. So I think you're going to start seeing it, yes.

Q. Anything in this country that you've seen?
DOTTIE PEPPER: Well, I know there are a lot of Hispanic kids that come out and watch, and it's fantastic. Just like what they had last week in Rochester, she did a media day last week in Rochester, New York, on Monday. There were a ton of kids in general out there and she was wonderful with them. That can only help to grow the game.

Q. What do you think are going to be the top story lines this week?
DOTTIE PEPPER: This week? Holy cow.

Q. At the McDonald's.
DOTTIE PEPPER: Oh, at the McDonald's. I think your defending champion has gone a little bit unnoticed, Suzanne Pettersen. I think as I said at the top she's really starting to round into shape, winning over at the Swiss with what was an aggregate total record score on the LET Tour. That shows you the kind of confidence she's coming in with.
I think there's a story line to always pay attention to at a major championship. Laura Davies, being two points from getting into the LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fames. Two points of course being a major championship's worth in that countdown. And then hopefully Lorena will be back. Hopefully this isn't a situation at home that will keep her away. That would be very, very sad because she does have a chance to do something so special with three in a row.
DAN HIGGINS: I want to remind everybody that the McDonald's LPGA Championship will be on The Golf Channel live Thursday through Sunday next week and we'll have the prime time spot as well with the replay in the evening from 7 to 10 p.m. eastern. We also, if I didn't mention before, on holes 16 and 18 will have our Aimpoint technology loaded in on those greens. If you're not familiar with that, it's a graphics technology that shows the line of the putt the way it should go, predicts the break of a putt, suggests where a player should aim, which has actually garnered us our first-ever sports Emmy award. It's a lot of fun. I hope you can tune in and watch if you're not covering the event.
I would like to thank Dottie for being on the call. Appreciate your time.

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