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November 12, 2008

Stephen Ames

Rocco Mediate

TOBY ZWIKEL: Thank you, everyone. Good day, and thank you for joining us for the 2008 LG Skins Game conference call. We have with us today two-time defending LG Skins Game champion Stephen Ames, who will try to become the second player in history to win three consecutive LG Skins Game titles, and he'll be going up against 2008 U.S. Open runner-up Rocco Mediate, who's also joining us today; three-time major champion Phil Mickelson; and five-time PGA TOUR winner K.J. Choi.
The event will be held during Thanksgiving weekend, November 29 and 30, at the Celebrity Course at the Indian Wells Golf Resort. The last player to win three consecutive LG Skins Games was the late Payne Stewart, who did it in 1991, '92 and '93. The 2008 LG Skins Game will again be telecast on ABC Sports.
I'd like to open things up with a couple of questions each for Stephen and Rocco and then we'll open it up to questions from the media.
Stephen, if we can start off, can you talk about the challenges facing you in trying to win three consecutive LG Skins Games?
STEPHEN AMES: Challenges? Yeah, I guess the other three players. Those are my biggest challenges.
I don't know if Rocco has ever played any Skins Game, but I've played in the past, and for me it's -- you know, you don't have to play great for 18 holes, and you just have to play well for a couple holes when it matters, which is what I've done in the past couple years. I've capitalized on playing well on one particular hole where all the cash was on the line and ended up winning. That's the beauty of the Skins Game.
This way it's a lot more fun to play golf, where not every shot counts, and in this case that's probably why I excelled so well in the last two years I've played.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Could you kind of recap your 2008 season for us?
STEPHEN AMES: Yeah, sure. It was a good season for me. It was very steady, seven Top 10 places this year, I think three or four Top 5s. I had opportunities of winning. I didn't win an event this year unfortunately, so I won't be going back to Maui, which is unfortunate.
But I think overall I was very satisfied with the way that I played, and it was nice to be able to take a couple weeks off without practicing much up here in Calgary and then come back out on TOUR and still be able to be on par and playing well. So in that way it's always good for me because I like to spend a little time at home with my family.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Rocco, if we can turn to you for a couple questions and then we'll open it up. Talk about playing in your first LG Skins Game.
ROCCO MEDIATE: Well, I was pleasantly surprised and shocked that I got the call. You know, I've watched it for how many years, 24, 25 years it's been going on.
TOBY ZWIKEL: We're up to 26, I believe.
ROCCO MEDIATE: I was close. I obviously haven't seen them all, but it's always been exciting and I can't wait. It's going to be a blast. It's just an entertainment thing. Like Stephen said, if you play good a couple holes here or there when it matters, it's good. It's going to be a blast. I literally can't wait.
TOBY ZWIKEL: We're looking forward to having you there. Also, as with Stephen, would you review your 2008 season for us?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Yeah, it was odd. I've battled injuries for a while, and this year and last year they came together and went away, kind of. I had a bad start and then obviously a decent middle of the year, a good year for me, pretty consistent. But it wasn't like Stephen said, played solid the whole year. I was very not solid the first half of the year, and then all of a sudden things happened. I almost won the big one, and it was a lot of fun, had a decent two or three months after that, and then it's been good. It's been fine. Coming off these injuries, I'm very, very pleased.
You know, the U.S. Open was big for me. It made me believe a little bit more that I can still do this stuff, because I love what I do and I don't want to go anywhere else, simply because I really don't know what else I can do.
It's just -- it's been fine. You know, it's all good. I really can't complain about this year at all. I don't know what else to say about that. It's just been fine. I'm looking forward to next year, actually.

Q. Stephen, you seem to have an approach to this similar to the approach that Fred Couples has, which is 16 bad holes don't equal two good holes. Last year I think there were a couple guys in the field maybe who didn't have that same approach. It seemed like maybe they were forcing things a little bit. Is it that much different than playing a regular tournament round of golf for you in terms of your approach, your mental approach to it?
STEPHEN AMES: I guess to some extent, not a lot of it. I play the game because I love it, and it gives me a lot of fulfillment when I hit the right shots, and when I have to hit particular golf shots I have to use my imagination, and The Skins Game kind of puts me in that kind of frame of mind and it's like a practice round in some senses. It's nice to be able to play golf when there's not competition involved, and I think that's the reason why both Rocco and myself and the other guys have been playing it for so many years, because of the fulfillment it gives us from playing and being able to hit the golf shots.
Skins Game kind of does that for us. Very much it's an entertainment part of it, and we entertain by hitting some magical shots, and with Phil there this year, he's very capable of doing that, so we're all looking forward to seeing similar shots from him.

Q. Last year you waited until the very last moment to do anything, when you won the big skin on the last hole. Do you ever get to a point during the rounds, obviously two days, 18 holes, where you go, well, I'd better get something done here?
STEPHEN AMES: To some extent, yeah. For me it was nice; I kind of got my first skin on the first hole, which was great. So I kind of got that out of the way.
But I think, you know, when you're standing over a putt like I was last year, I think it was a seven-footer up the hill left to right, and it was for $650,000, yeah, you start thinking about it a little bit.
The good thing about it is we've been doing it all year long for the last couple years where we know when something is important and we go back to old habits of getting back into the zone, and that's why we're professionals, and that's why we play the game that we do. I just went back into the old habits of focusing on certain things and made a good stroke and made the putt.
I was the fortunate one there because I hit the closest out of the three of them and capitalized on it.

Q. Stephen, I had another question, but one of your answers got me thinking. If you could tell me, what one shot, either this year or more so in your career, gave you a lot of fulfillment, and why?

Q. Can't be that long of a list, is there?
STEPHEN AMES: You know, we hit a lot of great golf shots and kind of go, wow, that was nice. I mean, I can recall last week when playing I hit a couple good golf shots that I couldn't wait to get up and hit, and I pulled it off. That's the beauty of the game. Every opportunity that you get to hit certain golf shots and you pull them off always gives you that attitude, and that's, wow, I enjoyed this so much.
I guess overall it's always -- I mean, you look back at Tiger and look at the eight-footer that he made on the 18th hole to get into the playoff with Rocco. I mean, how about that for a putt? You can see by the way he reacted that he made a great putt.
For me there are a couple shots that I've hit, maybe The Skins Game, 18th hole last year, that I made the seven-footer up the hill. Yeah, that was a lot of fulfillment. That's the nature of the game, I guess.

Q. Another question for you and Rocco both. As we look at this part of the season, so many different formats. In the regular season we used to have a team tournament at Disney years ago, obviously had the Stableford; Match Play is probably the only one different format during the year. If you could come up with a format that would be good to watch, good to play without getting too silly during the regular season, what would you do?
STEPHEN AMES: Roc, you can answer that one.
ROCCO MEDIATE: Thanks. The Stableford was really cool, I thought. I enjoyed The International tournament; I think we all did. And then we have the Match Play. But I don't know how you could do it. Another team championship would be cool. We got rid of both of the men's team championship and then the mixed team, which they were both a lot of fun.
I don't know, maybe a stroke play into match play like the U.S. Amateur might be cool for us to do. I don't know how you could do it. Actually it wouldn't be that hard. But there's not much more you can mix it up with during the regular season. The TOUR doesn't like to mix it up obviously because we got rid of all those tournaments. There's nothing left.
The TOUR Championship might be fun to do a match-play event, maybe not every year but mix it up a little bit, or something like that. I don't know if you'd go back to the PGA stuff in a major-wise. I don't know, they did it for years.
But there's not much they're going to do. They're just kind of black and white, and that's just kind of how it is. I don't know how you could mix it up.
But I think Stephen would agree, obviously The International was a lot of fun, and we have the Match Play, but you could actually add both of them or get back a Stableford thing. It was just different, it was a lot of fun, and we're actually all sad that it's gone to tell you the truth.

Q. Stephen, I'm not letting you off the hook.
STEPHEN AMES: I agree with that. Definitely the Stableford was a great format to play in itself. It's unfortunate that we lost that format and that event, too. But like Rocco was saying, it's very black and white out here; it's stroke play and we only have the Match Play, and even then the Match Play is fun to some extent but not great. I definitely think overall the consensus would probably be that the Stableford format was a better event than the Match Play. But it all depends on the person there.
It's very difficult. I never had the opportunity of playing in the team events, so I didn't know what that experience was like. So the only comparison I have is actually the Stableford one.

Q. Question for Rocco. You talked about your season, especially the second half, where you fared a lot better coming off the U.S. Open. Did you get as much out of it as you had hoped, because you don't have a lot of Top 10s, if any, since the U.S. Open? Did you come out of there to an extent with an opportunity missed and not to roll that over into more consistent Top 10s?
ROCCO MEDIATE: No, I didn't. You've got to understand, I'm old (laughter). I'm going to be 46 here shortly.

Q. Well, Vijay is old, too.
ROCCO MEDIATE: I know Vijay is old. Vijay is better, though (laughter). I was pretty pleased with everything, even after the Open. Like you said, Top 10s, whatever you want to call it, I had pretty decent, consistent stuff for me, especially after that, with what I've gone through.
The U.S. Open was definitely obviously my most favorite, favorite time I've ever been on a golf course, especially Monday. Of course I wanted to win. I did all I could, had my opportunities, as did he. It was just -- that's just how it is.
When you're playing against Tiger, you just want to -- I just didn't want to live up to the expectations of everybody else, which was to get my butt handed to me, and that wasn't going to happen.
You want to be there with the best guy in any sport, and you want to see what you have. And what it did for me is it showed me that I can still do this thing, this golf thing, and I liked what I saw. I watched some of the replay stuff, and I liked what I saw, how my body did what I asked to do it a lot of times. Sometimes it didn't, but being human we screw up sometimes.
After that it was good. I was a reasonable British Open, which was nice. I obviously made a lot of cuts after that. But Top 10s are hard. These guys are really good, and for me to continue that move is very, very difficult. I think it is for all of us.
Tiger does it all the time, but there's no other Tiger around. That's just how it goes.

Q. Your last event, the FRYS.com Open, all four rounds in the 60s. For the last event in the regular season, what does that tell you about setting up next season?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Yeah, well, I struck it really good that week, and I didn't -- that was almost -- it was a pretty good, decent ball hitter's golf course; you had to hit pretty straight and stuff. I hit the ball really nice that week, most of the year actually. But I just didn't make enough. That's what we all say every single week. We just want to make one more a day, and that's a lot. I just didn't make enough to get myself in there. I had a couple opportunities and didn't do it.
Yeah, as far as what I look forward to is the way my body feels, which is fine, and how I'm striking the ball, because that's what's gotten me by over the last 24 years, 24 years coming up. It's certainly just a matter of hitting my ball where I'm looking most of the time, and that's why I'm still out here, and that's what drives me. Obviously I'm going to work on the putting.
It's just -- I don't know if it's unfortunate or fortunate that I get in streaks in putting. I'm not very consistent as far as the year goes. But when I get on streaks, we all do pretty well when we get on streaks obviously. But I need to get longer streaks I guess you could say. That's the only thing that's held me back a lot. It's just one more a day, and it doesn't sound like much, but it's actually a lot.

Q. Rocco, this is your first official Skins Game. Have you played in skins competitions other than just playing at the club or whatever with your guys?
ROCCO MEDIATE: No, not at all, never.

Q. When you look back -- you said you've watched a lot of these over the years. Do you have a favorite moment that you remember?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Boy, there's a lot of them. Trevino's hole-in-one, when Nicklaus made the putt I believe it was at Desert -- let me think. Anyway, one of the first ones when Jack made the putt for $240,000 or whatever it was back then. I think it was on the 18th green. You remember those things.
It's just like last year, Stephen had a putt for $650,000 from seven feet. You can say you're not putting for your money, but it is your money after it goes in. You know what I'm saying? There's definitely going to be some nerves. I'm looking forward to feeling it. I hope I get to feel something similar to that.
It's definitely a different format, and like Stephen said, you don't have to shoot 63. Of course it would help because you'd make a lot of skins. But there's certain holes -- like he said, he had a putt last year on the last hole to win all of it. It doesn't matter if you're 10-over going in there; you still get to win. So that's the cool thing about it.

Q. Rocco, quick question for you actually about the Shark Shootout right after The Skins Game. Not to beat a dead horse, just wanted to go back through the finding out about the Ryder Cup, not making the team and the conversation with Paul. I know you've said there's no hard feelings. I just wanted to review that and then talk about if you can just how you see you playing with Paul as a partnership, as a team, in that event.
ROCCO MEDIATE: It's going to be great. Pauly and I are fine. He didn't think I had the goods, and he's the captain. That's fine, I understand that. I had that good middle of the year, but at the end of the year I just was kind of there. I didn't do anything special. I played okay.
He gave the team the power, and they chose not me. I can't be upset -- like I said, I told him before this all started, I said, listen, if you don't think I'm going to have the goods, please don't think it's going to affect me. Not that he would make a decision -- he had to make the best decision for the team, and he didn't think I needed to be part of that, so I wasn't, obviously, and thank goodness for him that they won because that was a big thing for him. It was huge for Paul, and it kind of capped off a pretty good career after what he's gone through.
As far as him and I, we talk all the time. It's no big deal. I was disappointed, but not in him. I had my chance, you know what I mean? I definitely had my chance, and I almost did it. I mean, I was right there on the edge. I was definitely up there in the choices. But it just didn't happen.

Q. How far back does the friendship go? Does it just come from playing together in regular TOUR days?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Pretty much. I met Pauly in '87. As a matter of fact, I played with him his first win, the third round in Phoenix when he won at FBR. We go way back a long time. This is just -- we're absolutely fine. I can't wait to see him down there. He belongs to the same club I do in Naples, at Calusa, so we kind of see each other occasionally. But I'm not there much anymore; I'm in LA mostly. I'll be back about a week before, and we're going to hang out together, probably stay at the cabins and have a blast.

Q. How do you see the team working out together?
ROCCO MEDIATE: I think we're good. Pauly is working on some new moves right now. I talked to him, and he said, don't expect much. I said, you should be ready in a month for God's sake; you're a professional. So I think he'll be fine. He still loves to play. And being a team event, we can make mistakes here and there and hopefully save each other's butts. You never know.

Q. Rocco, based on what I heard you say earlier today, that you're already looking forward to next year, you're old, four rounds in the 60s, finishing up at the FRYS, I have kind of a three-part question here. How are you setting up, how are you framing your schedule for next year? Are you gearing towards anything specifically like a U.S. Open? And how does The Skins Game fit into that master plan?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Well, The Skins Game, just like I said, it's just an absolute honor for me to be invited. It's still hard to believe sometimes.
But it's just a -- I enjoy that type of environment anyway. I just did the Wendy's yesterday. I don't know how much closer, but it's just kind of a fun thing. Like Stephen said, it's entertainment. Yeah, you want to play good obviously, but it's great charity stuff. It's all good. I can't wait to go out and see what I can do against those three. You've got three really, really good players, and it's just going to be fun to go up against them in that format.
But as far as next year, no, I haven't really thought much about last year. I'll play my usual stuff early, but am I gearing towards anything? I don't know, depends how I feel. I obviously like, and I think Stephen is the same type of player, we like when par means something because he's very precise, he's very clean in how he plays, not a lot of mistakes. In those type of events, I like those, too, because that means that you have to drive the ball in the fairway, which I like to do. I'd like to think that that's part of the game still, and it's gone away a bit.
So I do enjoy the harder golf courses. Will I be a factor? Who the heck knows? I'll be 46 then, so who knows. But if I stay in decent shape, I should be able to have another nice year, and I'm not real concerned about that. I'll play the usual stuff on the West Coast. I like to play a big West Coast schedule anyway. I like the courses out here, or most of them.
I think that a lot of us like that difficult situation. I'd rather have par not lose any shots. That's pretty cool. I'd rather have to make ten birdies a day because I usually don't. But when you can make two or three or day and shoot around par and still be in the golf tournament, I love that feeling. I love that feeling.

Q. I wanted to ask you how well you know the other guys, Stephen and K.J. and I'm guessing you may know Phil a little better, and also I had a question for Stephen that I'll ask after Rocco answers.
ROCCO MEDIATE: We know each other out there pretty well. Do we hang out together, no, not all the time. Every once in a while. But we talk a lot. I know their games, I know how they play. I watch everybody. Stephen and K.J. are extremely precise at what they do, very good swings. Stephen has a great motion, so does K.J., and their performances show it.
Phil, completely nuts, can hit it all over the place and shoot 10-under. I don't know what Phil is bringing. I don't know if Phil knows what he's bringing, but he gets it done his way.
Me, I'm just kind of one of those guys that hangs around here or there, and I just -- I don't know, I don't really think much. I just try to get it done. I just aim and shoot, and if it works, it works.
I know it's going to be a great -- it's four different people, and I'll probably do most of the talking, I don't know, because I do that a lot. It's going to be fun. You know, it's all really good players, and you never know, you're going to see some interesting things happen I would have to say on those two days.

Q. That's what I was going to ask Stephen. How are you going to deal with the talking?
STEPHEN AMES: I'm probably going to join in.
ROCCO MEDIATE: He'll join in.
STEPHEN AMES: I'll join in, no problem with that. If it's in the middle of my backswing, then I'll tell you to shut up.
ROCCO MEDIATE: I won't be doing that.
STEPHEN AMES: I know. I don't know if we're going to get much out of K.J.. Phil we might get the odd one or two, but K.J.'s English is a little broken up. He talks a few times. But I think it's going to be a nice mix. Rocco loves to talk and entertain, and I think it's a wonderful attribute to the Skins Game this year.

Q. Rocco, just curious, what would you say was your biggest high for the year, and what was your biggest low?
ROCCO MEDIATE: Well, my biggest high was obviously Monday in San Diego.
I don't know, you just don't get an opportunity to -- the weeks leading up to the tournament or the month leading up to -- not really the Open, but just in those months, Cindy and I talked a lot, and I said, you know, I just want to have him one more time anywhere on the last day, just to see what I could do; that would be great. This is after I missed the first seven out of eight cuts I said this.
You just do. I want to play out here as long as I can. I've got four more years until the Champions Tour, so I want to be able to at least be decently competitive the next four years or so. But I said, I want to have him one more time somewhere, I don't care where it is. All of a sudden, Monday morning I wake up and I've got him in the U.S. Open playoff. You just can't dream it. That was definitely the highest. I remember everything, and it was just really cool.
I didn't realize the impact it had as we were doing it, and Tiger has mentioned that a couple times, too, the stories afterward and everything; it was just insane. I never saw anything like it.
The low would probably be I'd say the first three or four months on TOUR, when I just couldn't get anything done. I felt well, I wasn't even hurt, so I couldn't use that excuse anymore. I couldn't get anything going. It was like, what the heck is going on. It turned somewhere in May, and the rest of the year was pretty good. I had a couple good events.
But the low was on the golf course at the beginning of the year. I had big expectations early, and I got nothing done. I mean nothing.

Q. And then a question for both you and Stephen, and kind of leading into that, you're going to get your award ballots here pretty soon. Padraig has got two majors, which is pretty good stuff. Do you factor in Tiger for only playing six tournaments in that voting, even though he won four of six and went one-two in the majors? How do you square that up?
STEPHEN AMES: You know what, with Tiger only winning one major and Padraig winning two, I've got to go with Padraig because of the fact that he's won two majors, more than anything else.
Tiger, he probably would have done the same if he continued playing all year, but he didn't. I know he only played six events, so it's kind of hard to factor him in. I'd go with Paddy.
ROCCO MEDIATE: You know, I have to agree with that because Padraig played great and he had a pretty good year otherwise, too. But he went back-to-back in two Opens in a row and then the PGA after it at a really nasty place. Oakland Hills was just nasty. You almost have to go there. You almost have to go there.
I kind of agree. It's like Tiger had a ridiculous year playing six events and he won four of them. It's hard to say, but I would say that most people will go with Paddy for sure.

Q. One more question and then I'll hang up and listen. I'm just curious about this, Stephen; you joined the U.S. Tour about ten years ago. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in those ten years from when you first joined in '98 after Q-school until now?
STEPHEN AMES: I think that's an easy answer. The money. Money has gone up in the last ten years drastically. I think we were playing for $170 million, maybe even not that much. You'll have to look that up. What is it now, $224 million next year?

Q. Probably closer to $280 when you throw in all the majors.
STEPHEN AMES: Yeah, that's a pretty big figure. That's probably the biggest thing.
Other than that, not much has changed. Pace of play is still slow (laughter), all those things are still the same. The golf courses, they are changing over the years. They've gone from 7,000-yard great golf courses to 7,500-yard golf courses with 20-yard fairways. It's a bit different in that sense. But I think that just goes with the fact that equipment has changed and that kind of stuff has gone with the evolution of golf, the way that's gone.

Q. Has the money been good or bad? I know that sounds silly; it's good when you've got it. But has it hurt golf at all?
STEPHEN AMES: I don't know, I think it probably takes the hunger away a bit from the talented players or the players that should have won a couple majors but haven't done anything. I guess you can put back the old cliché of when the Europeans were winning all the majors and also Ryder Cups, that they had a lot of hungry players like Bernhard, José, Ian Woosnam, Faldo, Seve, and you didn't have that many superstars in the States. Now you come to the States, you've got a handful of superstars, Phil, Tiger, Vijay; all those guys are hungry. But the best players in the world are playing the U.S. Tour now because this is where everybody is.
But I think in some senses, you've got great players in Europe, too, that are playing. I guess that's a tough one in that sense. I don't know if it's hurt it or not. It's a good thing for me and for Rocco. We were playing for $96 million ten years ago, now we're playing for $280 million. That's a great thing. Great lives that we lead.

Q. Speaking of courses, what would happen if they played a 72-hole stroke-play event at Indian Wells. Good setup?
STEPHEN AMES: A bit short. A bit short.

Q. Low score still wins?
STEPHEN AMES: Oh, yeah. It's going to be a low, low score there. Rocco hasn't played it. I played it last year. Yeah, low score will win. It will be a nice shootout, lots of birdies, entertainment, lots of entertainment.

Q. Would that be helpful contrasting that with what seems like nine to ten major courses you play each year, Firestone a couple years ago, for example?
STEPHEN AMES: Yeah, it would, yeah.
TOBY ZWIKEL: Thank you very much, Stephen and Rocco, for sharing your time and your insight with us, and obviously we're looking forward to having you at the LG Skins Game, and thank you to all the media members who took time out of their schedules to join us today, as well.

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