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THE ROYAL & ANCIENT GOLF CLUB MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 14, 2011
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us here at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club for this announcement. It gives me great pleasure to introduce the two gentlemen at the top table. I'm sure that they're very familiar to you. But we have with us, on my immediate right, three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, and the R&A Chief Executive Peter Dawson.
Before I ask Peter to open with a few words, we're going to play a short film that highlights the links between Padraig and the R&A.
THE MODERATOR: Peter, if you would like to say a few words.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Malcolm. Ladies and gentlemen, could I just begin by echoing Malcolm's words of welcome and to thank you all for coming.
This, I think, is the second time that Padraig and I have shared a seat on stage. The first time was a year ago in October, when we were involved in golf's successful bid to regain its position as an Olympic sport.
So we've gotten an unbeaten record to defend this morning. I'd just like to start by taking a few seconds to explain what the R&A does.
We're, as you know, based in St. Andrews in Scotland, and the R&A is carrying on the work of its founding club, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, and we're best known for organizing the Open Championship, one of the four men's major championships in golf. It's the oldest. It dates back to 1860.
And this year we celebrated its 150th anniversary on the old course at St. Andrews. But the commercial success of the Open allows the R&A to do much more than just organize the championship.
We run a whole range of amateur events. We administer the rules of play and the rules of equipment at no cost to the sport.
We promote golf's environmental credentials. And we give grants for deserving golf development projects all around the world. We have some examples of this here today in representatives from Junior Golf Ireland and from our University Scholarship Program, which we support financially. And all of this activity we designate under the banner Working For Golf.
The R&A is committed to doing everything it can to grow the game. And the grassroots programs that we support play a huge part in attracting people to golf.
But grassroots programs of themselves are not enough. People coming to the game need aspiration. They need hope. And they need heros. They need stars. And we've certainly got one of those with us this morning: Twice winner of the Open Championship, Padraig Harrington.
Padraig has a long association with the R&A, not just through the Open, but he's played in our Boys Championship, Youth Championship, the Amateur Championship, he's played three times in the Walker Cup. So we've known each other for a long time.
And he's not simply a top golfer. He passionately cares about the game, and he's determined to put something back into the sport which has given him so much. We were delighted, therefore, when Padraig approached us with an idea of his involvement in helping the R&A. And we're absolutely delighted to announce this morning that Padraig has agreed to become the first R&A Working For Golf ambassador.
That's what we're here to announce.
We're all very excited to have Padraig on board. It's exactly what we need to leverage our grassroots programs to a higher level of success, by combining them with the star quality that Padraig brings to the table.
As he travels the world on tour, examples of what he will be doing is coaching young people in R&A-funded development programs. He'll appear in Rules of Golf media productions.
He'll be promoting the etiquette of the game. He'll be taking part in equipment testing, and he'll support generally the work of the R&A Foundation at events spread throughout his global playing schedule.
In short, he will be working for golf. And we're delighted to have his help. Thank you, Padraig.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Thanks, Malcolm. Ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I'd obviously like to thank the R&A for giving me this opportunity. It kind of came about -- we've done some work in the past.
We did an Etiquette of the Game golf video out here actually. We did some work with the Junior Open. And at the end of every year you kind of look at yourself and you analyze how your golf's gone, but you also look and see, you know, what you've given back.
And at times charities will come to me, and I can work with them and have done, and I like to do that and give back as much as I can. But I kind of looked over the last, I suppose, the last 18 months and felt maybe I could give a bit more back to golf.
There's a lot of good golf programs out there. There's a lot of things being run out there. And as we examined, obviously a lot of them already had their associations. So we tried to find something new.
We thought about it. And when we approached the R&A to see if there was anything that we could do together, it kind of fell into place very quickly, that the R&A have a global golf development program.
They do an awful lot of work around the world for golf and a lot of times probably doesn't quite get the exposure that they deserve for that work that they do.
So part of this was bringing me in to help with the promotion, as Peter said, the leverage of all their good work. And it ideally suits me, because as I do travel the world, the R&A looks after golf basically in, I think, every country, the U.S. and one of the islands, Mexico. Not quite an island. No. So basically everywhere I travel the R&A are involved.
They're doing good deeds. In Ireland, they're announcing today that they're providing 250,000 Euros to Junior Golf Ireland over each of the next three years. They already fund a number of golfing projects on top of this, I think, to close to the same figure, 200,000 Euros. They spend ten million Euros throughout the world developing golf.
And I know it's a bit of a cliche, because I'm involved in golf, but there is no better sport for teaching young people, teaching them the virtues they need to run their life.
And as I said, if you haven't played golf, you might not understand that. But for anybody who does play the game, they understand how important it is to stick to the rules, stick to the etiquette of the game. And these are all lessons that juniors, when they're learning to play golf, will help them bring -- help them run their own lives when they come at them.
So it's great that I can be involved in the promotion. I know I do some clinics and some lessons and things like that during the year, and it will help the coaches coach those juniors when I'm not there sort of thing. And it's nice to bring that promotion, but it's nice to think that these juniors will learn the integrity of the game of golf and be able to take that to their lives.
It's nice to be able to give something back in the game of golf. It is very important for me to give back. But this would be the first time, really, that it's focused solely on golf.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Padraig.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to open to questions now.
Q. Padraig, you now have three ambassadorships. Would you be interested in going for the role of honorary (inaudible) at any point in the near future?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yes, that would be certainly more than a difficult job. But I'll stick to letting the good people at the R&A do all the hard work and I'll swan in. I don't think I could do that when it comes to running a country. No, no need for a figurehead to apply in a job like that.
Q. On a golf note, I noticed Peter mentioned you'd be involved in club testing. I assume they're looking upon Padraig here as the new iron baron?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I wish.
Q. Would you be interested in having an influential role in such a field? And would you have changed the grooves if given the choice?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Peter probably will answer this. I think I was -- I actually did some testing with the R&A for the grooves. And Peter, who strongly instigated the groove change, will -- I'm sure he will point out that I probably was one of the main reasons that it happened.
He will always point to the chip shots that I hit in 2004 in The Honda Classic with Vijay Singh in the playoff as the day that the straw that broke the camel's back I think that chip shot was.
And as much -- this is an interesting -- as much as the grooves did suit me, the old style, we pushed it right to the limit. And because Wilson used to spend a lot of time sending wedges into the R&A to have them checked to get right to the limit, the R&A felt that that needed to be investigated further, needed to have a structure to measuring it and examining it. And that's really -- a lot to do with why the groove change has come in.
So at times I can be my own worst enemy.
Q. (Question off Microphone).
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, did it make the game easier for me, yes, it did. I know many times I hear this stat now that every -- scoring has improved from 125 yards in.
Well, maybe I convinced them to let me use the bucks grooves. I know my scoring improves with the old grooves. Yeah, I'm in favor of rules for everybody. It's the same for everybody. It's tougher. It should bring the skill into the game.
So, yeah, it was a good change. Definitely. But it's all about having -- and this was one of the reasons the groove change changes. They needed the ability to have a system for measuring them and making sure that they stayed within the right -- whereas the old ones, my old grooves, you could certainly cut your nails with them.
And that was one of the reasons why they just -- it was hard to measure them in the field. It was obviously easy to measure them in the lab, but it was hard to keep up to date on the field. And it meant they needed to bring something in to mean that was fairer across the board.
So, yeah, I'm all for consistency in the rules.
Q. Equipment testing is a general area. It's not just club testing, I presume; isn't that correct? They say the biggest advances have been made on the golf ball. Do you hold an opinion about how far the golf ball has gone, to the degree whereby it can't go any further or shouldn't go any further, any further than the 450-yard drives in Hawaii last week?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Every year there's 450-yard drives.
PETER DAWSON: Hawaii always has the best statistics of the year. I'm not quite sure why it is, but it does. And we always get this question this time of year because of it.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: You know, the manufacturers are always going to push it to the limits. They're commercial enterprises, and that's their job. And if Titleist brings out a ball that goes 20 yards further next week, it will be in my bag. I will use the best that's there.
PETER DAWSON: Let me just interrupt there. All the balls on the market now are at the limit of the test that's allowed under the rules. So no one can now produce a ball that is legal that will go further. So get that one right off the table.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Which is perfect. We do need -- we do need somebody to govern it. That's what we need, somebody to keep it in check, because there's commercial organizations, and it is their job to produce the very best and push it to the limits.
But what the R&A and the USGA have seen is they actually need to now be ahead of the game.
And there's a lot of dollars going into the R&D of advancing equipment. So the R&A actually has to stay a step ahead. And like with the grooves at times in the future, they may even have to bring things back.
But as regards golf balls going further, players hitting further, because all the guys are fitter and stronger, and the young guys hit it further, golf courses have developed over the years to cater for all changes. That's going to continue to happen.
Somebody says, oh, well, it's ruined this golf course or that golf course -- St. Andrews used to play the reverse way around. So all golf courses change and develop. So we're not losing heritage by having to modify a golf course and build it up.
But it is important that the R&A, the USGA, do keep a lid on it and govern it and make sure that nobody runs away with it.
PETER DAWSON: We did say, on the distance issue, the R&A and USGA jointly, back in 2002, we issued a Joint Statement of Principles which said: If the ball starts to go significantly further, we will take action to rein it back. That's still the case. If, however, you look at the TOUR statistics since 2002, they're actually on a plateau. There's been no increase in average hitting distance on TOUR in the intervening eight or nine years. Not one yard.
Q. But clearly Titleist, Callaway, TaylorMade, whoever makes golf balls these days, will be bringing out a new ball every year that does something extra for the golfers. Clearly there has to be some rein brought in on distance-wise on spin-wise, or is it just something which you believe has reached a complete plateau and doesn't need that much testing?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I do believe it's plateaued. Now, in the past people famously have said similar things and been proved wrong, I know.
But as far as the distance issue is concerned, we believe the balls are at the limit of what the rules allow.
And if it proves that is not the case, we are committed to take action to rein it back. So you've got that insurance.
Q. Padraig, you've suggested in the past you've been guilty of overpreparing. Do you think your involvement with the R&A will provide a healthy distraction, help your form in 2011?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Yes, in many ways. I've become a lot more relaxed around golf tournaments. And this is why I've taken on something like this. Three, four years ago, if I had to do a clinic in the afternoon, it would seriously impact on my whole week. I'd be maybe stressed about going to do it, and I'd be trying to fit it in around three, four hours' practice, before and after, all sorts of silly things.
Whereas, I'm definitely more relaxed about my tournament golf. I don't find it as nearly as stressful to turn up and do clinics.
They're not as much as -- they are a good distraction. I feel good about them. Certainly I did a number this year for the Special Olympics, and I always felt better leaving than I did turning up, because the general enthusiasm around them.
So, yeah, it's definitely, in terms of my golf, it can be a benefit. It distracts me from the golf. But generally it's just because I'm more relaxed around events and don't feel as compelled to the nth degree I'm not running around as much.
So it's easier to find the time to do these things. And as I said, there is the knock-on effect, I definitely get the benefit of feeling good afterwards.
Q. Peter and Padraig, I come from the Golf Course Superintendent Association of Ireland. There's a lot of pressure on greenkeepers in the modern day of golf of increasing green speeds, the stimpmeter reading must be higher, higher and higher. Both gentlemen up there, what are your feelings? Do you like the faster green, the better the game? Or like the golf balls, do you like to put a halt on what's the limit?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: That's actually a very interesting question. You know, we were discussing it, myself and Peter, inside, because the Open is traditionally played on greens that stimp up to 10, 10 and a half. And some of that is due to the fact that it gets very windy and you're above 10 and a half the ball will start to move on the greens.
But what the Open does to counteract, to make it really tough for the players, without stimping at 10 and a half, is the greens are firm. So firm -- 10 and a half is not slow, but firm greens and 10.5 are very difficult.
If you shortside yourself on a firm green at that pace, you probably won't be able to get up-and-down. But when you see these greens at 13, generally it's because the greens, they're soft and generally it's not that windy a golf course. And so they're making the greens faster so that if you do shortside yourself it is a penalty.
What you tend to get -- and this I think would be your problem is you're dealing with Irish conditions. Oftentimes they'll ask you to set up a golf course 7,300 yards, where, to be honest, a golf ball doesn't go more than 265 yards out here, whereas in Hawaii they go 450 yards. So they actually do need a 7,300-yard golf course. But it's the same with the greens, when you're in sunny weather the greens are reasonably soft and flat, you can have them at 13, 14.
And a great example of that is probably the fastest greens we play for the players to putt on during the year would be Augusta.
But Augusta has so much slope on the greens, they don't actually get them to 14 on the stimpmeter or higher. They actually keep them reasonable because of the fact, again, if you have a green too fast, the ball won't stay on -- I think it's about -- you are getting 6 percent gradient or something like that. Once you're over 10 on the stimpmeter, the ball will roll. So a lot of the greens at Augusta would be over that.
So they don't get -- even though they're very fast, they don't get them to, say, the Sawgrass, they can get them real quick, up to 14, 14 and a half, because the putting surface tends to be quite flat. They need them to be fast.
So I think you can't say there should be a set pace for a green, because it depends on the actual slope of the green and the conditions, the firmness and the wind determines what it would be.
So if we run -- I think this would be the answer for every golf club in Ireland to turn around and say we should be stimping at 14. It's not necessary. But then if you had very flat greens, and soft, maybe you do need them up there to provide a test for the pros. But certainly 10 and a half is ample.
Once they're over 9 and a half, it's perfectly possible and certainly wouldn't -- you're getting under 9 and all of a sudden it's a little bit of a burden and you get around the holes, get a little bit quicker, than maybe if you're 10 feet away from it.
But there couldn't be a rule for it. That's what I'm saying.
PETER DAWSON: I don't know if you remember, we did have to stop play at the Open this year and 2010, last year, because of wind. Balls were blowing out at the far end of the course. It does show you have to be very careful with this.
And we would be very nervous on a links course if we got up beyond 10 and a half because the winds can start to move the ball very quickly.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: One other point. As a player, 10 and a half on poa annua greens is not the same as ten and a half on banked greens.
It doesn't matter how it's measured, I can guarantee you, if you put it on poa annua green where the ball bubbles on top, stays on top, for whatever reason that putts a lot quicker than 10 and a half where the ball is sitting on the surface a lot longer. So even the grasses make a difference.
Q. That was the second part of my question, the type of grass you favor. But going back to the original question, it's not really -- I wasn't asking should it be a set pace. Should it be a limit to what the pace should be? Does it get ridiculous when it goes beyond 13 or 14, even for the pros to putt on, particularly in Augusta? Augusta is the bane of our lives because the following week why can't our course look like that?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, it's something to aspire to. (Laughter)
But the point of Augusta is, they tend to have a flat spot where we're putting to the holes. If you're within 15 feet of the hole at Augusta, the green is definitely, there's not as much gradient in it. It's only when up get 30, 40 feet away, a bit like when you're playing a links course, that you can be -- you can have big greens on a links course. But if you're 40 feet away, you might have a wall in front of you for the first 10 feet.
But once you get close enough to the hole at Augusta, it's a 15-footer, it would break. But the gradients there around the holes are no more than 2 percent, let's say.
Q. You spoke a lot about the lessons and giving to the juniors in terms of rules and life skills, but what piece of advice as an ambassador for golf would you give to parents who might have a 14-, 15-, 16-year-old who is thinking of following in your footsteps, dedicating their lives to golf?
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I think 14, 15 years of age, kids are starting to select a sport maybe as their favorite sport. Up to that, I like to see all juniors playing in a number of sports. Golf can be quite a selfish game at times. And that's the only drawback to the game.
So I like to see kids play in team sports. Yes, 14, 15 years of age they're starting to be more selective and specialized in a sport. You know, the most important thing is, especially at that age, that it doesn't become the sole purpose in their life. They've got to have balance in their life, whether that's through education, other sports and golf, but they've got to keep balance, because I played with a lot of -- I often tell the story when I was -- I played for Ireland when I was 15, Junior Boys. And the following year I played in the same Under 18 teams the following year.
And I think eight of the previous 10 players the year before had given up the game. They had gone from 18 to 19, and all of a sudden got out of boys golf, they kind of lost their way.
So it is very important that they have a good balance in their lives, particularly at that age. I know people are different. So it can't be a set rule for everybody. But the ability to go and pass your exams, whether it's in school or in college, will help them become better golfers. It's just that discipline that's needed to do things like that.
It's really a question I would say to their parents, but the parents would obviously be fighting a losing battle in this, it's trying to keep balance in their lives, that they don't at 14 years of age think that's it, golf, golf, it's all -- it can be all about golf, but still have a little bit of time for school, a little bit of time for other sports, and time for friends and things like that. Just good balance in your life would help you become a better golfer.
PETER DAWSON: There is a trend, of course, that younger and younger people are winning on TOUR now, winning tournaments at 17, 18. And that must put pressure on the 16-year-olds or so to think: Gosh, we're going to miss the boat unless we get at it straightaway.
So I think the older players have got a duty to beat these younger players.
PADRAIG HARRINGTON: I often get asked, and the most common question you get asked by a junior is what handicap were you at at what age. And most -- when I was 13 I was a 32 handicap. I like to point out, people develop at different times. If I had to win on TOUR when I was 17 years of age, well, I'd be going hungry. That's for sure.
Luckily, I didn't start really -- I didn't even consider turning pro until I was 21.
So everybody's different. It does put a lot of pressure when you see absolutely phenomenal stars at 17 years of age, Manny, he's a well-balanced kid. And he's mature enough to be out there. Whereas, other 17-year-olds won't be at that stage. And they don't need to be.
Golf, they can take their time. But it really is -- the key is making sure there is balance, that they don't put all their eggs in one basket.
And even if they are incredibly focused on becoming a professional golfer, you know, it will help them to have the other things in their life. If it all becomes golf, I can tell you, even golf, as brilliant and exciting as it is, if it's all about golf, it can become a burden at times.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
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