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December 6, 2011

Jonathan Byrd

Steve Shannon

CHRIS REIMER:  It's my pleasure to be joined by the 2011 winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Jonathan Byrd.  Jonathan's playoff victory at Kapalua was a big part of a career season where he finished a career best both on the FedExCup standings and on the Money List.
Before we get to Jonathan, I also want to recognize the other guest on today's call, Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America.  Hyundai came on last year as a sponsor for the event.  They have made a significant impact on the tournament.  We're thrilled to have Steve as part of the call.
Steve, how about you open with some comments as we look forward to this year's Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
I tell you, it's very exciting as we look for the second year as the title sponsor of this season‑opening tournament in Kapalua.  This whole concept of reengaging with the history of the PGA TOUR, this season‑opening event is great.  We were very pleased with the outcome last year in lots of ways and we're happy to be back for a second year.
If you look at sort of the PGA TOUR in general, the values, the alignment with world‑class athletes, we have a media strategy we call 'Big Voices in Big Places', and it's aligning ourselves with the Super Bowl, the Academy Awards, a big college football program we're doing.  I would put the PGA TOUR in general and this tournament in particular right up there.
Finally I'd mention the charity connection in Hawaii and Maui is particularly important to us.  Even more specific is our connection with what we call 'Hope on Wheels'.  Hyundai over time has been focused on pediatric cancer as a thing we're very passionate about.  The extent to which that gets benefited by the tournament is a great aspect to it.
We love how last year went and we're excited to come back for year two.
CHRIS REIMER:  We're happy to have you onboard.
Jonathan, if you want to start with some comments looking back at last year's event and what that victory meant.
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, obviously every victory in your career means a lot.  But for me last year was the biggest victory on TOUR up to date.  I've won five times.  All of them have been meaningful.  I won the Justin Timberlake last year, last tournament of the season, then the Hyundai.  A small field, but it's the best field I've won against in 10 years on TOUR.
To go there and to compete well, pretty much be right next to the lead all four days, got off to a great start the first day with 7‑under through 10 holes after a holdout for a 2 on the 10th hole.  Didn't make a lot of bogeys that week.  Just played really solid, hit a lot of greens, putted well.
I got myself with a chance to win with one hole to go on 18.  Didn't make birdie, but was able to get in a playoff and won on the 2nd hole.
My first win that year, fifth win of my career.  To win the first tournament of the year, the Tournament of Champions, wow, what a great feeling starting the season.
CHRIS REIMER:  Jonathan, thank you.
At this time we'll open it up for questions.

Q.  Jonathan, do you feel like Kapalua is a good place to start the season out here in Hawaii with the Sony following?  How do you and some of the guys maybe you talk to feel about starting the season here in Hawaii?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, I think most players would agree that for many reasons it's a great place to start the season.  It's cold at home.  I live in Georgia on the East Coast.  Not as cold as some other places, but it still is cold.
To start the year in Hawaii, the first couple weeks of January, to get through with Christmas, get your year started out there, to take the family, they always enjoy going to Hawaii, it's such a perk to be able to start your season there.
To go stay at the Ritz Carlton, play Kapalua, play in a tournament that brings up a lot of good memories from your previous year because you won the year prior, then to play a course that's very challenging, the elements, the wind, some of the shots the course demands, but gives you plenty of room off the tee to start off your season because some of the guys have a little bit of rust, it's just a perfect place to start off your season.

Q.  Jonathan, kind of a funny question for you.  As you're sitting here in December getting ready for the Christmas holidays, how is your feeling different than when you won the last tournament you played, such was the case last year, compared with now when you haven't won since the first tournament you played this year?
JONATHAN BYRD:  It's definitely different.  I think last year I really had a mindset of, Hey, everything is good.  I finished the year well.  Let's not change anything.  Let's just try to keep it really simple and just kind of take it into next year.  That was my mindset.
I feel like I probably had a little bit more confidence than I do now, to be honest, 'cause the last tournament you played in you made putts under pressure, you did those things.
For me, my last tournament was in China.  It was a solid week.  I finished in 23rd place.  But, like you said, I haven't won since the first tournament of the season.  There's maybe a little bit more of a question mark in my head of kind of where my game is at at the moment.
But I'm going to try to learn from last year.  Still this off‑season I'm not making too many big changes.  Just come off my best season ever in 10 years.  So not going to change a lot.  Just try to keep that momentum from the whole season going into next year.

Q.  That's great of the press for you to come off your best season and be negative.
JONATHAN BYRD:  I've had a lot of questions like that (laughter).
Although it was my best year, I missed all four cuts in the majors.  I'll go ahead and say it so nobody asks it.

Q.  That was my next question, but okay.
JONATHAN BYRD:  It was a very inconsistent year.
But if you were to give me a choice between a very consistent year with no wins, not getting in contention much, I would much rather choose an inconsistent year with missed cuts with all the high finishes that I had and all the chances I did have to win on Sunday.

Q.  You had Quail Hollow, playoff.
JONATHAN BYRD:  Playoff, yeah.

Q.  And Barclays maybe.
JONATHAN BYRD:  Barclays I finished fifth.  Those three tournaments I think I made about 75% of my money.  But there were two other events where I had a chance that I really had a chance on Sunday.

Q.  On the majors, the thing I wasn't sure about because it's hard to measure, I don't think you played any of the majors in 2010.
JONATHAN BYRD:  No.  I've had a bunch of years in a row where I haven't played majors.

Q.  The schedule you had going into it, looks like there was a big chunk of time off before the Masters, a lot of play before a couple of the others.  Have you given any thought to doing things differently?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Yes.  The Masters, I ended up taking two weeks off before, which I won't do.  I'll be playing Bay Hill, just kind of playing my way into the Masters.  And then some of the other ones, including the Masters, I felt like I tried to overprepare, do almost something for those weeks when I don't need to.  I need to prepare for those weeks like I do any other week.  I'm going to try to do that more this year and just try to approach them like any other week.
It's hard to because they're majors, but that's what I need to do, not make it a bigger deal than it is.  But my wife is pregnant.  We're due the Friday before the Masters this year, March 30th.  Planned C‑section at the moment.  I'm planning on playing up till Bay Hill, a week off to have the baby the weekend before the Masters, then play the Masters, then try to take a little time away.

Q.  Your scheduling change is basically to have a child before the majors?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Yeah (laughter).  That should be a good distraction before the Masters, though.

Q.  Jonathan, last week at Chevron, seven, eight, nine different players talked about getting together with their team in the off‑season to talk about what happened in 2011 and get ready for 2012.  Could you talk a little bit about that.
JONATHAN BYRD:  Saying nine guys, eight guys in last week's tournament, a field of 18, meeting with their teams in the off‑season, assuming you're kind of asking did I do such a thing and what did we talk about.
Wow, that's really catching on with the team.  I feel like Zach and Morris Pickens were probably the first people I heard who did that in the off‑season.  I was quick to follow suit the next season, because I work with Morris Pickens and have a team, have done that ever since.
This off‑season, not making many changes in equipment or anything.  We looked at all our stats.  We did it Monday after the McGladrey, we met.  Looked at the main reason of my inconsistency with my game last year was just poor putting, especially from about the 6‑ to 10‑foot range, and scrambling.  When I played great, I played great.  When I played poor, I played pretty poor, and I would just miss cuts.
Just felt like the better my putting could get from around 6 feet to 25 feet, 6‑ to 10‑foot range, then making the putts from 10 to 25 feet, then getting the ball up and down more often, improving my scrambling percentage were the top two statistics.
Then thirdly, par 3 performance.  I was really way over par on par 3 scoring and felt like I could really save a lot of shots this year if I played the par 3s a little better.  That was more of a strategy change for me.
Then one of the best things I've done with my team and for my game is to meet with a group of four or five guys who are on my team, go through stats, talk to my caddie a lot, because he watched me play the most, try to learn from the season.  Instead of working on 67 things you feel you need to work on, just look at the top three things you really need to work on to get better, spend most of your time doing that.

Q.  Can you talk about how much you like the golf course?  Is there a different feeling when you defend a title?
JONATHAN BYRD:  I love the golf course.  I've been over to play I guess four times now.  This will be my fifth.  I love the greens.  I grew up playing a lot of Bermuda greens.  It's instinct and natural for me to adjust to Bermuda greens, change of pace when you get down grain and into the green.
I enjoy playing in the wind, all the par 5s, how you can play pretty aggressive and get a lot of birdie opportunities.  Then the great finish on 18 at Kapalua with the par 5.  I think it's a fun week.  It's a great, fun week for the family.  I'm really excited to go back.
Playing as the defending champion, it is a little different.  You start trying to think, Maybe I got to do exactly what I did last year to win.  You maybe sometimes overthink it.  I'm just approaching it like I feel like I play well on this golf course.  I got great memories.  Just go do what I do, see how it turns out Sunday.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about the state of the game today, 'parity,' the fact no one won more than twice this year.  Does that heighten the sense of what's possible for players right now?  Do victories, majors, Ryder Cup qualifying, the No.1 ranking, do all those things seem more possible without a dominant player?
JONATHAN BYRD:  I think so.  I mean, the only way to really answer that well is to compare it to when there was a dominant player, when Tiger was playing his best, thinking, Good Lord, if I want to win a major, I have to beat Tiger when he's playing as well as he was, which just seemed very, very difficult.
Now I think Tiger's period of poor play has just kind of given some guys an opportunity to catch up, get more experience winning, being in contention.  It's somewhat leveled the playing field in a sense.  I think it's just more of a mentality of guys feel like anybody can win.
I did not play well in the majors, but I did feel like going into them if I did play well, I had a chance to win for sure.  I think that's just a mindset change for most guys.

Q.  What did you make of Tiger winning?  What are you starting to see in him?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, I mean, I watched a lot of the Presidents Cup.  I had a great time watching that, a lot of my friends play well.  It just looks like, Presidents Cup, he didn't have to hit a ton of drivers it didn't seem like.  I'm not sure about the course he just won.  I haven't played there, so I don't know much about the golf course.  He just looks like he's keeping the ball in play, giving himself a lot of opportunities.
When Tiger is doing that and he's putting well, he's tough to beat because he just doesn't make a lot of mistakes.  His short game salvages him, he doesn't make a lot of bogeys.
Just looked a lot cleaner.  Always essentially hits his iron pretty well.  Seems like he was keeping it in play off the tee and he was starting to make some putts.  It's good to see.

Q.  Is it possible to imagine the Tiger of old, the Tiger who totally dominated?  Are players resolved he's not going to be that good but he could be good again?  What are you thinking of his future?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, I think he will be good again.  He's good right now.  I think he'll be great again.  I'm happy for him, that he won last week.  I'm sure that was kind of a relief for him and a good moment for him.  He's had his fair share of struggles the last couple years.  I'm sorry that's happened.
But he's just so talented.  Looks like he's gotten healthier.  I just don't have any doubts that he's going to be back to the great player that he is.  Who knows.  I have no idea whether he's going to be as dominant as he was.  I think he could be, but we'll just wait and see.

Q.  You wrapped up the previous year with a win in sudden death, and you start 2011 with a win in sudden death.  You played a sudden death tournament and lose in Charlotte.  What is that like when you get into that situation?  Do you start over in a mini tournament?  What kind of talents or mental toughness do those situations call for in a player?
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, first and foremost they're fun.  Good gracious, those playoffs were some of the most fun I've had playing golf as a pro.  Gosh, have I been in other playoffs?  I think those three are the only playoffs I've been in.
Every shot in a playoff feels, when I had the other wins that came down to the last putt, just everything comes down to a putt.  It's just exciting.  It's just the place you want to be.
But when you get in a playoff, what does it demand?  What do you have to do to do well in them?  I think you just have to enjoy them, slow down a little bit because every shot means a lot.  You just got to look at it as an opportunity.
I looked at the playoffs that I was in as, Man, the worst I'm going to do is finish second in this tournament, so might as well enjoy it.  Hit a great shot and see if we can win the golf tournament.

Q.  You talked about this obviously being your best year certainly in terms of money, that sort of thing.  Did it feel that way at the end of the year or were there times when you felt like you maybe left something on the table?
JONATHAN BYRD:  I haven't had a season on TOUR yet where I didn't feel like I didn't leave something on the table.  I could win the first six tournaments I think and still feel like I left something on the table at the end of the year.  I think that's just kind of human nature, you want more, you want more, you always think you can do better.  So I don't think that will ever change.
I'm content.  I'm very satisfied with my year when it all came to the finish.  I wish I would have played better in the majors.  I wish I would have played a little better towards the end.  But I still played good.  I had some good weeks in the FedExCup, made THE TOUR Championship.  When my number was kind of slipping towards the end, was able to solidify that top 30, get in the majors for next year.  This is two years in a row where I've been in all four majors.  So I'm just kind of looking forward to maybe having a taste of that schedule year in and year out.

Q.  You mentioned the majors.  Having played in them, do you have a favorite major?  The PGA is going to be played in your home state next year when it's played at the Ocean Course.
JONATHAN BYRD:  I love all of them.  I do think the Masters is my favorite, being so close to home, where I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina.  I just think it's so unique that you play the same course every year and that it's a major championship.  It's just a fantastic week all the way around.  Having my wife caddying the par 3 this year, having my son do it, he's five.  So many fun things that week.  Look forward to that.
I greatly enjoy the U.S. Open.  I love the British Open because it's so different.  Always can't wait to get over there to see what the golf course is going to be like, just all the history.
This year with the PGA, I've never played Olympic for the U.S. Open, so I'm excited about that.  But the PGA in South Carolina, it's going to be quite a treat.

Q.  Have you played the Ocean Course that much?
JONATHAN BYRD:  I've only played it a few times.  So I'm going to have to get up there at some point and get a couple practice rounds in.  It's only about a three‑hour drive for me.

Q.  Specifically looking back now in 2011, what did you learn about yourself?  You're constantly assessing yourself where you are in your career.
JONATHAN BYRD:  I just feel like my game is good enough all the time to be competitive on the PGA TOUR.  Kind of no matter how it feels, where I kind of grade it, it may not feel like I'm hitting it that well, putting that well, whatever, but I feel like no matter how it feels, whether I feel a little off or everything is on, I feel like week in and week out it's good enough to have a chance to win.
I just got to kind of remind myself throughout the season, when you do have the lulls in the season ‑ because they'll come ‑ that it can turn around quickly.  You make a few putts here or there, you have a chance to win on Sunday.  It can happen really quickly.

Q.  Steve, there's been a lot of changes in the last year since Jonathan won as far as the organization of the tournament.  Obviously your sponsorship is one of the mainstays.  I wonder if you could speak for a minute about those changes and your confidence in what is going on now going forward as far as the TOUR running the event and a new charity and so forth.
STEVE SHANNON:  Well, I think in general, as I said earlier, we're very pleased.  We got involved pretty late in the game in year one.  We had to scramble.  Certainly our hats were off to Mark and Debi Rolfing, their charitable foundation.  They put on a great tournament the first year.  We're in the car business, not in the tournament business.
We sat down afterwards and talked about it a little bit certainly with the PGA TOUR.  We knew we always needed a longer‑term solution to running the tournament.  So I think the idea of bringing in the PGA TOUR's championship management group, they do this for a living, somewhere between nine and ten tournaments, that seems to us to be a real solid way to go forward.  So we're pleased with that.
I think the charities on the island are very important, are very deserving.  We're excited to be back again.  I can't throw out a number right now, but we would expect to try to certainly beat last year's number.
Every one of our guests that came, Jonathan talked about what a great place it is to play, it's a heck of a place to go and visit and watch.  It's a very important event for our parent company in Korea.  It's very important for our U.S. dealers.  We do a big dealer program.  I can tell you that it's a very motivating thing to a car dealer to be able to come spend some time with us in Hawaii that first week in January.  So dealers are excited.
Jonathan was a great champion last year.  It's exciting that he's looking forward to coming back.  So we're excited.
This is year two of three.  Nothing to announce longer term.  But we are always having discussions with the PGA TOUR.  I would say our expectations have been exceeded.  They've over‑delivered.  Certainly the people on the island have over‑delivered for us.

Q.  I know championship management knows exactly what they're doing, so I wouldn't be surprised that the tournament would be well‑run again.  If you could or if you felt comfortable, what maybe were some of the shortcomings of the previous organizational group?  Also talk about some of the things that Mark Rolfing brought to the table that you're going to miss this year.
STEVE SHANNON:  Maybe the second one first.
Mark is the icon of golf on the island.  We certainly hope he continues to be involved in some capacity.  I would say the only shortcomings, and they were all around including on our own end, it was truly just the limited amount of time we had.  It was like the dog catches the car.  We had to put everything together pretty quickly from our side.
I wouldn't say there were any shortcomings.  I think with the short amount of time we had, we were very pleased with how it came off.  As I said in discussions with the TOUR, we just thought they're in this business, they know what they're doing, and that was a good way to go forward for this year and probably next year.
When he look at what the longer‑term prospects are, if there's a better model, we'd certainly look at that.  I think just purely the experience that the championship management group has makes us feel good about the way things will go.

Q.  Jonathan, how did you get your card 10 years ago?  Through the Nationwide, I know.  But did you go through Q School?
JONATHAN BYRD:  I did.  I turned pro after graduating in the summer, in August.  I went out and tried Monday for some events.  I got in one TOUR event, and then went to Q School.  I made the cut in the TOUR event, went to Q School, got through the finals, got conditional Nationwide at that time, then went out.  Didn't get in the first three events.  Then the fourth event, I got in, made the cut.  I got in the next week, which was in Greenville, and won.  Then I finished eighth on the Money List.

Q.  I ask that because I'd be curious on your thoughts on this plan to kind of merge the guys who don't make the playoffs with the top from the Nationwide and have their own little series to make their card.
JONATHAN BYRD:  Well, I think it's a good idea.  One of the things that keeps coming up is people are worried about the college player who's a stud coming out of college, is he going to be able to get on TOUR.  In my mind I almost feel like it can be easier.  If he comes out with getting Nationwide Tour exemptions, PGA TOUR exemptions, he does fairly well with those but doesn't do enough to make his card, he gets in those three tournaments, he can play well in those events and get his card that way.
I like the system.  I think it could work really nicely.  But I think with any system there's going to be an adjustment period.

Q.  Steve, just had a little bit of a follow‑up.  One year left on the contract after this year.  Can you just speak to the long‑term viability, I know it's not in stone, but how do you see the future of this event at Kapalua?
STEVE SHANNON:  Well, it's a great event.  It's a great time of year.  We love the sort of season kickoff aspect of it.  We love the theme of the winners from the previous year.  It's actually coincidental that's the week of the Detroit Auto Show, or close to that.  That has always been sort of a kickoff of the year for the auto business.  The fact that the tournament is around that same time we like, too.
We like golf a lot.  We expanded our lineup in the last few years, moving into the luxury space with the Genesis and the Equus.  Golf is an incredible passion point for new car buyers in general and luxury car buyers in particular.  It's no surprise that many of our competitors are also in the sport.  But we like that aspect.
It's all good.  We like golf.  We like this location, this tournament, the unique aspect of the Tournament of Champions, the fact that we'll be bringing that back for some number of years is nice.
We're pretty bullish about it.

Q.  Any idea when contract talks on a possible extension might take place?
STEVE SHANNON:  I can say at least right now we're 100% focused on helping execute this event.  I know the PGA TOUR is, too.  We'll all keep the focus on that.
My guess is that not too long after this year's event we'll sit down and do a little bit of, How did it work?  What are the things we want to do to improve it?  One thing I might mention as part of our expansion of involvement is we're doing a series of tournaments this year around the country for Equus owners.  The winners of those get to join us in Kapalua.
Here in year two there are a number of things beyond the tournament itself, beyond those four or five days, that we've started to expand.  We'll look at all those things we did and what more we can do.  My guess is a couple months after the tournament.

Q.  It looks like only one major champion is going to be here, probably Keegan Bradley.  Has there been any discussion with Hyundai and the TOUR or anyone else about possibly changing the eligibility?  You said you love the winners only.  But not having Mickelson, Schwartzel, McIlroy.  Any discussion on giving this event an exemption on the counting number of tournaments that European guys can play, similar to THE PLAYERS?
CHRIS REIMER:  I can answer that one.  I would say at the end of every year, the executive committee, the policy boards all look at a lot of our tournaments, look at the different ways to improve it.
I would say both the tournament and the TOUR are pretty happy with the field that does come to the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.  I think it's still a world‑class field.  There's no definite answer that, yes, they're looking at retooling eligibility.
I think as we look to improve the event in every aspect, operationally, the field, all aspects from management, we'll look at those things.  But I don't think there are any discussions specifically about changing the field requirements at this time.

Q.  I've heard rumblings of possibly the TOUR starting in Asia.  Where does that leave the Kapalua event?
CHRIS REIMER:  I think those are what they are.  I think those are rumblings.  I don't think those are any things that have been discussed internally.  I think those are more conjecture and rumor being created outside.
I want to thank all the media.  I want to thank Jonathan for joining us.  I want to thank Steve for his time as well.  We really look forward to the tournament at Kapalua this year.  It's a Friday start this year with a Monday finish.  Just gives everybody another day to travel and get there after the holidays.  We really think that's going to highlight the tournament in prime time for the television audience and also great for the island.
Thanks to everyone for joining the call and look forward to seeing you guys in January.

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