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July 1, 2014

Michael Tate

Tom Watson


MALCOLM BOOTH:¬† Ladies and gentlemen, good morning and welcome to this special Open Championship press conference here at Greenbrier.¬† My name is Malcolm Booth, Executive Director with the R&A, and Tom Watson, our five‑time Open Champion.¬† I need to say thank you to the Greenbrier and PGA TOUR who have been wonderful in accommodating us here this week.¬† First time that the Greenbrier takes place as part of the Open qualifying series and we're very excited we'll be welcoming four more qualifiers for the Open Championship this week.
I know that many of you will have questions for Tom about the upcoming Ryder Cup, and I understand there will be a press conference tomorrow afternoon, so I would ask that today we focus questions on the Open Championship and today's announcement.  With that, there are a couple of announcements that we are going to make, and I'll hand over to Mike to make those now.  Mike.
MICHAEL TATE:¬† Thank you, Malcolm.¬† Firstly, could I echo Malcolm's thanks to the Greenbrier Classic and the PGA TOUR.¬† They've both been incredibly kind and helpful in organizing this Open qualifying series, and we are very, very grateful.¬† As Malcolm says, there are two announcements that I'd like to make today, and the first concerns the venues for the Open Championship in 2017 and 2018.¬† In 2017, Royal Birkdale will host the Open, and in 2018, it will be Carnoustie, and I think, Tom, both you've won.¬† Carnoustie your first Open Championship in the playoff, and secondly, we all remember that 2‑iron there as if it was yesterday.
TOM WATSON:  I can't remember it (laughing).
MICHAEL TATE:  Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly today, it hasn't escaped our attention that given that 1975 was Tom's first win, it will be 40 years of his participation or attempts to participate in the Open culminating in 2015 at St. Andrews.  So with that in mind, the Championship Committee have extended the exemption granted to Tom when he finished so brilliantly at Turnberry a couple years ago by one more year.
So Tom, we very much hope that you'll enter at St. Andrews next year, and we look forward to celebrating that 40th anniversary with you.
TOM WATSON:  Michael, thank you very much.  It, indeed, I was hoping you were going to do this.  Walking across the Broken Bridge for the last time, thinking that that was going to be the last time I simply walked across the bridge at the Open Championship at St. Andrews was a pretty sad time.  It allows me, again, to go cross that bridge.  Indeed, if everything works out well, I'll be entered and playing in the tournament.  I hope my body is still in good shape, and I'll be there if I have to drag myself there.
MICHAEL TATE:  Fantastic, Tom.  And to mark that, we've had commissioned a special solid silver player's badge.  It was commissioned by one of the Queen's doulas, (Indiscernible).  So Tom, I'd very much like to present you with this in honor of you at St. Andrews.
TOM WATSON:  Thank you, Mike.  It has five of the Claret Jugs on it, actually, six with one in the middle.  You say solid silver?
MICHAEL TATE:  Solid silver.
TOM WATSON:  Are you sure?
TOM WATSON:  Thank you very much.  It's beautiful.
MICHAEL TATE:  Well, that's great.
Tom, I wonder if there are one or two remarks you can make?
TOM WATSON:  I will.  Michael announced that the new venues in '17 and '18 will be Birkdale and Carnoustie.  I remember both and have great memories at both.  I remember especially Carnoustie being my first Open Championship I came to and spent some time there just to get used to the time change.  Spent a couple days there, and played golf with John Mahaffey and Hubert Green.  And we traveled up to Edinburgh, and rented a car in Monifieth which is right down the road from Carnoustie.  Unloaded our baggage, got our golf clubs and headed up to Carnoustie.  This is on Sunday.  So we're going to play a practice round on Sunday there and we walked on to the property and here comes Keith McKenzie, who is the secretary of the R&A.  He welcomed us all there, and it was my first Open Championship and John's, I think.  I don't know if Hubert played in it before.  But he welcomed us, as he always did.  He was a wonderful man.
I said to Keith, I can't wait to play Carnoustie.  He said, well, sorry, you can't play today.  I said what?  He said today is for the qualifiers.  The qualifiers who play the tournament course today, and the exempt players couldn't play it.  Okay.  So one thing led to another, and ended up being directed to Monifieth Golf Club right near where we were staying.  So we went down there.
We had our caddies, and teed it up on the first hole kind of into the sun a little bit, and they couldn't really see.  It's a links golf course, and it was really, really dry.  I hit the ball right down the middle of the fairway, make the long story short, I lost the ball.  Links golf, losing the ball hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway, did not compute, did not work.  That was not the right way for me to get started and me playing links golf.
Indeed I did find the ball about 70 yards off line over here.¬† It hit one of those hills like that and carried over here into a small bunker.¬† The bunker couldn't have been bigger than the length of this table.¬† And I said I don't like links golf.¬† And I had that kind of‑‑ I did maintain that attitude for several years into it.
But that first year it was a dry year, wasn't a lot of wind, and until the last day at Carnoustie, and I played a good round the last day.  Got into a playoff with Jack Newton.  The wind changed 180 degrees in the playoff round, and of course played completely different, and fortunately I won by a shot to win my first Open Championship.  Kind of unexpected that it was there.
In Birkdale, I just kind of hung in there the whole time at Birkdale.¬† Just one hole after another, after another.¬† Nobody was making much of a move.¬† The wind was blowing.¬† I came to the 18th hole, and I have a one‑shot lead and hit a really good drive into the wind.¬† It took forever for the group ahead of us to finish.¬† Of course when you're in contention there you're trying to win the Open Championship, it magnifies the time.¬† I remember just waiting incessantly, practicing my swing.¬† Finally, it was time to hit and I hit the shot.¬† And Alfie Files who was my caddie said, "quit hooking."¬† I said, don't worry.¬† It's going to come back, and everything went left to right, and it came right back down toward the middle right, dissecting the flag.¬† But I couldn't see it land because in those days the crowds allowed‑‑ the last shot was in the air, and they came together like the red sea coming back together like this.¬† I never knew how close the ball was and the anticipation was pretty intense.
Walking through the crowd there, I finally got up to the green, and thought that looks like it's close enough I can get two putts in there and win the tournament.
I remember the first putt I hit, I hit it right in the neck and came up about a foot short, ended up knocking the ball in to win the tournament.  But I've always considered Birkdale one of my favorite courses.  It is a beautiful golf course.  Just the dunes there are spectacular.  It's just a wonderful venue.
With that said, again, I certainly appreciate more than you will know the R&A for the extension of the exemption.  This is very special for me to be able to finish out my career.  Unless I play and finish in the top 10 and then I have the opportunity to play more Open Championships.  But if not, this is a place I want to finish my career playing the Open Championship 40 years from the first time I played.
MALCOLM BOOTH:  Thank you, Tom.  I know we'll have a number of questions in the room and on the phones from the U.K. and Europe and also in the states here.  Any questions in the room?

Q.  (No audio) over the impetus for changing the Open qualifier here in the States, while we have what we have this week?
MICHAEL TATE:¬† Yes, what we used to have if you go back 15 years, the players from all around the world have to come over to the UK and try to pre‑qualify on the Sunday, Monday before the Open.¬† About 12 years ago we changed that to have stand‑alone events to make it more convenient, not just in America, but all around the world.¬† We have these events in Australia, South Africa, in Asia, and in Europe.¬† I think the current process is just an evolution of that, both the PGA TOUR and the European Tour in particular, made very eloquent depositions to us to ask if we could make it more convenient for the players rather than having to play a 36‑hole stand‑alone event in the middle of a crowded season but rather use a number of events.¬† So in Europe at the moment it's the three from the French Open, the Irish Open, and the Scottish Open.¬† Over here it's four from last week, four from the Greenbrier, and one from John Deere, and the only difference is because of the travel implications after the John Deere, it's still nine spots each, but it was felt it was more convenient for the John Deere.¬† So that is the logic.
I think largely the players I think it worked well for them.

Q.  Congratulations on your captaincy in the Ryder Cup.  It's been 40 years.  You said last year you were starting to feel it.  Do you still feel the excitement from 40 years ago teeing it up and bringing it back this year?  Do you still have the same feelings?
TOM WATSON:¬† Indeed, I do.¬† I still haven't lost that feeling of going down on the first tee, teeing it up in competition.¬† I have the same exact feeling that I've had for all these years.¬† Maybe not as excited as maybe my first year or two on the TOUR.¬† But once I got to understand what it's like to be on the first tee of the tournament, it's the same as that.¬† I can say this is that when I lose that feeling, it's over.¬† I said in the last year, I'm losing some of my distance that I hit the ball, and that's certainly a concern of mine as far as how I can actually compete out here.¬† So I have to assess‑‑ I have to assess my own abilities.¬† Once that time comes I'll make an assessment on that.¬† I don't think I'll completely quit from the game.¬† I think I'll kind of like old generals never die, they just fade away, and that is kind of the same thing here.
I'm not going to go into old golfer, the old golfer's axiom.  I'm not going to go into that one.

Q.  When you mentioned excitement, was that butterflies or is it just the draw to compete at that high level that we've all been sort of accustomed to?
TOM WATSON:  No, it's the butterflies.  On the first tee, I have that, whatever you call it, the nervousness, the anxiety.  I'm ready to go.  I'm champing at the bit, and I'm in a more excited state.  It's been that way in competition in everything I do in football and basketball when I was growing up, playing in high school and in particular golf.  That first tee shot is very, very important.  It sometimes sets the tone for the round.

Q.  I guess like a school boy going to his first prom, I hope we get to see you through a couple more dances, I really do.
TOM WATSON:  Thank you.

Q.  As you look back on your career at St. Andrews, the one links you never won the Open, you're going for your sixth Open at St. Andrews in '84, and it was a great battle with Seve.  I'm just curious, in terms of not winning a major, did that one take anything out of you than perhaps other majors where you came close?
TOM WATSON:¬† That was disappointing.¬† In '78 I had a real good chance of winning in St. Andrews as well going into the last round.¬† I shot 75 in the final round in St. Andrews and had a good chance to win there, and Jack won.¬† That '84, that was a disappointment.¬† I had a lot of opportunities in the last round my putter was bulky and that was a disappointment.¬† I hit the ball very well, and I brought the‑‑ that was a positive out of that, but the disappointment was that I couldn't convert as I had when I was a youngster.¬† So that was a big disappointment, but they've all been big disappointments.¬† Probably the most disappointed I've ever been in an Open Championship was in '94 playing at Turnberry.¬† I was playing exceptionally well tee to green, and my putting was just horrific.¬† I had the ball all around the hole all the time and came up with nothing and finally got a couple double bogeys in a row on the opening nine on the last round after I got stiff three or four times on the first six holes, and that ended my chance to win there.
Of course Nick Price played some good golf there.  Not taking it away from Nick.  But that was probably the most disappointed I was.  That culminated in quite a night there with Jack and Barbara afterwards.  It was a great story.  I'll tell it to you is sometime.

Q.  The other thing too, Tom, you mentioned distance a minute ago.  But I'm curious, when you get this year, next year, whatever, if you get on a links where it's Brown and fast, what is the biggest obstacle for you at age 64, 65?
TOM WATSON:¬† One of the things about playing Hoylake is I don't hit the ball far enough to have to lay up but the driver.¬† So go ahead and hit the driver.¬† The driver is one of the strong suits of my game so that fits right into some of the kids.¬† They have to kind of guess what to lay‑up with, I just go ahead and hit the driver out there.¬† But the course plays simpler for me than it does the kids.

Q.  Mr.Tate, on the Open qualifying series, we have a case where some of the younger players who have just turned pro really don't have options to qualify as they did when it was at Gleneagles because they're at the whim of getting into some of these tournaments.  Is that considered an issue or just the way it goes?
MICHAEL TATE:¬† I think these matters have been very much considered by the European Tour and the PGA TOUR, and their request certainly has been to evolve from what we were with the 36‑hole stand‑alone into the series we have now.¬† I think the view they would take, and I think you'd probably have to ask them that question more directly than me, is that there are ways of qualifying to the PGA TOUR as the same in the European Tour, through the Challenge Tour or the feeder tours, so I think, yes.
I hear what you're saying.  They don't have that simple opportunity.  They can, of course, still travel to the U.K. and qualify.  But I understand how difficult that is.  But I think in the world of the game of golf, what we achieved, and what we are doing now is probably correct.
TOM WATSON:  I have a question for you, how many spots are there in the qualifying there on site or close to site?
MICHAEL TATE:  There are four courses and three spots on each course.  So that largely looks after the club pros in the U.K., and the top class amateurs in the U.K. if we're being honest.  We have an entry of about 1200 people and we're down to four course with 78 on each course.  So, yeah, it's tough.
TOM WATSON:  So 300 for 12 spots?
MICHAEL TATE:  That's exactly it, yes.
TOM WATSON:  I remember the old days, people would go over there and they weren't exempt on our TOUR.  They used to travel over there to qualify for the Open Championship, and just do it.
MICHAEL TATE:  I think I'm correct in saying that Arnold Palmer is a defending champion of qualifying.
TOM WATSON:¬† That is absolutely correct, and I think Mr.McCormick had something to do with changing that rule so the defending champion did not have to qualify.¬† But if you look at it, that is a true Open Championship.¬† Doesn't matter if you won it the year before, you have to‑‑ just like the tournament of champions, you have to win something to get in.

Q.  Tom, I just wonder whether you're at the stage now of whether you go solely as a competitor or you wear the Ryder Cup captain's hat.  If that is the case, it looks like (Indiscernible) will be up alongside you.
TOM WATSON:  Well, I go with both hats, and I hope the first hat is the most important hat is that I'm playing well enough to feel like I can compete and do well in the Open Championship.  That is the big question.  Can I get it going like I did with the Senior PGA here where I really struck the ball beautifully and played well, really well from tee to green?  I'm going over there as a Ryder Cup captain.  Indeed I'll be over there looking at the players, playing with players in the practice rounds and being able to get together.  I won't be able to get together with Paul McGinley there.  Paul and I will get together at the PGA Championship where he's playing.  We'll have a meeting there and of course I'll be looking at the players there.
But, yes, I'll be wearing both hats.  But the number 1 hat is to go over there and do what I've always done is compete.  I hope that I can compete at a level that I feel happy with.

Q.  Is it something of a relief for you to see Tiger back?
TOM WATSON:  I'm delighted to see Tiger back.  I hope he's healthy and I hope he's not in pain.  As I said, I want him on the Ryder Cup team if he's healthy and playing well.
MALCOLM BOOTH:  Thanks very much.  I don't believe we have any further questions.  So, Tom, we are very excited not just to see you in the next few weeks at Hoylake, but also at St. Andrews in a year's time.  Thank you very much.
TOM WATSON:  Thank you.

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