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March 29, 2016
Rancho Mirage, California
KRAIG KANN: Good afternoon, everybody. Thank you very much for being here. My name is Kraig Kann, and we welcome you to golf's first major championship of 2016, the LPGA's ANA Inspiration. Thank you for being a part of it today. This press conference is presented by the International Golf Federation to update and promote golf's return to the Olympic games in Rio later this summer.
By the way, we are being televised live on Golf Channel right now, so that's a very big thing for each and every one of us on this stage. NBC Golf Channel is the TV rights holder for the Olympic games and you'll be watching plenty of that this summer, two weeks of competition, the men and also the women.
Here are some specifics about the women's event for you. 60-player field, top 15 in the Rolex ranking will automatically qualify with a four-player max per country if those players fall within the top 15 in the world. Outside the top 15, up to two players per country will compete. 72-hole stroke play over four days of competition. The women will play Wednesday, August 17th through Saturday August 20th. Another important date, qualification date for the players, July 11th, that is Monday, after the United States Women's Open.
Let me introduce the panel: To my immediate left is the Executive Director of the International Golf Federation, please welcome Antony Scanlon. Next to Antony, LPGA winner, two-time Solheim Cup participant for team Europe who will represent Germany in the Rio games, say hello to Sandra Gal. I think you might know this athlete next to Sandra, USA Olympian 2012, five medals, four gold, one bronze, she is here this week as part of the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference, which is taking place here this week later today. Please welcome Missy Franklin. Next to Missy is a 15-time winner worldwide, four-time LPGA winner, one major championship to her credit, she will represent China in the Rio Games, say hello to Shanshan Feng.
And those of you who know the history of this event know the lady to my far left, 33 professional victories, 29 on the LPGA with five major titles including three right here at Mission Hills, she was a part of the team led by designer Gil Hanse that won the bid to construct the Olympic golf course, LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member, say hello to Amy Alcott.
Let's get some opening comments, and Antony I'm going to go to you first, so you're not going to be in the relay race, Sandra, you're going to be very good at passing the baton. Roughly three-and-a-half months to qualify, four-and-a-half until the Olympic games, what is your excitement level? You've been a part of this from the very beginning.
ANTONY SCANLON: It's reach of a pinnacle. Normally I'm pretty laid back as an Australian, but three weeks ago we had our test event in Rio, and the excitement that came from the players, the non-Brazilian players participating there became infectious. We are able to now focus more on the players instead of the venue.
The venue looks fantastic. The golf course is a credit to Amy and Gil, some of the images you'll see on the screen show just how great a stage it will be for these people in August. So from a relaxed Australian, I'm getting excited. I'm excited we have some of the players here, and I'm sure come August they will feel the infectious nature of the Brazilian people.
And Rio is a great place to party, and a great place for an event. So hopefully during the second week they won't party too much prior to that, but once one of these ladies wins a gold medal, and Missy knows what that feeling is like, I'm sure it's a great place for them to celebrate there.
KRAIG KANN: We'll get that perspective in a second. One more for you, Antony. It's not all fun and games, no pun intended. There is a stress level to putting on something like this with golf's return. What are some of the concerns perhaps that you've had to deal with or some of the issues that have led to a little bit of stress?
ANTONY SCANLON: Yeah, I'd say it's not unique to golf. It's not unique to the IGF. It's a shared experience that everybody that puts together an Olympic games, be it the IOC, the organizing committees, the international federations. So there are similar challenges. One is building the venues, so we had that challenge in building our golf course and we've achieved that.
Second is infectious diseases. If we go back to Beijing, they had Bird Flu, Vancouver, they had N1H1, and we have Zika in Rio. So, again, the challenges they're overcome. And another challenge that Rio has faced is the financial crisis of their economy. The challenge that the Rio Organizing Committee has in delivering a games now in an economy that's in recession, and the international federations and the IOC are working with them to overcome that challenge and that seven-year roller coaster that an Olympic games is ends up on a high. When the games are delivered everybody forgets about the seven years of challenges and thinks about the performance of the athletes that are here today, and that's what it's all about.
So working towards that is what drives me to make sure we have a great venue and a great competition for these players.
KRAIG KANN: I'm sure we will. Let's focus on the athletes now. Specifically the golfers that are here as part of this week's major at the ANA Inspiration. Shanshan, I want to start with you and we'll get a comment from Sandra as well. When you were younger, the dream of playing in the Olympics wasn't there for golfers but it is now. When you first heard about that, that opportunity that might be there for you, what went through your mind and how is the excitement level for you now?
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say first of all I was really lucky to be born on the right timing, so I need to thank my parents and to give me this chance. I'm really happy that after like one or two years now golf is back in the Olympics. The first time I might have a billing chance to be involved, so I'm really, really excited.
But like when they first announced it, it was seven years ago, and I was like, oh, it's seven years later. So I've got a long time to go, and I'll be 27, so that is a great timing for it. Now we only have five months left, so I'm getting a little nervous right now.
KRAIG KANN: Are you?
SHANSHAN FENG: Yeah, yeah, I am. Even though it's still five months away, but I always start to feel a little nerves now.
KRAIG KANN: Sandra, what about nerves for you? You're all smiles right now, but you'll represent the country of Germany when you compete in the games, what's it like for you?
SANDRA GAL: Yeah, it's similar to Shanshan, we're lucky to be in this position to experience the Olympic games for golf where it's going to feel like it's going to be the first time. I know it was on in 1900, but no one remembers that anymore. So, yeah, just nerves definitely a little bit, and also I think that excitement of experiencing such a huge world class event.
But we don't know anything. We don't know what to expect. We've all seen it on TV, but we have no idea what it actually feels like, like Missy does, obviously, what it feels like to be there to represent your country and to actually have a chance of winning a medal.
KRAIG KANN: Have a lot of folks back home talked to you about the importance of representing your country? Do you feel any of that pressure? Perhaps different than a Solheim Cup for you?
SANDRA GAL: No, they have actually not. I've definitely been asked in a lot of interviews. That's probably where it's the most prevalent, but I haven't felt -- I guess because I'm in the States. I kind of stay away from the hype at home.
KRAIG KANN: Missy, we are all fortunate to have you here this week. You're actually helping to usher these athletes into that Olympic feeling. You're part of all the activity this is week at the ANA Inspiration. And helping to usher golf into the Olympics. So help these golfers out. What do they not know right now about what it's like to compete for country in an Olympics?
MISSY FRANKLIN: I really don't think either of them need any advice at all. They have to do exactly what they've done their whole careers which is just do your best and have fun. It's no different whether at an Olympics or at a tournament, it's exactly the same. While there is a lot more media hype around it, it's the same course, it's the same holes, and you guys will practice and you're going to be amazing. So there is no need for me to give any kind of advice. You guys know what to do.
KRAIG KANN: What do you believe though that the Olympics can do for the sport of golf? These two might not know that, Amy might be able to speak to that in a second, but raising the level for the en tire sport. What's it do for swimming and what could it do for golf?
MISSY FRANKLIN: I think first and foremost the amount of attention any Olympic sport gets. Being out there, being able to compete for your country on an Olympic stage when there's billions of people watching, it's an incredible feeling. It's so, so exciting. That is the best part about it. It's going to give you such a big platform to inspire. That was what was so amazing about London for me is it gives you that reach. You're being watched by so many young golfers, young athletes and you get to represent yourself and your country, ask so many people get to see that. I think that's what's so special.
Now that we have golf a part of this, it's a whole other sport that will inspire a new generation.
KRAIG KANN: Shanshan, does that make you more nervous now?
SHANSHAN FENG: Yeah, I'm shaking already. But also excited at the same time because I mean like to me I'm really excited to meet all the other athletes like Missy. I mean, we didn't have a chance to meet any of them. We only see like golfers like each other, but now maybe I'll get a chance to -- well, first, I can see maybe the male golfers like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, and then I can see like all the other athletes. So I'm really, really excited.
KRAIG KANN: Let's pass the microphone to Amy. Amy, you have something in common with Missy. You both leap into water very well. Amy started that here at the ANA Inspiration years ago. You were an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member, you know what it's like to grow the sport. You've been an ambassador for the sport many years. What does the Olympics mean to you? I'll get to the core stuff in a second, but I want a bigger perspective.
AMY ALCOTT: I really think this has obviously been a huge honor to design this golf course with Gil, to, after over 100 years of golf not being in the Olympics, for it to be center stage and to really being reaching out to a global audience just the way the LPGA Tour has changed and become more global, now we have the Olympic golf back in the Olympics.
So I think from that perspective, it's very exciting. And it's been a labor of love to build this golf course in a country, really, that doesn't know much about golf. It's really soccer crazy, and to bring it to the world stage, to countries like China and Korea and so many other countries that really don't know much about golf. So I think that it's really an inspiring thing.
We've built it from the ground up. We had a beautiful piece of land, and I think we've built something that's very challenging for all levels of golfers, and really will be left in perpetuity for a generation of young Brazilians to really learn about the game and play the game. So hopefully it will open more golf up in South America.
KRAIG KANN: I'm going to start taking some questions from the audience. One final question for you, Sandra, before we take our first question. Based on what Amy said and what you've heard from Missy, you've spent a lot of time giving back to young girls through the LPGA U.S. Girl's Golf program, you take them inside the ropes. This is a bigger opportunity than just golf for the LPGA or Sandra Gal, it's for generations. That's got to be special for you, thinking about the big picture?
SANDRA GAL: Oh, absolutely. I think it's very special to have, like Missy said, that amazing platform to just reach a lot of kids. They might see golf for the first time ever and to maybe have the possibility of them wanting to win a gold medal through golf, I think it's amazing.
Obviously there are so many kids nowadays that play lots of video games and don't go outside, so I'm all for pushing golf and kids going outside, starting a sport and getting inspired. So a great opportunity for us.
KRAIG KANN: Shanshan, just one thing, you want to try to catch Missy? She won five medals in one games, you can only win one medal. You said you want to catch her, okay.
SHANSHAN FENG: I would say if we only have one gold medal every four years, then if I want to catch her that's talking about 20 years. So after 20 years I would be like almost 50. Well, it might not be a mission impossible. I'll try, yeah.
SANDRA GAL: What if she wins more medals?
SHANSHAN FENG: Then I'll play till I'm 70 (laughing).
Q. Sandra and Shanshan do you plan to go to the opening ceremonies? If so, do you plan to stay or are you coming back?
SANDRA GAL: Yeah, well, our Tour has had a lot of growth obviously in tournaments, as you know, so it was tough to plan that summer. Obviously it was a huge dream to be at the opening ceremony but it's almost impossible for me to squeeze that in, though I would absolutely love to be there. But, as you know, the men play first and then we play so it doesn't give us a great chance to prepare. So I'd rather spend the time at home preparing. Coming a few days early, watching a couple different sports and then playing.
SHANSHAN FENG: So the day after opening ceremony is actually my birthday, so August 5th. I'm really willing to go, but I did already ask the Chinese team and they said because we are later in the schedule, so maybe we don't have a chance to actually be involved in the opening ceremony, but maybe the closing.
Q. Shanshan, you talk about the Olympics being an opportunity to further the sport. But how about players like Lydia and anybody else advancing their own brand and having an opportunity to really become stars beyond just the sport?
KRAIG KANN: Let's get Shanshan to comment, and then I'd like Missy to comment on that. About the opportunity to brand yourself and become a bigger star through the Olympic games?
SHANSHAN FENG: You know what I always focus on is just to be the best golfer that I can be. I know I do have character. Well, you can tell right now, because off the course I'm usually like a funny silly person, and I look different on the course because on the course we always have poker faces because we're working. We want to make a living, so maybe it will look a little bit different.
But I do think that all the girls, we have different personalities and we can all have maybe different brands. I think like I represent China right now, so I know a lot of the Chinese people are watching me, so I just want to prove to them that Chinese can be good at golf and hopefully it will just inspire more people to start the game, yeah, that's it.
KRAIG KANN: Shanshan, is that pressure for you? Do you feel pressure to represent the country in that way?
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, there is always pressure, but I think pressure is a good thing because pressure actually pushes you to want to be better. So I never mind the pressure, but I don't give myself extra pressure for myself.
KRAIG KANN: Missy, what was it like? How did you go from pre-Olympics to post Olympics? How has that changed you, perhaps, or what have you had to deal with?
MISSY FRANKLIN: It was crazy. I learned I could not go to the grocery store in pajamas anymore, which was probably the biggest sacrifice I had to make. But it was truly incredible. I don't think you fully understand the impact of the Olympic games until you've gone through it and until you've experienced it for yourself.
So coming back from London, I just had the most amazing experiences. It was so weird and is still is to me that people recognize me just walking down the street or by signing a piece of paper I can make a child happy. To me, that's just so amazing and there is so much power and responsibility in that. And I feel like there's really something about the Olympics that can do that.
So I'm just so excited for these two and all the golfers to experience that and to get that responsibility themselves.
KRAIG KANN: Before we take the next question, Sandra, talk about the opportunity to grow your brand. I'm not suggesting you're out there thinking about this each and every day, but I know giving back is something big for you. What are your thoughts on that?
SANDRA GAL: Yeah, just like you mentioned, I think that the responsibility that we have to represent our sport and inspire young people is probably something that I'll be thinking more about than actually how do I grow my brand. I think you just kind of grow into it naturally. I think I just have to be surprised by what happens after the Olympics. But it's not something that you look for. I think it just comes with it, but we definitely look for inspiring those kids.
Q. Shanshan, how did the inclusion of golf in the Olympics change how the sport is viewed in China? What is the hype like as we get closer?
SHANSHAN FENG: Well, in China if you talk about sports you have two types of sports, one type is Olympic sports, the other time is non-Olympic sports. So golf was in the non-Olympic sports. We do have like sports ceremony every year and because I won the major in 2012, so actually I got the award for the best non-Olympic athlete for the year.
But now because golf is in the Olympics, so I would say next time if I want to be nominated maybe it's for as best female athlete for the year. But I'm really happy for that, even though it's difficult. Because now we are on a different platform. There will be more people, more channels that will be showing golf other than just watching golf on the Golf Channel. But now we can see golf everywhere during the Olympics, and I will see like more people will see how good golf is and especially like Chinese can actually represent the country with playing golf.
So I think that's going to change the whole thing. It's going to make the sport really, really popular in China because it's such a great sport. That's why I started it.
Q. Missy, it's a very long flight to Rio. Have you picked a song yet that's going to become famous?
MISSY FRANKLIN: No, so far the swim team has not narrowed down a song choice for the plane ride. But hopefully, hopefully something pops up in the music industry, because I know we all had a blast making that video, and it really did bring us closer together as a team. So we'll see what happens.
Q. Missy, you're in one of the few sports where women and men compete with each other or in the same event, so they get the same spotlight. When you were in London, did you get a sense that for many of these other women's sports the spotlight is never greater and therefore the opportunity to not just inspire future generations, but for these athletes to get their own due is never greater? It always seems like people talk at the Olympics about how great these female athletes are doing. Well, they are always performing that way, it's just people don't often see them except for once every four years?
MISSY FRANKLIN: Absolutely, and I think that's something that comes with being an Olympic sport and again something that now you guys will kind of understand and get to deal with. But a lot of the times when people see us at the Olympics that's our bread and butter. That's what we work for. That's the pinnacle of your career. The highest you can get for us.
After that I think it's hard for people to understand that we keep going, that we're still competing every month, that we're still training every single day. That it's not just every four years for us, it's every single day.
It's a challenge that comes with that, but with being seen on the Olympics, it gives you that privilege and that option to then include people on the rest of your journey throughout those non-Olympic years.
Q. Missy, do you play golf?
MISSY FRANKLIN: I desperately need some lessons. My aunt tried to teach me when I was 12 and I was much too impatient, but I would very, very much like to learn.
KRAIG KANN: You've got a couple on this stage that can help.
MISSY FRANKLIN: I'm not with the worst company, so...
KRAIG KANN: I think we can arrange that.
Q. Missy, you talked about how you couldn't really give the golfers advice on their first Olympics, but specifically what do you remember about the first Olympics and what can you tell them about -- sure they're veterans and they know how to play the game, but there are a lot of things you know that can throw you off, little things like scheduling and things that you're not used to. Specifically, could you talk about what you would tell them about that first Olympic experience?
MISSY FRANKLIN: Absolutely. And I think it's kind of hard because Rio is going to be completely different than London was, so while I do have an Olympics under my belt, there is only so much I learned from that experience that I will be able to take into Rio because the venue will be different, the timing will be different. I think the way our swims are set up right now is because of primetime television.
Our prelims will start at 1 p.m., and our finals will start at 10 p.m. which is something that's very different further. We're not going to be finishing up a session until 1:00, 2:00 a.m. I didn't have to deal with that in London. That's going to be something that's very different, working the food schedule and all of that.
So I think the best advice I have is just to be prepared for whatever is going to happen. To make the best of the situation and to be adaptable to know that it's probably not going to go perfect, so how are you going to make the most of that situation and be your best even when things might seem like they're different or going a little off course. Get it? Off course?
KRAIG KANN: Very, very well done.
Q. Amy, about the golf course, there are challenges associated with designing a course for both men and women. Obviously we had the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, but that was a unique circumstance. What was the philosophy going into this, and how did you address what you assumed were going to be some of those issues up front?
AMY ALCOTT: Well, I think that one of the things about this golf course is that we wanted to make it playable for all levels of players when the Olympics were over with. But the prime concern was to make it a really challenging golf course for the elite male and female players globally.
Many golf courses in the last ten years have been what I call Tigerized. They're designed from the back forward. I've played many golf courses like that that the game has gotten very long.
So Gil and I had the philosophy that we wanted to make this a course that would really put the women right into the same hitting areas and hitting a lot of the same shots, similarly, that the guys would play. The front nine will probably play a little bit tougher, it will play longer. The course overall will be about 6200 yards. We're hoping it plays firm and fast the way it was designed as a links golf course.
And the closing holes, the back nine will be a little bit shorter and give people a chance to catch up. I think that's really important. That was the challenge to make a golf course where the bunkers were in play the same way for the women's as they would be for the men, and there wouldn't be a golfer that's favorited.
We heard Lee Trevino say, well, they'll never win the Masters because it's a right-to-left golf course. But I think growing up and playing many good courses personally and on the LPGA Tour, great golf courses are one that works left to right, right to left, has long par-4s, and short par-4s, and I think 16 will be a very challenging hole. It will be a real catch-up hole and one the people will enjoy coming in. Get there in one if you hit a good shot. So that was a challenge. But hopefully we've made a golf course that's playable for everyone.
Q. Missy, a follow, with the spotlight never being greater than at the Olympics, how do you keep from making it more than it is which is, at the end of the day, another swim meet?
MISSY FRANKLIN: That's a great question. I think for me it almost helps just knowing that there is going to be so much media attention, that this is what everyone is watching. But I know what I'm doing. I've been swimming for 15 years now. I know the strokes I do every day, the yards I put in, every sore muscle, all of that. That's something that I love and something I'm so passionate about. It's all leading up to kind of this time where we can show off all our hard work, and whether that's the Olympics, whether that's a World Championships, whether that's a local Grand Prix or Pro Series meet in March, it's just a chance for us to show what we've been doing and how hard we've been working. The Olympics just happens to be a really great stage to do that on.
KRAIG KANN: Last question, you said going into the Olympics you really didn't know what to expect the first time around. Coming out, you obviously know what it did for your life. What did winning a gold medal, and I know you've won multiple, what did it do, what did it mean to you personally?
MISSY FRANKLIN: It's really hard to put into words. The feeling of standing on a podium, watching your flag go up, hearing your national anthem, and knowing that you've accomplished something that's not just for yourself, but all the people that have supported you and for your team and most importantly for your country, that's just truly an incredible feeling to have.
I think the best thing to ever come out of this is just to have random strangers come up and tell me they're proud of me. Like that is just the most incredible feeling knowing that I was able to put all this work in and make other people proud.
KRAIG KANN: You're inspiring with those words and as an athlete. That was a tee-up, pun intended, for each of the two golfers sitting up here. I was looking at you, Sandra, while you were listening. Can you fast forward to what it might be like if you were to win a gold medal?
SANDRA GAL: I was just listening and trying to feel what she was feeling. That's pretty much what I have in my head, but obviously you can't put it in words. It's hard to even talk about it. I feel like it will be just an extreme honor. Like she said, not only make your country proud, but your whole team and everything leading up to that point, all the work that she put in, which would kind of be a summary of the gold medal.
KRAIG KANN: Shanshan, you're going to play golf now until you're 70 on the LPGA Tour. But let's focus on the here and now and a few months time. Imagine yourself to Missy's point and the way she described it, standing on that podium and watching your flag go up. What would it mean for you personally?
SHANSHAN FENG: Like, while Missy was trying to talk about it I was visualizing if that's me like in the same position. Actually what I thought was maybe I would cry, I think because, yeah, I think I would cry. Not because I'm sad, it's because I'm too happy.
I think I will be really, really proud of myself and also for my country because everyone knows China is not one of the strongest countries for golf right now, but if a Chinese golfer can win a gold medal maybe at the Olympics, then I can see that there will be more people playing golf in China. Well, all we have is people in China. Our population is huge, so once the sport becomes really popular, then we have a lot of people. So watch out, the Chinese are coming, yeah.
KRAIG KANN: Very good. Sandra, pass the baton to Mr. Scanlon, I'll give you the final thought. By the way, Amy, thank you so much for being a part of it.
Shanshan, best of luck this week, thank you. Missy, as well, thank you for being part of this week. And Sandra, stirring comments from you as well, and we appreciate you taking the time.
Antony, I'm going to give you the final word because you've been a part of this from the very beginning. What is the message to everybody here in the media aside from book your flights now and we'll see you in Rio?
ANTONY SCANLON: Golf is back. It's back in the Olympics and it's going to be great to watch.
KRAIG KANN: Very simply stated. On behalf of everybody, I'm Kraig Kann, thank you very much for being here. Appreciate the questions, and we'll have some follow-ups available afterwards. Thank you all for being here today.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports