January 13, 2004
JOE CHEMYCZ: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. We welcome you to the Sony Open in Hawaii, the 2004 tournament. We have two very special guests with us, our defending champion, Ernie Els and Michelle Wie, one of the sponsor's exemptions for this week.
Ernie and Michelle played a practice round together today. So we'll start with some impressions from Ernie, about Michelle and what you saw today; and Michelle, just some of your thoughts about a very, very busy week for you, and then we'll open it up for questions.
ERNIE ELS: I had a really exciting morning. Normally a practice round on TOUR is pretty boring stuff and you just kind of want to get it over and done with. I saw Michelle last week at Kapalua and we set up a time for this morning, and I'm glad she made it.
We had a beautiful day. It was nice watching Michelle swing the club. Everything that you guys have been writing about her is pretty much true. She's a true phenomenon and she's a great, great person and we had a fun morning. She hits the ball pretty good.
I was saying to Ricci, my caddie, when I was 14, you know, Michelle and I at 14, we were pretty different golfers. I think I was playing off about a 3 or 4 handicap and Michelle is playing on TOUR. So that's the difference right there. So she's got a hell of a future and she's a nice person. We had a nice morning.
JOE CHEMYCZ: Talk about your week, Michelle.
MICHELLE WIE: It's a pretty busy week but today was -- I think I was looking forward to this day more than the tournament I think. I was really excited play this morning.
You were great (to Ernie). He gave me a lot of tips on my putting my short game and my driver, too. So I think I'm going to play good next week.
This week is pretty busy, but I'm not going to be glad that it's over. I think I'm going to cherish this moment because I've always wanted to play here.
Q. Which part of Michelle's game do you think she needs to work on if she wants to become the greatest female player?
ERNIE ELS: I think Michelle has got everything right there already. She gets the club in such a beautiful position at the top of her backswing that, you know, it's just a matter of time before she's really going to start hitting the ball at 300-plus yards.
I think to be honest with you, I don't think I've ever seen a lady golfer swing the club as good as Michelle does. Annika, obviously, swings it great, but I think when Michelle gets down into her stride, she's going to be hitting the ball as long as any woman has ever hit it before.
There's a couple little things. I mean, you know, she's 14 years old. The basics are pretty much there. Posture, the ball position, her grip, everything is just perfect. From there, she makes a nice move and brings the club down in front of her.
All of the talent in the world. It's just going to be a matter of time before she really, you know, hits her stride and then the golfing world will really have to watch out then.
Q. Does she remind you of you?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, she's got beautiful rhythm. She's got it all. Rhythm is probably the most impressive thing of all.
Q. And Michelle, which parts of Ernie's game impressed you the most? (Laughter.)
MICHELLE WIE: I think it was all of it. His driving goes really far. But I outdrove him on one hole, when he hit the tree.
ERNIE ELS: She outdrove me on 17 there.
MICHELLE WIE: I think everything is really impressive. I followed him last year into the playoff with Aaron Baddeley and it was just awesome. And today was just great.
Q. Michelle, you guys had quite a big following. Talk about the experience of having that gallery following you guys and just the experience of being here.
MICHELLE WIE: It was kind of strange to have all of these people follow us in a practice round. It's only Tuesday.
But I guess it was okay. It wasn't really, really weird or really strange.
Q. If I could ask each of you very similar question, and that is: Ernie, as you come as defending champion, do you approach this tournament any differently than you did last year? And Michelle, more important for you, how do you approach this any differently, and what does this mean to you when you compare it some of the other amazing accomplishments in your young career?
MICHELLE WIE: It's a lot different from other tournaments because it's the Sony Open. It's a men's PGA event. But I think I'm just going to go in with the same attitude that I go into the LPGA tournaments and the Amateur tournaments. I think I'm just going to go in with the same attitude. It's just I'm playing against different people. Same course, though, Waialae; practice it a lot. I'm not getting really nervous. I just hope that I play good.
ERNIE ELS: Last year was a great start. I was coming in as a winner of the previous week. This year is a little different. But I feel like I'm striking the ball well. I'm hitting my irons pretty nice. Just got to get that putter going. I think the last couple of holes this morning, I started feeling something different in my putting stroke. If I can start making some putts, I can maybe have a really good week.
You know, you come in as the defending champion and you have all great memories from the previous year and you try and ride on that. You know, last week was kind of strange because even the spectators were saying, "Are we going to see a -32?"
It's a little different last week.
But I think this week will be a little bit easier to defend. You haven't got that "-31" (under) in the back of your mind. You've just got to go out there and try to play the golf course and hopefully I can do that.
Q. If you were not here today, what would you be doing in school, what classes would you have and what would you be doing?
MICHELLE WIE: I would have taken my semester exams today. I would have had two semester exams. They are an hour and a half long, but we have no classes. We just show up for the exam and take them.
Q. Which classes?
MICHELLE WIE: I don't know. I think it's all -- I have four exams: Geometry, biology, Japanese and social studies. But I took them last week, so this week I don't have to study at all.
ERNIE ELS: I just want to say, don't ask me for any tips on those subjects. (Laughter.) I was hardly at school.
Q. What was the most memorable point in today's round?
ERNIE ELS: I think for me personally, it was to see Michelle hit the golf ball and swing the golf club. You hear so many good things about Michelle. You know, I was lucky enough to be around when Tiger Woods came out. I saw Tiger before he turned pro, when he was an amateur.
I think Michelle, a lot of what she did today reminds me a lot of what Tiger used to do. As a woman's golfer, she's going to take it to the next level definitely.
Q. The first thing that you saw?
ERNIE ELS: The first shot she hit, she hit it 20 yards past me. She hit 3-wood beautifully down the middle. We started on 10 this morning. I mean, first swing was perfect. She was a little bit late to get to the tee but... (Laughter.).
MICHELLE WIE: I think the same for me, too. Just meeting him and playing with him was just a great honor for me. I think the whole round was like my best moment. I was more excited about this than the tournament.
Q. This week, just in your opinion, on this particular course, what do you think will be the greatest challenge Michelle will face, will it be short game off the tee? And Michelle, is there anything that you can do to avoid being nervous on Thursday so that your game comes out?
ERNIE ELS: I think the golf course this week is a little bit greener than last year. There's more rough. Around the greens it's thicker. The greens are really small this week.
But I think if the wind blows, I think Michelle will have a better chance. She can maybe play better, finish better in the field. I think because of her local knowledge of the breezes, the amount of time she's played on the golf course, when it's really calm like today, the guys will probably shoot lights out. I think in some ways, it will be tough for Michelle to maybe keep up with that.
So if the wind really blows, even par is a good score, I think she can do that around here. It's not overly long. You can hit it straight -- she's driving it beautiful and you can hit those little punch shots in there and she showed some of those shots today.
I think unlike Annika playing at Colonial where I think she had the best kind of weather for her game, when it wasn't blowing and it was soft, I think the opposite might be better for Michelle this week.
MICHELLE WIE: Ditto.
Q. Is there anything you're going to do, that you can do, to avoid or try to relax Thursday in such a situation where everybody is going to be watching you?
MICHELLE WIE: I think what I do to relax is just talk. I don't think I'm going to get that nervous on Thursday because it's kind of different from other courses because you're not really sure of the golf course, what if I hit it right, what if I hit it left. But I know what's going that happen if I hit it left and I know what's going to happen if I hit it right.
I don't think I'm going to be that nervous but I just have to prepare myself. I know I've worked really hard. So I don't think I'm going to get really that nervous.
Q. Did you know anything about Tiger before you guys first played together which was where, Shinnecock?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, I met Tiger in Phuket, actually, I think it was '94, '93 or '94.
ERNIE ELS: Phuket, Thailand. He was playing there as an amateur. After that we saw each other again at Westchester, New York.
As a professional, you don't really look at amateur golf all that much, you know -- why are you laughing?
Q. Why would you?
ERNIE ELS: Really when people stand out like Michelle does and Tiger obviously, some other good amateurs, you look at them. You just do what you do.
I never played with Tiger before he turned pro. It was just the one time at Shinnecock.
Q. I guess in America, there was stuff of him being on TV at age two and shooting these scores at nine and ten; you didn't know about that?
ERNIE ELS: No. I didn't know much about that, no.
Q. Did you notice anything change about the way you were perceived when you got to a championship after you won the Public Links?
MICHELLE WIE: I think before I won the Public Links; "You don't win anything so why are you out here?" There are a lot of people who won ten tournaments and they are not out here, so why are you out here?
But I think after I won the Public Links, a lot of minds change: You can win a tournament; you did win the tournament. So I think I was more welcome after that.
Q. When you won the Public Links and got to not so much the Women's Open but maybe the U.S. Junior Girls and U.S. Women's Amateur, did you feel any more pressure, any more expectations that you were the person to beat that week?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I think so, more in the U.S. Junior Girls because it's a junior tournament, and I won the Public Links, so there was more pressure. But it was easier in a way because I'm part of the USGA family, so they treat me a lot better.
I don't know, it's just I feel a little bit more pressure playing in Junior tournaments because I played in the LPGA and they are thinking you are the person to beat, and "if I beat you, then I can play on the LPGA, too."
Q. Do you expect to be a target, if you want to call it that, wherever you go now, especially in Junior golf?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, I think so, because they are thinking that I won every tournament and you didn't win any tournament in the AJGA when I played there; that I'm the person to beat, I think.
ERNIE ELS: I think she's set the bar, you know. I mean, those kids, they probably want to do exactly the same as Michelle does but can't quite play like she does. So they are going to be going at you for a long time.
Her goals should be different than, say, the normal 14-year-old.
Q. How often have you played this course over the last month, and how will that help you if you play it a lot and your familiarity? How much do you think that will put you at ease?
MICHELLE WIE: You do the math. Since November, I've played five times a week. I don't know, I've played a lot.
ERNIE ELS: Wow.
Q. Will that help you, will that put you at ease?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah I think so, because like a lot of times I've played here -- I've been everywhere on the golf course, left, right, over short. I've been everywhere. So I know where to go and where not to go. I think I'm pretty much ready. It's just my golf game keeps the way it is right now, I want my irons to be a little more straighter. But playing the way I am right now, I think I have a good chance.
Q. Ernie you said your goals should be different than the average 14-year-old. Is it realistic to have the goal of competing against the men on a regular basis in years to come?
ERNIE ELS: You know I had this question last week, I think from Doug.
I think for the girls to play on our tour, every now and again is a good thing. It's a good thing for golf. I think it's a good thing for our tour. It brings a lot of interest into the game. I mean, look at this morning here. There's a lot of interest here from you guys. We had a nice following this morning watching us play.
But I'm not sure where it's going to go. I think at the end of the day, Michelle probably if she wants to play on TOUR, when she gets olds enough will have to go through Tour School, get through that. She'll be very welcome on TOUR. I think if Annika starts taking up more spots, she will definitely get every sponsor exemption she asks for. I think you can ask for seven. I'm not sure what the TOUR will feel. I think it should be a good thing.
But saying that, what is the future of that happening and what if Annika plays really well in one tournament and she can keep her card? So there's a lot of factors you can start thinking about.
But I think for now, I think it's fine. I think what Michelle does is great. It gets herself some exposure out there and at the end of the day, it's good for the Tour for that week.
Q. Are you excited about the thought of a woman in the future going through Q-School; that would be a change for the game; does that thought excite you or intrigue you?
ERNIE ELS: I think it just shows you how the world is changing. Ten years ago, you would never have thought that, would you, that you that a girl or a woman would ever have the opportunity or even the talent to play with us.
As I said earlier, Michelle is 14. Give her another couple of years to get stronger. I mean, she can play on this tour. If she keeps working, keeps doing the right things, there's no reason why she shouldn't be out here.
But to get out here will be a long, hard journey to travel and maybe it will be easier, a lot easier for her to play an the LPGA TOUR. But it's there for her.
Q. Would you like to make that journey, Michelle, is that the ultimate goal for you?
MICHELLE WIE: Yeah, if I still want to do it, I will do it.
I think times are changing. I'm not saying that I'm not playing here so that other women should play in men's tournaments, too. I think I'm just kind of the oddball here. I just want to play in the men's tournament. I think Ernie is right, the time is changing. Our state, for one, our governor is a woman, Linda Lingle. And I think women are rising.
I think just because I'm playing in a men's tournament doesn't mean that it should become a trend but it's just what I'm doing as my hobby as what I want to do.
I think, it doesn't have to become a trend. It's just a few oddballs here and there might play. (Laughter.)
ERNIE ELS: I think she's right. She's trying to prove something to herself. It's not like she's trying to make a change into the world of golf. It's just you know you try and prove something to yourself. She's got the talent and she's bringing an extra vibe to the golf tournament for us. So there's no negative to it.
Q. It seems very curious but statistically, women golfers even at the highest level don't seem to master the short game as men do. Do you have any observations of that, and with regard to Michelle how do you think she's coping with that?
ERNIE ELS: I must say, I was impressed with Michelle's pitching around the greens. We have got this thick bermuda-type grass around the greens, and she actually showed me a couple of shots out of the thick stuff. I play it with a 60-degree sand iron. She plays it with a 56-degree; so she's got good touch.
Her putting this morning, her touch is a little bit out. But the back nine she played in 3-under par, so obviously she made some good putts on the back nine.
No, she's got all of the tools. Just got to put it together. It's a big week for her, but I think she's got that quiet confidence that she can cope with it.
Q. Any money exchange hands today?
ERNIE ELS: No. We took it easy.
Q. You don't want to risk her amateur status?
ERNIE ELS: Yeah, the kind of money that people are going to play for, I don't want to put her under pressure.
Q. A specific answer; what does Ernie need to work on?
ERNIE ELS: That will be interesting to hear. (Laughing).
MICHELLE WIE: I think today -- usually when I see him play, he's putting really well. Today he missed a couple of putts but it was coming long good. (Laughter.)
I think his game is perfect. His swing is perfect. So, I don't know.
ERNIE ELS: I think I was about 2-under. I think Michelle was about the same. She was 3-under the back nine. I don't know what you were the front nine.
It would have been a good match-play match today.
JOE CHEMYCZ: Thank you. Good luck this week.
End of FastScripts.