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August 15, 2016

Gene Sauers

Columbus, Ohio

THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome the 2016 U.S. Senior Open Champion Gene Sauers here into the Media Center.

Gene with rounds of 68, 69, 71, and a 69 today for a four-day total of 277, 3 under par. Gene, congratulations on the win.

GENE SAUERS: Thank you very much.

THE MODERATOR: Let's go through a little bit today. You start out really strong. You're one behind to start off. You birdie 1, and then Miguel doubles No. 2. You go from one behind to two ahead really quickly.

GENE SAUERS: Right. I hit it left off the tee on No. 1. I hardly ever hit it left. I hit it left a lot today. I didn't have that good of a lie. I told my caddie it was either an 8 or 7 iron, and he went ahead and told me 8 iron, and I hit it pretty good.

It jumped a little bit, probably about 35 feet below the hole. I saw Ian's putt going up there, and, boy, I drilled it there.

I had a good shot on 2, just didn't hit a great putt. But then 3, I birdied. Isn't it No. 3?


GENE SAUERS: What did I hit there? Can't remember what I hit there. 9 iron? Yeah, 9 iron. That was probably, what, five feet, I guess it was.

Then I made bogey on the par 3. Hit a 4 iron pretty good. I think I was like 205 or something to the hole. I'm the only one hitting my 4 iron that far. Just off the green to the left and didn't get up and down.

THE MODERATOR: Then you had a string of pars and get another birdie at the par 5 12th.

GENE SAUERS: Par 5 12th, I hit a good drive. I hit a 3 iron to the green. Hit it in the right bunker, up and down from the right bunker and made about a four-footer there.

THE MODERATOR: Then if you can say there's a nice bogey, I think you had one. A nice putt on the 15th.

GENE SAUERS: Yes, on 15. I didn't hit a great drive. Still just in the fairway, 175 yards to the pin. I had a 6 iron and just kind of rushed it a little bit. I didn't take my time on it.

I was just going just left of the flag, and I just kind of -- I had some limbs overhanging down. I got to thinking to myself, let's don't nick one of those trees. So I kind of played it down a little more and blocked it to the right. I think that was the worst lie I had all week. Grass was going the opposite direction. It was an awful, awful lie.

Then, of course, I hit it in the bunker on the other side and made -- the rake job on whoever raked that bunker before me wasn't too good. Anyway, I'm not blaming that. But I hit a decent bunker shot out of there about 10, 12 feet and snuck it in on the left side for a bogey. I think that helped me out a little bit.

Of course, he made birdie there too. So two-shot swing.

THE MODERATOR: Two-shot swing from one ahead to one behind. You put one in there pretty close on 16.

GENE SAUERS: On 16, yeah, right there. It was a left center putt. I told myself just don't leave it short. I yanked it left, pulled it left. Anyway, then I had an opportunity on 17, hit a good 6 iron in there on 17 and just didn't hit it hard enough. Hit a ball mark too on the way there. It wouldn't have made it to the hole anyway.

THE MODERATOR: Miguel makes bogey there on 17.

GENE SAUERS: Makes bogey.

THE MODERATOR: So you're tied up going into the 18th hole. Tell me what's going through your mind. Probably one of the worst swings you had of the day on the 18th.

GENE SAUERS: Yeah, it was. I was nervous a little bit. Not nervous to hit a shot like that, though. It was just a poorly executed golf shot.

I told myself, I said, I hardly ever hook the ball. I always have a little fade. I said, all right, I know you don't hook the ball. This is aimed down the left center of the fairway. And then, of course, I double-crossed it and hooked it. One of the worst shots all week.

I just told my caddie, give us a chance. Give me a decent lie, and I can advance it somehow. It was, and I ran a 3 iron, trying to hit a low draw on the 3 iron, trying to run it up there, and I hit a good shot. Then the chip shot left it about four feet short, but I made it.

Of course, I was thinking a couple years ago, I said, you know, I lipped out on this one to win a couple years ago and said, just don't let this one get away. I put it right in the middle, thank goodness.

THE MODERATOR: So close, as you mentioned, 2014. Did that help you, that kind of experience today, when you were in -- maybe it wasn't quite a match play situation, but certainly you were in it all the way today.

GENE SAUERS: Right. Everybody tells me -- the players, my wife, friends -- you just got to get there. You got to get there and have the experience to do it, do it, do it. The more times you're there, the easier it's going to be. I'm not saying it was easy today, but I got it done today.

THE MODERATOR: And then finally, before we open it up, your first victory since having to step away from the game for about seven years, really a fight for your life with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.


THE MODERATOR: You've overcome so much. Try to put it in perspective. What does a victory like this mean to you?

GENE SAUERS: It means the world to me. I saw the light at the end of that tunnel, and I was heading there. The good Lord stopped me and backed me up and said, no, you're not done yet. It's just unbelievable to not play golf, not touch a golf club for seven years and to come out and to win a Major golf tournament on a hard golf course.

Being back with all my friends who I started in 1984 playing golf with, it's just a pleasure, and I'm so humbled to be here and honored. I can't put it into words yet. I'm speechless.

THE MODERATOR: Seem like a very popular champion among all the fans out there and here at Scioto.

GENE SAUERS: Thank you.

Q. Gene, everyone talks about Open rough and how, if you hit it in the rough, forget it. And yet on, I think, No. 1 a couple times you were in that stuff and advanced it. I don't know if you can speak to how tough the rough was or maybe you just mentally didn't let it get to you.
GENE SAUERS: I tried not to let it get to me. I just always -- when I'm walking up to that ball, just give me some kind of opportunity because it's tough. I think the golf course was set up perfect this week. All the rain just messed things up a little bit.

But the first three rounds, we got lucky with the rain. The golf course was hard, the greens were firm and fast, the way an Open should be. I just got lucky and was able to get it out a few times.

Sometimes you don't know if it's going to squirt right or left or you're not going to hit it anywhere. You've just got to take a chance. Pick it straight up and go down on it, hit it as hard as you can, and hope for the best.

Q. It was kind of match play there. At any point, did you think, I'm in trouble? When you pull that, with what he's doing, could you believe what was happening?
GENE SAUERS: Not really. Like I say, he doesn't make too many mistakes, and I knew that going into today. And when he hit it in the bunker on 17, I didn't know -- we couldn't tell from the tee if it was in the bunker or just in the rough. And he's a great bunker player. That was just an awful difficult shot to get up and down.

But like I say, he doesn't make many mistakes, and then -- of course, he almost holed his bunker shot here on 18. But I was ecstatic that he did that to give me -- open the door for me.

Q. Just to follow up on that question, could you walk us through your thought process on 15 and 16 and even 17, when you left one dead in the heart. And even in 16, when that could have been a swing and wasn't --

Q. Could you just talk about what you were thinking or how hard you were kicking yourself or whatever was going on?
GENE SAUERS: Yeah. Like I said, I didn't hit a great tee shot on 16, kind of fanned it out to the right a little bit, was still in the fairway. I had a shot to the green and everything. I just rushed myself. I just kind of wanted to get it over with, I guess. I'm just ready to go.

But I'm kind of a quick player. I'm not real slow. So I had some overhanging limbs, like I said, and I said, maybe I'd better kind of play this back in my stance a little bit more and make sure it doesn't pop up on me, and I just didn't hit it very well, blocked it way to the right. But luckily, I made bogey, and that kept me in it.

Then on 16, I hit it in the left rough, and I hit an 8 iron. I think I was 165 to the hole. So I hit an 8 iron, perfect shot. Pulled it a little bit. I was going a little right of the hole. I pulled it a little bit. Of course, you know in that rough, that club just grabs it and turns it. I hit a great shot there, just told myself not to be short, and I just pulled it and kicked myself in the butt for trying to, you know, hit it too hard and just pulled it.

And like I say, he hit it in the bunker, and he hit a great shot. He made the putt. So 17 and 18, I told myself I've just got to go -- on 17, just got to take it just right of the pin. You don't want to be whaling it out to the right or anything, or pull hook it left. I just fired right at it and had a great shot and just left the putt short.

Q. Gene, first of all, congratulations.
GENE SAUERS: Thank you.

Q. Take us back to before you contracted the illness. Why didn't you touch a club for those years? I know you won in 2002 in Canada.
GENE SAUERS: Right. I played 2003 and 2004, and I got to really just hitting it awful, driving myself crazy, missing putts. Just I was really fed up with the game. It was going to kill me, I think. I was about to pull my hair out of my head.

So I just, after I didn't finish in the top 125, I said, well, I think this is it. I'm done. And a couple of years, I was okay. I mean, the illness wasn't happening to me.

Then after about the third year, 2008 or so, things started happening. The arthritis starting come in. It went from one shoulder to the other shoulder, and then it started attacking all my joints. I couldn't even get off the couch. Like Phil Mickelson says when he has that psoriatic arthritis, he couldn't get off the couch. I couldn't get off the couch.

I had hard floors in my house, and I had to put socks on my feet. Within three minutes, I could slide myself to the refrigerator and get something to drink and slide myself back about three minutes before my legs would start burning, and I had to prop them up. It was just ridiculous.

And then that's when I started to burn from the inside out. So everything turned black, my legs. It didn't get my body, thank goodness. If I got it on my face or anything, I'd probably be gone.

But then, like I say, after I got sick, of course, I never knew I'd be back again. Thank the Lord I'm here.

Q. Just a clarification on the bogey on 15, when you hit it over the green into the bunker, did that end up in like a rake depression?
GENE SAUERS: Yeah, it was an awful lie.

Q. I thought so. And what did you try to do there? A chunk and run or just --
GENE SAUERS: A little bit of that, yes. I tried to execute it the same way, but more of a chunk and run, yes. It was an awful lie. It was like -- oh, awful.

Q. Which kind of made it that much better.
GENE SAUERS: I'm glad I made the putt. I pulled the putt a little bit, but it went in that left side.

Q. Last thing. I don't know if you were aware that in every previous big event here, an American had won, including the U.S. team and the Ryder Cup. Did you know that?
GENE SAUERS: No, I did not.

Q. Now that you know that, thought?
GENE SAUERS: Just it's unbelievable to -- like I say, this is where Jack Nicklaus grew up, right?

Q. That's right.
GENE SAUERS: And he was my mentor. So it's awesome to be in his neighborhood.

Q. Gene, how much did it feel like match play? And do you scoreboard watch? Did you know Billy was coming up? Or was it you and Jimenez?
GENE SAUERS: I knew it was he and I for the most part, but then I did look at the board maybe on 14 or something, and I did see Billy coming up 1 under, 2 under. So I said, oh, okay. I've got another one to contend with now. Just keep yourself in it and try not to make too many stupid mistakes, you know, which I did make that mistake on 15.

But I did notice him there, and I was just hoping I'd make that last putt.

Q. I just have one more clarification. You're saying four feet for the last putt? Because it's kind of important to us.
GENE SAUERS: It could have been five feet.

Q. We were thinking five.
GENE SAUERS: Yeah, it was at least five, I think.

Q. By next week it could be six.
GENE SAUERS: Could be, when I get home, yeah.

THE MODERATOR: How are you going to celebrate the victory?

GENE SAUERS: I don't know yet. I'm all by myself. I guess I'll just go maybe eat at Burger King or something.

THE MODERATOR: Gene Sauers, thank you very much. A fantastic week.

GENE SAUERS: Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: And a great champion.

GENE SAUERS: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

THE MODERATOR: 2016 U.S. Senior Open Champion, Gene Sauers.

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