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July 19, 2017
MIKE WOODCOCK: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for the R&A press conference here at the 146th Open. I'll start this morning by introducing our panel.
To my immediate right is Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A, in the centre is Clive Brown, Chairman of the R&A Championship Committee, and on the far right is Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, Executive Director of Championships at the R&A. We'll start this morning by asking Clive to give a few opening remarks.
CLIVE BROWN: Well, good morning everyone. Welcome to the 146th Open Championship to be played at Royal Birkdale.
I would like to thank you for attending this week and for your continued support for our championship. It's nice to see so many familiar faces, but also some new ones amongst you.
We know that these are challenging times for the media, and so we very much appreciate your dedication in covering the championship and in assuring that golf fans all over the world can read about the action.
We are delighted with the course and the setup here at Royal Birkdale. The club has been extremely supportive and the greenkeeping team, led by Chris Whittle have done a tremendous job in preparing for this championship.
The setup around the course and the facilities, I'm sure you will agree, are world class. This is the 10th time The Open has been played here and I'm sure it will prove to be another hugely memorable week.
As well as watching the world's best golfers competing, we will take time to remember two great champions: Arnold Palmer played a huge role in revitalizing The Open in the early 1960s, and achieved his first win in the championship here in 1961.
Roberto de Vicenzo won The Open in 1967, not too far away at Royal Liverpool.
You will see tributes to both these players around the 18th arena.
I am sure, like me, you are looking forward to The Open Championship getting under way tomorrow. I hope you have a great week and thank you.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you, Clive.
Q. Mr. Slumbers, I was wondering if you could talk a little more about the anchoring position of the R&A in regards to what's been happening in the United States with Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron, and why the R&A believes a subjective policy in any Rules of Golf is the best way to go?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: So the anchoring debate that's been going on, we feel that the rule is very clear. I know there's been some comment about it being subjective, but we actually think it's very clear, the statement that's in the decision and the rule about it. If the discussion around the methodology of the relevant players we've been talking about has been looked at extremely carefully by our governance people and our rules officials, as well as our colleagues in the United States and on the Tour. We are all very comfortable the rule is being abided by for those players.
I think it's very important to realise and remember in all of these cases that our rules and our game are based on the integrity and honesty of players and the way that they act. And I think that is one of the most wonderful things about this sport. And we feel very comfortable that we're in a comfortable position with respect to those players, and they made formal press announcements, as you well know, just shortly ago.
Q. Just to follow up, so does that mean that you have no intention of looking at the rule any further and how it's implemented?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We have no intention of revising that rule.
Q. Is there any clarification on the venue for the 2020 Open? Where are you in relation to that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The 2020 Open?
Q. Have I missed that? My apologies.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The 2020 Open will be held at Royal St. Georges.
Q. Golf is, to my knowledge, the only Olympic sport in which the participants are allowed to smoke during competition. And I just wonder what the R&A's position is on that in terms of the healthy messages being sent out and the media images, that seem to love to focus on Jimenez's with big cigar. Do you have a view on that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I have a very serious view about the health benefits of golf. I think it is something that we are spending considerable amount of time with the medical practitioners and universities, medical schools to actually look at what the health benefits of our game are. And we actually fundamentally believe that there is something potentially unique about golf and health, and we're very keen to actually explore that space. As an ex-smoker myself, I know sometimes it's quite difficult to resist it.
I think if you look here, we added in terms of the players' facilities, for the first time we've incorporated a gym here. Sort of out on the corner next to their facilities, and that's just our continued encouragement and investment in the health benefits and the future of people who play this game.
Q. (No microphone).
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't think it looks very good on television, and certainly that's not what we encourage or allow.
Q. Several of the players have noted that they are hitting very few drivers. Some players may not even have driver in their bag. In the context of the statement of principles from 2003 regarding skill, does it concern you that that club is not a factor this week because of the distance the players hit the ball?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, you can look at it two ways, the golf course is set up 17 yards shorter than it was played in '08. The great thing about links golf, as many of you know, if you're as much an aficionado of this game as I am, course management is one of the most important things about links golf. It's pretty firm out there. It's running hard. The rough, if you run out in the wrong direction, can be pretty penal. And certainly the conversations I've had with players is that they are really enjoying the challenge of trying to work at how to get the ball in the right place. And at times that will lead them to hit irons as against drivers or woods. I think Phil was talking yesterday about maybe not putting a driver in the bag, and I think we'll see quite a few irons, especially if the wind stays in the quadrant that it's in in the moment.
The broader question on distance that you raise is we are very -- I spend a lot of my time and the R&A's time looking at distance. We are very focused on setting it up in two ways, one is around transparency, which is what we did two years ago - started to take the PGA data and take the European Tour data, put it together and publish that. Some people don't like that. Others say it's great to have the numbers.
The second thing that I'm looking at and spend probably as much time doing it is this balance between skill and technology, and whether how much the technology and skill, are they in balance, is it good for the recreational game? Is it the same for the elite game? And those two issues are what we are looking at at the moment. And if you look at the data over the last 18 months, we are seeing this year movements, only halfway through the year. We will take a full look at the end of the year, and then come back and make sure we analyse and think about it very carefully.
Q. Was there a particular incident that prompted the internal out of bounds for the 9th hole that would preclude players from being able to play into the 10th?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yes, thank you for raising that. That's an important issue. We were made aware that an option being considered was to take the tee shot at 9 down the 10th fairway. Now, the great thing about links golf is you can play a hole in multiple ways, and that's one of the beauties of it. But in this particular case we've been out there with our health and safety people, and the only way you can get the ball onto the 10th fairway is to drive it straight over the top of the grandstand, and then bring the ball back across to the 9th green, across two opposing groups of people. And we felt that that was just dangerous. So that's been put in there to protect the fans and the players, because it's also blind to the 10th fairway from the 9th tee.
Q. Did anyone actually do it, even over the weekend, or did you just hear someone think about it?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We have been asked about it as an option. I actually didn't see anyone hit a shot, but we were certainly asked as an option. And we were concerned about the safety issue. There is no way to get the ball into the 10th fairway over than straight over the top of the grandstand.
Q. Can I ask who asked?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: It was Jason Day's caddie.
Q. What happens if, as seems likely, the PGA moves from August to earlier in the year? What are your feelings about becoming the fourth Major Championship of the year instead of the third? Is there any knock-on effect as a result of the juggling of the calendar, which as I said seems to be certain to happen?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Yeah, I don't think the final decision has been taken yet on that. I think from our perspective I don't really mind whether we're the third major or the fourth major. We try to do our very best with The Open Championship to make it as good as we possibly can do.
I can absolutely understand some of the logic, and if it ends up as resulting in more people watching our game, then that's a great outcome.
Q. Can I have a little explanation regarding Bryson DeChambeau's putter?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You mean the discussion about whether the putter is serving as alignment tool? The equipment standards rules are pretty clear around that, and you can't have it so you can create an alignment. And Bryson has been talking about that with the United States Golf Association. He's been playing on the PGA Tour. We have our equipment standards people here who are happy to sit down with him and make sure that there is no problem. And I hope there's not going to be a problem, because he's a terrific, young, exciting player.
Q. Are you satisfied with all the security measures in place and do you have any concerns at all?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I'm glad that topic was brought up, so thank you. I think for Johnnie, who's done a lot more Open Championships than I have, and for myself, security has been higher up our list of what to do this year than ever before. We have worked extremely closely with the police and with the security services, as well as our own security consultants. And our primary objective is to protect and ensure the safety of players and spectators and everyone else within here.
But you will see -- you will have seen security build up during the week, and you will see it continuing to build up. You will see overt armed police officers, and there will also be hidden things that you don't see. But it's all designed to reassure everyone who's inside the grounds and who's waiting to get inside the course of their safety. But in the world we now live in, it's become a major issue and something we spend an awful lot of time on.
Q. I hate to bring in blood testing and the suggestion to players that next year's Open will be subjected to that as well. Can you clarify that, please?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Since the Olympics last year there's been a lot of discussions between the tours, and which I've been involved in, in looking at, what did we learn from the Olympics and what do we need to go forward? And I was very pleased to see the PGA Tour announce for the next season they will be adopting blood testing and other improvements in their drug-testing policy. I'm in active dialogue with the European Tour on the same issue.
As some of you know the European Tour are responsible to us for doing anti-doping testing here at the Open Championship. And our feeling is that we would like to move to the PGA Tour-type policy for next year's Open Championship.
Q. But it hasn't been decided as yet?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: We would want to move to that next year, yes.
Q. Have you had any discussions with the MCC regarding possibly moving the dates of the Open? All this clashes with the second test, which is the showpiece test of the season?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think there's been discussions on and off for decades around that, but I've certainly not had that discussion for the last two years that I've been here. And The Open dates are set a long way in advance. This is a very cramped time of year. We had Formula One last week, Wimbledon clearly just finished. It's enjoying the short summer that we enjoy here in the UK.
Q. It's a bit related to that actually, I wonder if you were comfortable being so close to Wimbledon.
MARTIN SLUMBERS: It moved two years ago to the week before. I mean, I think in an ideal situation it would be great to have a week's gap. But we work very closely with them to ensure that the coordination is there. And with Sky and European Tour Productions as our partners here, we can get the course set up, and we're not constrained by what's going on down at Wimbledon.
Q. For the first time you're paying prize money in dollars. Is that a policy going forward or are exchange rates to change with that policy change?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: No, we took a decision -- there's two pieces to this. One, we want to make sure that the prize money for The Open Championship is commensurate with its status in the world of golf, and so we always look at that number and have done that for years. Last year there was the very significant change in the sterling dollar exchange rate that caused an anomaly. And that exchange rate hasn't moved this year really. It's still around 1.30. So we had to take a decision about, do we adopt a policy to FX adjust the sterling pool or move to dollars and get that clear for all the players about what the pool is. And so on balance we decided that in this global business that is golf, dollars is the main currency, so we're switching to dollars and we won't have to worry about FX moving around there in future years.
Q. What's the thinking behind the no-reentry policy?
JOHNNIE COLE-HAMILTON: There's numerous reasons why we've decided to have a no-readmission policy. Security is part of it, and we obviously want to make sure that we have control over who's coming in and out. So security plays a key consideration. But there are other considerations.
We also have a lot of hospitality outlets that are not official. And it helps enormously with the traffic plan, so we know that the traffic in and out of the venue in the right way and the way we planned. So that's the reason we decided to have a no-readmission policy.
Q. I'd just like to ask you about television coverage: Reports that the PGA could be switching to the BBC. I wonder, what is your thinking, anyway, or perhaps that might make you, or the R&A get a bit uncomfortable that the viewers can watch the Masters and the PGA live on free television, but not The Open Championship?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on the US PGA-Sky-IMG discussions that were in the papers this morning. No, we're not uncomfortable at all. In fact, we are very happy with our partnerships with Sky and with NBC and Golf Channel and the partners with the European Tour Productions. I think when we moved last year we took what was frankly a fairly tired and outdated broadcast and turned it into absolutely world class and raised the whole level of the way it was shown. And I think that was a combination and a partnership of those organisations with the R&A that I think has truly improved how people are watching golf.
And a testament to that was that we won, or Sky and ETP, won a BAFTA for sport. And they were up against the BBC's coverage of the Olympics and Paralympics, and also the Six Nations. So I think that was a fantastic testament to what we did last year at Royal Troon, and really shows what you can do with TV. We're building on that this year.
The world of media has changed out of all recognition in the last 20 years. I think the world of TV has changed and is going to change even more, and I don't think anyone knows exactly where it's going. But we're very comfortable working with a partner that really understands the technology, they understand golf, and they understand how they can help us showcase this fantastic championship to the world.
Q. I know it sounds remote right now, but as we bring new fans into the sport and to make it easy for them and to make it truly international, is it possible in the future that we can have a unified global tour that would bring the best golfers playing against each other week after week?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think a global professional tour is something that other people need to comment and work on.
But if you look at the players, the best players in the world play all over the world. They always have done and I hope they always will do. And the more you talk to them, you hear this thing, "I learn more from playing outside my own country and developing playing in different conditions on different courses in front of different people."
And we're welcoming 35 percent of the field here is from the United States of America this week. 25 is from GB and I. And then we've got from multiple other countries around the world. So this is a truly Open Championship. We try to get the qualifying all the way around the world on various tours. And I think the championship here benefits from it.
Q. How do you correlate the fact that tired and outdated coverage, as you put it, drew far more viewers than last year, in growing the popularity of golf?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think it depends on what you're trying to achieve. I don't buy the argument around participation and reach. It is clearly good to have more reach. But The Open is a global product. It's not just a UK product. We touched 600 million households last year with The Open Championship in multiple countries all around the world. This is a global event.
And I think what's really important is to get younger people interested. If you look at what we're trying to do here at the R&A and with The Open and what our partners are trying to do on television is attract younger people to watch this. We have an absolute policy on encouraging under 25's to come here to The Open. We've done a lot in terms of improving that. In fact, we moved our youth tickets to under 21's to under 25's this year. Our camping village for under 25's is free. If none of you have been down there, I strongly encourage you to go there and see 900 people sleeping down there tonight. Friday and Saturday night is fully sold out. This is the people that we need to come into the game in the future. We need to make sure that the way we show technology and show the TV is attractive to younger people, and I think we're doing a great job of that.
Q. Clive, what have you done with all that Ralph Lauren gear (laughter)?
CLIVE BROWN: It's very nice to be wearing Hugo Boss. We're all very pleased to be wearing it.
Q. Have you had a sale?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Every year we do around the office, because the staff have a lot of this kit, and we collect in what's excess and what's not needed, and we give it to needy charities in Africa.
Q. You said earlier when you were talking about the players smoking on the course, about you allowed, that you would allow. Does that mean you control the pictures and that you can stop them showing pictures of people smoking on the course?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Well, I think all the pictures are -- the way the pictures are structured is a combination of the producers and the directors in the trucks. But there's months and months of work going on with the partners saying, how do you want to show the game of golf on the course. We talk about particular holes, particular angles. So we develop it that way.
I keep going back to that point, I want to get more young people playing. We need to send this image, which is very true of the players, being true athletes.
Q. If you've seen images or read news or what have you, have you allowed yourself to wonder if you'll ever see Tiger at The Open again?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: You know, the sort of second half of my golfing life was watching Tiger play, like many of you. And I think the sport should be eternally grateful for the transformation he drove in golf.
I would love to see him tee it up here again. I hope he gets well. I hope he gets fit. I hope he falls back in love with golf. I hope he tees it up at The Open. He'd be extremely welcomed.
But the game also moves on. We're looking at strong crowds here this week. We are expecting to be in excess of 220,000, which will make it the No. 4 all time for The Open Championship. And in fact, we are reasonably confident that we'll go through the 2006 at Hoylake, when Tiger gave us that masters class on links golf, we're pretty confident we'll actually get through that, and there is a fighting chance that we might even get close to 2000 at St. Andrews, when Tiger was at his pumped. I think there are some wonderful players out there now that people want to come and watch, and the game is moving forward.
MIKE WOODCOCK: Thank you for joining us. Thank you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports