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June 13, 2018
Southampton, New York
THE MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining. Welcome to the 118th United States open championship. My name is Craig Annis, the head of communications, and thanks for joining us here today.
On the stage here with me to my left is Mike Davis, CEO, USGA. Mike, thank you. And Jeff Hall, managing director of U.S. Rules in Open Championships. Both Mike and Jeff will make opening statements, and then we'll take questions.
MIKE DAVIS: Welcome to the 118th U.S. Open. I guess I'll make a few brief comments about the Championship and then turn it over to Jeff Hall.
Let me start out by just saying how incredibly excited we are to be here to Shinnecock hills. This truly, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the world's great golf courses, and to be able to have our U.S. Open here is incredibly important.
But beyond just this year, I think most people know that this club has had a profound effect on the formation of golf in the United States. So for us to have now played a U.S. Open in three different centuries at this course speaks volumes to the specialness of it. In some ways, this really is a national golf treasure.
The golf course -- I'm not going to go into a whole lot of details, but it certainly, as you've been hearing all week from players' comments, this is architecturally significant.
The golf course was originally 12 holes, 1891. But in 1929, William Flynn, which really is one of the foremost architects in the world, redesigned the course, moved it actually a little further north of where it originally -- the 12 holes, which later became 18, but moved it further north.
And I think since then, what I will say about it is it not only for people that like architecture, it's a fabulous golf course. But for championship, it will really test all aspects of the players' games, which is exactly what we want to do in this U.S. Open test.
With a firm ground and with wind, it requires the players to control their trajectory, requires players to control their spin. They have to think about what happens when the ball lands, where's it going to bounce and roll to. It rewards players that can work the ball both left and right and right and left, knock down shots, hit high shots. So it really, indeed, is what we're looking for as a test.
In terms of the course itself, it's a little bit of a back to the future, in a sense that the club -- and it really was the club itself -- that embarked on roughly 20 years ago a project to restore this great golf course to what it had been back when it opened in 1931 with the Flynn design. So they used a lot of photographs. They used a few William Flynn experts, historical experts.
And really when I think about the restoration of Shinnecock Hills, it boils down to they got rid of trees and brush, where if you go back to the 1995 open, virtually every hole was separated from one another by trees, brush. And it's now what it used to be years ago.
In addition to that, there was a real focus on restoring really the historical angles and widths to the golf course. So it was a much wider golf course.
Now, I will say that last year we did come in and narrow some of the holes -- non-par 3 holes, obviously. But I think we did it being very -- tried to do it being very respectful to the original William Flynn intent and angles and keeping bunkers into play.
You will also notice that, different from this Open, closely mown areas. They really have changed how Shinnecock plays. It's more options to the game. You have to think about, when you miss, where the ball may bounce and roll to. It certainly gives players more options, whether they want to try to recover with a putter, a bump and run, or a pitch.
But maybe the most impactful thing of all the restoration work the club did was restoring the original greens sizes. They used photographs from the early '30s, what had really become round ovals, and got it back to the original shape. So bunkers are much more in play.
You know, I haven't actually counted up yet, but I would guess that at least 25 percent of the hole locations we will use this Championship will be in places that weren't even on greens the last three Opens. So it really strategically is much better.
And let me close up by saying at this point, we could not be more pleased with where the condition of the golf course is. I've never seen Shinnecock Hills, in almost 30 years of coming out here, I've never seen it in this kind of condition before.
Salute to Jon Jennings, who is a true professional in his avocation. And certainly the commitment Shinnecock Hills as a club has made.
The last thing I would just say is that we're very mindful that we've got an incredibly good weather forecast. If you look for the next four days, we're going to get sunny conditions. We're going to get breezy conditions. And, in fact, tomorrow we may get extremely breezy conditions.
So with that, what is happening outside right now, we would actually view as a positive. It will calm the course down and actually get consistency and firmness on the golf course.
We have purposely slowed the greens down a little bit today, knowing the kind of winds we're to get tomorrow. We've also changed up some of the hole locations, just to make sure they're in areas that can handle this kind of wind. But I would also say that if we get some of the top winds that they're predicting, it doesn't matter how slow the greens are and how flat the surfaces are. You will see balls blowing, and that's just the nature when you get up into 30-mile-per-hour plus, which we might get gusts.
So we're mindful of that. We're going to try to do everything we can in that regard. The rest of the week, I think we'll see a breeze but probably not the levels at which we'll see tomorrow.
With that, I'll turn it over to Jeff Hall.
JEFF HALL: Good morning, everybody. I just want to touch on something that we view as very, very important about this Championship, and that is the openness of the United States Open. We really view that word "open" as the operative word.
The openness of this championship sets it apart from every other championship in the world, period. It starts, for many, 9,000 players had a dream to be one of the 156 players here at Shinnecock Hills this week. 9,000 players started this process back in March when we released entries.
They start with that dream in mind. They go through local qualifying at more than 100 sites. 500 players are successful there. They move on with some locally exempt players to come to sectional qualifying, where we had 12 different sites; 2 internationally, 10 domestically. We are always looking for that 50-50 split between fully exempt and qualifiers to come here, and we hit it. 78 fully exempt players, 78 players advanced through qualifying. So we're very proud of the openness of this championship.
Twenty amateurs in the field, including the world number one, Doug Ghim, from the United States of America. What about championship, major championship, do you have 20 amateurs participating?
49 players, this is the first time they will have played in the United States Open. This championship is about dreams, and we're delighted to be able to provide that opportunity for golfers of deserving ability.
All you've got to do is have enough game to dream, and there's so many great stories, and many of you have been reporting on those stories already. We're delighted that you're finding those stories this week.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mike. Thank you, Jeff. We're now going to open it up to questions.
Q. Just based on the way 2004 ended on the weekend, is there any chance that you might go too easy on these guys this week?
MIKE DAVIS: This is a -- I guess every golf course has its challenges with setup, but when you get a sand-based golf course, which is great, because if you have a rain event, you can get the course back to championship conditions faster than you will heavy soils. But when you have that, it can get firmer faster. And with an exposed golf course being so close to the ocean like this, breezes come in.
So you have to be mindful of how each hole plays. We've already gone through. I mean, tomorrow they're calling for really westerly/northwesterly winds, and so you start to think about how do certain carries on holes play? What are the players' options?
Even with hole locations, Doug, you think about it's not just the green speed, it's not just the percentage slope, but where is the wind going to blow? Because, actually, the wind will have more influence than the speed of the greens or the percentage slope.
So in a lot of cases, we've tried to put hole locations where the wind might blow uphill. But I think that, you know, relative to 2004 -- listen, here's what I would say. Different time, 14 years ago. There's a lot more science to this. Even though golf course setup is still an art, we look at moisture levels, meteorology is better, we have firmness levels, we have speed levels. So I think that we want this to be a true test of golf, where every aspect of your game is tested.
To some extent, the golf course and the USGA can do its part, and mother nature can do her part. She's got a seat at the table, as we like to say, and we're confident this should be a marvelous test.
Q. When either of you talk about the history of golf, how important was Shinnecock with people like John Shippen and Oscar Bunn?
MIKE DAVIS: It's a great question. You think back to the history here, and I'll just start out with the USGA, in theory, wouldn't be around had it not been for Shinnecock Hills and four other clubs. They were the founding clubs of the United States Golf Association.
From day one, this club was accessible to women. We had the women's amateur in 1900 here. 1900, so 118 years ago, it had been very accepting.
I've got a story, which I probably won't do justice, but John Shippen, who was an African American, and Oscar Bunn, who was the Shinnecock Nation, both entered the U.S. Open in 1986. There were some players who didn't want to play in that particular Open.
And credit to the USGA at the time and credit to the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, who stood up and said, you don't have to play in this if you don't want to play. They ended up playing, but that's what was done. To think about that happened in 1896, it's been great.
We've felt that welcoming in since then. And I know, even to this day, we've been working with the Shinnecock Nation to try to recognize what their role has been in this land and in this golf course.
THE MODERATOR: Yeah, I'd just add to that, part of our commitment and our partnership with the Shinnecock Nation, we're going to work to build a golf practice facility on the territory. It's going to be named after Oscar Bunn to continue to honor that history. And we're just so excited to get started on that once the U.S. Open is over.
Q. This is for both you guys. We had the great story in the local qualifying about Chris DiMarco's son and the other LSU guy not being there for the playoff, the coin flip. Of course, the LSU kid is in the Open this week. Just your thoughts on that whole situation and your thoughts on the coin flip as a way to decide it, because it's a really unique situation.
JEFF HALL: Well, that was really brought about by the players' decision, not ours. They should have been there to play, and they opted not to. We still have to resolve that tie in some way, shape, or form, and that's our protocol for doing it.
So the players had every opportunity to be there to play their way here. They opted not to.
Q. Have you ever heard of that happening before?
JEFF HALL: That is a protocol we've had in place for years, Gary. Fortunately, it doesn't happen very often. Players typically want to be there to represent themselves, but it didn't happen in this case.
Q. Question on the course setup. To what extent is your setup governed by the steep slopes on 7 and 11? Rory McIlroy this morning talked about how on the 7th green, you had a seven-yard mark to land the ball, and you've got a 4 percent slope. If you have this kind of wind, can you imagine at some point running out of hole locations potentially moving forward, having the softer holes on these greens?
MIKE DAVIS: It was hole 7 and 11?
MIKE DAVIS: So Brad's question is the setup of the two par 3s here. Hole No. 7, many of us who look back to 2004 remember that redan hole, and 11 is one of the truly greatest par 3s in golf, a very small par 3 that sits at a diagonal, where there's no back drop to it, an infinity look with the flagstick against -- and a rather short approach shot.
So let me take the 7th first because those holes play very differently. A redan, by its design nature, slopes from the front right of the green to the back left. And this particular redan is very unique in the sense that you can't land it short and bounce it on because it's got a false front.
So, Brad, to your point and to Rory's point, you must fly the ball at least to the first part of the green, and then it's probably going to release depending on firmness, depending on wind and so on.
So we are very mindful of that. There are certainly parts of that green that are in the low 3 percent range. But in general, it is 4 percent or higher. So we do think about the firmness of that green. We think about the speed of that green. And at the end of it, we believe that, as long as we keep the turf healthy there and there's enough moisture and we keep the green at an appropriate speed, that it will be a very difficult hole, but it will be playable.
At the end of it, you have to execute your -- you have to not only think about how you want to shape your shot in there and how high you want to hit it, but you want to think about also, where do you want to putt from? So that's a hole we're being very cautious on.
Hole No. 11 is a little bit different one because you're hitting in, it's a shorter short, and it's a bit of catcher's mitt, where the green basically slopes back to front. It's got a left to right slope to it as well.
That hole generally only becomes a problem if you get hard winds out of the west/northwest and if you use a front hole location there. So, again, if we're mindful about how fast that green gets.
And tomorrow I would just come right out and tell you, for both those greens, we've got to be extremely thoughtful because of where this wind direction is coming from. So we'll do our best, but they're strategic holes, they're historic holes, and really they're great holes.
Q. Two-part question about the traffic issues, which I'm sure you're aware of. A, how concerned are you about the prospect of a player missing their tee time? And, B, do the problems indicate that the size of this tournament has possibly outgrown courses or areas such as Shinnecock?
MIKE DAVIS: I'm going to let Craig handle the first part of that and maybe Jeff handle the second part as it relates to players.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for the question. We actually had a really great meeting. Actually, the chief of police is here with us. Thank you for being here.
We had a meeting here earlier today where we outlined a number of mediations and things that we can do to help improve this situation. We're fortunate to have such great partners in the local county and state officials, law enforcement, to be helping.
Part of this is typical summer traffic here. That is part of it that. Obviously, we have fans coming for the U.S. Open, but we're putting in place some mitigating steps. They can provide some more details if we need to. I don't know, Chief, do you want to say a few words?
CHIEF OF POLICE: We have been in real time analyzing the traffic flow and making adjustments, as you say. And each day, we've seen some improvements. So as the Championship progresses with the practice rounds, so do some of our traffic initiatives. And we study that, we adjust to it, and we have seen significant improvements every day.
We look forward to the weekend, where typically some of the local trade traffic that comes through dissipates. We think that will be a great improvement.
Long Island Railroad's scheduling, as we go through the week, becomes more abundant to people who want to come out. And mass transportation, we certainly recommend that.
There's some timing to the event too. We ask people to be cognizant of the morning rush and the evening rush, and if you have flexibility in your own schedule, to utilize that.
So with all of those things coming together, and we're working with local government here in the village, we have 31 governmental partners working on the entire public safety initiative. We're all very cognizant of that issue, and that is a primary focus, to try and make it as good as possible, recognizing that there are significant challenges here every day.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for that and for all that you and your colleagues do in support of this championship.
JEFF HALL: I think from a rules standpoint -- we all understand what the rules of golf say. You need to start at the time that the committee appoints, and the players are -- they live that every week.
There's certainly an exception to the rule if there's some exceptional circumstance that were to occur. However, traffic in and of itself is not exceptional. We've communicated with the players proactively in the memorandum that we distribute to the players, to the caddies when they register, alerting them to the environment that they're going to be in for the week. They've certainly been experiencing it for the last three days.
And I think we should not lose sight, they do this every week. They go to different locations every week, and there are unusual circumstances that they encounter, and I'm pretty confident they will adjust their schedule accordingly to take the proper precautions.
We will also be sending out a text to the players this evening, just as a reminder for them to, again, be wary of tomorrow morning.
Q. The speed limit is 55, 35, 25 on the island. Will you be flexible with that?
THE MODERATOR: Chief, that might be a question for you. That's your jurisdiction, not ours (laughter).
CHIEF OF POLICE: I couldn't hear the question.
THE MODERATOR: My question is the speed limit varies. Are you going to be flexible with that?
CHIEF OF POLICE: I wish people could maintain those speeds, quite frankly. I don't see anybody exceeding those speeds, but we're doing everything we possibly can, including being pretty reasonable about some variations to normal traffic conditions here, to accommodate everybody.
Q. I just want to ask kind of a two-part question. First of all, all the greens here, besides the No. 7, having kind of a target area that's smaller than the actual green itself, do you feel that that's, throughout the course, going to bring more of the shot making into play than the past two Opens where the emphasis seemed to be more on distance at Oakmont and Erin Hills?
Do you think that, despite the length you've added to this course and how long it can play in the wind, that more guys will have an opportunity to win and that there will be a premium on shot making around the green?
MIKE DAVIS: It's an interesting question. We did add ten new teeing grounds, but we didn't add it just for distance sake. If you look at where we added, it really made sense with respect to original architectural intent, given how far players today hit the golf ball.
The putting greens with the expansions aren't necessarily playing bigger, which I think was your point. In fact, in some ways, they play smaller because with the closely mowns it gets balls away from greens.
As greens firm up -- we don't anticipate getting these greens much -- they'll be a little bit on the slower side tomorrow, maybe quicken up a little bit once they dry out Friday through Sunday, but we don't anticipate these greens being overly fast this week. This is the appropriate speed for this type of architecture and the wind that you get here and the firmness.
But there's no doubt, the firmer these get, the smaller they get. It really does play into not only shot making but course management.
The players have to think about, you know, how do they want to hit the ball? What trajectory? How much spin? Where do they want to land the ball? And maybe most important, where do they want to leave themselves? Where do they want to avoid it?
Three of the 18 greens do have some rough around them, but the other ones are all closely mown, and the balls will get away. It's a beautiful design, and it's really what Flynn wanted.
I think that from our standpoint, it will be fascinating to see, and we will get different winds from different directions. That really plays into course management and shot making.
Q. Given the forecast tomorrow and just to make sure for this golf course, is this the most difficult golf course in the USGA world for you guys to set up?
MIKE DAVIS: That's a good question. I'm not sure I know. When you get it -- when you get windy conditions like this, it really is. I can't remember, between last night and this morning and going around making so many audibles from the original game plan, and that really was because of the predicted wind we're supposed to get. So most places we go, we don't get that windy.
Pebble Beach would be a golf course that gets very windy. Those are tiny greens that tend to slope kind of back to front in general. So when you're at Pebble, you're probably focused a little bit more on speed. You certainly focus on hole locations too, but not as much as Shinnecock Hills.
There are a number of holes here that we've got to be very mindful of where tee markers go. I think of tomorrow, the 6th hole, wonderful. It's kind of a blind shot, but you've got to carry the ball some 240, 245 yards to get to the fairway. That's nothing for these players, but you put a three-, four-club wind in their face, all of a sudden it is.
Many of these holes that Flynn designed have given you options. You can play to, in some cases, an alternate fairway or a different angle. So it's brilliant in its design. But even when you get those kinds of winds, it really does make us think.
We want it to be a stern test, but as you sit here today, you say, well, what are we going to get tomorrow? And we've got to make sure that, to the extent we can control it, that we have a setup that actually works.
Listen, if the wind blows really hard, which could happen, it doesn't matter how you set the course up and the speeds. It's just, you know, you get to the point where it's kind of like a lightning storm. You just can't play golf. Hopefully, we won't get to that point, but we're doing everything we can to be cognizant of it.
Q. As a followup to Brad's question about the 7th green, one of the consequences of a Flynn restoration was the discovery of the left tee on the 7th. It's kind of small right now. I don't know how they'll configure it in the future. Would that be a tee location that come into play, just seven paces to the left? It brings it to the right. Is that under consideration to use that tee under certain conditions?
MIKE DAVIS: This is a question about the 7th, the redan hole. If you look at where the teeing grounds are, that's what William Flynn put them for that angle. It's interesting, if you go back, Charles Blair MacDonald designed a redan on the 7th, and Flynn kind of put a redan on top of a redan, so it's a different redan, if you will.
MacDonald's redan sat the teeing ground further to the player's left. So that tee you're referring to is really kind of more Charles Blair MacDonald's kind of angle for his green.
So could we use that tee? We could. We've talked about it. Haven't gotten to that point. It won't be used tomorrow, but possibly. Possibly. It's neat.
Q. I was curious what the player reaction has been to the new format for the playoff. And given Jordan Spieth's comments yesterday, has there been any additional communication efforts made to make sure everyone is aware of the formatting plan this week?
MIKE DAVIS: I heard about that this morning. He must read less than I do.
Here's what I would say. Why did we make this change? If you go back historically, we on average would have a playoff in the U.S. Open once every three and a half years. We went for a span of -- last playoff was in 2008 with Tiger and Rocco at Torrey Pines. But we went for a span of -- I think it was 21, 22 years, and only had two playoffs. So we've been overdue.
I think this subject had come up for decades, and we concluded that, after doing certainly some research on it, that the stakeholders really wanted this championship finished on Sunday. So we started with that.
And frankly, it was hard to be up here and say why do we have a three-hole aggregate for the United States Women's Open, the biggest event in women's golf; the United States Senior Open, a three-hole aggregate; yet, for this event, an 18-hole playoff afterwards.
By and large, the players want it to end Sunday. The viewers, whether it's on-site or broadcast, wanted to see it end Sunday, our vendors, the volunteers.
So we started with that, and then we also concluded that there's no right or wrong in terms of determining a tie after 72 holes in stroke play.
So from there, we looked a little bit further, and I think everybody would know that you think about the other Majors right now and what's played week to week on the men's and the women's tours, most of it's a hole-by-hole playoff; otherwise, sudden death.
But you think about the British Open plays a four-hole aggregate, the PGA Championship does a three-hole aggregate. We're doing a two-hole aggregate now. The Masters does a hole-by-hole or sudden death, if you will.
So there's no right or wrong. We actually changed it this year. We used it at the Women's Open at Shoal Creek, and it worked out beautifully. It was well received by the players and the media.
As we look forward at U.S. Opens and Women's Opens, we think the ability to have that excitement yet maybe not have to do it in just one hole makes sense. We will use the 17th and 18th holes here. And if they're still tied, then it does go hole by hole or sudden death. But next year at Pebble Beach, we'll likely use the 17th and 18th holes and think about what's happened there historically.
The last thing I would just add is that Nick Price sits on our board, and one of the comments that he made that I think was pretty compelling is that, you know, you could have a situation where a player earlier in the day has a real low round on round 4, comes in and maybe shoots a 65 or something, and then has to sit around for an hour and a half, two hours. If it's a hole-by-hole or sudden death, that player would, generally speaking, be at a disadvantage.
So we went with it. It's not to suggest anybody else is doing it wrong. We just thought we're going to try two holes. So far, we like what we see.
Q. Mike, if I were to ask you if you cared or if it mattered what the winning score would be, would that be a yes or no answer?
MIKE DAVIS: Doug, we really don't, but what we care greatly about is how the course plays. We can't necessarily control the firmness if we get rain at a golf course. We would have loved to have seen Oakmont play firmer. We would have loved to have seen Erin Hills play firmer, but we didn't get that weather.
So we said, how do you make those golf courses play as good as they can for the weather you get? I've never, since I've been at the USGA -- and it's been almost 30 years. I've never heard anybody at the USGA say we're shooting for even par. Never heard it. I know people think we talk about it, but it's never.
But we talk about incessantly how do we get the course to be really a great test of golf? As we say, get all 14 clubs dirty to make sure that these players are tested to the nth degree.
Q. Mike, earlier, there was a question about if the U.S. Open has outgrown Shinnecock, and I don't think it got answered.
Considering that you're going to come back here in 2026, considering how much vehicular traffic has changed since 2004, there's got to be a thought it will get worse come 2026. Wondering what your thoughts are on that.
MIKE DAVIS: The question is, in case you didn't hear it, we are coming back in 2026. We're very, very excited. Any time you get post-U.S. Open, we'll sit down and do an analysis of where it went well and other areas where we can improve. So certainly, there will be an analysis on what's transpired with traffic.
I wasn't around in '86, but I've been since '95. This west-east traffic in the mornings and then the east-west traffic, that's been going on for decades. I think the number is, as the locals call it, the trade traffic. Maybe that's increased. I don't have the answer to that. But at the end of it, when we analyze prospective sites, it's done first and foremost on the golf course and the test of golf. We'll look on site. And then once we get past that and say, can the operations handle the event? Is there enough space for spectators, for grandstands, for tents, et cetera, compounds?
Then we look offsite, where do people stay? Where do people park? Is there public transit? All those things play into it.
I just think, based on the little things I heard this morning, there's a lot of focus on trying to improve on what's happening traffic-wise. But, listen, just because of what's happened the last couple days, the last thing we're going to do is give up on one of our truly treasured sites. We love this place.
Q. Thinking about that historical moment here at this course, how have you seen inclusivity in golf overall grow over the years?
MIKE DAVIS: So the question was about diversity and inclusion in the game of golf. If you just look at the data, for decades, look at junior golfers. There was one out of six junior golfers were girls. Now we're up to one out of three. That's a great sign.
I'm not sure I'm going to get these figures exactly right, but I think decades ago, one out of 21 junior golfers were non-Caucasian. We're up to somewhere around one out of three, one out of four, something like that.
We are doing the right things. And I know as an organization internally, we are very focused on that in terms of our staff, in terms of our volunteer structure. We're putting significant moneys into intern programs that are focused on and very mindful of diversity and inclusion. So we think it's important for golf to look the way the United States does. So it's healthy for the game, and it's the right thing to do.
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