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March 13, 2019

Ron DeSantis

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

THE MODERATOR: It's our pleasure to welcome the governor of the state of Florida, Ron DeSantis, to the interview room here at the 2019 PLAYERS Championship. Governor, welcome to the PLAYERS, first of all, and just wanted to get your take. You've been out and about seeing the course today, just your first impressions.

RON DESANTIS: Well, I really want to give credit to the PGA TOUR. I mean, this has obviously been a jewel of an event for our state for a long time. It just seems like they do something to make it better every year, and I think the infrastructure, you look around at the fan experience, this is a really big deal for northeast Florida, and you got people coming -- actually people coming from all over the state were stopping me and saying, I'm from Fort Myers, I'm from The Villages, all this stuff, so this is a major event that's pulling a lot of people. And then I'm somebody who is, who was in Ponte Vedra Beach living before I went to the governor's mansion. The PGA TOUR is a big part of this community here. Ponte Vedra Beach, one of the best communities in all of Florida, if you look at the school system, you look at the quality of life, and a big part of that is the PGA TOUR as a major anchor.

So just as governor, I appreciate what the TOUR does particularly for charity, particularly for the fan experience, and I look forward to a great great tournament. I will -- my prediction is we have probably the best stretch of golfers in that Jupiter, Florida, area, so my prediction is that one of these Jupiter guys will win THE PLAYERS Championship on Sunday. That's my prediction.

THE MODERATOR: Love it. Open it up for some questions.

Q. When you were living here, how many times did you get out here for the tournament?
RON DESANTIS: I would get out one way -- it was funny, I was meeting with former Commissioner Finchem and I was saying -- like I was stationed at Naval Station Mayport active duty when the PLAYERS first said military could come free. This was 10, 15 years ago. I would just show my military ID and then they had the whole pavilion for all the military folks, so they have really done a good job of welcoming the military and doing a lot for our military.

So I've been here a number of times over the years. I've played the course a number of times. I've had a lot of frustrations out here, like any amateur would, although I will say, 17 I was always good on. It was just when you're a guy like me that hits a big draw, 18 is not the hole I want to be on because you've got all that water on the left.

Q. When you were out there watching the competition did you have a particular favorite moment that you recall or maybe even watching on TV when you couldn't make it? Is there a part of the tournament history that you recall?
RON DESANTIS: Yeah, I think when Fred Funk won in 2005, I didn't know Fred at the time but he was from the community, so it was a big deal. And then I've gotten to know Fred as a friend of mine, and so now to look back on that and realize just what a good guy he is, it's really, really special. But I think that we, our state is a state that we I think we have more golfers per capita than any state in the country. And one of the things I think that Florida does a good job of is we have got a lot of good facilities that are accessible to the public. People can play this course, they can play the Valley Course. We have other facilities around the state like Streamsong, Doral, all these places where you have all these different courses. And I know other parts of the country have good courses, but most of those are not open to the public.

So I think in terms of of people coming to visit Florida, you watch the tournament this weekend, you can book a trip and come down here and be able to play the same shots that you're seeing on TV, and I think that really makes it neat, and I think that's one of the great things about our state and golf.

Q. You touched on it, but can you discuss the importance of having a strong relationship between the state and the PGA TOUR?
RON DESANTIS: Well, I think it's great. I think the TOUR is a jewel to have here in Florida, and I think you look at this expansion they're doing, that's a huge commitment to Florida. I did tell Commissioner Monahan and I said at other times I would like the TOUR involved in Miami again. That's our biggest market. And I know they have a full schedule, and I think actually the schedule's worked out that well on balance. I just look at our state, our biggest market, could there potentially be a TOUR event in the future, maybe a Presidents Cup or something like that, because I think there's a lot of people who are golf fans down in south Florida, and right now really the Honda is the closest you get. But if you're in Fort Lauderdale or Miami you may want to have something that's a little closer to home.

But all things considered, I can't think of an organization in sports that does more for the community than the PGA TOUR. The amount that they're giving to charity is -- this is millions and millions and millions of dollars, and Commissioner Finchem was involved in starting the First Tee. When I was in Congress, we would do a charity golf tournament, Republicans versus Democrats in a Ryder Cup format, and we would raise money for the First Tee. So what I'm doing is I'm going to bring that down a similar thing for our state government in Florida. We're not doing Republican-Democrat, we're going to do the legislature, regardless of party, versus my Executive Branch, and we're going to play, we're going to raise money for the First Tee here in the state of Florida.

And the good thing is, like if it's Executive Branch, anyone I appoint on any of these commissions or boards, I can throw them on the team. So we got guys who played in college, whatever, so I think we're going to be pretty formidable. We will raise some good money for the First Tee because I think it's a program that's proven to be successful and I look forward to being able to maybe expand beyond what they have been able to do. I know Tim was talking about scholarships associated with the First Tee for when they get beyond, and those are things that I'm interested in supporting on the charitable front with our folks.

Q. You mentioned the aspects of charity. But how does that work with the dichotomy of the TOUR having nonprofit status and tax subsidy that not only the TOUR receives but also other teams and facilities throughout the state?
RON DESANTIS: Well, I think that the TOUR's status in terms of how that is under federal law is something that I'm no longer in the mix on that for, so I know the TOUR and other leagues would come and talk about different things with some of the federal taxing folks on the Ways and Means or whatever, my point is is however that shakes out we want to make sure that we have the TOUR have a presence here because I think these events are successful. I think it helps drive economic activity in our state and I think that having THE PLAYERS Championship here, you had the Bay Hill Arnold Palmer, you're going to be at Valspar. People can watch these tournaments and they can come down and visit, and if they happen to be visiting in Orlando, to Disney, they can go play Arnie, they can come and play 17 here. They can -- if they're in Tampa Bay, they can go to Innisbrook and all these things. So I just think it's good. So I'm -- however that shakes out at the federal level, that's not my baby right now; I'm just focusing on helping the state of Florida.

Q. When I say Visit Florida says that out of all the people that come to Florida only three percent are here for professional sports activities, as opposed to 40 plus percent for the beaches, you say what?
RON DESANTIS: Well, yeah, but you got to understand -- well, one, I don't know exactly how they're analyzing that, but we got a lot of people that come for our beaches. We got beaches up and down the entire state. So that's a huge amount of people. So even if it's a fraction that have, that's still a lot of folks that are coming for this stuff. And I opened up, we did a dinner for the spring training. We got -- we love having spring training. This is really a good time of year for Florida because we have the spring training going on, we have all these golf tournaments here in the state of Florida. So March is kind of where it's at. And I can just tell you this: I mean, the amount of people coming -- I grew up in Dunedin, Florida, where the Blue Jays trained. I saw a lot of Ontario license plates growing up during this time of year. People do come because we've got a lot of neat things to offer.

Q. So let me see if I get this straight. Brooks Koepka is going to be a communications director, Tiger's going to be your legislative liaison; we're going to go down the line there with that?
RON DESANTIS: Well, look. You have between Brooks, I mean I think Tiger's going to win something big this year, Dustin Johnson, Justin, those guys, I mean that whole stretch of our state, I don't think there's been anything like that in terms of people playing at that level in any professional sport just having to working out of the same general vicinity, and then of course you not only have Tiger, but Jack lives in that area, too, so regardless of how you come out on who the greatest golfer is, they're from Jupiter one way or another, however you slice it.

So I just think it's great, and I think what what Brooks has been able to do is just phenomenal. That guy's a machine, and Dustin does things that I've never seen anybody do. So these guys have just got a lot of talent and I think it's just great that they're working out of our state, so we want to keep them here and we want more TOUR pros to just decide to set up shop. We got good facilities, and obviously you're winning; we're not going to tax your winnings like they will in some of the other states, so that's a plus.

Q. Touching back on the issue of Miami getting an event, we have got a true Florida Swing back with THE PLAYERS moving back to March, so you got a four-event schedule. Regardless of where in the state those tournaments are played, is it beneficial to have all four in a row rather than have three in March, come back in May with another one?
RON DESANTIS: Look, I think this schedule is great. I really think once the PGA of America moved the tournament to May, I thought THE PLAYERS going to March made a lot of sense, and the way this is working on the Florida Swing, I think it's exciting for golf fans in our state.

So yeah, I would like to keep the four. I think that that's really, really good for us.

And there are people that can come down, go to a tournament, play golf on their own during the week and then go to another tournament. I mean, we're pretty lucky to be able to have these opportunities here.

Q. It sounds like you have played golf, you enjoy golf and you're a golf fan. Can you tell us when you learned to play golf, how you learned to play golf and where you played golf?
RON DESANTIS: So I did not play golf as a kid. I was a baseball player. We went -- I played through a college. I was the Yale baseball captain. And as I got into law school, people started -- people around me would play, and even though I had good speed I did not know how the club worked. I just could not -- so I had to really start from scratch and just said, I'm going to try to learn this.

And then when I was in the military on shore duty, I could kind of go after duty and play like nine holes or something, so I started playing more and got okay. But then I deployed to Iraq, I did this, I did that, and golf is something you've got to just do consistently, and when I got back from Iraq, I remember it had been like a year since I picked up a club between the training and the deployment and all this, and I kind of started fresh again.

And then being in politics, you're constantly traveling. When I was in Congress I would be in Washington four days, home, back and this. You didn't really have as much time. But the thing is, when you're in politics, you got to raise money, you got to do this. You meet people who belong to all these great places and, hey, why don't you come here, why don't you come there. A lot of times it just doesn't fit into the schedule.

But I think that the good thing about golf is you can play, you can compete, have fun with it far beyond your competitive athletic years. I mean, I can't just go out and play a game of baseball somewhere. That's just not the way it works. I can get a group of people and go and play golf, and I think that's one of the reasons why we have so many people in our state who do it up-and-down the coast.

Q. People around the world watch this tournament, as in all the other tournaments in the Florida Swing. If they were watching it on TV and thinking about coming here, what would you say to them to convince them to travel to Jacksonville to see it in person?
RON DESANTIS: Well, I think the fan experience here is just great. From everything from they have the little 17 green you can do, they have ridiculous food, I mean and everything there. The place is just pristine. So and you get to see, this is, if not the best field certainly one of the best fields you could ask for in terms of the talent that's here, so I think it's a no-brainer to come and then it's an exciting course, because as you come down the stretch anything can happen on the final holes and that's just not true with every tournament that's played on the PGA TOUR.

I mean, not that they're not good events, but the level of excitement I think here, you could be up two strokes and then be down one or two at the end of 18 going through 16, 17, 18. So I think in that respect it's one of the more unique tournaments, and this golf course is very unique. I mean, it is. It's not like anything you really would play anywhere else. The angles and this and that and when you're seeing it on the ground I think you appreciate it even more.

THE MODERATOR: Well, Governor, we appreciate the time and thank you again for being here with us.

RON DESANTIS: All right. Thank you.

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