June 23, 2021
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Atlanta Athletic Club
THE MODERATOR: Here with Kerry Haigh from PGA of America and Heather Daly-Donofrio from the LPGA Tour. Thanks for joining us today. We're hearing raves about this golf course, everybody talking about how long and challenging it's going to be. What are your thoughts here on Atlanta Athletic and any tidbits you might be able to give us on some setup ideas?
KERRY HAIGH: Well, yeah. Thank you. It's great to be here at the Athletic Club. Lucas Harvey, the superintendent, and his team have done a truly magnificent job for preparing the golf course in basically perfect condition. Certainly the membership of the Athletic Club, as well. Playing from mats for over six weeks prior to the championship is almost unheard of, and I want to thank them publicly for their commitment to showcase what is going to be a truly great championship.
I'm extremely excited to be here to showcase the best players in the world on a great golf course.
Very excited. Can't wait for tomorrow, and looking forward to a great championship.
THE MODERATOR: Heather, it's been great what KPMG and the PGA of America have been doing, bringing us here to Aronimink, to Congressional and to Baltusrol. What are you hearing from the players and from the rules officials about what Atlanta Athletic Club is going to bring to the competition this week?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Yeah, so KPMG and PGA of America have elevated this championship in absolutely every way, everything from the amenities for the players, the purse, paying for the entry fees, but most importantly the venues that they're bringing us to. If you look all the way back from year one starting with Westchester all the way through to Atlanta Athletic Club this week, players are raving. But I am so jealous that I'm not playing this week; these practice facilities are amazing.
I know the course is going to be challenging. I've heard the par-3s are going to be some of the key holes for the players to work their way around.
I've got all the confidence in the world in Kerry in setting up this golf course, and I know he'll deliver a great championship and a great platform for the players this week.
So they're excited. They're also already talking about Congressional next week, but I think it's amazing that the members played on mats for a several weeks before here. It's just a testament to their commitment and their dedication to the women's game, as well. So we're ready for a great week.
THE MODERATOR: Heather, the same question for both of you, but yesterday it was announced the KPMG Performance Insights and the new stats project that's going to bring these new groundbreaking stats to the LPGA Tour. From a competition perspective, from a player perspective, how will these help players to be able to fine tune their game, and then to be able to help organizations that are setting up golf courses to be able to use those stats to help set up the proper golf courses?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Sure, I think it's huge. I think back when I played, my idea of taking stats was I hit 10 fairways, I hit 14 greens and I only made one birdie, so I obviously didn't hit it close enough to the hole. It was kind of the extent of the data.
So the fact that our players are going to have actual strokes gained statistics, it's going to take us about 20 rounds to get that baseline, is amazing. It's just going to -- knowledge is power, so it's power for the players in their performance and insights into their own games and how they compare to other players. It's power for setup committees, and it's power for the media.
I know the media has been asking for years, when are we going to get those stats so we can highlight the performance and the athleticism and the skill of our players and really show the world how great they are, and that's a key component to it.
Also for the young girls in the game growing up, right now if they're keeping their own strokes gained and their own stats, they're comparing themselves to the men's strokes gained. Now these young girls are going to be able to compare themselves against the best players in the world on the female side.
It's nothing but positives across the board, and we're super excited about it.
KERRY HAIGH: I can agree totally with what Heather said. The more information you have, the better it is for all of us.
There's a lot of hearsay of what players hit, how far they hit it, what clubs they're hitting, and the more information that the world has, spectators, television, media, players, caddies, everyone, it can only help benefit women's golf. I'm truly excited about it, as well. Can't wait to hear more.
THE MODERATOR: You're the one who's going to be setting up the golf course out there. I'm not asking you to tip your hand, but what do you think are some of the challenges that are particularly going to be presented to the players this week out there on this course?
KERRY HAIGH: I think the course offers -- is very exciting actually to set it up because there are so many really, really difficult golf shots that you have to play. You go down the back nine, the second shot into 11, water immediately on the right. The 12th hole, if we make that reachable on any day, water right up to the green. 15, probably one of the hardest par-3s in golf anywhere, 200 plus yards, downhill, water immediately off the side of the green. 17, a short par-3, water. And 18, if that becomes reachable, water. You have six holes there on the back nine where you have to hit a really good shot, ideally to the safe part of the green, to be able to play, and the PGA Championship when it was here, we had winners hitting it in the water on 15 but still coming back and making birdies.
I certainly hope and am I excited to see it all happen here this week.
And then the front nine, we built a tee on hole 6 to make that a drivable par-4, so all of those factors, I can't wait to see what the best players in the world are going to -- how they're going to play because you've really got to think on those on every hole.
Q. Kerry, I'm curious on what you just touched on. When you have potentially reachable holes or moving some tees forward on say 18 or the par-5s, what's your philosophy on when it's best to do that? Do you like to see it more on a Saturday moving day type thing or do you think better for the final round or what's your thought on that?
KERRY HAIGH: In some ways, we're sort of spoiled for choice because there are three, four or five holes where you can do it, so I think you don't really want to do it all on the same round or all on the same day. Some of it's weather related, some what direction the wind is. All those factors have to come into in it and creating a variety, but they're also good holes from the tees where they are measured from now.
18 is a good three-shot par-5 from the 530 tee, but if you do move it up, it's truly one of the scarier second shots -- tee shots, as well, because playing it up, you've got the water on the left and the bunkers on the right for the tee shot, and then a forced carry for the second.
I think variety and how it feels on the day.
Q. Where is the tee going to be Sunday on 18?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: He's not going to tip his hand on that.
KERRY HAIGH: What's the weather going to be?
Q. Kerry, how far is that tee on 6, the new tee that's built?
KERRY HAIGH: Depending where the hole is, but it's about 240, 250 yards. Again, I think one of the things that I hope to do, if you make it reachable or make a par-5 reachable, our hope is that the majority of the field have that choice or have that decision to make. You're not just necessarily favoring it for the big hitters or what have you. Yeah, it's about 240 or 250, depending on the hole.
Q. I wanted to ask about adding a tee, as well. How often do you do that going into a major? Obviously you have to work with the club to add a tee. Can you tell us how that process comes about and how often you've done that?
KERRY HAIGH: Great question. How often do we do it? Not that often, to be honest. As we've done for the PGA Championship, I think in most cases there is a tee usually available or there if the hole makes sense to do it on. The PGA Championship on hole 6, there was a tee for the men's PGA Championship, but I felt it was important that we had one for the Women's PGA, the KPMG.
When I was here 18 months ago we talked about it and shared with the club, and they were excited because they'll be able to use it for their membership day in, day out, and it's certainly -- it makes you think. Do you lay up short of the lake, which is really not much club at all? Or do you go for it? There's plenty of room to the right to bail out but then it's a really tough chip if you do miss it right, but obviously you're rewarded with a birdie or eagle if you're straight.
It should be fun to watch. We'll see.
Q. In the past when the women's majors started going to historic venues, it was kind of the temptation to make the setup too easy for them and then it turned out they could hit it longer and more precisely than was expected, so how do you prevent that? How do you set up to the level of the women and not make it too easy compared to the men?
KERRY HAIGH: I don't think we've changed how we set it up for all of the seven that I've been involved with. They're the greatest players in the world. We've set the courses up accordingly. We don't try and change each course. Each course we play has been so different. Westchester Country Club so different from Sahalee that was tree-lined, and Olympia Fields with great greens complexes and here. Each course is different. Each has been sort of around about 6,500, 6,800 yards or thereabouts. We look at each specific hole and try and make it bring out the bunkering or the penalty areas that are in the landing areas and make it so it's a great test for the best players in the world. That's what we do everywhere, men or women.
Really no different than we've ever done.
Q. And if the stats show -- the new stats show that the women are better than the men inside 100 yards, will you have to make it harder for them around the greens?
KERRY HAIGH: That's all hole locations, and there will be plenty of difficult hole locations I would imagine. There usually are.
Q. Kerry, when is the last time you played this course?
KERRY HAIGH: The last time I played was probably eight or ten years ago.
Q. As you're setting it up and preparing months in advance, do you ever find yourself meaning to play it yourself?
KERRY HAIGH: I love to walk around and focus on what it is that I'm looking at and doing. I putt the greens 20 times during the week in advance week, so I'm feeling it and I'm touching it. Do I play it? No, I love it when I do. Who wouldn't love playing these great golf courses. But to focus on the landing area, widths of the fairways, the greens, how they're playing, and I can watch the best players in the world do it rather than me try and struggle and do it. I can see how the ball reacts and where they're landing so I can learn just as much from watching than slogging it around.
Q. Obviously you have a membership here that's committed to having great championships, but I was curious to know your initial reaction when you heard the members were out here playing on mats?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: I actually said, really? And then I heard that they did that when the men were here and that the membership was really committed to doing -- whatever they did when the men were here, they wanted to do it for the women.
I think that's amazing.
Just look around. This place is gorgeous, and everything, the food service has been terrific, players are raving about it. But you want the membership to be vested in the event, and that's part of what makes it special, and the players can feel that.
Q. Kerry, I know they do that at Open Championship venues once in a while, but is it your experience that here in these championships --
KERRY HAIGH: Very rarely, and as Heather said, the commitment from this club, it's in their DNA, as their history shows, they hold great major championships, and they're proud of what I think is one of the best Country Clubs in the country, without a doubt. Their facilities, indoor, outdoor, tennis, 36 holes of golf, state-of-the-art athletic center, anything and everything. But at the same time huge numbers are volunteering here for the championship, and the commitment on the golf of playing off mats is incredible. With the great staff that we worked with, it's so exciting to be here.
Q. Do you remember where the tee was when it was drivable for the men, how far it played?
KERRY HAIGH: I think it was 280 or 290.
Q. I don't know if you can answer this one or not, but I'd be curious if you've heard from any of the players when we go to certain venues whether it's U.S. Open or PGA, whether they bother looking at any YouTube clips of past majors that were played there?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Oh, I bet they do. I can't imagine that they don't. I mean, I would if I was playing. You always want to see how certain golf courses play, how the ball -- especially if it was the same time of the year, maybe how the ball was reacting on the fairways or the greens, certain hole locations they might take a look at just to get a feel for it, especially if they have not been here, because if they are playing back-to-back weeks they're not going to get as many looks at the venue as they would want to for a major championship.
So I have no doubt that there are players looking at clips on YouTube.
Q. On that note, do you guys still have the policy where you can't come take a look at the course in advance?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: We've got -- actually we've loosened it quite a bit. They can do it on the weekend ahead, but we try to protect the current week's sponsor, just like we would for KPMG this week, for VOA next week. We do have some parameters around which they can advance practice. They can come any time that the club will allow other than the week before, every day the week before.
Q. Could they come two weeks before?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Sure, absolutely.
Q. With the introduction of range finders this week and you have the experience of Kiawah, I don't know what was the data for Kiawah, how much did we use that and how much do you expect the women to use the range finders this week?
KERRY HAIGH: Sure, as you know, we brought in the use of distance measuring devices at all our spectator championships this year, which the PGA Championship, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and now here at KPMG Women's PGA Championship. (Internet interruption.)
Q. Heather, as a past player and Kerry, in your role for three plus decades, what are your thoughts on the green books? There's a lot of talk these are going to go away. What's your general thoughts on the use of them?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Yeah, I've been reading the same reports that everybody has been reading the last week. We're currently discussing it with our rules team and with our players. Ultimately it's going to be a conversation with our members and with our athletes on kind of their perspective on the greens reading materials and where we net out on it from an LPGA perspective, I don't know that because it'll be a series of conversations. We'll see what the USGA and the R&A come out with moving forward.
We'll just continue the dialogue and see where it takes us.
KERRY HAIGH: Yeah, I think, as Heather said, the USGA and the R&A are talking about it. The PGA TOUR are talking about it. If you're a player, absolutely you're going to use it if it's legal. And a lot of players do.
I do think it affects the pace of play negatively, but we'll see. We'll certainly follow or abide by whatever the decision makers make, and if a local rule is made available, we'll certainly look at it and consider it.
Q. Does it cut into the art of golf, kind of the creativity and what a player sees?
KERRY HAIGH: To my mind it certainly, yeah, takes some of the skill of reading a green, which is a very difficult skill, and I've heard players say that.
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: I think some players like them, some players don't. I can't even read a greens book. I can't make heads or tails of it.
Q. Can you read greens?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Yes. (Laughing).
Q. When you guys made the decision to go with range finders, how much discussion if any did you have with the USGA and R&A who don't allow them at their championships to say this is what we're going to do, and did you get any feedback or did you just make the decision on your own?
KERRY HAIGH: We talked internally and our board talked about it, and we sort of discussed or informed the other organizations that we were thinking about it sort of ahead of time so that they were not surprised, and they knew about it.
Q. Did any of them put up a fight?
KERRY HAIGH: We had some comments, and some were, good for you, and see how it goes, and we may look at it, and others were maybe not as --
Q. The negative ones weren't said?
THE MODERATOR: Kerry, give a master class in diplomacy.
Q. Heather, I'm just asking about the Olympics. This is the last week before the cutoff for all the teams for the women's games. Heather, you were at Rio a couple years ago. We're hearing so many comments from players who are excited to go. What do the Olympics mean to women's golf? I know you're closely involved with the IGF in bringing the game of golf back to the Olympics.
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: Well, it's great because that's another project Kerry and I work on together so we're tied at the hip on that one, as well.
Golf in the Olympics is just huge for the game. If you ask young kids, even young boys or young girls, what are the four major championships or five major championships on the women's side, they may be able to name one or two. But they all know what the Olympics are.
As a young child knowing that they could maybe win an Olympic medal in golf is just huge for the growth of the game because young kids can connect to the Olympics and everybody knows what it is.
It just provides such a tremendous platform for our players. Commissioner Whan used to say tune in to the Olympics this week, but the good news is you can see the same players 34 other times of the year because we pretty much have the Olympics type field in our Tour events every week.
I know our players are excited about it. I know that a couple of teams are really tough to make, Team USA and Team Republic of Korea. They're all jockeying for position and lots of points on the line this week for the World Rankings, so a lot of good buzz around Tokyo for sure.
KERRY HAIGH: I repeat what Heather said. Firstly, I'm honored to be a part of -- a very smart part of the sort of IGF and involved in setting up the golf courses for both the men and the women, and that is an honor for the PGA of America to be involved, and for me personally it's sort of a pinnacle of a career to be involved in only the second time golf has been in the Olympics. That is a true honor.
But for the players, I think to be an Olympian, to try and win a gold medal and someone was saying the other day, every time -- I think Justin Rose is announced as an Olympic gold medal winner forever. Well, I've won all these other championship, but there's only Justin Rose being currently the only male and same with the ladies. If you're an Olympian, the experience is just so exciting.
I watched the swimming trials on last weekend after the golf, and it just -- it's so exciting to be an Olympian. For golf to be in it is great, and hopefully it showcases this great game to others in the world that don't experience it, other than every four years.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you guys so very much. Appreciate your time.
Q. What was your Olympic dream as an eight year old?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: I was a swimmer, so it was swimming in the Olympics.
Q. Didn't make it?
HEATHER DALY-DONOFRIO: No, clearly. But honestly, my mom was born in Ireland, so had we had the Olympics when I played, I was considering getting my Irish citizenship so I could potentially play for Ireland because we had some swimmers that had dual citizenship and they weren't going to make Team USA but they could play for their other country.
No, no. I didn't quite make it.
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