June 15, 2005
PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA
RAND JERRIS: Good morning, and welcome the USGA press conference. I would like to introduce the gentlemen seated on the podium with me, from left to right, David Fay, Executive Director of the United States Golf Association; Walter Driver, Chairman of the Championship Committee; and Fred Ridley, President of the United States Golf Association.
Before turning the podium over to Mr. Ridley, I would like to run through the agenda with you briefly. We'll have a few brief comments from Mr. Ridley and Mr. Driver. We'll then turn the comments over to the floor. We'd ask you identify yourself and which media outlet you're representing today. Thank you.
FRED RIDLEY: Thank you, Rand. Thanks to all of you for being here. It's a pleasure to be back in Pinehurst, and welcome to Pinehurst and Pinehurst No. 2. I can't think of U.S. Open in my tenure with the USGA, which has been 12 years now, where there has been more excitement leading up to the Championship. A lot of that excitement is a product of the world of people listening and hearing and reading what you are saying and writing, and we appreciate everything that you do for the U.S. Open Championship.
Before we get into the business at hand today and this week, I'd just like to make one announcement regarding a future venue. The 2012 U.S. Open has been decided to be played at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. This is a venue which is familiar to all of us. It's a great Championship venue, it's already hosted nine U.S. Championships, four U.S. Opens, and two U.S. Amateurs, and last year hosted a U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. We're excited to be back in San Francisco, and that's going to be a great venue, just as this week.
1999 was a tremendous milestone for the USGA, coming back to the south for the first time since 1976. Pinehurst was a terrific venue, it was a terrific and memorable week; as we all know it was a product of tremendous cooperation among a number of groups, a number of constituencies. Certainly the people here at Pinehurst have been wonderful partners in our U.S. Open Championships, the Pinehurst management team, Club Corp, Bob Dedman, Don Padgett, the president of Pinehurst resort and Beth Kocher's Pinehurst management team, as well as the overall community and the State of North Carolina. This has been a statewide effort led by a group called the President's Council, which has been instrumental in bringing the entire state together in 1999 and then of course this year.
I'm going to ask Walter Driver in a minute to talk about the golf course and the golf course setup. I'd like to say this is a classic U.S. Open venue in that it really tests every aspect of a player's game. You have to drive the ball straight; driving accuracy is a premium. Well struck iron shots will stay on the greens, but others will not. There are a lot of nuances to this golf course. The players' comments today, I think, have borne that out. We're pleased with the condition the golf course is in right now, and we certainly are going to make every effort to ensure that will carry out throughout the week.
I'd like to introduce Walter Driver, the President of the U.S. Championship Committee, to get into a little more detail about the golf course.
WALTER DRIVER: Thank you, Fred. I'd like to start by introducing to you, if you haven't already met them, Paul Jett, who is the superintendent of this No. 2 course here, and Brad Kocher, who is the director of golf course operations for Club Corp, and they've been working closely with us for years now, and they're the ones who are getting even less sleep than we are this week. So they've done a great job and we're very grateful to them.
Let me talk to you a little bit about the golf course. You've asked a lot of players about it. And I'll go through the different elements of the golf course setup for you here today.
First, it is almost identical in setup to 1999. The length is 92 yards longer. The fairways are approximately the same width. There are a couple that are two to four yards narrower, and the setup was designed to be the same as 1999.
Now, this means that this course is not a terribly long U.S. Open course. The game here is around the greens. The greens are, as everyone says, very subtle, they're very difficult. When you miss a green, you're going to get a lot of roll offs into areas that require creativity around the greens. We want people to be able to hit the ball out of the rough and move the ball toward the green. I've talked to a number of players, and they believe they can hit the ball 100 to 150 yards out of the rough, which we think is about the right approach to encourage them to take a shot at the green out of the rough.
The rough is generally being mowed at 3 inches. It was the same height we cut the rough at in 1999. It is slightly thicker for two reasons; one is that the Pinehurst people put irrigation out more completely in the rough, so the rough has gotten more water and it's more uniform; and second, the hybrid Bermuda, Tifway, is more dense, and the rough has more hybrid in it now than it did in 1999. Three inch common Bermuda rough is pretty tough rough, but not extremely difficult, depending on the lie that you get. Three inch hybrid tends to be more difficult, so you get a mixture of grasses in the rough here, as you did at Shinnecock and as you will get many places. So the lie that you get in the rough is going to depend to some extent on what type of grass you get into in the rough, but that's the way the rough is in most golf courses.
The green speed will be set at between 11 and 11 and a half. We've had it there since Monday. We don't anticipate changing that. We're going to monitor that closely and try to keep the green speed at the same speed all week long. As you know, it's been very hot. Paul and his people are monitoring the greens for signs of wilt, which will be a customary issue, this part of the country, under these temperatures, and we'll watch that closely. We may need to put some water on the greens, and if we do, we'll do that as a matter of routine and good maintenance process on the greens.
Right now the greens, we believe, are receptive to well struck shots. If you miss the shot a little bit, the greens are not going to hold. This golf course, as everyone has noted, putts a great premium on precision in iron play and controlling your distance and putting the ball in the right part of the greens. Every green will have a position where you can have a very good makeable birdie putt, but you need to put the ball on the proper side of the hole location to take advantage of that. And if you miss it on the wrong side, you're going to be welcome at the Donald Ross gym here at Pinehurst No. 2. We hope everyone appreciates the creativity that calls for from the players and recognize that that is really the nature of the game here.
The one thing that we're going to do is we will play a local rule; in the rules of golf we will give relief from sprinkler heads that are within two club lengths of the green and within two club lengths of the player's ball, if the sprinkler head interferes with the line of play. That's a standard local rule, and we have looked at it here and we think that there are positions around the greens where if we did not give that customary relief, you would take away one of the options that the players might otherwise have. We want them to have the option around the green of putting, using the fairway wood, bumping the ball into the hill or taking a wedge and trying any of those shots they want. We think that local rule will enhance their ability to have that creative choice.
The last comment I would make about the golf course setup is the sod. The players have commented about the new sod, particularly around the greens. That sod was put out a week earlier this year than it was put out in 1999. They didn't have an extremely long time period when they put the sod out. We are not going to give relief from sodded areas. Those have been closely mown, rolled. Generally we think it's fine. We would give relief if the ball is in a sod seam, but we think those will play just fine. We are not putting out any more sand in those areas. And most of those areas we think will play out any difficulty for the players, although we recognize that it's not going to be perfect. But we think it's very playable. We have no intention of doing anything else to the sodded areas in the next four days.
Q. Vijay was just in here saying that he believes that the USGA learned from last year, and I just want to find out if that's the way you feel. Were you embarrassed about how it ended last year?
WALTER DRIVER: Yes, we learned last year; we learn every year from the U.S. Open. We're very attuned to weather conditions, and we're working closely with the Pinehurst people, and if we need to put water on the greens, we will. But the course is receiving uniform setups. We learned that from Shinnecock, that we will watch the golf course closely.
DAVID FAY: I've had a lot of embarrassing moments in my life, so maybe my threshold for embarrassment is higher than others. We learned from it; it's not what we wanted to see occur. I'm disappointed in a sense that Retief's remarkable performance was overshadowed, and also Phil's, for 16 holes.
Q. Several players have been through here and said essentially the course is in perfect shape, perfect condition right now, but that it could go over the edge. Yesterday Phil Mickelson said that if it doesn't rain, it has the potential of having 18 No. 7 greens. Your thoughts on that.
WALTER DRIVER: I repeat, we're watching the golf course carefully. We're looking at every green, all day long. We've already put some water on those greens to make sure that we maintain the golf course as close as we can to how it is. This is very difficult weather, because it's so hot, although it's supposed to get cooler as the weekend wears on, which will help us do that.
Q. Have advances in technology, the fact that the ball flies farther and straighter, has that made it more difficult to make par a good score? Has that maybe made you push the envelope more on setups?
WALTER DRIVER: This course is set up almost exactly as it was in 1999. We do not try to protect par or push par as a score, good or bad. What we try to do is set it up to make the golf course the most difficult test in championship golf, and we want the players to be tested, but they're going to shoot whatever it is. And if it's 10 under, it's 10 under. If it's 10 over, it's 10 over. I don't know what's going to be the winning score.
So the answer to that question is no, although we do know players hit the ball further. You go out in the practice rounds and watch where they're hitting the ball, they're hitting the ball a good deal further than in 1999. But it didn't change our course setup at all.
Q. The weather is not at all like it was six years ago and yet the course setup is the same. Would you not want to err on the side of caution and factor in if 1 over was the winner basically around par was the winner six years ago, and the weather is already that much more severe, wouldn't you want to err on the side of caution?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, I think you need to distinguish between heat and severe weather. It is very hot, but that may or may not influence how the course plays. It's going to make the rough grow more rapidly, and it means that we need to be careful about maintaining the health of the grass on the greens. But heat, by itself, doesn't change the playing conditions in the way, for example, that wind did last year at Shinnecock.
Q. What exactly in hindsight did you learn last year at Shinnecock that you don't want to repeat?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, we learned that a golf course can change a lot between 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning and how it plays later in the day when you have a strong wind that's a very dry wind. When I personally putted every hole location at Shinnecock on Sunday, I thought they were all playable, and that was at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. in the morning. But through the day, the conditions had continued to have a very hot, dry wind, coming from not in the prevailing direction, and we learned that we should have gotten ahead of that wind condition more than we did. But we did put water on every green at Shinnecock through the course of the day.
Q. How much do the players' comments, both publicly and privately, factor into how you set up the golf course?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, obviously we listen to everyone about golf course setup, and we're very aware of that. But most of the plan for this week's Open was the fairway widths, the rough heights, the targeted green speeds were all put in motion well before Shinnecock. We've had all of those things done for a couple of years. So we listened to it and have learned that we need to monitor the greens very carefully in stressful weather conditions, but they don't change the fairway widths or the hole locations or anything like that. Most of the hole locations that we'll use this week are very close to the hole locations that we used in '99.
Q. I'm not sure who is best to answer this, but I want to find out what convinced you guys to go back to Olympic and how much they needed to change some things there, specifically the 18th green. Sort of a related question, there will be three Opens in five years on the West Coast; what drives that, if TV is a factor? Why so many on the West Coast?
WALTER DRIVER: First, Olympic is a great venue, has a wonderful history of national championships and it's a fine golf course, and the membership and the community are very much in favor of having The Open there. I don't remember who it was, but another member of the press found me in February and asked if it was a condition going back on the Open that they change the 18th green. And I said it's never been discussed in the USGA that I heard of.
We're pleased with the changes they made at the golf course in terms of opening it up for air movement and crowd movement. But we don't dictate changes in the golf course usually as a condition for having the Open.
Q. In the last ten days or so we've had a couple of controversial episodes involving slow play, one at the Booz Allen Classic and one of your qualifiers. Is the USGA becoming any more forceful on that front or any changes in policy on that?
WALTER DRIVER: Our pace of play has been consistent all the way through, and we enforce it on a uniform basis at all our national championships. You'd have to ask the Tour if they're changing as a result of their experience last week. I don't know.
Q. Vijay was here earlier and gave quite a lecture on golf course and golf course setup. And one of the things that he said was that basically he didn't think you guys could break 100 on the golf courses that you're setting up.
Now, I'm betting on Mr. Ridley on that to do that. But I'd like to get his comment and Mr. Driver's comment about that. I guess the idea is, it seems that there are players who think you guys don't understand what you need to do to make the golf course work.
WALTER DRIVER: Fred and I will take that bet that we can break 100 (laughter).
FRED RIDLEY: Jerry, you haven't seen me play a lot recently. I think you need to go back to the setup philosophy, the elements that all of you have now seen, and that's really what we go back to. Clearly a number of people in the Championship Committee, Walter included, are highly accomplished golfers, but I think more importantly, we have a championship staff who are the best in the business, Tom Meeks, Mike Davis, Tim Moraghan, our Championship agronomist, and these people are truly professionals. I think the combination of that team work together with the philosophy, which we've tried to be consistent with over the years, I feel very comfortable with that.
WALTER DRIVER: I would add that Paul Jett is a very accomplished player. He knows exactly how a good player will play this golf course; he sees it every day.
Q. I'd like to ask you about the USGA Executive Committee. Currently there are no African Americans on the Committee, there's only two women on the Committee, and yet the USGA proclaims its motto, "For the good of the game." Do you think that's for the good of the game not to have more diversity on that committee and in your office ranks?
FRED RIDLEY: Thank you for that question. Certainly the USGA believes, like all you have believe, that golf needs to look more like America. We acknowledge that. You're correct, there are currently no minorities on the Executive Committee. There have been in the past. We've had, during my tenure, our general counsel was an African American. As you noted, there are two women on the Executive Committee. I can assure you in the process of recruiting future Executive Committee members that that is a high priority.
Beyond our Committee, though, there are a number of other committees within the USGA and the USGA staff; we currently have minorities on our staff. We have over 1,300 volunteers; a number of minorities contribute greatly to those efforts or those committees.
I think if you look at our Foundation Program and our Fellowship Program, which is, as existed in its present form since 1997, we have recruited successfully and have received tremendous contributions from a number of minorities, African Americans, Asian Americans in our Fellowship Program. Those are going to be future leaders, hopefully, in the game of golf.
This is going to take time. It's not going to happen overnight. It starts at the grass roots level. The more youth, the more minorities we get involved in the early stage are going to pay dividends. We have to be aggressive but realistic that it's going to take some time.
When we started our Foundation Program, our Grants Program at its present form in 1997, we knew it wasn't going to happen overnight. We committed $50 million in a ten year period; we feel that's the best investment this organization could have made. We're going to continue to do that. We're supporting great programs like the LPGA, USGA Girls Golf Program, that has touched over 4,500 young girls in the country. We have programs that are directed at Native Americans. So we feel good about what we're doing, but we also feel good about what other organizations and constituencies in the game are doing. Never before have the organizations in the game worked together like we're working together today.
The PGA of America, the PGA TOUR, the World Golf Foundation, The First Tee Program, USGA is proud to be the largest single contributor over the history of The First Tee to that program. So we have more work to do. But I'm encouraged that we're joining together, Golf 20/20 is bringing golf constituencies together, and we're working hard, but we have more to do; we acknowledge that. It's going to take some time, and hopefully some of the seeds we're planting today will pay off and we'll be happier on this issue in 5, 10, 15, 20 years. But it's a great question, and I'm glad you brought it up.
Q. Walter, last year even before the tournament began, people were concerned about the 7th green at Shinnecock. Are there one or two greens here that you're more concerned about for whatever reason?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, we don't have any redan holes here like we did there. And these greens, there's no single green that is more extreme than the others, although what we've learned from Paul and others is the 5th green tends to dry out more quickly because of its location and the air movement, and we're watching that very closely. They had some wilt on 5 yesterday, I think. So that is the green I think we would watch generally for health of the grass, as well as playing conditions.
Q. Walter, what's the fine line between being fair and going over the edge? Where does that line where is that line in your eyes?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, first I think it's probably in the eye of the beholder. I assume you play golf, and some shots that I hit I think are pretty hard shots for my skill level. But what we want to do is have a fine shot, a championship caliber shot recognized and rewarded appropriately. And if one of these players hit what is truly a fine shot, we think they ought to get a good result. And that's how I would define it.
Q. Following up on Len's question, I think everybody understands that the makeup of the executive committee is such that you have to volunteer a great deal of time. This comes out of your own pocket; you spend an enormous amount of money doing this. Is there some mechanism whereby you could bring in people without those means on an advisory capacity, give them a stipend or something like that to participate in the decision making processes?
WALTER DRIVER: Let me defer that to Fred.
FRED RIDLEY: Dave, the executive committee does take a lot of personal time. I know last year, and I'm not a good example because I'm on the one end of the spectrum, but I was away from my job and my family for over 140 days. But at a minimum, we're asking people to spend 25 or 30 days. There is some expense involved, although I would say that in the past five years we have moved, I think, in a positive direction because we do have certain extraordinary activities where the USGA does help with expenses. It's not certainly across the board, it's not for our basic commitments, but we've tried to mitigate that issue. So hopefully that will help us in recruiting some others from other walks of life to the Executive Committee.
Again, I can only repeat that we are aggressively looking at people from different walks of life. We need to have more minorities on the committee. I hope and I think we're going to see that, and we're doing what we can, and I think we've made good steps in that direction, and we'll just have to keep working at it.
Q. For Walter and David, when you have a successful Open as Shinnecock was in '95 or where the venue was highly praised, and then you go back to the same place and you have the issue you have, how difficult is it to recreate that success, and do you almost set yourself up to be criticized if things don't work out as might happen here, because '99 was such a success?
WALTER DRIVER: We think this is going to be a very successful U.S. Open. It has all the makings of it. We don't intend to set ourselves up for criticism. What we intend to do is have as good a U.S. Open as we can, and we think we have all the seeds in place. We have a great venue. Course setup is really good right now; we're going to watch it carefully, do all the things that the staff here and our own staff do as a matter of course. And I believe that you will see the issue at Shinnecock and those weather conditions as clearly an aberration and not an annual event.
Q. I guess the question I have is whose course is this, and at what point does the USGA take over from the staff at Pinehurst, and how far back does that go and has that changed in terms of how you approach the course setups, particularly in light of Shinnecock? At what point does the USGA responsibility take over?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, it's a cooperative effort, but our staff and the chairman of the Championship Committee comes to every Championship site years in advance. Mike Davis and I were at Winged Foot ten days ago doing setup work for the 2006 Open. And we do these visits in conjunction with the local superintendent and the superintendent's staff.
Those things that go on well in advance will address some outside the rope issues, such as security, gallery movement, all of those things. And then for course issues, in some cases you have new tees. In some cases you have different grass growing programs. We're already working with 2008 on kikuya at Torrey Pines. So it goes out three or four years.
And it's always a joint effort with the local people. But the local people, like Paul and Brad, do what we ask them to do. It is not their decisions on how the course is set up; it's a USGA decision on how to set up the golf course. But their people physically do the work. We're there all the time, working with them and watching them.
Q. Last year after the first group went through, I believe, the green on No. 7 was watered. And there were players who felt that it changed the it changes the competition because they're playing under different conditions. Has the USGA addressed that issue in terms of keeping the conditions the same or will they if they have a problem like that, will they continue to do the same thing?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, let's take a step back and look at it in perspective, because many golf courses, whether in championship play or not, you need to syringe the greens in order to keep the greens healthy. Shinnecock aside, that is not abnormal. That by definition, some groups have a green that has been syringed more recently than others. Our goal is to make the course play as well as we can make it the same for everybody. But for instance, if we syringe between every group because it treats everyone the same, then the last group gets a green that's waterlogged, and the first group gets a radically different playing condition.
So we use our judgment to try to keep it the same for all the groups as they come through. But it necessarily means that one group may get a syringed green, and four groups later may get a syringed green. But it also means that if we're going all around the course like at Shinnecock, putting water on all the greens over the course of the day, we believe it averages out.
But we recognize at Shinnecock people were concerned about it. But there has to be a way to get water on the greens, and you can't do it for every group. It doesn't work, because it creates an unfairness of a different type.
Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts.