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July 4, 2006

Ben Curtis


JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ben Curtis, thanks for joining us this afternoon here at the Cialis Western Open. First and foremost, congratulations on winning the Booz Allen Classic a couple weeks back. It's got to be nice to be back at Cog Hill where you've had a pretty good record, one of the 54-hole leaders last year and Top 10 before the British Open a couple years ago. Just some opening comments about coming to Chicago and Cog Hill.

BEN CURTIS: Thank you. It feels good. I'm playing pretty well right now obviously, and just really looking forward to going out there and play and see how my game is. I think this course sets up good for me and has in the past, and hopefully we'll get lucky with the weather and have some good weather and see what can happen.

Q. The sitting on the lead for two days there, that's almost unheard of. If that tournament had ended and you still would have won it on a Sunday -- did you get a little more out of -- that's a great mental exercise to have to do that.

BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I think it would have been great to finish on Sunday, but I think the positives that came out of finishing on a Tuesday was that I had to stay focused for a couple more days and I handled myself well and tried to -- playing with the lead is not an easy thing to do, especially out here. So it was one of those things that I learned a lot about myself that week, hey, I can do this.

I think in the past like last year here I started off real well on Sunday and kind of let it slip away. I think I just learned that I need to focus about my game rather than somebody else's. If i focus on trying to do what I need to do to win instead of what not to do to lose -- I think just focus on my game and try to do the best I can and see what can happen. If someone beats me, then that's fine; I can live with that.

Last year it was tough to lead here because I felt like I threw it away. If I would have played halfway decent, then I would have had a chance to win.

Q. It's been a week now. Can you put in perspective what winning for the second time means to you, considering what you've gone through the last few years?

BEN CURTIS: Well, it means a lot. I think it was a tough few years. Like last year I had a few times where I had a chance to win, here and Hartford, so I think a put a lot more pressure on myself to win then than maybe I did a couple weeks ago where I was playing pretty well, made quite a few cuts and just hadn't put four good rounds together, so I think I was more focused on my game and trying to do what I needed to do to get better and more consistent than I was trying to -- like last year when I was here, I remember waking up Sunday and I was like, I need to win this, instead of just go play good and see what can happen.

It felt really good to win. It was an odd feeling to win on a Tuesday, but it's something that it was well worth the wait.

Q. When you said, "I need to win this" last year, what caused that kind of reaction?

BEN CURTIS: Just because I think I put a little bit of pressure on myself, and I think I expected myself to win by then again. I wasn't playing well, it was only like my third or fourth cut that I had made all year up to this point. So I think it was one of those things where I felt like I needed to win just to solidify maybe a bad year turning into something good.

I just put too much pressure on myself more than anything instead of just going out there and playing golf.

Q. Did you feel like you needed -- was there any sense of this idea that maybe you were a one-hit wonder and wanted people to stop thinking of you that way?

BEN CURTIS: Obviously you think that way a little bit. There's so many good players that have played this game that have only won once. They're not household names, but they are good players. It's very tough to win out here. You want to take advantage of your opportunities when you can. I mean, you play 25 to 30 events and maybe four or five of them you really have a realistic chance of winning going into Saturday and Sunday. So you want to take advantage of those opportunities.

That's how I felt last year; I felt like this is a golden opportunity and I just was too worried about what everybody else was doing instead of what I was doing.

Q. Were you reassessing any, even now going into Avenel, reassessing any aspects of your game?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I felt like I was playing good. I didn't play -- at the U.S. Open I didn't putt very well, but I drove it very well, so I felt like there was some parts of my game coming along very nicely. Even though I didn't putt very good, they were tricky greens, so I kind of said, okay, let's not worry about that week and move on because they were a little bit bumpy for a U.S. Open. It's not what you expect. They were so slopey that you couldn't get too aggressive with some of your putts.

I felt really comfortable with my swing that if I could get the putter going that I could have a good week. I didn't think I could win, but I thought I could compete and have a good finish.

You know, you just have an inkling, a feeling, that something good is going to happen. I was playing very similar to the way I played in 2003, playing pretty consistent, just hadn't put all four rounds together yet, and when I did -- out here it's so tough to win that when you do have all parts of your game going like I did that week, you've just got to keep thinking of making birdies instead of falling back.

Q. In a lot of ways, this is the last Western Open. The name is changing, the date is changing. Do you have an appreciation for this being that last event, thoughts on how that feels knowing it's not going to be 4th of July in Chicago after this year?

BEN CURTIS: I think it's going to actually be a better tournament because it's going to be moved into the fall. I think right now it's -- we're probably going to get lucky this week with the weather, and it's going to get firm and fast, but most of the times that we've been here, we've had a lot of rain and you're sitting in a clubhouse during rain delays, and the course gets soft.

So I think playing in September, I think you're going to get dryer and faster conditions and the course is going to play a lot better than it has in the past. I think as good as this tournament has been to me, I think it's even going to be even better in the fall. It's a shame that we're not coming back here every year, but it's going to be -- I think it's going to generate a lot of buzz around here.

Q. When you go to cities where they're very enthusiastic about their NFL teams, how much support do you get from the crowd and what days will you be wearing the Bears colors this week?

BEN CURTIS: It gets a lot of fun. New York, they're very passionate about their sports teams, as everybody knows, so it's a big -- there they have two teams, so it was a big conflict. Nobody was ever happy; I'd wear Jets and the Giants' fans were mad, and then the next day I'd wear Giants and the Jets' fans were pissed off. It's one of those things where it is a lot of fun to do.

Chicago is one thing, "da Bears," you hear that probably 1,000 times this week, but it's a fun thing to do, and I'm going to wear probably the Bears almost every day this week.

Q. Except for the day you'll wear Packers?

BEN CURTIS: I'm not going to wear Packers this time. Save that for the PGA (smiling).

Q. Do you feel like you're kind of back in your routine? Do you feel like you're kind of back to normal this week?

BEN CURTIS: Yeah, I went home for a couple days, and it just felt good to get home and relax. I was very tired after the last couple weeks, especially Washington, and it just took a lot of -- it's not physically tired, it's more mentally tired, I think. You just need your brain to shut off for a couple days, so it's been good. Yeah, just really looking forward to going out there Thursday and teeing it up. I think my game is in good shape. Last week it could have been a real good week, as well. I just missed quite a few putts on the weekend where I could have shot a pretty low number. You know, I was happy with the way I played.

Q. Can you pinpoint why Cog Hill has been friendly to you? Is there something about it that just seems to turn you on?

BEN CURTIS: You know, I played here in the U.S. Amateur I think it was '97 or '98 or something like that, and I didn't play good at all. I hit it in every bunker. I remember my dad was caddying for me, and after about ten holes, he's like, "We've been in a bunker on every hole. Are you going to stop doing that?" It's funny because I think it's one of those courses that if you look at my game, you'd probably think this wouldn't be the best course for me, but I just for some reason feel very comfortable. I don't know if it's because it's a time of the year where maybe I start playing a little bit better. In '03 I was playing pretty good coming into here, and last year the week before I played at home and just had a good feeling where my game was going and started playing well.

I don't know if it was just confidence or what it is, but it's a fun golf course to play. It's not a super-hard golf course, not super-long. It's one of those if you can drive it straight and stay out of the rough that you're going to have a lot of opportunities to make some birdies, and maybe that just suits me that way.

Q. This is Mickelson's first tournament back since the Open. Anybody who's ever played the game has experienced what he experienced in one form or other. How hard is it and how important is it, your first tournament back after you lose one the way he lost it?

BEN CURTIS: I always felt like last year after the Western, I want to just get back out there and play again. I think the best thing to do is get back on the golf course and play in a tournament to kind of forget about what happened a few days or a few weeks back. I think Phil is going to be ready to go. I'm sure it's been tough on him, but he's just going to go out there and get that behind him and play this week and see if he can win. He's playing really good right now, and just because he played bad on one or two holes doesn't mean he's going to disappear for a while.

He's going to obviously be up there on the weekend, so you've got to expect him -- he's going to play well. He's probably going to have a little bit more fire under him anyway just because of what happened.

Q. It's three years since you won the British even though it probably seems like yesterday. In your own mind how has your game changed and how have you evolved since that experience? What did you go through and where has it brought you to today?

BEN CURTIS: Not a lot has changed about my game. Obviously you're always tweaking on a few things to try and get better, but I haven't really changed distance-wise or haven't really changed too much with equipment or the putter.

I think the biggest thing, you just try to get more consistent because the more consistent you are, the more chances you're going to have to win. Instead of maybe having one or two chances a year, maybe have five or six and keep building on that. You look at the top players in the world, that's why you see their name up there all the time is because they're very consistent.

You know, obviously you would like to play well every week, but you know for a guy like me that's pretty much impossible to do. But you try to take advantage of the opportunities you can. You gain a lot from winning tournaments. Obviously your confidence goes way up, and you just try to -- I don't know, I think it's one of those things you learn; instead of worrying about what everybody else does, just do what you have to do to get better. I think I fell into the habit of practicing instead of playing. I'd go home and practice for three or four hours a day for three days a week instead of what was better for me was just go play 18 holes, spend actually less time at a golf course and just go play Friday, Saturday and Sunday, just go play 18 holes each day, and I'd get a lot more out of that than spending three or four hours on the range.

Q. Did you ever put a lot of pressure on yourself to, quote-unquote, play like a major champion, even though that came so early in your career?

BEN CURTIS: I thought I didn't, but the more I look back, I probably did. Now I only set goals -- like I set realistic goals. Like this year one of the goals was to get back into the Top 125 on the Money List and back into the Top 50 in the world, which would have been -- it's realistic to do.

I don't try to go out there and say I need to win three times this year or I need to make the Ryder Cup team or whatever, but I just wanted to get more consistent, and by becoming more consistent, you're going to move up in the World Rankings, you're going to make more money, so that's what I focused on.

Q. After Phil won at Augusta, it start of fueled a lot of talk about whether this Tiger and Phil rivalry might finally develop. Would you, as one of the people that's also out there every week, would you welcome that rivalry really blossoming, or does it get old for the rest of the guys because you maybe get ignored to an extent?

BEN CURTIS: I wouldn't say we get ignored, but obviously when you play like they do, they deserve the credit they get. I mean, it's good for the game in general.

What Tiger has done for the game of golf, I mean, it's been amazing. Ten years ago when he came out here, the Tour was big, but now it's one of the major sporting events. It's right up there with baseball and football and basketball. It's not just something you see on the last page of the sports page anymore, so it's on the front page. You've got to give a lot of credit to those guys for doing that.

Obviously the way they're playing, there's still a rivalry there. The way Phil has played the last eight majors, it's pretty remarkable. I welcome it. I'm not going to be worried about if I don't get on the front page of the sports page. It's not going to bother me.

Q. I think you're only one of two players -- American players in their 20s who have won twice. There's been a lot of talk about why young American players haven't done better out here concerning the talent and the potential. Is there anything that you can pinpoint?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I just think the rest of the world has gotten that much better. I think they put their focus on not just the European Tour or the Asian Tour or whatever; their dream is to come over here and play. It's just made it harder for everybody. It's made it harder for them, but that's what they're striving to do. It's not just I want to be a member of the European Tour; I want to be a member of the PGA TOUR.

So they start from a very young age to strive for that now. I think that's made it tougher for us Americans in that regard because it is the number one Tour in the world.

Ten years ago it may have been equal with the European Tour.

Q. Do you carry any hybrids?


Q. When did you switch to them?

BEN CURTIS: Well, I switched -- I went to them at Augusta because they lengthened the course and I figured I'd have quite a few 2- and 3- and 4-irons into the green. I had the 2-iron already in there, the hybrid, and then I put a 3-iron in, as well. It's hard to get rid of it because it's too -- it's really nice to hit. It's a lot easier to hit than a 3-iron.

I went to it because it goes a little bit higher, and basically when you're playing Augusta, you need to get it up as high as you can.

Q. How many wedges do you have?


Q. What did you take out? You didn't really take anything out?

BEN CURTIS: I didn't really take anything out, it just replaced a 3-iron basically.

Q. Should all of us follow in that same footstep?

BEN CURTIS: I'd like to have a 4-iron in there if I could. It probably won't be long before I do. But no, especially like for the majors, it was good for the rough, as well. At the U.S. Open I used it quite a few times from the rough, just trying to hit like a chaser up to the green. Most weeks out here on Tour it's the same way, the rough is pretty quick. You don't hit too many 3-irons anyway, so when you do, if you miss a fairway it's nice to be able to hit this and maybe run it up to the front of the green, whereas before you'd just take an 8-iron and try and get it up there as far as you could. At least with the hybrid, it fights through the rough a little better than a 4- or 5-iron.

Q. Did you have to work with your club makers to get something that was tweaked up, or is it something just off the rack?

BEN CURTIS: Well, they carry -- like at Titleist they have and 2- and 3-iron, they just changed the lofts on them. Some guys use -- it's called the 3, and they use it as a 2-iron because it does go a little bit farther. Now I have a little bit of a gap between a 4-iron and a 3-iron. Instead of 10 yards, it's more like 15 or 20. Like I said, you don't hit too many of those clubs anyway, so when I do, it comes in handy.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Ben Curtis, thanks.

End of FastScripts.

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