June 14, 2006
MAMARONECK, NEW YORK
RAND JERRIS: Good morning. I'd like to welcome everyone to the USGA press conference here for the 2006 U.S. Open Championship at Winged Foot. With me up on the stage this morning are Walter Driver, president of the United States Golf Association, Jim Hyler, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee, and David Fay, executive director of the USGA. I will turn the program over to Walter, who will open with a few comments.
WALTER DRIVER: Thank you, Rand. I'd like to also welcome you to this Championship. It's great to be back at Winged Foot. It's very historic for the USGA. As you know, Winged Foot has hosted ten USGA championships, including all of our Open Championships, and we're very excited to be back.
I think Len Horan and Colin Burns Len, as the president, Colin as the general manager were supposed to be here, and I don't see them, but we want to thank them and all of their staff for working so well with all of our staff. It's really been a great partnership in preparing the course and getting everything ready for The Championship. So we're really looking forward to this week at Winged Foot.
As usual, the process will be I have two announcements to make, then we'll turn it over to Jim Hyler, the chairman of our championship committee, and then we will all three answer any questions you might have. If you ask a question, please identify yourself and who you represent at the time you ask the question.
The first announcement that I'm very happy to make is that we have surpassed $50 million in our USGA for the Good of the Game grants program, and of this $50 million, over $40 million has gone toward youth golf in bringing more kids into the game, teaching them about the traditions of the game, why we love the game and everything about the game that we think is so special.
This is a commitment we made in 1997. I was the chairman of the committee that proposed this, the executive committee approved it, and we're well on our way to bringing a lot of people into the game. This is not exclusively kids that don't have access to the game, but primarily we focus on children who would not be introduced to the game but for these programs.
This program is the largest direct supporter The First Tee program in terms of direct contributions, and we really bring a lot of people into the game to teach them why we love the game and all the life skills that go with the game. So we're happy to reach that milestone in our grants program.
In line with that, I also want to thank the volunteers here, we have about 5,100 volunteers here at Winged Foot to put on the U.S. Open this week. As you know, these are people who love the game, who have given up their jobs or left their families to come here. They're from all over the country, and we couldn't do this without them helping us out. This is a game based on volunteer efforts and appreciation for the commitment to the game, and we're grateful to them. All of that is working very well in the grants program.
The second announcement I want to make is that the 2013 US Open will be conducted at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. We're really excited about this. It's a great golf course, a great club, wonderful connections with the USGA for years and years. We had the U.S. Amateur there last year, they're going to host the Walker Cup, and now the 2013 U.S. Open. This, in my experience, is a remarkable example of cooperation among the people at the club, the Haverford Township, Haverford College, all of the local authorities in that area, even the people who live around the golf course are pitching in to make more room available for all the fans who will come out and make sure that we can conduct a wonderful U.S. Open at Merion.
We think that the U.S. Open at Merion will be approximately the size of the U.S. Open here at Winged Foot, maybe slightly smaller, but it will be a lot of people will get a chance to come to the U.S. Open in Philadelphia and appreciate both Merion and all the elements of a U.S. Open.
I want to thank the people from Merion. We have a big group from Merion here today. Stand up, folks. They're very happy to be here. Thank you very much.
Let me now turn it over to Jim Hyler who is the chairman of our championship committee. This is Jim's first year as chairman of the championship committee, and he trained for this job in part by being the general chairman of the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Jim?
JIM HYLER: Thank you, and good morning, everybody. We are very happy and excited to be here at Winged Foot and excited about conducting the 106th U.S. Open on the West Course. As Walter mentioned, there have been four Opens contested previously and we're very happy to be here.
I'm going to make some general comments about course setup and course condition, talk about the weather forecast we may have over the next 24 hours, and hopefully address some questions or concerns that might be out there.
First is related to setup. Many of you were here in 1997 when the PGA was contested over the West Course, and obviously many of the players were also here in '97. But what they found this year is, I would say, quite a bit different than what they experienced in '97. First of all, the course is about 300 yards longer than it was in '97; there have been seven new teeing grounds created, roughly half the greens have been enlarged, and this will allow some new hole locations to be utilized that were not available in '97. For example, on the 18th hole, we will use a front left and a back left hole location that those locations were not available in '97.
All the bunkers have been renovated for drainage improvement purposes, a number of trees have been removed for agronomic reasons, and this year the fairways will be slightly more narrow than they were in '97. So the players are seeing a little bit different golf course than they saw in '97.
Obviously when you come to a U.S. Open, one of the main topics is the rough, and this year that has been a topic that has received a lot of attention. We're doing something quite different this year with the rough than we have in the past, and let me talk about that.
The primary rough this year at Winged Foot will be two different cuts. We're calling the first cut the first primary cut of rough, and that is about three and a half inches; the second primary cut is five and a half inches. That three and a half inch first primary cut is about 20 feet wide.
The idea here and the philosophy is that the further a player hits the ball off line, the more penalty they will incur. And in that three and a half inch cut of primary rough, if a player hits in there, they do have a chance to advance the ball sometimes on the green or to get it up around the green. It does allow for some shot making opportunity to play out of that three and a half inch rough.
We think this is a very fair way to have U.S. Open rough, and we've gotten some good comments from the players about this. The three and a half inch rough will be cut every day. It's going to be mowed every single day. The five and a half inch rough is also going to be maintained throughout the week. It's going to be mowed every other day. So the notion of the rough getting taller as the week goes along is not the case, and, in fact, we want the players to have essentially the same golf course on Sunday that they saw on Monday in their first practice round.
So the rough, three and a half, five and a half, and we hope to maintain that throughout the week.
Green speeds, we are trying to get the greens and keep the greens at a green speed of around 12 on the stimp meter, and we are essentially there and have been all week. This applies to all the greens except the first hole, and if you've been out to see the first hole, you know that it has a pretty dramatic slope from back to front. We are keeping this green speed a little bit slower than the other green speeds, and we have notified the players of this. When they registered they received some information to tell them that the first green would be a little bit slower because of the severe slope.
We, again, are keeping the green speeds the same throughout the week. What they got on Monday, they will get Sunday, so there will be no increasing the green speeds as we go through the week.
Essentially from a course setup standpoint, the course will be the same Monday through Sunday. On the issue of the greens, keep in mind that this area has had six to seven inches of rain over the last eight to ten days, and the course is playing soft. It is soft. Monday it was very soft. It's gotten firmer as we've gone through the week, but nonetheless, the course is soft.
This may have impacted some of the greens. There's been some conversation about greens being a little bit bumpy. We know that maybe the second and third green may be a little bumpy, but keep in mind, these are poa annua greens, and given the weather and the softness, that's probably not to be unexpected. We are happy with the greens with where they are, and as I said, we're going to keep them at about 12 on the stimp for the entire week.
Teeing grounds, we're doing something a little bit different this year on teeing grounds. On three holes we're going to use two different teeing grounds. On the third hole for three days of the championship we're going to play the third hole at 216 yards, one day of the championship we're going to move the tee back and play it at 243. The 6th hole has two teeing grounds that are the same distance, 321 yards, a right and a left, and we're going to utilize both of those teeing grounds, and which day we use right or left will be dependent on the hole location for the day.
And then finally on hole 12, a long par 5, we're going to utilize for two days the back teeing ground at 640 yards, and two days the forward teeing ground of 571. And we think moving up for a couple days will add a little bit of excitement and a little spice to the players. If they hit a good drive, they'll have a chance to make an aggressive play to try to get to the green in two. This is something that's a little bit different than we've done in the past.
Course condition, we've had six or seven inches of rain. It's playing a little bit soft. We would like it to be a little bit firmer, but on balance, the course is just about right where we want it. Now, the weather forecast for really the next 24 hours is that we may get as much as a half an inch of rain starting late this afternoon, lasting through the night and into the early morning hours tomorrow. If that's the case, we will react to that. Again, the idea being to try to keep the conditions and the setup as consistent as possible throughout the week and try to keep it as much as possible like the players have been experiencing.
We will on Sunday use the 1929 Jones hole location on the 18th green. That is a middle right hole location. It has been used numerous times in championships here at Winged Foot on Sunday, and we do plan to utilize that hole location again on Sunday.
I think just summarizing our course setup philosophy, we want this to be a stern test of golf, but we also want it to be fair. When a player hits a good shot, we want that shot to be properly rewarded. So fairness is the way we are trying to do this. Hard, stern, yes, but it is the U.S. Open Championship, and it will be that way, but we also want it to be very fair for the players.
The setup this year follows the U.S. Open course setup philosophy that we adopted a couple years ago that has been widely circulated; it's on the Internet for people to see. We are following that very precisely as we go through our setup process.
We think Winged Foot is a terrific test of golf, and one that is certainly worthy of having a U.S. Open Championship. If you look at Winged Foot, it is truly a shot maker's golf course; ten of the holes have doglegs that require some thinking and some strategy from the tee; the greens complexes are elevated; they have very deep bunkers that are set into the face of the greens; the greens are small, undulating, they have a lot of contours and bumps and humps.
The flow of the course is very special. You open with four very difficult holes, then you have three holes that give you a little opportunity to catch up, then you close the front with two hard holes, and then you go to the back. And again, you have a good mix of holes with three very good finishing holes on 16, 17 and 18. So we think this is a spectacular venue for a U.S. Open, and we are certainly expecting a great week.
We will adjust to the weather as the weather presents itself. In thinking about the weather, if we were at Pinehurst today, we would be getting deluged with rain from the storm, so we had a great week there last year with almost perfect weather, but we will deal with the weather as it comes.
I want to take just a second and recognize two folks that have been very instrumental in getting us to where we are. First is Eric Greytok. Eric is the superintendent of Winged Foot. He has been great to work with. He has had a lot of adversity to deal with as he's had to deal with this rain that just happened in the last ten days and getting those mowers out there. To get the rough cut has been somewhat of a challenge, but Eric has responded. He and his team have done a terrific job, and we appreciate working with you, and just a super job.
Second is Mike Davis. Mike is the senior director for rules and competitions. This is Mike's first U.S. Open being the senior director, and he is doing a terrific job, and a lot of the setup things that we're doing this year are really Mike has been very instrumental in the philosophy of implementing them, and Mike is giving great leadership to that area and has just done a terrific job in setting up this course. And again, the emphasis being on fairness and consistency.
Walter, that pretty much gets the golf course.
WALTER DRIVER: Before we start questions, Colin Burns, the general manager at Winged Foot has come in. I want to thank Colin for all the work that he and everyone at Winged Foot have done for us. It's been a great partnership.
Q. A couple of weeks ago at the Memorial they conducted kind of an interesting experiment with a technique they used raking bunkers. I'm curious from a championship standpoint what your evaluation of that was. Was it anything that you guys would consider doing at any venues?
WALTER DRIVER: We've not talked about doing that at our championships, but the statistics from Memorial are that it impacted average scores by .014 in the scoring of a round, so that's not a material difference in the actual scoring based on that.
Q. I have a question about the U.S. Open. There were 110 local qualifiers and one of them got international attention; there were dozens of sectional qualifiers, and one of them got international attention. Is there anything that the USGA can do to encourage more female professionals to enter this tournament?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, this is an Open Championship and everything that that means. We would like to encourage everyone who is eligible, who has the right handicap or other qualifications, to enter, and it would be wonderful for us if every sectional championship had 6,000 people that came out and all that media attention. That would be a great thing for the game and for the U.S. Open.
Q. Question about Merion. How many fans are you expecting at Winged Foot? What capacity do you expect at Merion? And at what point were you certain that Merion was capable of hosting a U.S. Open since there has been so much talk about it?
WALTER DRIVER: We've sold 35,000 tickets here at Winged Foot. We think we can come close to that at Merion. Maybe not quite, but close to it.
This has been a great process where we have worked with the people at Merion, as I said, Ardmore and Haverford Townships and Haverford College, to deal with issues such as parking, security, access. We'll have more grandstands at Merion than we've had in the past.
There's no single answer. It's all of those things come together in being able to conduct a really top quality U.S. Open at Merion.
Q. Quick follow up, this came up a couple years ago. I was under the impression that the gallery limit might be about 20,000 and it would be okay to take a hit for one year. Where did you come up with the extra space?
WALTER DRIVER: We can do that by a variety of ways. People along Golf House Road have offered to let the club and the U.S. Open use their property. The Haverford College has helped with the parking so that we can park people at Haverford and let people walk across the train tracks where we'll build a bridge. There are a lot of creative solutions to that issue that all the people involved have come up with.
Q. Phil Mickelson was in here earlier and said he believed that the PGA TOUR was looking at what you're doing this week with the rough and the experiment that you're having, and he said he believed that the Tour might look into adopting that for some of their events. Have you had any contact with the PGA TOUR and have they spoken to you about your expectations for this week?
WALTER DRIVER: They have not spoken to me. That's really their decision. They set up those courses and make their own decisions about course setup.
Q. Walter, you mentioned that you reached a 50 million plateau in the grants program. I'd like to know what you consider the success rate there and how are you measuring if you're meeting that rate?
WALTER DRIVER: It's actually hard for us to have metrics on the number of people we bring in and the retention rates. We feel good about it and we anecdotally get very good feedback. But in terms of measuring how many kids come back and are still in the game ten years later, we haven't done that, in part because the grants program is only nine years old.
This is a long term investment by the USGA in the game of golf, and in the next generation, and we're very optimistic that it will bring people into the game who wouldn't have been in the game otherwise and that they'll love the game as we do and stay in the game. We'll just have to wait and see. We're willing to make the investment in the next generation.
Q. David, if you could take us back, me back, to when you decided or the USGA decided to come to the same metropolitan area three times in a five year span, what were the reasons to overcome the traditional method of being more geographically diverse and why did you do it?
DAVID FAY: Well, the reality is that historically we have played the U.S. Open more frequently in the New York metropolitan area than any other area. I'd say that specifically with Winged Foot, I would like to compliment the PGA of America because when we saw how they were able to stage their championship, there were some logistical problems that we've always faced with Winged Foot, and they, working with the club, came up with a solution.
The fact is right now, as you said, we had the 2002 Open at Bethpage, we had the 2004 Open at Shinnecock, and we're going back to Bethpage in 2009. Certainly all three golf courses, which are different in feel, are going to be, in my judgment, and I know in the opinion of the USGA, very successful. So while we are sensitive to the geographic issue, we don't want to be overly sensitive to it.
WALTER DRIVER: As you know, we'll go to Oakmont next year, Torrey Pines the year after that, Bethpage, then back to the West Coast in the Washington, D.C., area at Congressional. So Open venues will move around a great deal from now until 2013.
Q. For David, there's been a lot of pros and cons with Merion, the course and the length of it. I'm wondering about your thoughts about what went into the process. I know you've done a lot of studies there and whatever, how do you feel the course will hold up?
DAVID FAY: Well, we put a lot of thought into this, and again, hats off to the leadership of Merion. I think I can use this automobile because it no longer exists, but there was once a commercial "It's not your father's Oldsmobile," in some ways I'd say it's the same for Merion. They've always had great holes, a number of great layup holes where you weren't using driver off the tee. But they've been able to make their long, stout holes, the ones that have been known throughout history. They've made them really long. So I think they have adapted so well to the changing nature of the game.
There was a question before about the gallery. I think you were there, but if you noticed, a lot of trees have been removed, and that also adds the gallery component. We have not been to Philadelphia since 1981. It is a great course; it's rich in history. We used the Amateur as sort of a testing ground where you had the finest players in the world, the finest amateur players in the world, for whom hitting the ball a long way is not an issue.
So in all respects, and I think, hats off, again, to the leadership of Merion and to our operations people who truly investigated all of the pros and cons of this in a very detailed way, as Walter and Jim have said, we feel very comfortable going back to Merion in 2013.
Q. I was curious, what kind of feedback has the USGA gotten from the players on the way the courses have been set up these past couple of years?
WALTER DRIVER: Feedback is that these courses are wonderful golf courses; they're great venues for the U.S. Open; the golf is really hard. That's exactly what we try to do.
We've said on our course setup that we intend to have the most rigorous test in championship golf, and that's our philosophy. We know the players know and the golfers around the United States and around the world expect that and we look forward to it. We got a lot of positive feedback from golfers around that come and talk to us.
Q. I suppose it wouldn't be a USGA press conference if we didn't ask about the ball issue. I'm just wondering, David, if there's anything new to report on that front with the USGA. And you talked about the course being stretched out 300 yards from '97, and they'll be looking if this comes back here again, 2014 is the next available Open, and we look at the way the ball is flying these days?
DAVID FAY: Well, technology and what we do in our role as overseeing technology through equipment standards is a core function of the USGA, and we are still in the midst of a well chronicled ball research project, and we're learning a lot of good information. Jim Vernon, the chair of the equipment standards committee is here, as is Dick Rugge.
When you do a ball research program, you find out more than just the golf ball. I mean, that's something that we've discovered. There are a lot of issues we're discussing, matters dealing with off center hits, matters dealing with control of the golf ball from the grass, otherwise known as grooves. There's a lot of stuff that is going on.
We're nowhere near making an announcement on anything today, but I can tell you that this is something that we invest a lot of time and energy with. This is something that we are in close contact with the affiliated organizations, certainly starting with the R & A. We have consulting members, members from the PGA TOUR, PGA of America, so there's no blockbuster announcement to make.
JIM HYLER: One comment on the course length. I said it was 300 yards longer, it's still we're still about 7,240 in length, so by today's standards, that's not really all that long.
WALTER DRIVER: That's approximately the same length as Olympia Fields and Pinehurst. There's been almost no change in three years in length.
Q. The course is playing a little soft right now and some rain is expected today. Do you guys have a plan to deal with that or to see what the conditions hold for this week?
WALTER DRIVER: Jim did talk about that.
JIM HYLER: We did talk about it. However much it rains, we will address it and see how it impacts our setup, but the goal will be to try to keep the conditions as consistent as possible throughout the week starting on Monday through Sunday, so we'll react to whatever happens weather wise.
Q. David, you mentioned the face grooves. Players will tell you that the grooves mitigate what you're doing with the rough, within reason, the ability to control the ball out of the rough. Is the graduated rough a response to their ability to do things with face grooves? And you approached this issue many years ago and then sort of blinked before confronting the club manufacturers. Are you seriously revisiting square grooves again?
DAVID FAY: Well, I'd say in answer to the question about the graduated rough, I don't think it's any secret that we are concerned about the importance of putting the ball into the fairway off of the tee, and that's not just a concern of ours, that's a concern, I believe, of the PGA TOUR.
With respect to grooves, to start getting into specifics on this, we don't have many specifics. All I can say at this point is that we are testing it. For specific data, I would want to turn that over to Dick Rugge. We're really nowhere near to the point where I could say to you with any certainty what we're going to be doing.
Q. Regarding Merion, based on your analysis of player performance at the Amateur, are there any specific tweaks or major changes to the golf course itself you anticipate making?
WALTER DRIVER: We'll move a putting green to have more room for crowd movement around the clubhouse, and that's the only major change. They'll move the 14th tee in the same general area, but other than that, we contemplate no major changes in the golf course.
Q. I would just be curious for either Walter or David, the conversation over the last few years, you talked to players and ask them what their favorite courses are, and inevitably they'll mention any U.S. Open course before the USGA gets its hands on it. Do you take that as criticism or compliment?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, we set up the U.S. Open courses to match our philosophy that we want the most rigorous test in championship golf. The players don't see courses like that very often. The typical Tour course is not set up the same way, and we understand that's a change that requires adaptation by the players, and that's our philosophy and we don't make any apologies for that philosophy.
Q. Yesterday Michael Campbell talked about some junior programs that he works with and how they're encouraging boys and girls to play together at a young age. Is it time maybe for the USGA to have a championship, sort of a pre teen, 12 year old limit for younger kids, boys, girls, wide up?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, we want to encourage everyone to play golf, and all of our Junior programs and the ones we fund all have lots of young people, both boys and girls. We haven't given any thought to starting yet another national championship in addition to the 13 that we already conduct.
Q. There was a story in the Honolulu Advertiser in regards to the qualifier down in Hawaii, and there's a possibility that it may be eliminated at some point after what happened this year where there was only ten qualifiers in the sectional. Is that, A, something you looked at specifically, or, B, is that part of a general process in regards to looking at the qualifiers?
DAVID FAY: B. At the end of each championship season, we take a look at all of the championships, including sectional and local qualifying, and we look at the numbers and we gather together with the committee, and we may or may not make changes.
WALTER DRIVER: Thank you very much. Hope you have a great week here at Winged Foot. We look forward to a wonderful championship.
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