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June 12, 2001

Tim Moraghan

John Szklinski


RAND JERRIS: It's your pleasure to be joined by John Szklinski and Tim Moraghan. Mr. Szklinski is the course superintendent here at Southern Hills. He's been here for two and a half years. Tim Moraghan is the director of championship agronomy with the USGA, and it's his 15th year working at the U.S. Open. Can you start us with general comments about what's going to happen on the golf course and when Championship play starts Thursday morning.

TIM MORAGHAN: On behalf of the USGA, we'd like to thank everyone involved with Southern Hills. They've done a wonderful job preparing the golf course over the last two years. They've been gracious hosts for the greatest championship in the world. I would like to elaborate about the gentlemen sitting to my left. There are very few individuals in their careers who can come to their old style, classic, Top-50 golf club, and have the ability to maintain it for the membership. There are very few that come to a classic 50 golf course, maintain it and restore it to its previous glory, and in the meantime, host the U.S. Open Championship. John has done all three of those in the last few years. He's held up remarkably well. We've become good friends. We are going to have a successful U.S. Open Championship this week.

Q. For both of you, there seem to have been some complaints from the players, including Tiger, about the 18th green, and that very good shots are still rolling off the back and down into the collection areas. Will anything be done to that hole? A bunch of guys have said something, apparently. Is that going to change by Thursday?

TIM MORAGHAN: I must have missed all those complaints, I don't know where I was. We have some concerns with 18. We have to remember that it's a very, very tough golf hole that we made tougher, for what we think is the best championship. And conditions are extreme. Not only do you have very fast green speeds, you have some wind to deal with, and we are doing everything on our behalf, from John and I, to kind of equal out the conditions, so that the other 17 greens -- and there's also been some issues on 9 -- match up, so that the player who has 200 yards uphill into the wind in a very small landing area is rewarded for hitting a great golf shot. Now, if they are short, if they're left or right, or over in the bunker, that's just part of the deal. But that player that hits it in the center of the green should and will be rewarded. I'll let John elaborate on what we're going to do to the golf course.

JOHN SZKLINSKI: We'll take that green -- and we've been working on that green on a daily basis. We prepared it just as we did all the other greens, and it's come up under the extreme conditions being too fast. So we've been doing some hand-watering. We'll do some supplemental fertilization this afternoon. It will be fine by Thursday and the player will be rewarded for a good shot. The ball may release down to the front, center portion of the green, but it won't roll off.

Q. I have two questions for you, John. The first one being, what has been the most difficult part of getting your course ready for the U.S. Open over the last two years, and the second question, is when you prepared this golf course, were you expecting the types of conditions that we're going to experience this week?

JOHN SZKLINSKI: Probably the most difficult aspect of preparing the golf course, even over the last two years, has really been the weather. We're in the heart of the transition zone here. I think this is the capital of the transition zone. This past winter is a great example. One winter out of probably five to ten, you're going to have a pretty cold winter and loss of some bermudagrass. Also during the summer, last summer was very, very hot, very dry, and you can be challenged with some of your cool-season grasses, fescue underneath the canopies of our greens and our bentgrass putting surfaces. That's probably been the biggest factor for us the last two years in getting this golf course ready is trying to always be prepared for what the environment is doing to us.

Q. The second part, did you expect to have these extreme conditions; that you prepared for this hot weather?

JOHN SZKLINSKI: The average high this time of year is 88 degrees, and we're not much above of at this point. I'm glad to see the breeze blowing today, get some air movements. It's better for the putting surfaces. Yeah, we expected to have very warm conditions. Really, we didn't get the warm conditions until about two weeks ago, and we've had very warm conditions 14, 17 days. Before that, it was very unseasonably cool?

Q. John, do you get pressure from the membership? You've got kind of a toney membership, a lot of experts that know a lot about golf courses, and then you have the USGA. So you're playing a championship here and then you've got your members. Isn't there a lot of pressure on you, doesn't one kind of fight the other, the members that want a members' course; at the same time you're getting ready for this kind of an elite tournament?

JOHN SZKLINSKI: No. I would answer no to that question. Both groups have been wonderful. If you look at the history over the last two years, what we've done as far as renovation, as far as our maintenance facility, some of the challenges that we've had; our membership here at Southern Hills is absolutely wonderful and very understanding. They have been -- they've persevered through a great deal and have come through like champs. They're the heroes here. The USGA has been wonderful to work with, also. They have really not imposed upon us at all. We're just trying to produce the best product we possibly can, both for our membership and for the USGA, for the U.S. Open.

Q. John, every superintendent preparing for the U.S. Open must do a lot of worrying, but in the last two years you've not only lost your maintenance facility, but all your greens. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like personally to go through those two experiences? It must have seemed as though you were saying to yourself: "When are things ever going to go right"?

JOHN SZKLINSKI: Well, certainly there have been a lot of challenges, and I think probably the most difficult time for us was when the greens were vandalized. That was a pretty good blow. And I'd only been here for six, seven months. Between our Board of Governors, our general manager, other senior managers here at Southern Hills, we really rallied to turn a pretty strong negative into a very much of a positive. We were very fortunate to hire, the club was, to hire Keith Foster to help with the renovation. And yeah, there's been a lot of challenges. I know I'm a lot stronger person for it. I know that this week is easier for me because of some of those challenges we've been through, certainly. I feel like I'm a lot more well prepared. And I think the opportunity here at Southern Hills has been a wonderful opportunity for me. I've grown a tremendous amount since I've been here the last two and a half years.

Q. Can you explain the circumstances behind that vandalism of the greens?

JOHN SZKLINSKI: I really don't want to spend much time on that. Let's talk about the Open. Let's talk about the Open. That's what we're all here for. The greens were vandalized. We regressed the putting surfaces. We reworked our bunkers with Keith Foster. We made some changes to our putting surfaces, some of the areas around bunkers where sand accumulation took place since 1936. Brought them back out to their original design size, because we had some bermudagrass encroachment. We did some work on our tee surfaces. We added some tees and added some length to the golf course. That's really the important story here.

Q. Some of the players today have said that the course is playing so fast right now with the wind and the heat that the yardage estimate has to be thrown out. I think they're hitting wedges into 16. Are the greens as firm as you'd want them right now, and is the course playing too fast almost in the fairways or is that not a concern?

TIM MORAGHAN: From my perspective, other than 18, we are right where we want to be. We have great speed. The speed is holding up through the day. John, from the hand watering, cooling perspective has not applied any significant amount of water, so the firmness is there. And we've watched shots into various greens today, both long irons and short irons. The ball is not hitting and checking that much; it is releasing. So from a U.S. Open perspective I think we're pretty close, and it's nice to have. We've had some concerns from the players over the years that they start the week Monday and Tuesday, the greens, they feel, aren't going to be as fast as they are going to be Thursday through Sunday. So John and I have set upon ourselves this year to say: "Okay, guys, here it is. You're here on Monday, and this is what you're going to have for seven days." We're not going to start slow and go fast, start soft and go firm. We get rain; we can't control that. But from our perspective, we're right there.

Q. John, I wonder if you could address the specifics to what you're doing to 18 to kind of get it playable the way you guys want it, the specifics, mechanics of it.

JOHN SZKLINSKI: Well, we're raising the mowing height. We're doing some hand -- additional hand watering of that, getting the plant to stand a little more upright, a little bit of hand grooming, a little added fertility, foliar-applied fertility, that goes right to the plant, and an instant impact, relatively speaking.

Q. Is it going to be different than -- the mowing height on those two greens, will they be different than the other 16?

TIM MORAGHAN: They will be different. Because we base our green speed on slope and contour and grass type. And with the five percent slope on the 18th green, we had to get them all consistent first, and then we're going to try to work it out so we can compensate on 18 with a higher height of cut, a little less mowing, as John mentioned, to balance it out. So the results will be the same throughout.

Q. Tim, can you explain the characteristics of the bermudagrass plant? I've heard players talk about even though the fairways are perfect, that the ball itself can be sitting down and that you might not have the best of lies. And could you talk a little bit about bermuda and the problems the players will face with this type of grass?

TIM MORAGHAN: Being somewhat of a rather -- it grows laterally. And we have various types of common bermudagrass, which is a thicker leaf blade. Different growing conditions, their genetics are different as you and I. Sometimes the player is going to get a good lie in the fairway, and sometimes due to the variety, there may be spaces between the leaf blades and the ball will cup a little bit. We've been trying to adjust the cut in the fairways and multiple motion. But you have so many different grass types in the fairways, even though the player is in the middle of the fairway, Player A may have an area where the grass is finer-leafed and Player B may not. And we are trying to deal with this.

RAND JERRIS: Is there anything different about the preparation of the course at Southern Hills that distinguishes it from past U.S. Open courses?

TIM MORAGHAN: Other than the design and the layout of the golf course, I don't think we try to distinguish when it comes to condition. We have goals, we have parameters that Tom Meeks and I try to meet as we deal with each club, and in conjunction with our championship committee chairman. And the one thing we try to do is be consistent from the first tee to the 18th green. And that's why 18 right now is an issue, because we don't want -- Sandy Tatum always said, "We're here to identify and not to embarrass." I don't want to have people coming see hit-and-giggle golf. We're here to identify the best player and reward great golf shots. Our preparation mode is pretty much the same. And we want to be consistent. Now, one thing that is a little bit different and we did at Pinehurst with bermudagrass in the rough. Traditionally the U.S. Open has been identified as knee-high rough grass. If you miss the playing surface, you're pretty much hitting a sand wedge and hacking it back into play. I don't think the championship committee, nor Tom or I or David Fay felt that was a good barometer of the player's ability. We've gone to a three -, three-and-a-half-inch cutting height. Some players may get a bad lie, and wedge it back, but a player may have an opportunity to say, "I might end up on the putting surface." In that regard it's different than the past, with bermudagrass, because this is only the second U.S. Open in my time other than Pinehurst No. 2.

Q. The other green that was mentioned was 9, are you doing anything there?

TIM MORAGHAN: We're pretty much putting 9 and 18 as a pair. Though I will say that 9 being a shorter hole, you look at 18 at 465 and 9 at 375, for most of the players that I've talked to, they have 150 yards or less in. Tiger hit driver, wedge today. Davis Love hit 3-wood, 9-iron. So they have a little bit more controllable club in their hand a higher trajectory coming into the green, as opposed to hitting a 2-, 3-iron or 5-wood, hitting it into the wind. There's similar greens, and we want to have the ball react as the players expect it to react, when they hopefully hit a good golf shot.

RAND JERRIS: We'd like to thank John and Tim spending time for us this afternoon.

End of FastScripts....

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