June 12, 2002
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK
RAND JERRIS: Good morning. We'd like to thank you all for coming this morning. Welcome to the 2002 United States Open Championship at Bethpage State Park.
I'm going to be turning the program over shortly to the President of the United States Golf Association, Mr. Reed Mackenzie from Chaska, Minnesota. He will be conducting this morning's program and it is a distinct pleasure and honor to introduce him.
Mr. Mackenzie, thank you. (Applause)
REED MACKENZIE: Thank you, Rand, and thank you ladies and gentlemen.
This is a little bit different than some of the press conferences that you may have been in attendance to at the U.S. Open because we have, as you will learn, some very special people and special guests here today.
On the podium with me is our executive director David Fay and Fred Ridley, and you will hear from them much later in the program.
The occasion this week of coming to Bethpage has been extraordinary one for the State of New York, but particularly for the United States Golf Association. The reception that we've had from the media, from the public, not only in the State of New York, but around the country and worldwide has been extraordinary and exceptional and indeed unprecedented.
The tribute to public golf that this week represents has been something that we hope will have long-lasting effects. When we started on this endeavor, it was not at all certain that it would have the kind of outcome that this week has produced. There are in the room today several people who have been very instrumental in seeing that the Championship preparations and all that goes with getting ready for a United States Open have been successful.
I would like very much at this time to acknowledge them, starting with the lady at the top, who has been absolutely magnificent as the New York State Parks Commissioner, for us to work with in getting the cooperation of the State to do everything that needs to be done.
So, Bernadette Castro, thank you very much. (Applause)
Seated next to Bernadette is the man who is the director of Bethpage State Park and who has similarly played a key and critical role in all of the preparations and will be a busy man until the end of this Championship, Dave Catalano.
Dave, thank you. (Applause)
And those of you who have had an opportunity to talk to any of the players will appreciate that from their standpoint, as well as from ours, Bethpage Black is the best-conditioned course going into a U.S. Open Championship that we have ever seen. The tribute to that goes to the golf superintendent for the Bethpage Park Courses, Mr. Craig Currier. (Applause)
Also seated at that row is the architect of all of the changes and renovations, Rees Jones. (Applause)
The fact that all of this preparation can take place requires leadership from the very top. We had that from the very beginning. David Fay was just telling me about a meeting that he had with Governor Pataki early on in which he said in rather direct and forceful terms, "We're going to make sure that this succeeds."
So we are pleased to welcome and ask to come up to make a few comments, the Governor of the State of New York, the Honorable Governor George Pataki.
GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI: Thank you, Reed and David, and thank you USGA for choosing New York and choosing Bethpage Black for really what is the first U.S. Open to be held at a truly public course anywhere in America. We are very proud that not only is this a great public course as the golfers and people around the world will see over the next few days, it is one of the great courses in the world.
I'm wearing my "I Love New York" hat because we are proud of our state, our great state suffered so terribly on September 11th, our great Long Island where we are today, and our parks across this state that are second to none.
I want to thank you, as well, Reed, for recognizing our great team here at State Parks. Bernadette, you and your team have done a great job and we are very proud of what you've done here at Bethpage Black, but what you do with the parks all across the state, you are the best.
We are also pleased that tens of millions of people from around the world will get to see New York at its best. We have no doubt that New York at its best is as good or better than any place anywhere in America or anywhere in the world. Where else, where else in America can you get in your car, show up maybe 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, wait a few hours, and play on one of the greatest golf courses anywhere in the world for $31, but at a New York State Park. We are very proud of that and we are very grateful to the USGA for recognizing that.
Let me say, David, I remember very well back in 1995 and 1996, when this was a vision. We started at the announcement in Central Park, where Ernie Els was teaching me how to putt. He didn't have a whole lot of success; I'm not going to be out there playing today. But we have had a lot of success in making sure that this course, this park, Long Island and the State are ready for the hundreds of thousands of people who are going to be enjoying this magnificent day, championship.
I want to thank the more than 10,000 volunteers from Long Island who are hoping to make this a success, in addition to our great parks' team. I want to thank the USGA as well, because I know that in addition to holding the U.S. Open here, you're going to be making a presentation to the City of New York and to our fire department, and it is emotional to me, because I know how much our heroes have suffered.
Mr. Vigiano, I know what it means to you that we will never forget your two sons who we lost on September 11. And to John Caputo, thank you for the courage you've shown every single day. It's an example of the way our firefighters and police officers and emergency workers have responded. We didn't expect this type of special tribute when this was announced back in 1996, but I think it's fitting and appropriate that the whole world gets to see that New York is back, better than ever, and the U.S. Open will be an enormous success right here at our great state park.
Thank you. It's an honor to be with you. Congratulations to the USGA. (Applause)
REED MACKENZIE: We have some guests here from the Fire Department of New York, and I would like to invite them to join me on the stage. It's going to be a little crowded, but if you would not mind coming up right now.
Let me tell you who is here. First of all, Nicholas Scoppetta, the Fire Commissioner; Daniel Nigro, Chief of Department; Frank Gribbon, the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information; Brian Dixon, the Chief of Public Information; Jerry Gambo, the Assistant Chief Bureau of EMS Operations; Steven Mosiello, the Executive Assistant to the Chief of the Department, and in a moment, we're going to invite Father John Delendick, the Fire Department of New York Chaplain; Adam Vilagos, Chief of the Department's Aide; Billy Vanwort, Chief of Public Information; and Michael Loughran, the Public Information Officer.
Gentlemen, thank you, and welcome.
In the months following September 11th, the volunteers and staff of the United States Golf Association were searching for an appropriate way to pay tribute to what happened on September 11th, and more importantly, to the people whose lives were so directly affected by what happened. And when considering what might be an appropriate response for us, we looked to the history of the United States Golf Association, and while several proposals were entertained, ultimately, it was the history of the Association that led us to the course of action which we are about to describe.
There were, in history, two instances where the United States Golf Association had assisted in the purchase of ambulances; one for the town of St. Andrews in Scotland, and one for Pearl Harbor, both during the second World War. On the side of the podium, there are posters which reference the 1942 Pearl Harbor tournament, which were connected with those presentations.
With that history in mind, everyone who works for the USGA and all of our volunteers at the USGA wanted to make a donation to the Fire Department of New York for the purpose of purchasing a 2002-edition ambulance. In presenting this ambulance to the Fire Department of New York, we all salute the city where the USGA was founded in 1894, and thank the community of New York, that will be hosting this year's United States Open championship.
I would like to take a moment to read to you the wording on the plaque that will be mounted on the ambulance. It says: "From the United States Golf Association to the City and People of New York in remembrance of 9/11/2001.
When we remember that many New York City firefighters and EMTs regularly play at Bethpage and that many are members of the USGA, we feel that this venue and this Championship provide the most suitable and appropriate time and place for such a gesture. This is, indeed, the People's Open, and this gift, first and foremost, honors the people -- the heroes -- that make this country unique."
Now, I would like to invite to the lectern Nicholas Scoppetta and Jerry Gambo and give them this plaque and the keys to the ambulance. (Applause)
(Presentation of plaque and keys).
NICHOLAS SCOPPETTA: The Governor just said don't let him drive. (Laughter)
We thank the USGA for their generosity in donating this wonderful, most appropriate gift in a way to say something to the Fire Department and EMS in New York.
Wonderful to be doing it here. A lot of our firefighters are avid golfers. A lot of our EMS personnel compete in tournaments. I have to confess, I'm pretty terrible. And the last time I played, the foursome, we were on the 12th hole, there was a water hazard in front of the tee. The first three guys tee off, they all land up -- it was a par 3, they all land on the green. I had had a terrible first 11 holes, I was desperate to end up on the tee. I hit two balls into the water. I decided, I said to the guys, "Maybe I should just jump in the water hazard, drown myself, put an end to this round."
One of them said, "It won't work. You can't keep your head down long enough for that to work." (Laughter)
Anyway, here, today's ambulance donation, continues what has really been a wonderful, charitable tradition of the United States Golf Association. You've heard that they donated ambulances at Pearl Harbor and St. Andrews during World War II, but in the past six years, they have given more than $30 million to thousands of charities around the world. In doing so, they really perform an enormous valuable service, and that is what they are doing today for the New York City Fire Department.
The men and women of our Emergency Medical Services go on about 1.3 million runs a year, so this is an ambulance that is going to be put to good use and is going to see a lot of service.
So, I thank the USGA for their tremendous generosity. And while I'm not much of a golfer, I appreciate the history, the tradition of this wonderful event and it is absolutely marvelous that it is taking place here, at a public course in New York. We're all looking forward to the next few days. The skill that it takes to compete at this level, of course, is enormous, only exceeded by the generosity of this organization that hosts the Championship.
So, God bless you, God bless you all, God bless the New York City Fire Department. (Applause)
We have a token here that represents our enormous appreciation. It is this plaque, and it is a Commissioner's Special Commendation, United States Golf Association: "In recognition of your compassionate actions to help New York and the Fire Department of New York rebuild by donating an ambulance to the New York City Fire Department's Bureau of Emergency Medical Services."
So, Reed, I'd like to hand this to you. (Applause).
JERRY GAMBO: 9/11 has changed the world forever. There's a proverb that says that saving one life is like saving the world. On behalf of the Fire Department, EMS command, I would like to thank the USGA for allowing us, helping us meet that mission. Thank you. (Applause)
REED MACKENZIE: Well, I'd like you to stay right where you are while I bring up four very special guests. John Caputo, Joe Vigiano, Jimmy Vigiano, and John Vigiano, would you please come up.
John, I'll give you the microphone.
JOHN CAPUTO: When I woke up on 9/11, I was shocked to see the South Tower was on fire. I didn't know what happened. All of a sudden, I saw the second plane go into the North Tower. I immediately called up my wife and said, "Debbie, you've got to get home."
When my wife got home, I said, "I have to go. I have to leave." She wouldn't let me leave and stopped me at the door and blocked the door. Those actions saved my life because this was around 8:30, and I wouldn't be here for this event.
The first person I called was John Vigiano. John Vigiano is a legend in the New York City Fire Department. If I was going to go down to Ground Zero, the safest person I could go down there with would be with Captain Vigiano. I could not get in touch with him and I figured he probably already was down there. It was not until about a week later that I learned that he lost both his children, Joseph and John.
Joseph was a decorated New York City police officer, detective, and John was a highly-decorated New York City firefighter.
As time went by, John would keep telling me: "Don't go down there, don't go down there." I couldn't help going down there.
On April 1, while searching through the rubble, I saw something that was white and I thought it might have been a bone. When I picked it up, I realized it was a golf ball. And I just couldn't believe out of all this destruction, something like a golf ball could survive this.
Well, I have two new heroes and their names are Jimmy and Joseph Vigiano. This is what's good in America. I'd like Joseph to present this golf ball that was found at Ground Zero to the USGA to place into their museum for eternity.
(Joseph presents golf ball to Reed Mackenzie)
There are a few people that I have to thank. I have to thank John Vigiano. John, you are my hero and I love you. (Embracing John Vigiano)
And Governor Pataki, there were times down there when this big man would come up to us and pat us on the back and scare the hell out of us. Those pats on the back meant so much to us. (Embracing Governor Pataki)
JOSEPH VIGIANO: This ball was found in the World Trade Center by Firefighter Caputo. I give this ball to Mr. Reed Mackenzie in memory of my father, Joseph Vigiano, ESE Truck II, and my uncle, John Vigiano, Ladder 132 and all of the NYPD, New York Port Authority and all of the people that lost their lives on September 11, 2001. (Applause)
REED MACKENZIE: Wow. This band, which will be affixed to the ball says, "Firefighter John T. Vigiano, FDNY Ladder Company 132, Joseph Vigiano, NYPD Truck II, ESE 9/11/2001." These are the flags of the department involved that we will display, along with this ball at the USGA Museum, together with these wonderful photographs that depict the firefighters and the individuals who were involved.
On behalf of the USGA, our staff, our volunteers, and everyone who loves the game of golf, I'm truly humbled to accept this wonderful gift.
Joe, we will keep this ball and everything that you've given us to go with it at the USGA Museum. The ball will rest with the American flag, plus the flags of your department. It will be forever a symbol of the spirit of the American people, and particularly, for the people who were most directly affected by 9/11.
We hope the ball will serve as a permanent reminder of the heroics and bravery of those who were involved, and especially the men and women who lost their lives, as well as the many wonderful experiences that have developed since 9/11 which have helped embody the American spirit.
Father John Delendick, the Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, I would like to ask you to come forward and bless this ball if you would, please.
FATHER DELENDICK: I have spoken to many groups since 9/11, and one thing I always like to say is the experience of the World Trade Center was not about buildings or rubble; it was about people. People went there every day to work. They were the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor; the rescuers who went there to save those who were in those buildings. This is all about people. This ball has been found and it's really a symbol, a symbol that these people had lives away from the trade center. They were people who enjoyed life, people with families, people who did many other things, including play golf.
I would like to bless this ball at this time. It is a symbol that all of those who have been working down in the Trade Center are working to recreate the world, to recreate down there, to recreate families.
So Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless this ball, a symbol of the workers down in the Trade Center, a symbol of their families, and a symbol of our efforts to recreate our city and our state and our country.
Father, we ask you to bless those who lost their lives there. We know they are home with you. Bless their families, hold them in your arms, and give them your peace.
Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless the United States Golf Association, to thank them for their gift of life with this ambulance.
We ask you to bless this tournament; that they enjoy their time here at Bethpage.
We ask you to send your blessing on all of those who are working today in the police departments and fire departments, that the Lord will send them home safely to their families at night. As well, we ask you this as your loving children, Amen.
Thank you very much, Father.
Thank you very much and thank you all for being here.
REED MACKENZIE: At this time I'd like to introduce the Chairman of the Championship Committee, Fred Ridley.
FRED RIDLEY: As Chairman of the Championship Committee of the USGA, my primary responsibility is to ensure that the U.S. Open is conducted only at venues that will offer a stern but fair test to the greatest players in the world. I can assure you that Bethpage Black has passed that test with flying colors.
I had the privilege in 1996, I believe it was, of being on the Championship Committee and visiting Bethpage when this great idea of coming here was first discussed. While what you may see out there today might look a little different than what we saw in 1996, it was easy to tell that Bethpage Black was truly a great test of golf on a beautiful piece of property, and the original design was there.
So we were very fortunate, once that decision was made, to have Rees Jones be in charge of the restoration and renovation of what was already a great golf course. The golf course, basically, was restored by redoing all of the tees. All of the tees were redone and some were realigned. There were 12 new tees that were added.
The greens essentially remained the same, other than some areas that, over the years, had been lost and the greens had become somewhat smaller. There was one addition on the 18th green where a couple of hole locations were added.
Essentially, the golf course was there. Certainly, today it is, I think, the best-conditioned U.S. Open golf course that I've ever seen. I think that's borne out by the comments from the players.
The golf course is at 7,214 yards, a par-70, is the longest golf course in U.S. Open history. The greens are as close to perfect as one could imagine. The greens are a mixture of poa and bentgrass. I've heard comments about the greens being somewhat flatter than in past years. I think if you actually get out on the greens, you can see there are a lot of subtleties to them. In some respects, I think that makes putting even more challenging. There are a number of shelves and ledges where great hole locations can be set. But the term that I would use to characterize the greens more than anything would be "subtle." I think that's going to be borne out this week.
The fairways are typical U.S. Open fairways, 24 to 28 yards wide. There is a 6-foot intermediate rough on each side of the fairway. So, essentially, there's approximately a 36- to 46-yard corridor.
The rough itself, you heard about in the interview with Tim Moraghan and Craig Currier, but the rough you see out there was once, and will again, I suspect, be fairways. Because of the dense stand of ryegrass, that rough has essentially just been grown to it's present height of 3 1/2 inches, so it is extremely dense. We did cut the rough back a little bit earlier in the week from 4 to 4 1/2 inches, back to 3 1/2. While I don't think it changed the playing characteristics that much, I think you are going to get the one, or possibly one out of three or one out of four shots, into the rough that is going to end up with a decent lie.
So that's really what we are hoping for, was that we would not have a situation where the player had no option, other than just to take a sand wedge and knock it 60 or 70 yards down the fairway. I do think the rough is going to come into play in another respect in the sense that many greens at Bethpage are guarded by rough instead of areas to run it up. That is going to make it more difficult.
I think one other factor is that the corridors are fairly wide here, and I heard Phil Mickelson say the other day that in past Opens, if he missed a drive, he would hope he really missed it. Because in many cases, that would produce a second shot in an area that had been trampled down by the gallery, but I don't think you are going to get that here. I think it's going to play an even larger premium on accurate driving. Everybody has their pick, but I think if you look at the best drivers in the field, they are probably going to have a real good chance this week.
One other comment I'd like to make, I'm sure that there will be some questions about it, but we are implementing, as you know, for this year, the first time ever, a two-tee start. This has been something that has been implemented in the Women's Open in 2000, 2001 and also in the Senior Open last year, and it worked very well. I think the players like it. It's a question of getting the players around the golf course.
We've had comments this week from the players that the pace of play in the practice rounds has improved as much as 45 minutes, and while I don't expect that to be the case on Thursday and Friday, I do expect we might see some improvement. It will help get the golfers around in case we have weather problems, which is always a possibility.
So, in perfect world, yes, we would like to tee off everyone on No. 1. I think the bottom line is that every player is going to have to play the 10th hole at some point in time. It is a difficult hole to start out on, as well as 11 and 12 that follow. I think it's going to work out well and I think the players have received it well.
With that, I would be happy to answer any
questions you might have with respect to the golf course.
Q. Have you gotten enough input from the players to hazard an opinion as to the chances of this course being added to the Open rotation or an Open coming back here? What assurances can you give us that that will be the case?
FRED RIDLEY: Well, I think certainly if the comments of the players were the sole determinant, I think that would be a very good chance because I have heard nothing but great comments from the players.
I think probably that question will be discussed a lot after the Championship is over with. I said, and I think David as well, the USGA would not have come to Bethpage had it not been a great test of golf. We certainly hope that at the end of the Championship, that everyone will agree. We would like to think that this won't be just a one-act play, but we'll just have to see how that plays out.
Q. For David, what's your reaction to the stories that have been written that scores may be not like traditional Opens; that they may be approaching double digits under par?
DAVID FAY: Well, I think that we will find out by Sunday afternoon. I must say, personally, when I read those stories, I smiled because quite often, you see good competitions that are played at U.S. Open sites that are regional events, state events. It's not quite set up the same way.
Certainly, being a resident of the metropolitan area, I know that the State Open has been played here, but I can tell you that it was not set up the same way. I think there's an entrant, there may be more, Darrell Kestner, who is the head golf professional at Deepdale, he has won a Metropolitan Open here; I think he said succinctly, "It's not the same golf course."
Q. David, Augusta National and the Masters became a long-hitter's tournament; that was the general idea this spring. The characteristics here suggest that you're going to the long hitters. Is that a correct assessment?
DAVID FAY: Well, I think the characteristics here are pretty similar to the characteristics you find each year at a U.S. Open course. There is a premium in putting the ball in the fairway off the tee and there is a premium on hitting greens in regulation.
I would not be so quick to say that this course necessarily favors the longest hitter? It might. But it seems that over history, every time we have gone to a particularly long course, the outcome doesn't necessarily result in the longest player winning.
I remember when we had it -- of course, I was a mere lad, but when the Open went to Bellerive in 1965, I think everyone just about was prepared to just ordain Jack as the winner, and it was a playoff between Kel Nagel and Gary Player.
So it doesn't necessarily hold to form. But I think regardless of whether they are, long hitters or short hitters, there will definitely be a premium on putting the ball in play off the tee. And how they get to the fairway, whether it be with a driver or with a 3-wood or a long iron, that's up to the player.
But I do think that you'll find on this course that you don't have many holes where the driver is quite taken out of play. It will be an option and it is up to the player to make that decision in their game plan.
Q. Fred, do have any ballpark number on pace of play in recent Opens on Thursday and Friday, and do you have any projection for improvement here?
FRED RIDLEY: Well, our pace of play is somewhere, give or take a few minutes, around 4 hours and 30 to 4 hours and 45 minutes. I'll be the first to admit that that has not been achieved in past Opens on a consistent basis.
We hope that it will be closer to that this year, and again, I think the players -- the players are very comfortable with this two-tee start. They are used to it. They are comfortable with it. I hope that we are going to be closer to our pace of play this year.
Q. David, can you speak to the idea of the public Open, and whether you're seeing a ground swell nationally, other courses that might come into play in this rotation, Torrey Pines, places like that?
DAVID FAY: Well, certainly I think the mantra of People's Open is appropriate because this is the first truly public course we have played the National Open on.
I think it is a strong statement about the state of American golf. We have about 15,000 golf courses in the United States and three quarters of them are public facilities. 25 to 26 million Americans play off and about 90 percent of them play most of their golf on public facilities, so I think this is a strong statement.
It's no secret that other public facilities have seen what's happened at Bethpage and have decided to shoot high and it's no secret that among the courses interested in hosting, a future hope is Torrey Pines, Torrey Pines South. We have made no decision on that. We have made no decision on the 2008 Open. I think everybody in this room knows that deciding on a U.S. Open site requires more than a truly great golf course. All of the courses we are looking at on our short list are truly great golf courses, but you have to nail down other elements to make it work. You have to make sure that we all aren't sleeping in pump tents. You have to nail down hotels, parking, etc., Etc. And we have a policy of not making an announcement of any future U.S. Open sites until all of the elements of the contract are nailed down.
But certainly, Torrey Pines is on that short list.
Q. You have sold, I believe, 42,500 tickets to the public and there's volunteers here, media here. There will be roughly 50,000 people on the golf course grounds. What conclusions did you come to in thinking that in the past you had never had more than 25,000 or 30,000? Why so many and can the golf course handle it?
DAVID FAY: That's a good question. We don't approach the attendance with a cookie cutter way. In fact, the largest galleries we had at a U.S. Open, up to now, were at Reed's home course (Hazeltine). And Reed, you were general chairman there. I believe it was 40,000 paid, and I think on the weekend, it crept up to 45,000 plus. It's all in the nature of the golf course. We can put a lot of people on the Black Course, and we have close to 20,000 bleacher seats. It's not a record. The most bleacher seats we had was again at Hazeltine where we had around 20,000. It really depends on the golf course.
And we change our minds. Case in point, in 1983, we had a limit of 25,000 at Oakmont. In 1994 we went back there and we cut it back to 22,500 paid because of the problems with the bridge. So the number does fluctuate depending on the site, and we give it our best guess, would like to believe it is more than guesswork. We involve our own professional staff who I think have good judgment on this: Traffic survey engineers, everything, accommodations, and we try to come up with a number. Because most importantly, we could have sold more tickets. We can sell more tickets every single year, but to make the viewing experience such that you can't see anything, that really would be unacceptable.
Q. Are you concerned with bottlenecks going across the road and then back, from 1 to 2 and 14 to 15?
DAVID FAY: It will be slow, but I don't think it will be a great bottleneck. Some gallery may make the decision that they have to go in advance of the group that they are following, but it will slow down. But it's nothing like the bottleneck that is we deal with at Oakmont.
Certainly that was a key component coming to Bethpage Black, to get that public highway shut down for the Championship.
Q. Do you think it might be an even truer public golf course if they played it in the kind of condition the public golfers play it in?
FRED RIDLEY: I think you've really got a pace of play problem if you do that.
I'm sure that the fairways will be eased up quite a bit, but it's still going to be a great test for the public.
Q. The galleries seemed uncommonly frisky Tuesday. Do you think that could prove to be a problem here in, with New Yorkers being empowered by being on a public course?
DAVID FAY: I'm a New Yorker. I'm going to try not to take that the wrong way. (Laughter.)
We are an energetic lot. We have a good appreciation for good athletic competition.
I don't think it's going to be a problem. I've said right from the start, I think the atmosphere here will "rock," but I think it will rock in the right way.
I have no concerns about any behavior problems. We have a lot of people out there. It's going to be noisy. My biggest concern is for cell phones. I think for all golf tournaments now, that's probably -- I mean, "cell phone" has become a verb, "I got cell phoned." I think that we've got about 2,500 that were checked in, and that seems to be the biggest problem.
I think the people who are coming out here have -- I would say the New York audience, I would not put them in a back seat to anybody in terms of knowledgeable fans. I have no problem with how they are going to behave. Granted, I'm a New Yorker, but I think I can be objective about this one.
RAND JERRIS: Reed, Fred, David, thank you very much for your time.