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March 29, 2007

Mark O'Meara


Q. You've had two rounds here today. A couple thoughts about playing in this week he's championship?
MARK O'MEARA: I think everybody's excited. It's a new venue for us and certainly the golf course is I think very, very good. It's unique semi links-type golf course being this close to the ocean. And I think Jack did a super job in designing it. I was here about a year and a half, two years ago playing with my father. And I thought it was a pretty cool course then.
Now the last two days playing we were just talking about it outside, if the wind blows, which it probably will, it's going to be a very tough test of golf. The good players who are swinging well and controlling the ball flight, hitting it well, it's going to be very important. Because the greens have got some undulation in them and they're pretty well bunkered and some of them are raised such as the par-3 on 17 and the par-3 on 8. There's some good quality holes out there. I just don't see them going really low.
If the wind doesn't blow then there will be some good scoring, but when the pressure is on and the pins are in a little more difficult position, and then you get the wind blowing, and it's not as easy to get the ball up-and-down when you miss because there's some severity around the greens with the slope the way the ball chases off that I think the guys are looking forward to it. If you play well and swing well, then you're going to be able to produce the shots. But I don't see anybody shooting too low out there.

Q. You've had a chance to play several Champions Tour events now, your impressions of playing out here.
MARK O'MEARA: Four. That's a lot, I guess. Well the good thing is you get to play five days. So that's nice. I can kind of make my travel arrangements a little easier.
My impressions of the Champions Tour would be that and I knew going into this stage of my life that these guys are good players, very good players. There's been a lot of great quality of golf been played so far this year on the Champions Tour.
Obviously what Fred Funk did and Jay Haas and the guys, I knew they were good and I wouldn't say I thought that they were better than what I thought, I just knew that it was going to be very competitive and I played decent. I haven't played like great, but I played pretty well. I've played better than I have been the last couple of years on the Regular Tour. And I think I had a couple of 5ths and a 10th last week two weeks ago. To where I'm two, three shots out of the lead or something. But I felt like I was in contention. And that was a good feeling to kind of get back into the thick of the battle a little bit.
And I'm he enjoying it. I feel like this is kind of where I belong at this stage of my life. Whatever level you play at, you want to be competitive and you want to win. And certainly that is my, that's been my goal when I came out here this year. I think sometimes people put bigger expectations on one's self than a person will put on themselves on their own. And my expectations were that if I played well that I should be able to compete out here.
If I didn't play well, then I would have to get this guy's job right here.
You don't mind if I come after your job, do you? Okay. So it's been a lot of fun. It is a little more relaxed but still competitive. And when you play well, and you're competing it's easier to say you're having more fun than when you're struggling. If you're not hitting the ball well and not playing at a level that you would like to play at, if I come in here and tell you that I'm having fun then you ought to tell me that I'm full of it, because I am. I'm a competitor and I want to compete and play well and when I don't I wouldn't say that I'm having any fun.

Q. This is a different course than what you guys played in the PLAYERS Championships up the road, but if conditions get a little windy, and looking around at the field with all these past Major championship winners, is it possible that a little mini PLAYERS Championship could break out in terms of difficulty of scoring and difficulty in dealing with the winds out there?
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah I believe that's very true. That's a good observation. I certainly think that this golf course, the design of the course, and the location of the course, and then you get the conditions where it could be a little dicey because it's like British Open for sure. And it's more probably demanding than a British Open because a lot of times some of the holes you can't really run the ball in there. You got elevated greens, you got to come in with some height, but the wind is blowing and you want to keep it low. There's trouble out there, water, natural hazards out there. The last four holes are very, very good. I think that 15th hole out there is a spectacular hole. The par-4 reminds me a little of Seminole. I mean, it's a cool looking design from the tee. All the way from the tee shot to the second shot to the elevated green. It's is just really a nice hole.
16, even though it's a short hole, dogleg to the left around the like, it requires like I said this earlier, like the 16th hole at Doral seems like a nothing hole, but yet it gives the pros all sorts of fits. Should I hit driver, 3-wood, 3-iron. What should I do?
And 16 here is probably even a more difficult hole from the 16th at Doral because you've got a water hazard, you got natural hazards out there. You're going to -- then you got a green that's elevated that's got -- your landing, actual landing area to get the ball close is very, very small. You miss to the right and it goes way off to the right. You miss to the left, you're in a bunker that's deep. So then you're pitching up to a green sloping away.
So that what I'm saying is you have to be pretty accurate with your positioning off the tee, and your thought process if you try to take too much club and you don't hit it absolutely perfect you're through the fairway into the trees and the bushes. So it's going to be a lot of strategy coming down the stretch. Certainly that hole has a big play and then 17, that's just a par-3 that is wonderful. It's maybe 175 or 180 yards, maybe even 185 to the back pin, but yet you throw in a 20 mile an hour wind, and a green that's sitting there like on top of a table top, where it funnels off every side and deep bunkers on all the sides, you're going to have to hit a precision shot. And any time the wind blows, that's what gives the pros havoc and certainly that can happen when you're this close to the see.
Do I think it's as demanding and as difficult as the PLAYERS course? Probably not. But we talked about this earlier, you could definitely have a TOUR event here. With the best players in the world. If the wind didn't blow, okay, well they're going to shoot some good scores. But if the wind starts blowing it's going to be as good a test as any golf course you would ever want to play.

Q. You talked about the steep runoffs off the greens, that the biggest concern about this course?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, it would even be more of one if the golf course wasn't overseeded, but, yeah, I would say that chipping, pitching the ball, creativity, trying to be around pin high or keep your ball below the pin is going to be a thought process that the guys are going to have to have out there. But you're going to miss a lot of greens around there because of that, because of the greens are pretty small. And so I think the short game, the guys who chip and putt well, that's going to have a lot of factor in how they do in this tournament this week.

Q. Do you think guys are going to play very conservative because of that?
MARK O'MEARA: I don't think you can be too conservative. You're going to have to stand up there and hit the shot. Like No. 9 you're in the fairway and hitting a 5- or 6-iron, I mean there's no place to really play safe. You have to hit the shot. And if you don't hit the shot you better have a good short game. To where you're able to loft the ball up a little bit off a tight lie and it's not always easy. Not even for the pros.
So I just believe that you better be striking the ball solid and you better be working on your short game, chipping and putting. It's going to be a big impact.

Q. You talked about being here a couple of years ago with your dad. What was the circumstances?
MARK O'MEARA: No, my father -- my mom passed away about four and a half, five years ago, and they were living in Isleworth with us down there in Orlando and then he wanted to move out after about two years. He came over here and saw this development, liked it very, very much. He bought a lot over here. He had an -- and he built a home right off the 7th hole. So he built the house, and was so excited about it, because he's a New York kind of guy, he loves the ocean, all the members here were all great to him. He loved the membership here. He kept begging me to come up and play. And when I'm not playing competitively or working on a TOUR event or wherever I am in the world I wouldn't say I go play a bunch of different golf courses as a hobby. This is what I've done for a living. So my time off is usually fishing or snowmobiling or something that has nothing to do with golf.
But I came up and played with my dad and I was very impressed with the course and then he moved into his house and I think he was in there for about maybe a year and a half to two years and then he decided the summertime it's hot and he wanted to get out. So he started spending time up in upstate Michigan. Next thing you know he sold his house here and he bought a place up in Harbor Springs, Michigan.
So he lives there now and he doesn't live here and everybody here is like they all came from Harbor Springs to live here. And they're like, what's with your dad? What is he doing up there? Well, he's not there in the winter time. He's in LaQuinta staying at my place. But I came up for my parents and that's the reason why I came here. And I can see why he loved it so much. It's a great place.

Q. (Inaudible.)
MARK O'MEARA: Absolutely. And I had a rough idea that they were talking, I knew that the senior event was going to be here but then when they switched courses I knew they were coming, I was fairly sure they were coming to the course that I had played. So I remembered -- the funny thing about a golf course and I'm in the design business, to me, as a designer, and I haven't done the courses like obviously these guys, I've done three courses around the world. As a designer, I think you want to make a golf course that's challenging, but pleasurable and it makes someone's day enjoyable. The game is tough enough and it's frustrating.
I'm not saying build an easy golf course, but one that you'll remember. So if you went and played it, and then you came back like three or four years later, you would remember it. Remember a lot of the holes. And I played this course two years ago and it was easy to remember a lot of the holes. Because I knew it was a nice golf course.

Q. Are we almost on another era at Augusta back in the '60s when Arnie and Jack were trading off the green jacket every year, and now you got Phil and Tiger one right after the other the last three years. Is there the potential for that kind of domination by two guys and has the course changes really eliminated anybody except for a bomber?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say that -- I know I'm a Masters champion. I would say that certainly Tiger always going to be the top on anybody's list in any Major championship or big event. Phil has played well there too because he hits it far and he's got a great short game. But there's other players in the mix. Like there's Henrik Stenson coming up. So other powerful players with good short games, you know, I would think that Ernie Els has all the ability and tools to be able to win there. I'm surprised he hasn't won there yet. A guy like Retief Goosen, he's a powerful player and a good putter. And the combination of power and touch, that's a must there. And it was always a benefit in the past, but I do believe that I understand where the game has gone. I understand that it's a big power game and there's a lot of players, so they think they got to make the courses longer.
My opinion would be that, in a round about way I see some of that point, but I would tell you that I disagree with that point. And it has nothing to do with me or where I'm at in my life, I would tell you that if you want to put the fear in the powerful players you got to speed the courses up. And you got to make them more accountable.
And what I mean by that is that if it was my course, Augusta National, what I would have done is I would have taken away the rough, I would have narrowed the fairways a little bit like I have taken some of the fairway out on the first hole there and I would have brought the pine needles out more. And you're either in the fairway are or your ball is in the pine needles and going down to the trash and trees. And that's the way I think you put, you make Tiger Woods scared. You make him have more fear.
You don't make the course longer. They already have an advantage in the first place, powerful players do, as well they should have an advantage. But if you make the course longer, that's just playing into their hands. If you grow more grass or try to grow rough that slows the course down. So any time you make the course longer, that favors the powerful player. Any time you grow rough, that favors the powerful player. You think you're trying to make it more accountable, but you're making it easier for them to dominate. Because when you have rough you have to water it. And if you water it that softens the course up. Any time the course is soft, then it's going to be better for the longer player. And once again rightfully so. That's the way it should be.
But I always thought Augusta was about chasing the ball and creativity and hitting these funky chip shots and the greens being fast and the course hard and that's why I always felt like the European players always fared well at a Masters. If you look at the past champions there's a lot of foreign players that have won the Masters championship. Because in Europe they play in a lot of different adverse conditions and you have to be more creative and when the conditions are adverse then you have to have a better short game.
And at Augusta, I don't care who you are, whether you're me, Mike Weir, Tiger Woods, you better have a good short game. It comes down, it -- even though it's a power game, that's still there, which is a big advantage, it still does come down to chipping and putting. The guy who putts the best. If you don't putt well you're not going to win the Masters. And that's pretty much what it's come down to. You got to putt well.
But you're right, it's hard for somebody of my stature or my length to think that they're going to really compete there and win. Everything would have to lineup like the stars and the plan etcetera. Some guys are going to have to stumble over themselves. But Chris Di Marco has had some success there and he's not the longest player. But still, I think the course plays the best at Augusta when it's firm and fast.
And it was funny, because it used to be birdies and eagles coming down the stretch, that kind of the roars and everything. Now it's like, we were talking about it, who can survive. Who is not going to mess up. Who is going to make the least bogeys or doubles coming down the stretch. So it's a whole different philosophy.
But I know that they want to try to make it competitive and have the best player win. And usually whatever they do to a course you're always going to have usually the best player win. It's just a matter of what you try to do.
Like this course here I think would be good because the ball chases and you, like we said, there's a lot of hazards out there. That's what you got to do to keep a guy like Vijay or Tiger or Phil accountable. If you hit it in the hazard it's not like you get to drop it. You pretty much got to go back and retee.

Q. David put a number up there, 67; you go birdie, birdie to beat him; Jack's out there driving everybody crazy with what he did and everything; Furyk had a good day that day. And it was all about birdies and eagles.
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah and Freddie made the eagle on 15, where he stuffed the 6-iron in there or something. Yeah, it was -- I think that's what makes the game special and exciting. So you still hear the roars, but it's not quite the same. And I reckon if you talk to Raymond Floyd or Ben Crenshaw or Fuzzy Zoeller, past Masters champions, they would probably agree with that. And it has nothing to do -- we have had our day in the sun and we would never want to hurt that event. We would always want to make that event more special.
And they do a great job there at Augusta National. You get a ticket, you're a spectator there or viewer there, they do a great job at really running a nice tournament. But when I get up on the fourth hole the par-3, which is a wonderful par-3 and I'm playing a Tuesday practice round with Tiger Woods and he pulls out a 3-wood and hits a high cut, smokes it. Well, what in the hell am I going to be hitting? If Tiger Woods has to hit a 3-wood to a par-3 I better take my driver out and get some kind of superball out to be able to get there. It's 256. Are you kidding me? I mean what was -- I hit a 7 there on Sunday when I played in the final group when they paid played the up tee. Now I'm back there smoking a driver. Whatever.
But the 12th hole is a wonderful hole and they haven't lengthened that. And it creates havoc with the players. Length doesn't always, I think that the, you know, in any golf tournament or any course or any tournament you play, if you want to mess with the pros, the best pros in the world, that you have to create options. You got to make them think. And making a hole 510 yards long par-4 there's not a lot of thought process that goes into that. It's pretty much take out your driver and bombs away.
But, some of the greatest holes in the game are the 12th hole at Augusta, the 10th hole at Riviera. Holes that are actually, God, a guy could drive the green and make a 2 and he could make a 6.
So to me that is kind of where if the equipment is so much better and the ball goes so much further and the athletes are so much bigger, what do we do? Do we, you know, the philosophy has been the last few years we're going to make the courses longer. Instead of 7100 we're going to have 7500. I would say that, you know, okay, no, we don't. But maybe we make a -- how do we do this to make a player more accountable and think? That's kind of where I think that they have missed the boat a little bit. Make them have to shape the ball, force them to fit a ball in there a little bit more. Hold them accountable.

Q. You already talked about the wind and that was going to be my original question. But it leads me to something else. Would you consider this course here on the Champions Tour, to be the toughest you've played on the whole TOUR because of the sea and because of the wind and making the adjustments in clubs and so on? And what advice would you give members here as to how much to club up or down?
MARK O'MEARA: That's a really good question. I would say that I haven't played all the courses on the Champions Tour because I'm a rookie. I'm the new kid on the block. But I would say that this is by far the most challenging course that I've played so far this year on the Champions Tour.
As to the course and how to club, you know, it's, to tell the members or tell the amateurs, you know, it just goes to show you that the short game chipping and putting and knowing how to play certain times of pitch shots around the green is very, very important. This course will force that out of you. You got to play some shots. You can bump and run, try to lob it more, kind of similar to a British Open. Not quite the same as British Open because the British Open's real rock hard and brown. In America everybody wants their golf courses green. And that takes water. H20.
This golf course here is good because it does what we originally talked about. It makes you have to use your head a little bit. And sometimes even with the amateurs, pros alike, you don't club enough, you don't hit enough club, when the wind's blowing, you feel like you got to hit it harder. And the reality what you need to do when the wind is blowing is take more club instead of hitting a 6-iron and trying to hit it harder you're better off taking a 5-iron and choking down on the club a little bit and standing a little bit closer to the ball, and swinging a little bit easier and just trying to hit a lower flight. Move the ball slightly back maybe about a ball or two in your stance. Take more club. Swing easier and flight the ball a little bit lower. Because that take takes the spin off the ball and then it penetrates through the wind better. If you spin the ball a lot and has any side spin or up-spin at all your ball will balloon up in the air or get off in the distance quite a bit more. So you really have to concentrate on swinging a little easier and hitting the ball more solid.

Q. What are your thoughts on being a rookie on the TOUR? Do you feel this course will be the toughest?
MARK O'MEARA: I believe so. I would say so. Especially if the wind comes up. If there's not much wind then I imagine some of the guys will shoot some very great scores. But even with no wind there's still, it's not like they're going to shoot 15-under par for the three days. I just don't see that. And if he this do, then they're much better players than I am. I would think that if you gave me anywhere between four and six or 8-under par, I would be very happy for that as a winning score. And I would be surprised, if the wind blows, I would be surprised if there's many people under par at all at the end of the week. It has that kind of flare about it. Somewhat like a Major championship. Which is nice.

Q. You talked about Augusta, how would you see that quintessential European golfer faring out here?
MARK O'MEARA: Pretty good. I think the European players are pretty creative. They play golf around the globe and in America it's kind of a similar type game, everywhere. Manicured course, watered course, not much conditions. It's not like playing golf at Pebble Beach where the conditions can kind of change. I know I had success there at Pebble, but I've had success in Europe too. Because I played a lot in Europe. The British Open, same thing. The wind can blow there, you got to be able to play low flighted shots. That's what you're going to see this week. And so some of the foreign players that are here that have played in conditions like that, this is very similar to what it was like when we played Kiawah at the Ryder Cup. So there's no place to run and hide out there. You better bring it. You better play pretty well. Or you'll pay the price.

Q. Is there a general rule of thumb you have when there's an ocean right next to you?
MARK O'MEARA: No, not really. Because you don't really seat ocean that much. The only rule of thumb would be is, if the waves look pretty good I wouldn't mind getting a surf board out there and doing some surfing. It looks pretty relaxing. It's never relaxing -- when you're a professional golfer and playing the course, your mind is focused on trying to play well, stay out of trouble, make birdies. We see the hazards out there. We're not super human and we hit bad shots too. So it's a little bit of a grind out there when we're playing.
But once in awhile it's nice to take a look at the scenery, because it is spectacular here. And I think Jack did a super job with the design. There's only a couple areas that I think are probably more difficult than they need to be. But it is funny how when you design a golf course like I designed a golf course in Park City, and some players go, oh, Mark, the course is too hard. I'm thinking, my course isn't any harder than this course here. If you're an average player and you start missing shots out here it's not exactly easy to get the ball up and in around these greens here.
So like I said, golf is -- golf is supposed to challenge the individual. As long as it's not unfair, then it's fine. And this course is challenging, it's tough, but it's not unfair. So that's a good design.

Q. I know a few moments ago you described this TOUR as being kind of more relaxed, but still very competitive. Could you please go into more detail just about some differences between this and the main PGA TOUR?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, what I think is unique about the Champions Tour from what I've seen so far is when I'm playing in the pro-am or in the tournament and I see the leaderboard the names are recognizable out here. Which is really nice.
The players that play on the Champions Tour have had wonderful careers. I understand it's not the PGA TOUR, but yet these guys have had long careers, successful careers, their name has been placed in the history book on what they have accomplished on the Regular Tour and now they're on a new stage of their life, but yet what got those guys to the level that they're at is that they're very competitive. And they work hard and they want to win. And I see that out here. Everybody says like, just have fun. Well, these guys are, they're competitive. They want to win. And a guy like Jay Haas or Fred Funk or Tom Watson or whoever, I mean, you know, Fuzzy Zoeller, they want to win.
And granted, it's not the end of the world whether they win or lose, but yet they know that if they're going to compete, they compete to try to play their best and win and pride is probably the No. 1 factor in making a golfer successful. He has pride and he wants to accomplish things and that's what drives them more than anything else. Not so much the money and everything else like that. But it's the fact that you have 80 guys or 82 guys here and you want to come out on top.
And in golf you tend to lose a lot more than you win. So if winning was the only thing then and you won all the time, then the game wouldn't be as special as it is. But unfortunately you lose a lot of times in this game, but it that keeps bringing you back.

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