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June 13, 2007
RAND JERRIS: Good morning. It's a pleasure to welcome everyone this morning to the annual USGA press conference that is held at the U.S. Open. We're going to start with the agenda this morning with something a little different. I'm joined on stage this morning by Jack Peter, who is the senior vice president and chief operating officer for the World Golf Hall of Fame, and by David Fay, the Executive Director of the United States Golf Association.
I'll turn the program over to David.
DAVID FAY: Thank you, Rand. Good morning. Yes, it is a little unusual for the USGA press conference to start off with something other than the speed of the greens for the U.S. Open but as I turn the mike over to Jack Peter, I hope you will understand the connection with this exciting announcement and the USGA.
JACK PETER: Thank you, David, and thank you all for being here today. I wanted to take a moment to thank Walter Driver and Jim Hyler, especially, and again David Fay for having me today and allowing the Hall of Fame to have this platform.
As you know we have five avenues into the Hall of Fame. Two of those are elected ballots: There is a PGA Tour ballot; an international ballot; the LPGA has a points-based criteria system; and then there are two categories that are up to the discretion of the World Golf Foundation's board of directors, the Lifetime Achievement, and Veteran's Category.
We are here to announce a new inductee in the Lifetime Achievement Category. This individual conceived and constructed the Chicago Golf Club, the first 18-hole golf club in America in 1983 -- that's wrong. (Laughter) 1898. You know, typos, you just can't get away from them, but you all never have typos.
He went on to design such other courses as the National Golf Links of America on Long Island, and a course at Yale and Lido Golf Club in New York. With his urging, five influential clubs joined forces in late 1894 to initiate the Amateur Golf Association, which would become the United States Golf Association.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to announce that Charles Blair Macdonald has been selected for induction by the World Golf Foundation board of directors in the Lifetime Achievement Category. He will be joined by three individuals who have very strong ties to the USGA and U.S. Open. Hubert Green was announced in the Veterans Category; Curtis Strange on the PGA Tour ballot; and last week Se Ri Pak concluded her LPGA points-based criteria.
The final announcement for the class of 2007 will happen at Carnoustie next month, and we hope you can all join us there. The induction ceremony is set for November 12th at the World Golf Hall of Fame at the World Village in St. Augustine.
It is now my pleasure to turn it back to David and make any comments he might want to make on behalf of C. B. Maconald.
DAVID FAY: Thanks you. Certainly C. B. Macdonald is a giant in American golf, and it's no stretch to say that he's the father of organized golf in America. It's no stretch to say that without Charles Blair Macdonald there would be no USGA, there would be no U.S. Open, and through his forceful personality, his strong opinions, well articulated, he really took the game and he made sure that it didn't go astray. He took the learnings that he had, the education he got at St. Andrews, playing against the likes of young Tom Morris, old Tom Morris, and brought it back to this country.
In the early 1890s you really had a bunch of people swatting golf balls around in fields, and he basically took it upon himself to organize the sport. So I know that everyone at the USGA, and I think everybody in American golf, should be delighted at this announcement, that Charles Blair McDonald is in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
JACK PETER: Thank you, David, thank you, Rand. I'll let you get on with your press conference. Thank you very much. (Applause).
RAND JERRIS: David is now joined this morning by Walter Driver, the President of the United States Golf Association, and Jim Hyler, who is the chairman of the USGA Championship Committee. And I'll turn the program over to Walter to open his remarks about the 2007 U.S. Open.
WALTER DRIVER: On behalf of the USGA it's my pleasure to welcome all of you here this week. We're very glad to have all of the media coverage. We are extremely proud of this site, how it's been prepared and all of the preparation that has gone into it. We think it's going to be a marvelous test of golf and look forward to the week going as well as we can make it go, although we may get a little thunderstorm this afternoon, which we obviously can't control.
If you haven't been there, I would urge each of you to go across the Turnpike and go up to the main entrance and see all of that and the things that are available for the spectators as they come in. They can have their picture taken with a replica of the U.S. Open trophy. I understand there were 6,000 people in line to do that yesterday. So you might want to time your visit at some low point in the crowd, but I'm not sure when that is going to be.
So we welcome you all. We are very happy to be here. This has been a long time in the making. The Oakmont people are here in force, and they deserve to be here and be recognized. It's a great deal of work by them, all of which has turned out really well.
We do have an announcement today as to the site of the 2014 United States Open, and that is that we will return to Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, North Carolina in 2014. Bob Dedman (Robert Dedman, Jr.) and Don Padgett (Donald Padgett II) are here.
We're really grateful to you fellas. This is not only a great site, but we have the cooperation of the governor of North Carolina, the Village of Pinehurst, all of the local authorities, all of the huge community that it takes to pull together a really successful Open. We have had two very successful Opens at Pinehurst and look forward to having a third one in 2014.
Bob, Don, thank you for coming and thank you for your help and making this happen, and we look forward to having a third even better U.S. Open than we've had at Pinehurst No. 2. Thank you.
I'll now turn it over to Jim Hyler, who is the chairman of our championship committee, who is responsible for the day-to-day conduct of the U.S. Open and the course setup, along with our staff who have been working here. I was talking to Mike Davis yesterday. I think we first came five years ago to start beginning the course setup work. We met with Bill Griffin and everybody, John Zimmers. I think they will be very proud when we leave, but they will be relieved not to see us come back for a little while, anyway.
JIM HYLER: Thank you, Walter and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It's a real treat to be here. We're certainly excited about being at Oakmont Country Club. What a fabulous place and an incredible golf course that's out there, and we're definitely just real excited to be here, and I'm going to come back and talk about Oakmont in a minute.
But being from North Carolina, I have to just say how proud I am that the 2014 Open is going back to Pinehurst No. 2. This happens to be the 10th anniversary of Pinehurst No. 2 and what fitting tribute for that great course and community to be announcing a return to Pinehurst in 2014.
Well, we are here to conduct the 107th U.S. Open Championship, and this is the 13th USGA Championship to be held at Oakmont Country Club. It's the eighth U.S. Open. There have been more U.S. Opens here than any other golf course in the United States, and I think if you've been around the course, and have spent a little time around here, you understand why this is such a great place to conduct an Open Championship.
We are also returning here in 2010 for the Women's Open Championship, so we will be back very shortly with a little different approach to setup, but we look forward to being here for the Women's Open.
I'm going to make a few very general comments about our U.S. Open setup philosophy, and then I'll zero right in and talk quite a bit about the setup of Oakmont.
In the fall of 2005, we established what we call our U.S. Open setup philosophy, and that philosophy is on our Web site. It's also contained in the press kits that you all got, and there are 14 points that we really adhere to in our setup process.
Now, I'm not going to go through all of those points, but let me just hit on a few of those. First of all, we want this Championship to be the most rigorous test in golf. It is our National Championship. So the way we approach the setup of the golf course is hard, difficult, but fair, and that's what our setup philosophy gives us.
We have no target score for the U.S. Open, and we've stated that on many occasions and many venues. In fact, it's never been discussed. We're going to set up the golf course to be hard and fair, whatever the winning score turns out to be is just what it turns out to be.
At Winged Foot last year, the winning score was plus five. After that, the players to a person said, yeah, it was very difficult, but it was also a very fair test of golf.
This year at Oakmont we are going to continue with three new concepts that we introduced in 2006 at Winged Foot. And these three concepts are first of all, the graduated rough, the step-cut of rough. We will have a first primary cut of rough here just off the intermediate cut, and today that first primary cut of rough is cut at 2 3/4 inches, and it's about 20 feet outside the intermediate cut of rough. After about 20 feet of rough, we get into our second cut of rough, and that's 5 inches. We are using that step cut of rough under the philosophy that the further off line you hit the ball, the greater penalty you incur.
The second concept that we introduced last year at the Open is the idea of alternative teeing grounds, and we will do that again this year at Oakmont. Hole No. 8, we will play it at 252 or around 288. I'll talk more about No. 8 in a bit.
Hole 10, 435 or 462 and hole 12, the downhill par 5, 632 and 667. We will actually use the back teeing ground of hole 10 as the back teeing ground of hole 12.
The third concept that we introduced last year, and we think in a subtle way this is the most important one, and that is we made every effort at Winged Foot, and we are doing it again this year, to give the players the same course on Sunday that they experienced in their first practice round on Monday. And that pertains to two primary things.
First are the green speeds, and I'll talk more about the greens here in a moment. But we ask for green speeds here of 13 and a half to 14 1/2 on the Stimpmeter, and that's exactly where we are, and we are going to work to try and maintain that green speed throughout the week.
The second is consistent rough heights. And I mentioned the first primary cut and the second primary cut, and we are actually mowing the first primary cut every day, so that will stay at 2 3/4. The second primary cut of 5 inches is being mowed every other day. So we will not be letting the rough go and get longer throughout the course of the week.
So again, back to consistency. We want to give the players a consistent course throughout the week, not one that gets progressively harder. The greens get faster, the rough gets longer as the week goes on.
Now, the one fly in the ointment that can impact that, of course, is weather. And the weather forecast as of right now, there's about a 50 percent chance of rain maybe late today or tonight. We could get anywhere from a 10th of an inch to maybe as much as three quarters of an inch, maybe an inch. If we get that much rain, then that will have a significant impact on the firmness of the course for the rest of the week.
So let me talk a little now about Oakmont in particular. This is a wonderful golf course. I mean, we could just not be more excited about being here and contesting this Open at Oakmont. And the changes that have been made to the course since 1994 are very apparent when you walk out behind the clubhouse, and it is really a fantastic test of golf. And as you have seen, it is in incredible condition. The grooming, the maintenance, it's just an incredible golf course.
But there's a great ebb and flow to the holes of Oakmont. There are short holes, there are long holes; in fact, there are three, we think, three drivable par 4s that some of the players will try to drive during the course of the week: Hole 2, hole 14 and hole 17. You might say we have a drivable par 3, as well, with what we might do on hole 8.
But over the weekend there will certainly be a lot of drama on these shorter par 4s as the players perhaps take some risks and try to drive the green. We do have what we call a risk/reward rough around these holes, 2, 14 and 17, and starting about 25 yards in front of the green, the first primary cut is only about six feet, and then the second primary cut will be about six inches. So if a player tries to drive these three shorter par 4s and they miss the green, they will have more of a challenge in the rough to try to save par or even make a three.
There are not many doglegs at Oakmont. But most of the holes are fairly straight. There are a fair number of blind holes, blind shots here, or semi blind, and that is a unique feature for Oakmont and that requires the players to do a really good job in picking their lines.
Really, the thing about Oakmont that perhaps sets it apart from the other venues are the putting greens, the greens complexes. And ladies and gentlemen, these greens are scary. They are fast, make no mistake about it. They are indeed a true test of putting skill and nerves, and they really place a premium on approach shots, trying to get the approach shots below the holes.
Let me talk a little about hole locations, and let me -- I'm going to take a couple of minutes and sort of walk you through the process that we have gone through to select the hole locations for the week.
Last fall, Mike Davis and our team came up and picked out the preliminary hole locations. Last Thursday and Friday, we went around and we looked at all 90 hole locations and we made adjustments probably on 25 percent of those hole locations to find hole locations that will work with the green speeds that we have.
We have continued to look at all 90 hole locations every day since last Friday. So five times since our initial review of the hole locations we have been out there, pulled the tape, and looked at every one of these hole locations every single day trying to make sure that we are giving the players fair hole locations.
And each morning, we will really look at them again as we go through our setup and again, just making sure that we don't go over the edge.
Green speeds, as I said, we asked for 13 1/2 to 14 1/2, and that's exactly where we are. We are using a Stimpmeter to review the speeds on these greens several times a day. The greens are very consistent in their green speeds. We are measuring them at a single place on each green, and what our readings give us really is a baseline in terms of information that we have to use in our management of the greens throughout the week.
We also used a digital level in our review of the hole locations, and that is the level that we put on the ground, and we are reviewing the slopes, the grade of the slopes, all around the holes and then the run-offs; again, to make sure that we are giving the players fair hole locations.
Firmness; we had a rain event here last Friday night. We got an inch and a half dump of rain, and that introduced a little bit of softness to the golf course, and we have been working really hard to sort of get that firmness out of the fairways and the greens. Depending on the rain, but if we get no rain, we will be in a perfect place to really manage the golf course and get it and keep it the way it is now, basically, for the rest of the week.
Starting back in 1999, Oakmont undertook a tremendous restoration project, and the result of that project is basically what you see out there today. Around 4,000 trees were removed. The course has been taken back to the original design. The fairway bunkers and ditches now are very much in play. In fact, these drainage ditches come into play on 12 of the 18 holes. They are all marked at lateral water hazards.
And here at Oakmont, in previous Opens there was actually rough between the fairways and these drainage ditches. And for this Open, we have actually widened some of the fairways, and the drainage ditches are actually close to the fairways on a number of holes.
All of the bunkers have been redone, they are now the original design, they are very severe, and in some cases there might be a situation where the players would rather actually be in the rough than in some of these fairway bunkers because of the severity. Our fairway widths are 22 to 50 yards. The bunker prep, purposely we softened the sand in our bunkers for USGA Championship and that adds a little bit to the difficulty of playing bunker shots. As to the furrowing of the bunkers, we really did not consider doing that because of the nature of the sand. When that technique was used years ago here, it was a much heavier sand, and it worked, it would just not work doing it with the sand that we have here today.
Okay, No. 8. Talk a little about hole No. 8. That hole was designed to play a long iron or a fairway wood downhill. There's a 40-yard approach between the cross bunker and the front of the green. It was designed to play a shot to run up on to the green. It's a huge green. The hole has played at 250-plus yards for every Open Championship going back since the design of the course. There was a new teeing ground built, that's 288 to the middle of the green.
We have observed players this week hitting 2- and 3-irons on the green. We have also observed players hitting hybrids on the green and drivers on the green. So from that back teeing ground, there will be a whole host of clubs used as they play it.
On Sunday, depending on conditions, we may play it at around 300 yards. It will depend on the firmness of the golf course, but that is an option and we will see how it comes out on Sunday.
I will share this with you. Yesterday being out there, we overheard a player comment about No. 8. The comment was, "This is the only hole he had ever seen that you could have a long drive and a closest-to-the-hole on the same hole; contest, long drive, closest-to-the-hole contest. (Laughter).
I'll conclude by recognizing a bunch of people in the fourth row there on this side. Oakmont today is truly, I think, one of the best-conditioned golf courses ever for a major championship. It is in fabulous condition. John Zimmers is the golf course superintendent. John, how about just raise your hand. John and his team -- (applause). John and his team have done a fantastic job in grooming and conditioning this course. Ladies and gentlemen, this course is about as perfect as you could get it. It really is. It's just about perfect. The greens are consistent. They are true. Even though they are fast and have a lot of contours, we are going to see a lot of putts made out here this week because they are so good.
I also want to recognize Bill Griffin, who is the president of Oakmont; Chris Donouhue, the greens committee chairman; Mickey Pohl is the general chairman of the 2007 U.S. Open, and Tom Wallace is the club manager. Really, our thanks to the entire Oakmont team for the job they have done not only in preparing the course but in working with our team professionals to put in place all of the infrastructure that is required today outside the ropes to conduct a major golf championship.
To all of you, thank you, great job, and it's been a real treat working with you.
Ladies and gentlemen, we will now stop and we will open it up for questions.
Q. I know you don't have a target score, but do you ever intentionally try to make a venue more difficult because scoring was very good, for instance, 2003 at Olympia, the last run of Opens have been more difficult; and any reaction to that?
JIM HYLER: No. I talked about our course setup philosophy in wanting to have a rigorous -- a very rigorous but very fair test. We have no thought of score when we set up the golf course, and any scores of Opens in past have no impact on the way we setup the course. We never discuss score, target score.
Q. Jim, when you set up a course for the U.S. Open, how much are you endeavoring to test the intangibles, poise, patience, maturity in addition to skill?
JIM HYLER: Well, I think you would have to say that's a major part of the test, a player's ability to not let bad shots get to them; their ability to grind it out. Certainly this course is set up that if it will test a player's mental ability, their mental toughness, their ability to continue to grind, they are going to hit some shots in the rough. They are going to hit some shots in the bunkers, and absolutely that's a major part of determining a U.S. Open Champion.
Q. Can you address the unusual situation of the practice putting green being connected to the 9th putting green?
JIM HYLER: In what way?
Q. As far as what is legal, when they can putt in the Championship and where they can putt?
JIM HYLER: Oakmont does have the very unique feature, as you well know, the practice putting green being a part of the 9th putting green and it does bring in a question of an interesting rules situation, a potential rules situation that in stroke-play competition, you cannot practice on the course during the competition.
If you go to the side of the putting green there, you will notice two blue stakes on each side of the green, and a blue dotted line actually painted across the putting green. And we have notified the players through at least three different ways that once the competition starts tomorrow, that they cannot putt to or from the 9th putting green, which would be on the golf course side of that blue line. And the penalty for that is disqualification.
So it's a severe penalty, but we have I think gone to great lengths to make sure that they understand it and hopefully we won't have a rules situation. But it is a very unique feature of Oakmont.
Q. You mentioned the renovations, all of the trees that were taken away; one addition from '94 is the new bridge. Just your thoughts on the USGA's impact on that bridge and making it a better golf course for the gallery.
DAVID FAY: That bridge is very important. In fact, I'm looking at my friends from Oakmont and saying that if we had not -- if the bridge had not been constructed, we probably wouldn't be here today; that's how important it is in terms of the gallery flow.
If you were here in '94, if you were here in '83, it was gridlock alert going from 1 to 2 and 8 to 9. I'm not surprised they were not causing helicopter traffic with choppers overhead.
Thanks to the generosity of the Oakmont membership, the bridge was constructed. It was here for the 2003 U.S. Amateur, but that bridge was vital to bringing an Open back to Oakmont.
JIM HYLER: Just to tag onto that, it's crucial for flow back and forth across the Turnpike.
Q. Wonder if anybody up there could respond to the idea of what reaction you're getting from players thus far, and how does the USGA define the difference between rigorous and sadistic? (Laughter)
JIM HYLER: The player comments so far have been pretty uniform that the golf course is incredibly well maintained. It is hard, very hard, but fair. I think that's been the predominance of the comments.
As to rigorous to sadistic, again I'm going to come back to our U.S. Open setup philosophy; that that's the way we're going to set up the golf courses. We have specific ways we are addressing the fairway woods, the bunkers, green speeds, hole locations and we are trying to make very sure -- and we are approaching these greens this week very carefully, very carefully to make sure that we don't get over the edge on a hole location.
So we are going to go back to that U.S. Open philosophy every time; that's our guiding principle.
Q. Jim or David; David, you said a second ago that without the bridge that was built, we might not be here today. How about could you say the same for some of the back tees like the tees on 8, the tees on 12 that make the holes play 300 yards or 670 yards? How important were those tees to getting an Open?
WALTER DRIVER: Well, most of those course changes were done at the initiative of Oakmont, not at the USGA. We certainly consulted with them on those changes but we have, as I said, coming here for five years. In most of the cases, the Oakmont Club wanted to have the holes play as they traditionally played, and it was their decision to put those tees in. We were consulted but we did not mandate any of those tees.
Q. This is for Walter and/or David. Johnny Miller came in yesterday and said he thought that this was the -- I think he said, "Greatest golf course in the world right now." I'm interested in your reaction to that, and do you agree with that? I know you have other courses in your rotation.
WALTER DRIVER: I was told when I took this job that saying anything negative about any golf course was like insulting someone's spouse, and you better not do that.
So I think this is a great golf course. As to comparing it to other golf courses. I'm not going to go there, but this is one of the great golf courses in the United States without any question.
DAVID FAY: By the way, the first person to make that comment about insulting one's spouse, Charles Blair McDonald. I've got to get that plug in.
Q. Maybe my question will follow-up on that. Yesterday we heard players and Johnny Miller talk about, this is the greatest golf course, this is the hardest golf course we've ever seen. My question is, what's the correlation between something has to be the hardest golf course to be the best golf course for your purposes or can it be something less than that?
WALTER DRIVER: Jerry, I don't know how you would define "hardest" and how would you define "best." I think every person has their own view of that. But for U.S. Open purposes, we want courses that are considered both very good and courses that can test the best players in the world. And I think Oakmont clearly does both of those things.
DAVID FAY: And for those who follow the game, I've looked back at Bob Sommers; for players to call Oakmont the hardest golf course they have ever seen, perhaps the best golf course is nothing new. It started back in 1927 at the first U.S. Open that was played here. It is a hard course. But it is a fair course. It is in so many ways a unique course.
It's remarkable that a national landmark that was built in 1903, to have the greens that were essentially there in 1903 continue to be a great test of championship golf in the 21st century.
Q. Another thing that Johnny Miller said yesterday was he's hearing more and more players talk about how this is a tournament they love to win but sometimes hate to play and there have been some examples in the past eight years or so of events that did get across the line a little bit in certain places. Do you think this is an important week for you guys with the weather, the course conditions to prove that you can walk that fine line between fair and unfair?
WALTER DRIVER: I was talking to Mike Davis, who is our senior director of rules and competitions, and when he took that position two years ago, three years ago, and we determined that our goal for the USGA needs to be to have impeccable U.S. Opens. We believe we have now had two impeccable U.S. Opens. We think we are well on our way to a third, and we think we'll keep that up all the way to 2014, and that's our goal and we intend to achieve it.
Q. I guess for Jim or David, regarding Pinehurst, do you guys envision -- were you happy with the way the course was set up last time, and do you have any changes in mind before you get to that course in 2014?
JIM HYLER: Well, we were very pleased with the way it played in 2005. It's way too early to talk about 2014 from a setup standpoint. I would point out the Amateur is there next year, to be held on Courses 2 and 4. We have been there to look at those courses and don't see any change to the setup on No. 2 relative to what we had in 2005.
Q. Wonder, did the USGA get involved at all in any decision making on the trees and the tree removal; were you consulted, were you happy with the course in '94 the way it was?
JIM HYLER: Yes. We had a great Open here in '94, as all of the Opens here have been great Opens. If you look back at the champions here, they are some of the greatest players of the game. But the tree removal project was totally a part of the renovation and restoration project of the club.
I will just say that they did keep us informed about what they were doing but it was totally at their initiative.
WALTER DRIVER: Thank you very much for coming. We look forward to a great week and hope you enjoy it as much as we think you will.
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