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June 27, 2007
SOUTHERN PINES, NORTH CAROLINA
RHONDA GLENN: Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to welcome you to the 2007 U.S. Women's Open USGA Press Conference. To your left is Mike Davis, the Senior Director of Rules and Competitions for the USGA. To the extreme right is David B. Fay, the Executive Director of the United States Golf Association, and at the center is Roberta Bolduc, who is the Chairman of the USGA Women's Committee. Roberta is going to have a few remarks and then make announcement.
ROBERTA BOLDUC: Good morning all. I'd like to welcome you on behalf of the USGA and the Women's Committee, welcome you to Pine Needles. We're delighted to have you here. We're looking forward to an absolutely fantastic week. It's our pleasure to be back at Pine Needles, and we wanted to thank Mrs. Bell and Kelly and the family for being such strong supporters of the United States Golf Association, especially the Women's Open.
I do have a special announcement before we get into the business at hand. I'm delighted to announce that the site has been chosen for the 2011 Women's Open Championship. We're going to be at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Obviously we go from week to week, year to year, but we're certainly looking forward to that event coming down the road. Russ Miller, the Director of Golf at the Broadmoor is here, if you wish to speak with him after the press conference.
Also Kelly Miller is here, I'm sure he'd be happy to talk with any of you later on.
I will turn things back to Rhonda.
RHONDA GLENN: Mike Davis will now address the course setup and then we'll open the floor to questions, which you may direct to any of these three participants.
MIKE DAVIS: First of all, as Roberta just said, we are delighted to be back here. I think many of you know this is our third national Women's Open Championship in 12 years, and that really is unprecedented, at least in the modern era. The question we keep getting is why are you coming back here so often? The easy answer is it's just a great, great golf course. We get wonderful support from the Bell family, the Southern Pines community, Moore County and the State of North Carolina.
So I suppose as long as we keep getting these invitations I can't imagine we wouldn't come back. It's a great venue for us, it's a great test of golf. It's a little different test of golf, too.
But Rhonda had asked if I'd speak a little bit about course preparations and the setup. We are playing this event, relative to the last two Women's Opens here, about a month later. One of the things that that's done is we are now playing on a Bermudagrass golf course, versus an over seeded ryegrass golf course. And that really is pretty significant in terms of how the golf course is going to play.
Ryegrass, as most of you know, is a rather sticky kind of grass versus Bermuda, assuming we can get some dry conditions, really gives us more bouncing conditions, but at the same time what it does do is it changes some of the conditions, which I'll talk about in a little bit around the closely mown areas, which become grainy more than an over seeded rye.
We're going to be playing the golf cause at 6644 yards, that's what's on the score card. That is roughly 400 yards longer than we played the last two Women's Opens. I guess to talk a little bit about that, and the reasons, first of all, we played the last two Women's Open as a par-70. This time around we're playing it as a par 71.
And we've changed the 15th hole, and it's gone back to a par-5, which is originally how Donald Ross designed it. I'll talk about the renovations that were done a couple of years ago. But that would be one big reasons.
The other things are in essence we've got three other holes that are playing longer than they did. One is No. 2, which is playing, I think somewhere around 40 yards longer, and the reason we've done that is -- let me preface these comments by saying that the players, just like the men, are hitting the ball further than they used to, too.
But one of the things we found, at least in the last Women's Open, is a lot of the players on that second hole were driving it over the hill, which really was not how the hole was designed. So we've moved it back a little bit to really put what Donald Ross wanted back into play, kind of the flat drive zone. And certainly the green is very receptive to long shots.
The 10th hole, that's playing some, I think it's about 60 yards longer. That was because of the renovation, which again I'll go back to shortly, but the putting green there was moved back roughly 60 yards, which really makes it more of a legitimate par-5, a three shot par-5.
Then we're playing the 15th hole as a par- 5. That's added some distance.
The other hole that also a new tee was added during the renovation was the 12th hole. That's one that -- that's going to be, in my opinion, one of the harder holes on the course.
That's really where most of the 400 yards are made up of. What other changes have we had from the other last couple of Women's Open? I think probably the biggest one is we are playing a Bermudagrass golf course. That obviously changes things when you come to the rough.
Bermuda rough as we all know is a more penal rough, because the ball falls to the bottom; versus over seeded rye, the ball sits up a bit. And the fairways tend to run a little bit more.
We're going to be cognizant of the fact that if we do get a lot of rain this week, just because we set the tee signs at a certain place doesn't mean we actually have to play from there. We'll be watching the golf course, and if it gets where the ball is not running, we will make the necessary adjustments.
The renovation, as I mentioned before, were done a couple of years ago, between the Bell family and John Fought. John is here somewhere. Where are you, John?
John, I can't give enough accolades to the job he did, at least my personal view. He really took the putting greens back to the way Donald Ross had them. He did a tremendous amount of research in looking with the way the greens used to be. And I think essentially put the greens back to the way they are. And for us they gave a lot more hole locations. And from a player's standpoint they became more strategic. They'd become kind of rounded. Hats off to John, who by the way is our '77 U.S. Amateur champ and former Walker Cupper and Tour player. He and Kelly Miller spent a lot of time on this. From the USGA standpoint we couldn't be happier.
The closely mown areas were taken out much further than they were for the last Women's Open. Where you had balls rolling off before, rolling into rough, much like you see at Pinehurst No. 2, they stay in a closely mown area, which I think really we're excited about. It gives the players really three options, putt it, bump-and-run it, or pitch it. We have tried in this setup in theory to kind of replicate what we do at Pinehurst No. 2 in the setup, in the sense that we want relatively firm greens, but because so many greens sit up in the air, we're cognizant we can't get them too firm, in that a well struck shot has to fly, in many cases to the greens.
You take a green like the 18th, that if you can't land the ball, at least a well struck shot on the green and hold it, almost becomes an unfair situations.
So we're excited. The closely mown areas, it's really interesting about those. When we set up the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst we found out really in hindsight that the closely mown areas were just too closely mown, and almost in every instance the players were taking a putter to putt off.
So we corrected that in '05 and raised the height just a little bit, so we saw putts, we saw bump and runs, and pitch shots. In a perfect world you'd love to see about a third, a third and a third.
Here we're seeing, because it's a couple of weeks later, essentially we prepped this thing, in terms of heights, just that extra two weeks of Bermuda growing has made them a little grainier. Watching and hitting shots myself you'll see a few less putts than we hoped. All in all we couldn't be more pleased with the golf course.
The putting greens this week have been prepped to 12 and a half in terms of an average speed. We feel that at speed they're very fair, but they're challenging. We feel all 72 hole locations will not present a problem.
Generally speaking, when you get up on these Pine Needles greens, they are not incredibly undulating. The trick is, just like Pinehurst No. 2, is getting yourself up on top. We're happy with that speed. We've had that during practice rounds and we intend to maintain that speed for the championship rounds.
The rough this week, you'll see, like we've done the last couple of U.S. Opens and couple of Women's Opens, we have done the graduated rough. You will also note that the first, what we call the first cut of primary is mown to one and three-quarters inches and it has a little brown tinge to it. That was done because when we first got here it was a bit higher, a bit more penal than we wanted. We've taken it down and it's stressed it out a bit. We feel despite the color indication, it's playing beautiful. Paula Creamer came up to me a few hours, and she said I love what you've done with that wispy, tan rough. I kind of got a kick out of that one.
We're happy with that. Beyond that, the second cut of primary is at three inches, which was, interestingly enough, that's what we cut the first cut of primary rough at Pinehurst No. 2 for the Open. We obviously have to keep the rough down a little bit for the women. We're happy with that.
Beyond that, I think that's probably it in terms of course prep things and turn it over to Rhonda and certainly happy to answer any questions.
RHONDA GLENN: We'll take questions now, if you'll just wait for the microphone to come to you. You may address either Mike, Roberta, or David Fay.
Q. Mike, how unusual is it to have players come up and say we like the way you set up the course, especially compared to some of the things you heard at Oakmont a couple of weeks ago, and does that kind of make you feel good to have players do that?
MIKE DAVIS: Well, the quick answer is yes. But remember that it's not Thursday yet. We're so used to positive comments during practice rounds. And the trick is -- you know, I guess to think about it, if we don't get a few gripes during a championship, I think as David and I have talked before, we're not quite sure we set the championship up right.
I think for what we're trying to do for their championships and really trying to test every aspect of their game for the nth degree, it is going to be a hard test. In theory it's the hardest test they have all year. The Women's Open is no different than the U.S. Open, no different than the U.S. Amateur, no different than the Girls Junior. In theory we want to take that type of player and test them as much as we can without having it be an unfair test where well executed shots aren't rewarded.
One thing I forget to mention before is, I do want to acknowledge Dave Fruchte, he's the long time superintendent, he has done a great job. Dave, afterwards if you have any technical agronomic questions -- raise your hand.
Q. How close are you for coming up with a Women's Open date for Pebble?
DAVID FAY: We know the year, it's 2014. But we have not finalized the date.
Q. What are the options on the date? I got a sense you were kind of looking at the Women's Open, two weeks after the men in the last week of June?
DAVID FAY: We just announced the 2014 U.S. Open two weeks, give us a little time. It's going to be at Pebble in 2014. We're not going to play concurrently with the AT&T. It will be sometime in the summer.
Q. I wonder if you could discuss the reasoning for the playoff being changed for the women, and also the rationale for not doing the same thing for the men?
DAVID FAY: Are you directing that to me or to Roberta or Mike?
Q. You, David. And if Roberta wants to chime in.
DAVID FAY: Well, as you know, we moved to a multiple hole playoff, some call it The British Open style. I call it the Met Golf Association style, since we started that in 1976.
But we started that for the Senior Open. And then last year we had a discussion with the Women's Committee, the Executive Committee, and we ended up concluding that we wanted to change to the same type of format for the Women's Open.
Obviously, the question you're asking is a good one, why are you still holding out, if you will, for the U.S. Open. The answer is there is no feeling at this time to change that format. And it's a very subjective opinion that we feel that, just as the Women's Open, it's the preeminent championship in women's golf, we concluded that we wanted to have the Women's Open, if at all possible, finish on a Sunday.
If you're asking why don't we have that for the men, for the U.S. Open, we're not there. I won't say we're not there yet, it will never happen. But we're not there. To get into the explanation as to why would probably require a long discussion. But obviously we're treating them differently.
But we took a look at the championship. We took a look at the number of people who were impacted. We took a look at television. I know that some don't want to hear that. We took a look at the print media. And we also take a look at our schedule, too.
For example, if we'd had a playoff this week we'd be playing on Monday. We're starting at Whistling Straits on Monday. It's a matter of getting equipment up there. There are a lot of components that go into it.
I'm not holding back anything, but for me to say we're not viewing them differently, my nose would grow. We're viewing them differently at this point.
Q. I have read, and there has been some criticism of this in terms of the women sort of being, well, it's not as important as the Men's Open. Did you hear some of that criticism, was that a concern of yours that this diminishes the event in any way, shape, or form?
ROBERTA BOLDUC: I haven't heard a great deal. I guess I heard a comment here and there that it was a different treatment. It does not diminish it in my mind. I think it makes a whole lot more sense, to be quite honest. You crown a champion at a finite point in time. Whether that's 72 holes, 75 holes, or 90 holes, you're still going to have the champion.
As David said, there were so many factors involved, I do think it makes a great deal of sense at this point in time.
Q. If you look back to 1996 when the Women's Open was first here at Pine Needles, the total purse for the LPGA has essentially doubled in 11 years, basically doubled. What's driving that and what has that meant for the Tour?
DAVID FAY: I'm sorry, the purse for the LPGA --
Q. Well, the purse for the LPGA has essentially doubled. In the past 11 years the purse has basically doubled.
DAVID FAY: You mean the Women's Open?
Q. No, the Women's Tour. Basically the money has doubled in 11 years. What's driving that?
DAVID FAY: Well, it's my opinion that professional sports is an entertainment industry and I think there's just more value that people are ascribing to the entertainers. More people are interested in golf, that there's more coverage of women's golf, and there are perhaps more compelling stories.
I don't think that this money is just falling from the sky. It's effort on the part of the LPGA to promote its product. And it's the fact that the product has, in the marketplace, some real economic value.
ROBERTA BOLDUC: Actually, we met with Carolyn Bivens this morning and discussed the state of the LPGA Tour, and it is just growing by leaps and bounds. I think we have some wonderful players emerging from the junior ranks. Think back to ten or however many years ago, you didn't have very many teenagers playing on the LPGA Tour. Now we have some who are extremely accomplished players.
I think that's the driving force, as far as I can see, it's just becoming more and more popular?
Q. David, I was interested in your take on the notion of 12 and 13 years old playing in this event. Whether you think that's good, bad, mixed bag, developmentally for them, and whether there's been a discussion on age prohibition, or is that what makes the Open, the Open?
DAVID FAY: If they qualify, it's a good thing. It's a good thing that Morgan Pressel qualified as a 12 year old plus. It's good that we have a 12 year old plus this week.
There's a lot of comment on, are you pushing players too soon. I expect that if a 12 year old who makes it here had not made it here, she'd be playing golf -- she'd probably be playing more golf at home.
We all know now that the world consists of, when summer time breaks, for most kids it's one sports camp after another. I don't get the sense that the players who are here aren't here because -- nobody is forcing them. And they have the game. I think that at the end of the day is really the answer. It's the U.S. Women's Open and just like the U.S. Open, I like to call the U.S. Open and I'd call the U.S. Women's Open the same thing, it's the most democratic, not a political term, it's the most democratic golf tournament in the world. That if you have the ability and if you have -- if you're an amateur -- the handicap index to give it a go, you give it a go. And if you have the game, you're here. It will be a nice story to see unfold.
Q. On the playoff situation, did you get feedback from players at all before the decision was made? And the flip side of that is did the men at Oakmont say, it's a great idea and say, why don't we do that, too?
DAVID FAY: We read the papers and you get feedback from players who make comments every year when we have a playoff. We've had comments from players in the news publications about the U.S. Open.
So, yeah, we're not going to not read or not listen to what the players have to say. And that was part of the consideration, too. I think it would be safe to say that most of the players would prefer to finish on a Sunday. But if you're in the playoff and if -- who knows what would have happened if it had finished last year on Sunday at Newport. You might have had a different outcome.
It's a very -- I don't want to hide behind this, but it's a complex issue. But the quick answer is, yes, we listen to the players. We know what they feel.
Q. David, as we talked about money earlier on the LPGA Tour, could you talk about if you've projected at some point when this tournament or this championship is actually going to make a profit?
DAVID FAY: Well, make a profit, it will make a profit, I think, in my mind, it's profitable now, in a sense. It's not dollars and cents, but it's profitable because it provides a great platform for women's golf, more coverage, more notoriety worldwide than any others.
But in terms of dollars and cents, well, if you've got 40,000 people here a day, if you had a number of hospitality tents, those are the economic considerations. But I expect that I will live to see the day and be part of it when someone is able to say it makes a profit.
You know, another thing, too, is that it's the prize money, which we are thrilled to be offering. There might have been a time, oh, back in almost the -- a while ago, maybe 1979 at Brooklawn where actually we did make a profit. There were times, but that was a different era.
So I'll tell you what, we certainly are not going to angst over that, we shouldn't. We regard this as the preimminent championship in women's golf. Frankly, I think it's one of the top five women's competitions in sport. And we're not going to operate on the cheap when it comes to the Women's Open.
Q. You spoke of this course being 200 yards longer than the last two Opens and lengthening the second hole because they're hitting longer. I'm going to ask you what I've asked a couple of other girls, Mac O'Grady made this statement, "What Michelle Wie is doing is not humanly possible, it's technologically possible because the ball goes too straight, they go too far."
Could you address how the women are hitting because of equipment or is that a problem or what?
MIKE DAVIS: I'm going to turn part of this over to David, but if I did misspeak, the course is roughly 400 yards longer. But it's also a par of 71 versus 70. So I apologize if I did misspeak.
When we set the course up there was never any type of mindset, at all beforehand, saying, we want to play the course 400 yards longer, nor a mindset of we want to change the par. It was simply going hole-by-hole and saying how is this hole best played given the current state of the game with how the women are playing.
I think in those holes I mentioned the feeling was that the hole would play better. And I think that -- are the women hitting it a little bit further than they were five, six years ago? Yes. Are amateurs hitting it farther? Yes. Are the men hitting it further? Yes.
I think if we look back in '01 we would have all concluded that we should have played the holes a little bit longer in '01 than we did.
We set it up and at the end of it we just add up 18 yardages from 18 holes and that's what the total comes up with.
With respect to the rest of it I'll turn it over to my cohorts here.
ROBERTA BOLDUC: I have a little vignette. I would question the premise there, about Michelle not being able to do that. Because I recall watching her hit a specific shot a couple of summers ago at the Curtis Cup match at Formby. I happened to be standing right behind her. And her ball was in the heather. And she took a couple of practice swings in another patch of the heather and stripped it clean. And then she stepped up to the ball and striped it. She has an incredibly powerful golf swing. I was awe struck when I saw it. I don't necessarily agree with the premise.
DAVID FAY: I think it's insulating to women that Mac O'Grady would say that. Why wouldn't they hit it longer? As Mike said, everyone else does. These are very talented athletes. Is he going to say that about Laura Davies? Is he going to say that about Annika? This is a reflection of the talent that you see out there.
Q. Looking for an opinion from you, is there a message or a lesson in the fact that there are more international players in the field than there are American players in the field here?
DAVID FAY: Well, I think the lesson is it's global. I think that it may be that in other countries that there is more of an emphasis on identifying elite players in any particular sport and putting them into development programs, formalized development programs at an early age.
And it may be that in the United States there are so many opportunities now for young women to -- the sports that they can avail themselves of. Of course, it's still -- there's still a finite number of sports where you can make a good living off of it as a professional.
So I think that -- I can see the trend changing in that respect. I think that, again, I think the Title IX is probably at the end of the day going to encourage more young women to, as they go through all the different sports that hopefully they're exposed to, lacrosse, field hockey, ice hockey, sooner or later they're going to say, I can really make a good living, I'm a good athlete and I can make a good living for quite a long time playing golf.
So I think that you will see a change in that. That's not to say it won't continue to be global. That's not to say that the Women's Open champion, when we're at Broadmoor, might not be from China. Who knows? But it's definitely an international game. I think that you're going to see more American players, young American players, based on what we see at the U.S. Girls Junior and AJGA, you're going to see more younger Americans emerging and doing better.
Q. On the playoff, have you told us what the holes are?
MIKE DAVIS: No. They will actually be holes 16, 17, and 18. It's aggregate. So it's the total score for those three holes.
If we're still tied we will go back to hole 16 on a hole-by-hole basis.
Q. Sudden death?
MIKE DAVIS: Sudden death, if you will.
Q. Sudden death starting at 16?
MIKE DAVIS: 16, 17, 18, continuing in that order, until we finally do get a champion.
DAVID FAY: On the uniqueness of playoff, I may have this wrong, I don't think any other women's championship has the multiple hole aggregate stroke playoff.
MIKE DAVIS: I think that's correct. I think this is the only aggregate.
Q. From a financial and attendance standpoint, and this is for Roberta and David, how do you project this Open is going to do, is going to rank? Will you be able to surpass Cherry Hills as far as attendance is concerned?
ROBERTA BOLDUC: Given the way we're tracking right now, I think it's a distinct possibility. How do we project? It's very difficult. Yesterday afternoon would not have brought out big crowds.
I'm hoping that the weather will cooperate. We think that given the interest here in this part of the country that we should have a very fine attendance.
DAVID FAY: Weather and it's not a sellout. So get the word out. Good seats are still available.
MIKE DAVIS: The only thing I might add to that, in the back of the room, Betse Hamilton, who is our director of this championship is a plethora of knowledge when it comes to these kinds of things, both for this week and historically and future.
Q. The women are obviously excited about going to Pebble Beach in the year 2014, there's great excitement for them going to St. Andrews next month. I was wondering if the Women's Open ever comes back to this area, what would keep them from going to No. 2?
ROBERTA BOLDUC: I suppose the first thing would be ann invitation. We're open to any suggestions and invitations. I think we would do the same analysis we do for other Women's Open sites, and if it works on a variety of levels I'm sure that's a possibility. It could be a possibility.
DAVID FAY: And you build on success. We've had two successful championships here at Pine Needles. First I hope Pine Needles continues to invite us.
ROBERTA BOLDUC: Absolutely. That's a foregone conclusion.
RHONDA GLENN: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us.