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July 3, 2007

Hale Irwin


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Hale Irwin to the interview room this afternoon. Hale is playing in his 12th United States Senior Open this week at Whistling Straits. Hale is a five-time USGA national champion, having won the U.S. Open three times, both the Senior Open in '98 and 2000. Hale, as a five-time national champion, could you talk a little bit about what the Senior Open means to you as a player and to your colleagues on the Champions Tour?
HALE IRWIN: Well, I will speak for me personally. I think that my opinion will probably be reflected by most of the other players, that in my world, since I was a young person, the Open Championship has been the tournament which I put the most effort into because I was not eligible for The Masters, I wasn't a professional back in the olden days. The British Open was something I knew very little about.
So the U.S. Open was the only thing that I could really pin any hopes on, and I did qualify for that event once as an amateur at the Olympic Club in 1966, so I got my appetite whetted for a USGA and what they do to prepare for a championship, and my first taste of it was clearly a dream come true.
To further that dream, having won the Open Championship three times and then go on to win the Senior Open championship twice, literally for me has been one of those childhood dreams, hopes, wishes, whatever you want to call it, but really defined my career.
So for that and for the USGA and how they conduct their affairs, how they conduct the championship and how they set up the venues, I'm all in favor. It doesn't mean I agree with every hole location and every pin and every tee, but the overall impression is very, very positive from my perspective, and I applaud what they've done through the years.
Personally I accept those challenges readily. I love to see it, and this week is no different than any other than we've had in the past.
RAND JERRIS: How about your thoughts on coming back to Whistling Straits? You had a hole-in-one at the PGA Championship a couple years ago. What are your recollections of the golf course? Are you seeing the same course out there today?
HALE IRWIN: I don't think the course is quite the same, simply because the wind direction we've seen yesterday and now is a little different than what we had in August of '04. The winds, primarily, those of you that may have been here, recall it was more of a right-to-left down the 1st hole, so we're seeing almost -- yesterday certainly 180-degree opposite, and today we're seeing something a little bit different, as well.
I played this morning, and there was virtually no wind. It was pretty benign. So it's nice to see it without the wind being a factor so you can kind of work off of that common ground when you're out there trying to come up with a strategy, so to speak.
As Dale Douglas and I, a good longtime friend, were preparing notes today, there is no strategy here because the wind is going to dictate what you're going to do. You may play a hole one day and the wind direction the next day can be completely opposite, and therefore the plan you made is completely right out the door.
So I think the real opportunity here, or plan if you wish, is to have no plan. It's to be able to lift and shift and make your decisions and have some flexibility in how you play, and certainly the golf course -- I think this week versus what it was in August of '04, I think it's a little more grass, we're not playing it quite the same length, but I do think that the ball ran quite a bit in '04. I think the conditions were firmer, the rough wasn't as imposing. Even though it's not real high in spots, it's very thick. That fescue grass can really be an issue.
The fairways are at least as narrow. Some people may say they're the same as they were in '04, and they certainly are not any wider. I think we've got a very, very difficult venue. It's going to, I think, exact from the players the very, very best, and the guys that get through to the end are going to have literally been the best players.

Q. This was a lot of course for the field in 2004 at the PGA. How do you think the seniors are going to be able to handle this?
HALE IRWIN: Well, as I said, I think we're playing the course -- my caddie in '04, he indicated we're playing it about 300 yards less. However, the ball is not running as it was in '04, either. I suppose we're giving up a little bit of yardage to the '04 venue in terms of being a little shorter.
Today's player on the Champions Tour and this event, we don't hit the ball shorter than we used to. Every one of us hits the ball longer than we once did, and that's an issue I think the USGA is going to have to grapple with and is in the process of doing, on how to bring it back. I think everybody is concerned about that. So I don't think length necessarily is going to be an issue here. It's going to be -- I think it's going to be a little different than what we might see on a week-to-week basis, simply because it's a bigger event. It should be different.
But I don't think these players are going to be -- certainly challenged because we're going to play it a little bit longer, but no more so than the guys in '04 were challenged, either.

Q. What do you think the scoring will be like this week?
HALE IRWIN: I knew you were going to ask me that. I have no idea. You tell me how the wind is going to blow and that will have a huge factor on scoring. If we had no wind conditions you'd see something just a little bit under par, and I say a little; not 12, perhaps 6, 8. I'm thinking if I can shoot 2-under par every day, I would be extremely happy with that. But if the wind comes up, I might be very, very happy with even par. We'll sit right here and talk about it and sip champagne.

Q. Could you speak to the popularity of the Seniors Tour and what it might be that draws people to it, the spectators?
HALE IRWIN: What I'm witnessing and what I have witnessed through the years is we've evolved, the Champions Tour has evolved, from being I think a showcase of players of yesteryear. It's almost like a parade, a float down Main Street, to being a very exacting and competitive arena in which to play golf.
You take guys that are coming on right now, Nick Price and Mark O'Meara, we're talking major championship winners here, Fred Funk, Jay Haas, who's playing some of the best golf I think he's played, Eduardo Romero, who's had a superb career in Europe and now he's exerting his influence here. Those guys all bring great personalities, they bring great credentials, it moves the bar up for the rest of us, and I think it's a very dynamic, a very exciting place in which to play golf. I think the fans have been able to see these guys through the years and they have some identification because they've seen them, they know who they are. I think their availability to the public is a little easier than what you might see elsewhere.
I think we've just got a great place in which to showcase golf. I'm not going to say it's necessarily for just the older crowd. I think there's a lot of young people that can learn a awful lot about the game by watching some of the older players play because they play a little bit more classic than today's players learning to play, and they have -- if they want to learn it. If they have the capacity to watch and learn and listen, I think they can learn an awful lot about how to play the game.
I watch it myself. I've always been a watcher of other players, and I love to watch these players play and see if there's things I can still incorporate in my game and see if there's things that they do so well that I can incorporate in my game.

Q. I just was curious if you had met the two Wisconsinite amateurs who are playing this weekend. You have not met them?
HALE IRWIN: No. They're great guys, though (laughter). They're great players and terrific personalities. Cheeseheads, mind you, but they're all the same (laughter).

Q. You mentioned Jay Haas playing some of the best golf of his life. He had a fine career on the PGA, but how did that happen where he turned 50, and is it the competition or is he just playing the best golf of his life?
HALE IRWIN: The best golf I ever played in my career I played at 52 years old, and that's about what Jay is. It could be just coincidence, it could be something in the water when you turn 52, I don't know.
But I found that when I played, I hit the ball almost as I wanted to. I made putt after putt. I just played great golf, reminiscent of the way Jay is playing right now. I have the good fortune of playing with he and Eduardo Thursday and Friday. Jay is just comfortable on the golf course. There's no shots he can't play right now.
A lot of that is carryover from having made the Ryder Cup team as a 50-year-old. He had great momentum going there. I think it slacked a little bit. But he is just playing on all cylinders right now.
You can tell by the way he holds the club, just his demeanor on the golf course. He's very confident in what he's doing. And I think that goes to say that the longevity factor of these guys that have played competitively on the regular Tour and have come on to the Champions Tour have brought those instincts, brought that competitive arena with them, they've stayed sharp, they haven't laid off for some reason, they're keeping in shape, they're not letting themselves go, and their games are showing that they are still very, very much of a vibrant force in the game of golf. And it's probably a half a dozen to a dozen guys that if they wish to continue playing, as is Fred Funk on the regular Tour, they can still do very, very well.

Q. Can you talk about kind of what you've gone through in the past, kind of a dry spell last year and getting back in the winner's circle in January? Do you have a sense of where you fit in after you're used to being so dominant year after year on this level of golf?
HALE IRWIN: Well, there's a point in time in which I think you -- there are other things in my life that are more meaningful than just playing golf. I love playing, I love the competition, I really, really do enjoy that.
But at the same time, there's a point in time where you at least temporarily want to stop and smell the roses a little bit, and I think that takes away a little bit of that competitive edge.
The mental process that you have to go through to get ready to play an event like this, or for that matter any event, but particularly here -- often times there are other interests, other interests that you have, other things in your life that are meaningful. It could be business, it could be family, it could be just to say, hey, I'm tired. Who knows? I don't know what it is. But there's just other things that happen.
Rather than trying to raise your kids, now you're sort of taking care of grandkids on occasion. Just the quality of life that you have, you want to take advantage of it. And the things that are lying in front of you aren't necessarily ten years out, they may be ten days out. They're right here in front of you.
That was part of it, and I think I just rededicated myself to getting my body back in shape. I sort of nursed along my back for four, almost five years, and I said, hey, if it's going to hurt, at least I want to get in shape. I worked very hard over the winter and it has shown. I think it's showed this year. The harder I work, the luckier I get. But sometimes that is just -- my wife is going to make me work out this afternoon. No rest for the weary.

Q. What do you think of those who say that you should win on the Tour between the ages of 50 and 55 and then retire, and have you ever considered retirement?
HALE IRWIN: No, no. Retire, what is that? That's sort of like vacation. You've been talking to her, haven't you (laughing)?
Yeah, I cannot see retirement, per se. I think part of what we've seen was some of the great names in the past. We saw how Arnold had such a difficult time letting go. We've seen Lee Trevino have such a hard time get letting go. We saw Jack struggle with that a bit.
It's your life, and at least your professional life. You've had great success and a great impact, positive impact on your life. How do you kind of turn away from that and do something else? I think that's the hard part.
You like that adrenaline surge, you like that environment in which you find yourself, and that's hard to turn away from. So I don't know if retirement is necessarily in my near future at all.
50 to 55 I think is -- guys are younger. As you get older, things start falling apart, whether it be physically you just can't compete the way you once did because of strength or injury or whatever it may be, or it could just be interest. Most of us have been at this thing for 35 or 40 or 45 years. Sometimes you don't mind a little deep breath.
But putting those aside, I think each individual has to assess how they want to go about their business and are they disciplined enough to dedicate themselves to what you have to do here to compete at this level because there will be guys out there that do make that sacrifice, that do have that discipline to do that.
A long answer to a short question, but I don't know as there's a real answer to that.

Q. Actually doing a story on Dale and was talking to him today. How long have you guys been friends, and could you just comment on your friendship with him and his durability, 22 straight now in this tournament and some of these things -- some of those durability records he's chasing?
HALE IRWIN: Well, I wouldn't call Dale durable, I would just call Dale a class act that's been around professional golf for a long, long time. If there's anyone outside of my family that has had a direct and significant contribution, positive contribution to my career, it's been Dale Douglas.
When Sally and I were married in 1968, first of all, I went back to 1967 with Dale and we played together in a team championship, which we won. It was called the U.S. Pro-Am Championship, played at Jim Flick's place, in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dale and I won and created a closer friendship then -- even before that he was a University of Colorado graduate, as was I. Even though he's several years my senior, we had that common ground.
And after that week with Dale and winning, we got to know he and Joyce, and they took us under their wings and showed us -- in those days we drove the Tour. Everything we owned was in the trunk of the car. Where to stay and how to eat, how to get to the next spot. We didn't have, as we do now, courtesy transportation waiting at the airport and hotel accommodations that are sent out to us. You had to find your own way around. They were so accommodating in sharing that with us.
That established right there a long-lasting friendship. He and Joyce are just genuinely nice people. We love them to death. And we just kind of evolved through the years being close friends. When they come back to Arizona we're only perhaps a par 6 away from one another, and we -- he's just one of those guys that's been around for so long.
And the durability part, yes, he has played and played. That's been his life. He and Joyce are without children, so he's been able to dedicate his life to playing and promoting golf, and he's done a wonderful job of doing so, and representing himself along the way, by the way, very, very well.
His father was a professional. I don't know if Dale said that, but his father was a professional. He's just a first-class guy.

Q. (Inaudible.)
HALE IRWIN: Yeah, I told him you don't have to go out and throw 100-pound weights around. You can do a little bit. It's more for his shoulder. He's having some problems with his shoulder, and I said, I think if you were to strengthen that up you wouldn't be considering going to the doctor and perhaps having surgery. I think because he's never been involved in athletics, per se, that it may be something that people like that are a little intimidated by. But I think once you get started it can be very energetic.

Q. (Inaudible.)
HALE IRWIN: Oh, absolutely, sure. Dale is one of those guys that he may go unnoticed sometimes, but he'll never go unnoticed all the time.

Q. Your thoughts on the most difficult hole? Is it for sure the 17th in your opinion?
HALE IRWIN: Well, there's 18 difficult holes. 17 obviously, the length of the hole itself, the pin at the bottom, again, I hate to keep qualifying this, but how the wind blows, where the tees are located, but I think 18 is harder. 17 you only have to hit one long shot. 18 you've got to hit two of them.
17, yes, you can hit it in the ocean out there, but 18 you can put it in some junk and maybe never get out of there. I think 18 is probably one of the most difficult and hardest holes to figure out for several reasons. You have a very narrow driving area, and the way that hole goes, it's generally going to be a cross-wind, at least the times I've played.
It's either right to left or left to right, like it's been -- where they have the tees located now, if I hit a driver, I'm apt to drive it very near or through the end of the fairway if I hit it straight, so I back off with a 3-wood. Now I've added 20 to 30 yards to my second shot. Yesterday I hit a very nice 3-wood and had 220 yards to the hole location. So what do you do? Do you risk that to get a little shorter or do you lay it back and hit it again? So you have to hit two long ones.
17, as I said, it's long. One shot is long. The green is tough, but is that green any tougher than 18? I don't think so. So my vote would be 18.

Q. This course has been built up as more of a links-style obviously for the way it looks, but based on your experience, do you feel it plays that way, or is it more of a target golf course?
HALE IRWIN: It's a little of both. As I mentioned earlier, the conditions here are a little bit softer, so you're not getting that roll like a links would, whereas in '04 we had a little bit of that roll. One of the differences here, the approaches to these greens are soft, so you don't necessarily play a shot well short and let it bound onto the green with the exception of No. -- is it 12 or whatever that hole is down there, 13 perhaps. That is one that you can let it -- it runs almost at a 45-degree angle away from you. So even that's a little -- if you were to land it say 10, 20 yards short expecting that run-up, you're not going to get it. It's soft in front.
Now, if that were links golf, you'd land it there by design and let it bobble onto the green. Here it doesn't work like that. You've got to fly it to the green to get it up. That alone keeps it from being links.
Now, links with wind and the proximity to water, yeah, they are alike. Some of the holes may have a little bit of a linksey look to it, but most of these bunkers are not typically what you'd find in the links you see over in Great Britain. But there's some similarity, some looks, but I don't think of it as a links course as much as I think of it as a golf course that's by Lake Michigan.

Q. Obviously U.S. Opens have been a very special part of your career. What would it mean for you now to win yet another one of these, and how do you assess your chances this week?
HALE IRWIN: Well, other than tremendous personal pride and accomplishment, I don't know, or maybe I should say that -- I don't know whether the outside world would think it would enhance my career or not. But to me it would mean a great deal. I'm looking for that even number of three and three. That makes six; that's an even number.
And my chances I think are good. I've been playing well this year overall. I had a win early in the year. I've played quite well. I didn't play particularly well the last two or three tournaments at which I played, but I don't feel like my game is far off.
I don't like to say that I'm ever playing as well as I can play, but I feel like my game is close to doing what I want to do. It may not be there, but it's never completely there. I would never accept that my game is as good as it can ever get. But I'm hitting enough quality shots now, I'm doing enough things well and having a little bit of experience around this course with the PGA, even though I shot 2-over par and missed the cut by a shot. I still feel like I have a little bit of knowledge of how the course can play.
All those little things help in the long run. Whether or not I take advantage of them, we'll find out.

Q. Two-part question. How many hole-in-ones do you have in your life, and where does the one you had in 2004 kind of rank memorable-wise?
HALE IRWIN: Nine holes-in-one, and they're all special. This last one on the 7th hole was -- oddly enough, I had a hole-in-one at the PGA Championship on the South Course in Akron, Ohio, in whatever year that was -- '70 something, go figure. This one was maybe not the one that one might describe that you hit right at the hole, it takes several short bounces and falls right in the middle. This was the hole locations was front left, and the only way really to get that close is you kind of had to hit it up to the left and let it hit that hill and trickle in, and that's what I did.
Truly, most holes-in-one are -- certainly you have some skill, but it's pretty lucky. You know, I was lucky on this one in that I threw the ball out to the left hoping to kind of run it up there on that front part of the green and it went in the hole.
Have I hit other shots that were better and didn't go in? Lots of them. But like I say, sometimes that special shot which ended up being an ace is not perhaps as special as the hole before or the next hole that you hit just as well that didn't go in.
RAND JERRIS: Thanks very much for your time and we wish you luck this week.

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