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July 3, 2007

Denis Watson


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Denis Watson to the interview room this afternoon. Denis is playing in his first United States Senior U.S. Open Championship this week at Whistling Straits. As you're playing in your first Senior Open this week, just share your thoughts about what it means to be here at the Senior Open and what your expectations might be.
DENIS WATSON: My expectations is an interesting thing. About five or six weeks ago I was kind of trying to analyze my schedule and see if I'd have to Monday qualify for the Open Championship. I was entered at Crooked Stick. I went through the qualification rules, and I said, if I can get into the top 20 on the Money List I won't have to qualify for the Open.
I finished third at the Regions Classic and went to 20th on the Money List. So I was elated and so happy that I didn't have to go through that grind to try and qualify to get in here.
I'm really happy to be here, obviously, and obviously Kiawah changed things a lot for me. Along with that comes that great word of expectations. The reality is I'm trying to get those expectations under control.
I like this kind of golf. It's very, very demanding. If you're playing well, hitting the ball in the middle of the club face, it really favors you or the guys that are hitting like that.
You cannot scrape it around here. It's very demanding. Every single hole demands a great shot off the tee. Second shots on par 4s, second and third shots on par 5s, there's just no let-ups. Even the tiny little 12th hole is so demanding. You can't let up.
I'm trying to put my expectations about what I can do way in the back drawer somewhere, and I'm trying to think about hitting shots and working hard on getting my game back together. I've been a little lax. Playing well but not scoring well the last few weeks.
I've had a lot going on since the PGA, been very exciting, sometimes a little overwhelming because I've been in the closet for so long, so I'm getting a lot of attention from different areas.
It's a lot of fun, it takes a lot of time, but I'm finding out my day takes -- everything takes a half hour longer. It ends up being an hour and a half longer a day, so I'm adjusting to those things. I see what Jay's life is like where he gets a lot of attention, and hopefully I can deal with it as well as he does. He's my hero, the way he does everything and the way he just goes out and plays great every single week. It's something to admire.
I'd like to get back to contending and playing in a better position every week. I've been playing well, just not been scoring well. My mind has been a little off, I think. I'll try to get it back together this week.

Q. Speaking of Kiawah, it's reputed to be the most difficult golf course in America, and I wonder how you compare this course to that one. Any similarities? If the wind blows 25 miles an hour in some different directions, could this be the most difficult test you guys see?
DENIS WATSON: You know, I came here about a month ago, and I played a round, and the rough was actually taller and the greens were pretty firm, and I thought, wow, this is going to be really impossible if they continue to grow the rough up. But it was delightful to come here and see how well it has been prepared.
It's very narrow in some areas, which is very different to Kiawah. Kiawah gave you ample driving area but with the premium to hit it in the right place in the driving area. So if you hit it on the right line and challenged some of the hazards at Kiawah, you could get the ball further down the fairway and you had easier shots into the green. But you could play sort of the safe way and have harder shots into the green.
I fortunately drove the ball very well that week. But it was also -- you had a bit of a feeling like you could let it go a little bit because the only thing you had to worry about were those sand-faced bunkers. You did everything you could to avoid those but hit it on a challenging line.
I did that well there, and I had a good result. I had my share of problems. I made my couple of doubles and a few stupid bogeys. But here it's different. What's different is if you hit it off the fairways, you can hit it towards the green in some areas. If you hit it on the wrong side in one of those nasty -- I don't know what they're calling them. Are they bunkers this week? Yeah, so you can end up in some nasty spots where you have to pitch out sideways.
Second shots, there's no runoff areas that are really thinkable. The runoff areas are kind of sneaky. They may look like there's a safe side, but it's so difficult to get the ball close to the flag from where there's this nice little bentgrass area off to the right or the left of the green on a couple of holes, and you go over there and you try and hit a shot and you're scratching your head, like, oh, boy, the pin is over there and I leave it over here, you're working your tail off to get it 20 feet away from the pin.
So it's very different, very different that way. And I think maybe a little more demanding.
Kiawah depends a little more on weather and where the wind comes out of. We had a lot of make-or-break shots at Kiawah. You had 14, 17, you had the 3rd hole, a little pitch on the green, but if you missed it you were trying to come up for air, trying to figure out how to make a 5 sometimes.
There's a lot of that here but in a different way where you miss the green and you don't have a play. You have to try to figure out how to get it somewhere so you can make a bogey.

Q. You mentioned that you try to get your head together for the championship. Is it more of a difficult task when it's a major?
DENIS WATSON: Yes and no. You know, for me getting my head together, my head has been all over the place lately with all the great things that have been going on for me. You know, when you haven't had to deal with that for 20-something years, you know, it's different. It's a little more demanding time-wise. I've been playing a lot, I haven't taken any time off. I've tried to take a couple of days off.
You know, I normally just start to feel really comfortable now. I've caught up with sleep and I feel really good. You know, last month has been a bit of a whirlwind. I took off to play in Wales, not for any other reason other than just that I wanted to go connect with the guys that I used to play with when I first started playing, and it was better than I thought it could be, playing a 110-year old links golf course. And it was good preparation for Muirfield and here where you have to think about every single shot. I didn't think well because I hit it in a couple bunkers I couldn't get out of.
So that was demanding and it was a lot of fun. So I got a lot of stuff out of the way that I wouldn't have to deal with at Muirfield. But it took some energy.
And then coming back, you know, there's a lot of stuff. A lot of it is really great. It's been a lot of fun. It takes energy. Like I said, it's an hour and a half, two hours different most days at the golf course just with other added things that come with winning, especially, I guess, with me everybody wants to know the story, where I've been.
I think it's pretty much -- I think it's waning now where I can really focus on golf and on me. I'm excited about playing here. I'm hitting the ball really well. If I can tighten up a few of the loose shots and really get the focus -- you have to have it this week. You're going to see the similar names, familiar names, I think, up on the leaderboards. I'm not sure there are going to be any surprises this week.

Q. Just a quick question. You've cited the distractions and whatnot, but I guess do you look at it as a distraction when people want to know about you? Do you enjoy it, or would you prefer just to kind of stay under the radar?
DENIS WATSON: No, I've really enjoyed it. It's really great. I've had a lot of great things, people that have been inspired by the story. They're getting back at whatever they're doing, and nice messages, and because I have a website I've had tons of emails, at my wife's law firm. You know, so it's been encouraging.
It's just that I was in the dark a little while ago trying to figure out if I'd ever be able to play again, and now I'm sort of in the limelight each week as a player. It's just different. It's great. I missed it. You know, I kind of like hanging around getting to know some of the press guys again, a lot of different faces. It's good. I'd like to be here a lot.

Q. You mentioned Jay Haas as one of the guys you admire for how he handles the off-course stuff, but can you talk about his game, what you've seen out of him this year and last year?
DENIS WATSON: Jay plays better than I ever saw him play on the regular Tour. I didn't play with him for a long time, but I played with him in his younger years, in his 30s. He was always a good player, but I played with him at Kiawah, and man, he flat-out hits it. I think he's as good a player as I've seen.
And then the manner in which he handles himself on the golf course, he's the consummate gentleman. He just goes about his business. He has a great attitude. I'd like to putt like he does, I'll tell you (laughter). I guess that could do wonders for your self-esteem. He's just one of the gems. He's one of the good ones.
There are a lot of good guys out here, but Jay is an impressive guy. Every once in a while he pops a tee shot out there, and he hits it as far as anyone can hit it. I looked at him, and I said, man. He just smiled, and he said, yeah, he's been working out. If we worked a little bit on the practice tee somewhere, we'd share some information about where the right elbow goes and stuff and he told what he's been working on, just kind of having fun.
Then he went back to knocking down the flag with a 6-iron or something. I actually like to watch him practice. He doesn't have the most perfect looking swing from a mechanical standpoint, but his rhythm never, ever changes. It's just the same thing every time. He just doesn't make any mistakes with that. Very seldom.

Q. Where can you get in trouble out here? You were talking about hitting the ball --
DENIS WATSON: Walking out of the locker room door (laughter).

Q. You were talking about hitting the ball in the center of the club face, but what's going to give you bogeys quicker than you can blink an eye out here?
DENIS WATSON: I mean, that's a hard question. If you're just missing shots. How do I answer that question the right way? If you hit the ball in the wrong place. If you go to sleep a little bit and you hit the balls in the wrong place, you can make a bogey quicker than turning around. You'll just be in spots where you can't play.
Look, a lot is going to depend how they set the golf course up. Right now I'm very impressed with what they've done setting it up, with what they've done trimming the rough back to a certain point, and the greens right now look absolutely perfect. I mean, some of them are borderline with the way the course is, where they're firm. It'll have to be a perfect shot to stay in certain parts of the green. I hope they don't get them too firm where it gets silly and they keep it playable if you're hitting it great. Certainly you can't stop the ball very easily if you're in the rough. That ball just takes off.
But right now I like the way it's set up, and there's too many places to get into trouble if you're missing some shots. You get a little right-to-left wind on some of those holes coming back where the trouble is on the left, you're hitting 4- or 5- or 6-irons in, it's easy to let the ball get away. You're trying to guard it from hitting it too far right because there's no play from the right because generally everything slopes back towards the nasty trouble on the left, and then you don't want to -- it's really easy to leak it a little bit if the wind is howling that way.
A lot of it is trying to figure out how to hit the right shot, hold it up against the wind, get it in the right spot, not necessarily rip it right at the flag but just get it in the right spot, 10, 15 feet from the hole.

Q. And I guess more philosophically after winning in the last month or so, are you enjoying your journey with golf more than ever before?
DENIS WATSON: Yes, I would say that's a good summation. I mean, after not knowing if you're going to play golf again, playing tournament golf, it's a blast. I hope I get to enjoy it for several years. I mean, it's great out here. The competition is strong. Guys can still play.
Everybody that's coming off the regular Tour seems to sort of have this idea that it's not that tough, but you go to sleep with the putter a little bit for a week and you find out you're finishing 30th, even if you're playing well. Yeah, it's a lot tougher out on the regular Tour obviously, a lot more guys, a lot more good players, but the standard at the top here is extremely high.
You look at last week, I would think it would take about 12-under to win last week, good rough, really fast greens, and I watched the way guys were playing on TV, and they were knocking flags down with 4-irons and hybrids. It's impressive the way the guys at the top played.
RAND JERRIS: Thank you very much for your time this afternoon. We wish you luck this week.

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