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July 4, 2007

Mark O'Meara


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Mark O'Meara to the interview room this afternoon. Mark is playing in his first U.S. Senior Open at Whistling Straits. He is a former USGA National Champion having won the Amateur in 1979. Can you start off with comments of what it's like to be here?
MARK O'MEARA: It's exciting, your National Championships are very important and always has been throughout my professional career. About a month ago I tried to qualify for the U.S. Open and didn't make it, unfortunately.
And at this stage of my life realizing where I'm at I'm pleased to be here, I played here three years ago in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. It's kind of what I like to play, kind of linksy, windy, like you're over in Europe playing, that style of golf, to be in my first year in the Senior Open, I'm excited to be here.
RAND JERRIS: You mentioned the fact that it's windy here and knowing that the wind can change directions every day can you prepare properly or is it waiting until the morning and seeing where the wind is?
MARK O'MEARA: A lot of it is understanding the golf course and playing it a few times. The more you played it the better off you would be. I came up a month or so before the PGA and played with Tiger and played numerous practice rounds and I think I missed the cut by one or two shots or whatever, which was disappointing, but you're right, every day the wind can blow different directions. It's hard playing a golf course several times and thinking you know it. This course takes 8 to 12 times to know it.
Certainly yesterday's wind was different than today's wind and tomorrow is supposed to be different than today. So it comes down to basically striking the ball well, hitting the balance solid, and eliminating the big score and it comes down to your short game, chipping and putting, because to win any tournament, let alone a Major Championship you have to be good around the greens and that's what's going to happen here at Whistling Straits.

Q. In reading your comments after the U.S. Open qualifying, it sounds like you had vision, is that pretty much the case?
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, it is. Everybody kept saying, God, you hear these guys that are 49 saying, they can't wait until they're 50. And I never said that, but I realized that I hadn't played that great what I was 47, 48, 49 on the Regular TOUR and I know these guys playing on the Senior Tour are pretty good and you have to bring it.
I've played reasonably well this year in the Champions Tour, I played well last time but not great. And I would lie to tell you which you've pushed it pretty hard, I enjoy my time away from the game and like I said there, I wanted to qualify for the U.S. Open, but if I didn't make the U.S. Open I was going to be drifting down some river out in Idaho or Wyoming or Utah throwing my fly rod.
And like I said, I didn't make the U.S. Open qualifying and sure enough I was in the river fly fishing pretty much every day and I didn't watch much of it, in fact, I didn't watch it at all. I maybe watched five or six shots at the U.S. Open on TV.
When I got done on Sunday I had a great afternoon, the river was on fire, catching fish left and right. I got in my truck and somebody from Ireland called me and said, "Did you see what happened?" And I'm like, "No, who won?" And they said Tiger lost by a shot and Angel Cabrera won. And he was telling me about the round and that's how I found out about it. And I know Jay Haas played well on the Champions Tour, but a lot of times I don't know how they do.
That would be like you guys when you take a vacation that on your vacation time you would be wanting to sit in a press room somewhere and write articles, you don't want to do that. That's what you do all your life.
So for me I don't find it much of an adjustment. When I'm away from the game I enjoy my time away from the game and when I'm here, I practiced hard last week, practiced at the course I designed up in Park City and I'm doing all right, looking forward to getting the week started tomorrow.

Q. Outside of the difference in length of the course, you notice any other differences from three years ago?
MARK O'MEARA: Not really, not much at all. And I would say, to be honest with you, a lot of the tees, in the two days I've played out there are similar to where they were when we played the PGA.
So it's not like they've jacked the tees up for the senior players. There are a couple holes, maybe three or four that might be a little shorter.
Holes like 15 out there, they had the tee up a little bit further, but on the shorter holes and most of the par-3, it wasn't like we played all the way back when we played the PGA here, either.
17, it's the same.
18, they didn't use the back tee when we played the PGA Championship.
So I think it's going to come down to how hard the wind blows. If it blows hard this course is very demanding. If it's a little bit of a light breeze, some of the guys will play well. There are good players in the field this week, I reckon there is going to be decent scoring, it's not going to be impossible by any means.

Q. Four years ago during a practice round you and Tiger were out there and a crazy fan comes out from behind the bunker. Do you remember that event?
MARK O'MEARA: Which hole was it on?

Q. I don't remember, I saw the video yesterday, it was this man with a hat.
MARK O'MEARA: Listen, what you're hanging around him anything is possible. And I've been around him for a long time and we don't spend as much time together now, but it's been a treat for me to watch the way the young man's matured and what he's done in the last 10 to 11 years.
And I know he hasn't won a Major yet this year, but he's always right there, the mental fortitude that Tiger Woods has to continue to play at the level he continues to play although, especially with the eyes, not just the media, the fans, the players themselves, everybody is always interested in what Tiger Woods is doing. And he delivers time in and time out.
I know he doesn't win every week but he delivers -- if he doesn't win he's second, third, fourth, somewhere around there. Pretty impressive, very impressive.

Q. Mark, it wasn't that long ago the Champions Tour the people were dreaming up everything they could to bring spectators back to the product. And now you're one of the guys giving it a new visibility. Given how hard you've gone at this game, how much or how long did you envision yourself playing?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, my thought process was to put my main focus here on the Champions Tour and play all the Major Championships, certainly this one being an important one. The U.S. Senior Open. But also for three or four years I've always -- the last four or five years I've had a design company, golf course architect design company that are Mark O'Meara Design. And I'm trying to boost that and get that up and running more, because I don't claim to be a great architect. But the courses that I have done have all done very well. But I don't think many people out there know that that's what I like and that's what I've done.
I'm going to be more actively involved in that to where if I can do one or two courses in the year in the world, keep it small, intimate, and do a good job.
For example, last week I flew up on Wednesday to Jackson Hole to go see Tom Fazio, because he's doing a course up there next to Teton Village there and I've known Tom for 20 years and picking his brain. And he's been cordial and nice to want to help me to get started and venture down that road. But I foresee playing a full schedule for three or four years and taking an accountability of where I'm at.
I've been doing it a long time and winning is kind of the bottom line. When you're a professional at these, in golf it's different, because you don't win that much, you tend to lose more than you win.
But the bottom line is when I made the commitment to play the Champions Tour I want to win and I know that hasn't happened and hopefully if I practice a little bit more and get in contention I can win one of these things, because that's something that would be very special to do.

Q. You said the adjustment to the Champions Tour wasn't that much, but once you got out here, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say that the players -- I think maybe the fans can't see this, but as a player who has played with a lot of these guys when I was young and growing up and now playing in our 50s is the playability and the quality of play is a lot better than what they give it credit for.
People think a guy like Mark O'Meara or Nick Price or Bernhard Langer -- Bernhard Langer is playing well on the Regular TOUR, but it's still very, very competitive and they're very good.
The depth of field may not be as deep as let's say the Regular TOUR, the Nationwide Tour, but I think overall the quality and the scoring I've been impressed with, and the courses aren't set up super easy, you've got to hit some good shots and get some good scores.

Q. What adjustment do you have to make?
MARK O'MEARA: Be patient, more motivated to be out there playing. And any time you've been out there for 26, 27 years ago -- and I owe everything to the game of golf, but there are times where the passion is not quite the same as it once was. But I think that starts to rekindle when you play better and I have played a bit better this year, so my desire to play has gotten a little bit greater.
The problem I have is whenever the fly fishing is great somewhere in the world. I base it around the fishing schedule. When the fishing is good, it's hard to play, that's what I worked for to make the money to where if I can back off and do the things I love to do. And this is my job, I'm going to do that. Does that pay the price, not playing on the Champions Tour for three or four weeks? Yes, maybe.
But I would rather be in the river somewhere where I know the hatch is going off and the fishing is phenomenal than in a hotel somewhere playing any event, Champions Tour or Regular TOUR and thinking, why am I not doing that right now? We all second guess ourselves. I'm pretty lucky, it will all pan out in the long run. I'm very lucky.

Q. Has it been any one thing that's prevented you, a putt here or a putt there, why you're finishing 5th instead of first?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say I haven't gotten off to the best start in the Champions Tour events. A lot of times I've gotten myself behind too quick, too early.
A lot of guys, because they're three-round tournaments, they come out of the blocks quickly. At Kiawah, which was the PGA Championship, I was too far behind and I didn't play well on Sunday. And then I battled back and I finished double bogey, bogey.
So I just need to get on a roll of playing a little bit and then winning breeds winning. If you look at the way Loren Roberts has played or Jay has played, they're both good players and putters, they manage themselves well with their emotions. And the way they chip and play is very good and because they've won it gives them the confidence to win again and that's the way it was in my career. And it's been a while since I won, I won last in Dubai three, four years ago.
So it's a process. I have to pay a little more of a price and keep my nose to the grind stone and keep doing what I'm doing and hopefully when I get in contention sooner or later I'll come out on top, you might say.

Q. Fourth of July is obviously a patriotic time, the veterans are getting in for nothing. Does the U.S. Senior Open have that same patriotic juice as you feel for the U.S. Open?
MARK O'MEARA: It does. I'm disappointed that I've never won -- I'm thrilled that I won the Masters and the British Open, but I think the closest I came to winning the U.S. Open would have been at Brookline in Boston where Curtis Strange and Nick Faldo went into the playoff. I think I tied for third there, couple shots behind those guys.
But the USGA does a good job, they set up the courses very demanding, very tough, but it tests a player's not only skill level and hitting the ball, but the mental fortitude that they have of hanging in there. Because of that any time you play a USGA Championship, whether it was me winning the U.S. Amateur in 1979, that's something people don't forget, that's the elite amateur tournament that you can play in it and win.
And the U.S. Open is one of the four top Major Championships in professional golf. And you see how it catapults people's career and once you've won that and, okay, yes, the U.S. Senior Open and this is the 28th playing, I believe, of the U.S. Senior Open, Allen Doyle won a couple times -- there are guys that, maybe it's propelled their career late in their life to stand up there -- and I understand it's a senior Major, it's not the same as winning the U.S. Open or the PGA or the Masters or the British Open, but still it's a tournament of serious importance and over a holiday weekend like this that makes it even more special.

Q. Obviously the key to success out here like anywhere is putting. How would you compare your putting skill now with when you were at your peak?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say when I was at my peak I felt like I was probably on a scale of 0 to 10 I would say that I was about a 9. That was one of my strong suits, putting. And now I would say I'm about a seven and a half.
So there have been times -- my putting stats are okay and I changed my grip three and a half years ago from conventional to that saw grip that I use, because I had a little bit of yip, a little bit of hit on my stroke in my hand. I don't yip any putts. Whenever you have a hit of hit in your stroke -- you have to have good speed and if you have good speed you're going to putt well. And when the pressure is on, for something that's reliable for me, I won with that grip in Dubai, and there is no reason I can't contend more in a Major Championship on the U.S. Senior Open this week or any other week coming up in the future.

Q. You look at a guy like Allen Doyle, 59 years old, past that age where Champions Tour guys are at their peak, do you look at yourself and think that could be you 8 or 10 years down the road?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, I think the thing that amazes me the most about out here is some of the fire a lot of these competitors -- you look at Hale Irwin, 61, 62, whatever he is, but he is so competitive it's just incredible, you know?
I'm not saying I haven't been competitive in my career, I feel like I have been maybe, not to the extent of Hale Irwin, but I see Allen Doyle or some of the other players that maybe didn't have the same years on the Regular TOUR, but they have a second wind and they've gotten out on the Champions Tour and taken full charge.
And the economic standpoint has something to do with it, too, because if you look at myself or Nick Price or other guys who have had fairly substantial careers on the Regular TOUR globally, the whole idea is to win tournaments, have endorsement deals, obviously make money, it's a professional sport.
And once you get in an area in your life where financially you're somewhat secure, there are other things in life besides playing professional golf. And, you know, your kids start growing up, moving on with their life, and I have a lot of other hobbies.
I mean, I'm not a big city guy, I like being out in the -- rowing down the south fork of the Snake the other day with my son with my son and we're out there in the middle of nowhere and we're out there together and coming around a corner and there is a female moose from me to the cameras on the or side of the river and my son is like -- "Dad", and I said, Yeah, that's a moose, we're in their territory now, we're in her home." Luckily, it wasn't a male, it was a female and she was fine, she didn't stampede us or come after us, even though we were in the water. And she went off into the brush.
But those things to me, I love. It's not that I don't love playing golf, but I wouldn't say I'm quite as passionate as I was when I started with my Volkswagen Rabbit and my wife and no money and this is what I had to do.
So I think life is all about understanding what is important to you, and some of the guys that have played really well didn't quite have the same career that I had on the Regular TOUR.
So I think that's the process that players like myself and other guys that are getting ready to turn 50 have to identify with. How bad did you want it? How willing are you going to be to be committed? There are -- I don't know how many tournaments are on the Champions Tour? 29. I'll play 17.
I guess if I hadn't played much on the Regular TOUR, I would play 24 or 25. But I still play the British Open and the Masters, as long as I'm hitting it decent. When Tiger hits it 80 yards by me instead of 60 I'll quit.
But it's still a challenge, but you want to play well. If you're not playing well and I'm finishing way down the Money List I can't tell you guys I'm having a good time, because that's just not true.
So it's going to be on performance and that's why I say, give myself three years, see how I do, and if after three years I don't feel comfortable where I'm standing in my game, then it may be time to retire and move on, do something else.

Q. Curious if you've talked to Tiger at all since he's had his baby, and also do you think it will hurt his golf game or maybe even help it?
MARK O'MEARA: I think it will help it. You look at the best players that have been in the game and when they have a family it motivates them even more.
I talked to Tiger -- I saw him before the U.S. Open week at home and I text messaged him a couple times at the U.S. Open, and I didn't watch it, but I called him Monday midday after the U.S. Open to say, "Hey, I know you're disappointed you didn't win and I know there is only one spot that matters in your mind when you're playing a golf tournament and that's number one." Two, three, four, five doesn't matter to him, he understands what he's trying to do. And I just said, "One putt here or there, and you're right there and at least you deliver time in and time out and that's something to be proud of."
And five minutes later he called me back and I was at a pizza place in Park City by myself and he called me back and he said, "Did you get my text message?" And I'm like, "No, I didn't get your text message, Bud, what's going on?"
And he said Elin had the baby 8 hours ago. And I knew she was due July 4th, 5th, 6th, something like that. And I said, "Isn't that early? Is everything okay? Is she okay? Is your baby okay?"
And he's like, "Yeah, everything is fine, we had a baby girl." And he told me the name -- and this is before the media knew about it because he wanted his friends to know. And he told me that she was not doing that well Thursday night of the U.S. Open and they put her in the hospital and he knew all this while he was playing, but unless -- he's such a competitor, unless it was something super, super serious, he wasn't leaving the U.S. Open. He was there for a mission to win the U.S. Open, period. He sounded good. He's typical Tiger, he's like, "Everybody lives in Isleworth, the kids are nice, these kids are all living in a fantasy land."
And I'm thinking, "Okay, Tiger" he's like, I'm going to be the real stickler on my kids. He's so full of it, I don't mean to tell you guys, but he's got people out walking his dogs. He's going to be no different than anyone else, he'll be a great parent, but when Phil Mickelson and everybody else, they're not the first ones to have a family, a lot of you sitting in this room have family, you have kids. So Tiger Woods has a kid now, so what? Great for him, you know?

Q. Did it surprise you that he said he put a golf club in her hands, even though she couldn't hold it?
MARK O'MEARA: No, because I think he is such a phenomenal athlete and Elin is a talented athlete, very fiery, a lot like Tiger, you guys don't know her as well as I know his wife. And she's a pistol and she's awesome.
And I think Tiger having a daughter or a son -- I imagine they're going to have another child, too, that only enhances life. It will make it better for them, for both of them. And I think his child, she'll probably be a superstar, too, it's in his genes, he's an incredible athlete and I imagine his daughter will be the same.
RAND JERRIS: Thanks very much for your time, we wish you well.

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