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July 17, 2008

Peter Dawson


PETER DAWSON: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. I'd like, first of all, to introduce Michael Brown, Chairman of the R & A Championship committee. Michael?
MICHAEL BROWN: Thank you, Peter, and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming in this morning. I think you will all know, I'm sure, David Hill, our Director of Championships, on my left. And I think what we'd like to do, perhaps, is just start with a few words from Peter about where we are at this time in the week, and then we'll open to questions.
PETER DAWSON: Thank you, Michael. I can't remember, I must be honest, in my time at the R & A, having less to say at this stage of a championship. Things are going well. We're very pleased with the way the course has come on, despite the fact we've had 50 per cent above-average rainfall over the last six to eight weeks. The course has stayed pretty firm throughout and is now drying out very rapidly and speeding up out there. We're getting links year conditions that perhaps we thought we were going to just a few days ago. All the players seem to think the course is in good shape, and we've got Chris Whittle, the course manager, and all his team to thank for that.
The cooperation and help we've had from the Royal Birkdale Club and its members has been second to none, and I'd like to pay a tribute to them for that.
I think all is set fair for tomorrow for perhaps a windier championship than we've had in recent years. The forecast seems to be moving the wind speeds up slowly but surely, and I think we're going to have a bit of breeze for once, which is good to look forward to.
We have an unusual situation of having rough because it's been so wet, yet the course speeding up. So it's going to make it quite a test, I think, over the next few days.
But this event is really for your questions, so I'm not going to say any more and hand it all over to you.

Q. With the wind the way it is, I'm thinking particularly of the 16th, have you any thoughts of bringing the tee box forward there because it is really quite a tough carry even now? If it gets any windier I can see some people not even making the carry.
PETER DAWSON: I'm usually answering questions about the ball going too far. This is the first one I've had for a while about the ball not going far enough. From memory, it's about 200 yards exactly from the 16th tee to the fairway. And the other one we have to watch is the 11th, as well, is a tough tee shot. I think these fellows can hit it 200 yards into most winds. But if the wind is this strong, I'm sure we'll be favoring the front end of the tee rather than the back. But we've got no plans to go to a forward tee, no.

Q. On a hard and fast golf course and lots of rough, are you scared it might be too difficult for the players?
PETER DAWSON: Actually I'm not, no. I think these guys can play well enough. The course is not a monster in terms of length. They'll be able to position the ball on the fairways, I'm sure, and play it. It'll be like every championship we have; there will be a number of players playing extremely well and scoring very well, and some will struggle. We'll just have to wait and see who they are. I'm not worried it'll be too hard. We're not looking at 40-, 45-mile-an-hour winds, then it will tough. We're looking at 20, 25.

Q. Can I ask you if there's been any negative impact commercially for the championship because of Tiger's absence? Are you noticing any falloff in numbers?
DAVID HILL: Funnily almost none at all. Our advance ticket sales are running 28 per cent ahead of 1998, so it looks as though -- very confident there will be 200,000 people here during the week, and even today they're pouring in through the pay gates more than we anticipated. I think people are coming to see the Open more than ever. It's disappointing Tiger is not here, but the fans think this is a special week and they've made their minds up to come.

Q. Given that slow play that was a big problem at The Masters and the final tee-off time that we have here and issues with daylight, is there any concern about not getting the round finished on Thursday?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we're always concerned about pace of play, and with our 11-minute starting intervals and starter's gaps through the day, it does help break up the fields that we get a reasonable pace. We're also fortunate in this event to have walking rules officials who can help us remind the players that they need to close up with the group in front and things like that, which I think is more difficult to do in routine week-in, week-out events when you're relying on just a few guys on carts to do that, so we have that advantage.
And getting the players around is a big issue for us, and we look at that and walk back to pin positions and walk off areas and so on in the early rounds. I know it's an issue. I quite accept in two-ball play the last round at Augusta was horribly slow, and we don't want that here.

Q. Do you have any sort of comparable figures with say Hoylake, which obviously is in a similar part of the world, in terms of the advance ticket sales in?
DAVID HILL: Yes, they are running just about similar to Hoylake. So my judgment is, it's the old story, if the weather isn't brilliant then we'll finish up I would think at 200,000. If the sunshine was to come out, as happened at Hoylake, we got up to 230,000. But this is an incredibly strong part of the world for golf. I've always said it's starved of major national level of the world sporting events, with football, a bit of rugby league. It's just a pity, I think, that more major sporting events aren't brought to this part of the world. The people are great, they love coming to watch sport, and the fans have always been excellent.

Q. One or two concerns were voiced after Hoylake about the enthusiasm of one or two fans, obviously very passionate and sporting in this part of the world. Would you be happy with those levels of enthusiasm again this time around?
DAVID HILL: I think so, without the mobile phones it will be very good. It's interesting, up at the main pay gates today a lot of people have come with phones, but they haven't been complaining about having to hand them in, and one or two go back to make the odd phone call, and I've been observing that, but no complaints from the spectators. That was the problem at Hoylake, as most of you know. It wasn't just the phone, it was the camera option, as well.

Q. Unrelated to this week, how are you guys doing on the U grooves, V grooves thing? There's a perception in the States that it's the R & A that's dragging its feet on that implementation. Fairly or not, maybe you can address that and tell us when you see that coming on-line, if at all, and what the hold-ups and hurdles might be.
PETER DAWSON: Well, the current status of that is that there's been some additional testing conducted just in the last few weeks in the women's game, at LPGA Tour events, and the results of that are just coming through now, which I don't think has changed anything. And I think you can expect to see something about this in the next three to four weeks.

Q. A firm date for implementation?
PETER DAWSON: No, that was an announcement in three to four weeks. I'm not going to preempt what that says.

Q. Just going back to the slow-play issue, are your rules for the Open the same as standard European Tour events? And also, are players specifically reminded before the championships, before this week begins, of their responsibilities?
MICHAEL BROWN: Well, our pace-of-play policy is just the same as the European Tour's. Of course the difference is here we've got a walking rules official with each group, and they are tasked with encouraging the group to keep up to speed and keep up to schedule even if they haven't fallen under the watchful gaze of the timing people. So we're pretty hopeful that that will work.
Obviously if the weather gets very rough, then allowances are made for that and it becomes a bit more difficult. But we're hopeful it'll go all right.

Q. Peter, there's been one or two criticisms about the 17th green. I just wondered what your thoughts were on that.
PETER DAWSON: I think I flagged up very early on this year that the 17th green might attract some comment, and it has, very eloquent comment from some, not so eloquent from others (smiling).
The green is undeniably different from many others on the golf course. I've spent with others quite a long time on it in the last couple of weeks. With the pin positions we have in mind I'm quite happy it's perfectly playable, and we know the score; I'm sure the green will be reviewed after the championship to decide what its future is. But as far as this week is concerned, it's going to be perfectly playable.

Q. Does that mean that you're going to be putting generous pin positions to compensate for the fact that it's different?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we're not going to have silly pin positions, put it that way.

Q. Do you have any concern that Tiger's absence could affect the profile of the tournament this year? I know you made a point about spectators on the course, but he does have an astronomical effect on television.
PETER DAWSON: Well, that's simply undeniable. He's the world No. 1, he's a fantastic player, a huge draw for crowds, both on-site and on television. It would be silly to say there will be no effect. Of course there will be some effect. I'm not one who subscribes to the theory, though, that it will devalue the champion, whoever that is. Tiger has played, I think, in 11 Opens. He's won three of them, which means he hasn't won eight of them. The odds are whoever wins this week would have won anyway.
Tiger would be the first to accept that he doesn't make or break a championship, but we do miss him, and let's hope he comes back next year better than ever.

Q. Peter Lawrie has said that the R & A should be basically more proactive towards the European Tour, for instance, the Spanish Open champion is not exempt the way they are now for The Masters. Is there any likelihood that that situation will be changed? The European Tour winners, they are not exempt for here as they are, say, in the States. Is there any possibility that will be looked at?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we constantly -- the championship committee constantly reviews our exemption criteria, and we do have a lot of spots available for the European Tour in terms of last year's Order of Merit, many Money Lists this year, winners or top-5 finishers in events close to the championship, and of course we have The International qualifier, which is largely for European players, at Sunningdale. So there's a lot of access possibilities.
We've never gone for every tournament winner getting in, as indeed they do at The Masters. I think Augusta may be unique in that at the moment. It's something to look at, but I wouldn't make any commitment on it.

Q. Padraig has come out and stated that if it wasn't the Open he probably wouldn't be teeing off tomorrow. How important is it for you that he's here being the defending champion with no Tiger here?
PETER DAWSON: Well, a defending champion is part of the fabric of the Open, isn't it? I haven't heard personally what Padraig's situation is. I've seen him twice today and he hasn't mentioned it, to be honest. And I haven't asked him. Let's hope he's playing. I've heard stories about his wrist, but I don't know what his actual situation is. I know he'll be one who can tee it up tomorrow morning. Let's hope he does. But we've got 155 other great players here, so I wouldn't put any store in the fact that it's going to ruin the championship or anything like that. But we obviously want him to play.

Q. Golf seems to be edging very slowly towards the possibility of being played at the Olympics. Has the R & A got a position on that, whether they like the idea or not?
PETER DAWSON: Well, we do, and we gave a press conference on this at 11:30 today where we explained our position very clearly, and there will be a press release going out on it, I think, very shortly. We totally support golf in the Olympics. It's comfortably the biggest grow-the-game opportunity that exists, and it will be wonderful for the game around the world, not so much in the mature countries like the UK and the US but in the countries where golf is just starting up. It'll be wonderful for the growth of the game there. So we're totally supportive of the efforts being made to convince the IOC that golf is a good idea.

Q. There's been a good bit of discussion on this in the States, wondering what you thought of Kenny Perry's decision to say no thanks to his automatic berth in this tournament. It's obviously been a pretty hot-button issue for some of us who thought he should have been here.
PETER DAWSON: Well, I think I'm bemused by it more than anything else, really. It's his decision what he does with his life, not mine. He's in incredibly hot form. He's 47 or 48 years old. You would have thought he'd never have a better chance, but he's choosing another route, and we're sorry he's not here.
Thank you very much for coming. Thanks a lot.

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