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May 20, 2009

Mark O'Meara


KELLY ELBIN: Mark O'Meara, ladies and gentlemen, joining us at the 70th Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Golf Club. Two time Major champion. This will be Mark's third Senior PGA. Tied for 12 in the 2007 at Kiawah Island is his best finish, but 30 years ago, mark, you won the U.S. Amateur here at Canterbury. Must be awfully nice to be back at a place that's one of the highlights of your career.
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, it is. Kind of all got started here. Obviously in 1979 coming here as a southern California boy and not playing a lot of golf in the Midwest and the East and playing these beautiful golf courses.
This week is no exception. The fairways are as good as any fairways pretty much we played on all year and pretty much anywhere you could play on. The greens are in good condition, firm, smaller, have a lot of severe break to them a little bit out there.
So I think the golf course is ready to go. It's a good test of golf. The rough is deep.
I just remember on that Sunday back in September 30 years ago certainly playing John Cook who is a very dear friend and a kid that I've grown up playing golf against, to have won the U.S. Amateur definitely got me started in the right direction, especially beating the best amateur player in the country, which was John.
So it was kind of a dream come true then and it will be 30 years now that come to pass, and look at what's happened to a guy that grew up in Mission Viejo Country Club washing cars and picking up the range. I got, I've been very blessed. Let's put it that way. I had my ups and downs, but the game has been very tremendous to me and I feel very, very fortunate still at 52 to be competing and very playing a very humbling game I might point out.

Q. What do you remember most about that match with John Cook?
MARK O'MEARA: What I remember most was John was very favored over me, which I tried to use that as an advantage because he was coming off of a 1978 U.S. Amateur win trying to win back to back, and so I looked at it I was the underdog. And especially John being an Ohio boy, going to Ohio State, growing up down there in Columbus, I felt like, ,well why put any more pressure on me, if I lose, I'm losing to the best amateur at the time. So it wasn't that big a deal.
And I got off to a slow start, I think I was 3-down after five, something like that. And then I rallied to where I had a 2-up lead after nine. And then I started making a bunch of birdies, making a bunch of putts. Like I said, it was a drizzly day, kind of a wet, fall day. And next thing you know I was 8-up going up the ninth hole over here, the par-5, which was our 27th hole, and it looked like I had a chance maybe to win nine, because he had driven it in the rough.
And I was thinking to myself, gosh, if I win this hole I'm nine up with nine to go. If I lose this thing it will be the biggest collapse in the history of the U.S. Amateur. But that's the way that the mind works sometimes.
I thought, no, no, no, just one shot at a time, stay in the moment. And we parred nine, I was eight up with nine, he birdied 10, I birdied 11 and he made bogey and I won 8-7. So it was a, obviously it was a good day for me, I felt bad for John, but he had a U.S. Amateur under his belt, so I think he felt like, hey, if he couldn't win, he was glad his buddy won. And I would feel the same way about him.
KELLY ELBIN: How many times have you been back here since?
MARK O'MEARA: A couple times. I came back for the 25th anniversary, the members here at Canterbury were really great to me to give me an honorary membership. Not that I come to Cleveland and play golf a lot in my time off, but the club has got so much history to it on this golf course and having Major Championships here. It's a classic golf course, it requires you to do everything. It requires you to drive the ball well, be very accurate with your iron shots into the greens, try and keep the ball below the hole. And the greens are a very good test because they're very speedy and they're kind of undulated, so you got to be very aware of that at all times when you're out there on the putting greens putting.

Q. A young guy who you've had some influence on, I think his name is Tiger Woods, always talks about he has memories of Firestone, how much he loves the track, old school, everything is in front of you, tree-lined fairways, do you feel a little bit that way about Canterbury and courses like it?
MARK O'MEARA: I do. But it's difficult in today's era of golf where they got quite huge galleries and corporate hospitalities to get everybody to fit. Especially parking on some of these golf courses. But I think any player who plays the game certainly would not shy away from a golf course like this. Where it makes you play.

Q. One final or one follow-up on the '79 question. Every year the U.S. Amateur has a good field. But if you look back at that field with full benefit of hindsight that was a really good field.

Q. Does that make with full benefit --
MARK O'MEARA: It made it even more special for sure. When you look at the guys who had had played in the U.S. Amateur in '79 and quite a few of them have turned pro and had nice careers. So to know that I had won, because there's a lot of luck going to win the U.S. Amateur besides skill. It takes quite a bit of skill, but certainly you can go out and shoot 3 or 4-under and play reasonably well in a match and get knocked off.
So there's -- like winning any golf tournament, unless you're like Tiger who wins by 18, that probably doesn't take a lot of luck there, but a lot of times you got to just kind of hang in there and play the best you can and hopefully you come out on top.
For me, I played reasonably well when I came out my first year on the Champions Tour and I didn't get a victory and haven't won yet. Last year was a struggle, but this year I'm doing a lot better, I'm hitting the ball better, Bruce Davidson is back here, he's been helping me since last fall. He's the Director of Golf at River Oak and he helps Keith Fergus and he's played well this year winning two two tournaments. I've come close a couple of teams and hopefully this week I can play well and be in contention come Sunday.
KELLY ELBIN: For the record, Mark has tied for second twice in Champions Tour events thus far this year.

Q. Is the difference this year that you're more settled mentally, you got your edge there, things are better in your life?
MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, it's pretty well documented that I had kind of kept it quiet, but when you go through a divorce it's not a lot of fun. It wasn't really in the media, a lot of the people in the media were very gracious to me. And I was married for almost 29 years and when you go through a situation that I went through, I'm not going to lie, that that didn't have a huge impact on my life. It beat me up pretty good.
So now I'm engaged, I got a new lady in my life, she's phenomenal, I have some certainty there in my personal life. My kids understand. Everybody understands that I'm moving on. You got to move forward. You can't really look at the past any more. And I got to look forward to my future and I'm excited about that.
When you have stability in your personal life, off the course, it's a little easier to be focused on the course. When there's instability in your personal life, it's really tough to be focused trying to play this game. Especially when you've been doing it for 30 years. I've been doing it a long time.

Q. Is it almost like you're making a real start now on the Champions Tour?
MARK O'MEARA: I think so. I would say that last three or four years have been kind of a blur and not the greatest, but now it's nice to see, with the help of Bruce, certainly and seeing some better signs, I'm not there yet, but I would say I'm 90 percent there.
Confidence is a huge thing in this game. Confidence comes from hitting better shots and believing in yourself. I'm starting to see some of those things come that way. So it's exciting.

Q. Is this kind of a flip-flop on the pressure when you first went on PGA TOUR younger guys are considered to wait their time, kind of learn what the TOUR is like before they win. Guys who come off the Regular Tour, they get here at 50 you think, well they have got an advantage.
MARK O'MEARA: Some the of the guys have. Some of the guys who were playing well when they're 47, 48, 49, Jay Haas, Loren Roberts, Kenny Perry coming out pretty soon or maybe even Fred.
For me I wasn't playing that great when I was 47, my last win was in 2004 in Dubai, I was 47 years old. So it's almost like for me it's been more of a motivational thing and being a little more committed and I have. When you work a little bit harder and you see some results it's a little easier to be a little more positive.
But you got to give guys the credit out here. They play extremely well. They're still very, very competitive. The scoring -- granted the courses might not be as long as the Regular Tour, but Oak Hill last year it was setup a couple tees maybe two or three tees were up a tee further but rough was just as deep as any Open or any PGA Championship regular that I played on.
So the golf courses are still pretty competitive and this is no exception here at Canterbury this week. So I dearly want to win, but I can't force it. I got to let it kind of come to me and be patient and right now I'm trying to do that.

Q. How do you take advantage this week of the good memories from the U.S. Amateur, it was a long time ago, but is there anything you can do in your game or your preparations to kind of bring back that good feel?
MARK O'MEARA: It was 30 years ago, so I'm 52, you start forgetting a lot of those memories, but, yeah, to know that you've won on a golf course is definitely an advantage. It's a plus. But on the other hand, I think that that event certainly is different than this event. This is a stroke play, that was match play. You tend to play match play events a little more different than you would a medal play event.
But here for me I know the key for me is to do and work on the things that we have been working on, and try to keep the ball in the fairway and putt well. If I do those two things then there's no reason why I shouldn't have a good tournament.

Q. I don't know how much you've played with Bernhard this year.

Q. But he's having obviously a marvelous year. Can you talk about his game and how he really hasn't seemed to miss much of a beat, has he?
MARK O'MEARA: No, he's stayed in very good physical shape. I know he complains sometimes about his back, I look at him I'm like, man the guy's body fat must be about 10 or 12 percent. He looks like he could be a track and field guy. He looks super conditioned.
He's still very highly competitive. Very methodical in his game and his approach. And he's just scored well. He drives it pretty straight, he chips it well, he putts it good. I played in the final round at the Liberty Legends with Nick Price and we played with him and Lehman and the guys, even though they might be 52, like we have always said, we feel a little older, maybe, but the golf ball just doesn't know how old you are. You're only as old as you want to feel you're old.
So I just look at him and winning breeds winning. You win one, you win two, you get a taste of it, it's a little bit easier to continue on that path. So knows he's done it, he's got the confidence to do it he'll play well here this week.
KELLY ELBIN: You've been 7th in right now in greens in regulation, is that the iron play been kind of the key to your playing better this year?
MARK O'MEARA: I think there's just some things that I was a little bit lost with my swing for about a year and a half and I was just confidence wasn't there. And certainly some of the things that Bruce and I have been working on and Bruce recommended me to go see Hank and I saw Hank again this December so Hank's been watching me a little bit, that brings back some good memories.
But living in Houston now and being right there at River Oaks and being able to practice there and they have the kind of a TPI setup with the video and that, I have a clearer picture of what I need to do in my swing to become a better player. If that makes sense. Even at 52, you never, I know it's sometimes in golf it seems like you just borrow it for awhile, and then you lose it most of the time, so the whole process is kind of understanding where you're faults lie or where your mistakes lie and try to work around those. And right now I got a clearer picture of what I need to do to hit a better golf shot and that's a big plus.

Q. You said winning breeds winning, is that part of what happened in '98?
MARK O'MEARA: I think a little bit. But I also would tell you that in '98 when I went to Augusta I was not hitting it well, I wasn't very confident, I wasn't putting well. So I lowered my expectations. Sometimes when you do that it takes a little of the pressure off. The pressure kind of builds when -- that's why Tiger, what he continues to do is pretty amazing. He continues to win with the ultimate pressure on him all the time.
For me, I just, at 41, you know, I thought maybe my time had passed me by and next thing you know there I was birdied three of the last four holes at Augusta to win. Played well at the Open Championship at Birkdale later that year, won the playoff. I think winning the Masters helped me have an edge in that playoff. And then finished third at the PGA Championship at Sahalee. So it was a dream year.
But it was one of those years that was kind of the icing on top of the cake for me you might say. I tried to take full advantage of it, bask in the glory of being Player of the Year and especially in the Tiger Woods era, to have him put the green jacket on me and the people know that our relationship is very, very close, so I think that a lot of the success I had late was in direct correlation being around Tiger Woods. He pushed me motivated me, so it definitely was a benefit for me.

Q. Did he kind of give you a sense of possibility too?
MARK O'MEARA: He always asks me why, why I hadn't won a Major. And I said listen, I'm not, you know, I don't know, I've come close, but I consider myself a very good player, I've had a nice career, but sometimes I guess maybe just applying too much pressure on myself at a big tournament instead of just trying to be focused on doing it the way I know how to do it and giving myself the opportunities.
Because when I did have chances to win on the PGA TOUR I usually got it done. So I took a lot of pride in that. But it just never really materialized in a Major Championship until '98.

Q. The issue of Majors, have you noticed a difference in your approach and your anticipation for senior Majors, you got the Senior Open coming up--
MARK O'MEARA: A little bit, the Champions Tour is still, you know, I believe in golf you play for your pride. I know there's money being involved here, I know there's trophies involved here, I know there's championships. But a golfer like myself is kind of plays for my pride. I know where I should be and where I would like to be and when I'm not there I'm not really pleased with myself.
So that's the driving, really the motivating force that I have is to try to continue to get better. You're either getting better or you're getting worse and for awhile I was getting worse. Now I'm getting better.

Q. Whether it's here or Crooked Stick or any other sites of the Champions Tour Majors this year --
MARK O'MEARA: The Majors definitely have a little more pressure. Even here. Because they're run at a higher quality, there's more galleries, there's, it would be very nice to win any tournament on the Champions Tour, let alone a Major, but I believe in my heart that people are going to remember Mark O'Meara for winning the Masters in '98, making the putt on 18 and then winning The Open Championship.
So not to disregard how great it would be to win out here, but it's just, I feel lucky that, at 52, to still be playing a game that I dearly love, even though it's one of the most frustrating humbling, beat you up type of games, to still be able to be competitive and play at the ultimate level is tremendous. So I feel fortunate for that. And so this week go out there I've had good preparation, just try to stay in the moment and do the best I can.
KELLY ELBIN: Mark O'Meara, thank you very much.
MARK O'MEARA: Thank you.

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