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August 5, 2009

Hale Irwin


Q. In this year we've had you're the perfect person I wanted to talk to about this, but we've had a couple guys, you won the Open at age 45 as you remember, we've had Kenny Perry come within a putt at 48, you know what Tom did at Turnberry. But when you go back and look there's very few guys who have been able to win a major in their 40s, and you're one of only five who have done it from 45 or older. Why do you think that is? What do you think the makeup is, the people that can do it and those that didn't do it?
HALE IRWIN: I don't know as there's a simple straightforward answer. We can throw out a couple of hypotheses and see if they work, one of which I think is -- I'm going to come to this technology thing probably more than once, but I think that technology has allowed older guys to compete longer, but it's also made the younger guys that much more competitive, simply because with the younger strength and the more club head speed you can put on the golf ball in particular with the driver, the greater becomes that ratio of length. So I think we've been able to kind of put that ball out there so far, now compared to years ago where maybe that experience factor was at least equal to the distance factor, if that makes any sense.
Secondly, I think you're talking about the odds, what are the odds of a guy into his 40s, much less 45 or older, competing against a whole raft of 20-year olds and 30s. It's going to be competing at that level, much less the possibility of winning an event, much less of winning a major championship. So it kind of becomes an odds thing, what are the odds.

Q. Plus there's only four a year.
HALE IRWIN: That's true. So you can throw any of those cards out there and play them, and they probably all have some degree of playability. But as I was watching the British Open this year, you can see how Tom was playing the game that we kind of always played in the past with an iron shot here and he played it to an area there, versus the younger players who were bombing it away.
Then you see Kenny Perry who I think has hit on a great run these last several years, the last three or four years, I think he's just comfortable in that mode. You hit that comfortable -- in fact, I think I played my best golf when I was 52 years old. Now, why, I don't know. You can call it a lot of things, but I think it was for me, as successful as I was leading up to that time, I kind of wish I would have had the opportunity to play more on the regular Tour rather than having -- you can't do both. It's just too difficult.
But Fred has done it relatively successfully, but you kind of have to stay in that environment, and I just wasn't there enough, and I wish I had been, because I think I could have played very effectively.

Q. I forget who I was talking to today that made the point from the mental standpoint of the decision making and everything else that the majors demand just a little bit more over 72 holes and that affects you a little.
HALE IRWIN: They do, simply because of what we're talking about right now, they put more importance on them. The players put more importance on them, the media attention is greater, the fan recognition is greater, the prize money tends to be more substantial, all of those things ratchet it up not one notch but perhaps two or three, hence why I think the experience factor is so valuable in those events.
Again, what Tom did, almost pulled that off, and Stewart Cink is no rookie. He's been around a while. So I think that shows. Generally speaking you can bet -- when you're coming down the stretch and you see those guys that are playing well and you can see the older guys, that's kind of where in most cases you have to look at that experience factor, because they've been there, they've done it, they know what the pressure is, and they know what tends to happen. And what tends is happen is the players loss it rather than win it. You can put any scenario you want in this case. I think Stewart Cink won it.
Most of the time -- look at Jack's victories through the years, look the Tiger's victories, any of Tiger's victories. Most of the time, and I'm saying this from the safety of afar, mind you, he's a great player, but a lot of the players can't keep up to that standard in the last round, hence they back up and he surges forward.

Q. I'm going to test your memory here if I could, please. Mr. Arnold Palmer turns 80 next month. Could you take me back to the first time you ever met him in person? Do you have a favorite Arnold moment? And what has he meant to the game?
HALE IRWIN: When I first met Arnold was at the -- you are testing me now. It was in New Jersey. I'm trying to think of the tournament now. It'll come to me. I'll get back to you on that. But it was just more of a fleeting meeting with Arnold -- Dow Jones. It was the Dow Jones tournament that we played in Upper Montclair. Arnold had played reasonably well, but it wasn't one of those sit down at the table and have dinner type of things because I was who I was and Arnold was who he was, and let's say that there were a few people in between.
But Arnold is always very gracious. One of the nicest guys for a superstar and the mega star that he was and still have, and I think that there was always that convergence of Jack and Arnold and all those people sort of followed those two gentlemen around, and the rest of us kind of got to watch on the sidelines.
I think probably -- I was going to mention this tonight, so forgive me if I duplicate it, but the most telling thing I think about Arnold is when he was the captain of the '75 Ryder Cup, and Arnold is competitive, which I love, but we had a team meeting, and Arnold said, Okay, guys, I want you to get out there, and I don't want them to win a point, and he really and truly meant, he didn't want them to win a point. We had a pretty good team. Those were the days when we were kind of just going to win, just which day were we going to do it on. I kept looking for that little smirk and that little smile, and there was none.
That indicated to me what Arnold Palmer -- what made his career, driving the first hole at Cherry Hills, all the drama, go for broke, hit the shot through the trees, all those things that Arnold has been so synonymous with for so many years. That right there showed me that this guy takes no prisoners. He was one, get in the way and I'll run over you. I'll pick you up after it's said and done, but I'll run over you.
I like that about Arnold because you always know where Arnold is coming from. There was never any pretense. He was the guy from Pennsylvania. His father had raised a straightforward young man, and obviously Arnold played straightforward.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about what this honor means for you, Ambassador of Golf?
HALE IRWIN: It was frankly a surprise, very much of an honor. It's very special. I'll have to admit, it's very special. When you look at the list of people that's on that, they've all contributed greatly in the game. I often times feel that my participation in the game, my contribution to the game pales in significance compared to some of these other people. They are just beacons in the night. They stand for the most part for what's good about this game. Hopefully I continue in that tradition.
There are those of us I think who have been fortunate to have had success throughout the years who have perhaps influenced others through our game, and I think that's what this award is about. It's not just about you won an Open at age 45. I think it's more of lending your name and likeness to a direction that golf can lead you. More importantly in my mind, it's for those kids out there. As adults maybe we're set in our ways and harder to change. With kids, whether it be through the First Tee or the AJGA or whatever it may be, at the local level, I think it's very important if you can do that, then you truly are an ambassador of golf.

Q. Firestone, any thoughts walking around here a little bit?
HALE IRWIN: Oh, yeah. I mean, goodness gracious, just about everything time I come here there's always something.
As we drove in today, I looked over at the 18th green on the North Course -- actually we were driving in, I turned to my wife, I said, do you remember the holes in one? I've had a hole-in-one on the north and I've had a hole-in-one on the South Course. It just kind of came out of the blue.
Then looked at the 18th green, and when I was here, my first World Series, which would have probably been '74, it was a four-man, some friends from Boulder, Colorado, came out, about eight or ten of them, and they called themselves Hale's Angels. There was an attorney and a radiologist who we always referred to as a "radio-ologist." We had good guys, and they were playing the 18th hole, and the best player of the group was actually my college coach, only he wasn't a golf coach, he was more of a -- he lent his name, but he was an insurance salesman who did it for nothing. He'd give me the balls, I'd give them to the team, and there we'd go in one of those panel tracks off to some tournament. He was a really good player, won a lot of state events.
I just finished playing over here and I came over to watch him, and he's short right of the 18th green, and I watched him successfully shank three shots, and he got almost back to where I was to start with.
Those aren't always tournament thoughts, but a lot of really good memories, going to the Diamond Grill. The American Golf Classic was the first time I was invited, 1968, and this was the event at that time, my first time in Akron, and it was clearly heads and shoulders above any other event because they came to see how this tournament was run in terms of hospitality and housing and transportation.

Q. So you played in the American Golf Classic, the PGA, right, and the World Series?
HALE IRWIN: Whatever that one that was played on both golf courses. Was that the World Series? I've played a lot of things here under different banners. The CBS Golf Classic.

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