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July 28, 2010

Tom Watson


PETE KOWALSKI: We'd like to welcome Tom Watson to his prechampionship interview at Sahalee. Tom, busy few probably months for you, with all the traveling you've been doing. How about a little assessment of how your body is feeling with all that stuff going on, and then talking about the golf course a little bit, please.
TOM WATSON: Well, let's see, right now it's 10:00 at night. No, I'm in good shape. Actually I slept pretty decently last night; I got to sleep until about 5:00. Was a little better than the previous morning where I got up about 2. That's why I had two early practice rounds, both at 7:15. Wide awake!
No, I played some golf the last two weeks on some real favorite golf courses of mine, St. Andrews and Carnoustie. I didn't play particularly well. But it always reminds you how difficult it can be when you're just a little bit off on your golf game and you're playing links golf. And then you add the conditions that we had on Friday at the Open at St. Andrews, and some of the changing wind conditions at Carnoustie.
It was kind of a struggle, but still hit some quality shots every now and then, which says I still have a little bit of it. And then came here and played a practice round yesterday and then started thinking -- made a slight adjustment in my swing, and then I confirmed that today, and I've started hitting the ball pretty darn well, which you have to do here.
There's two things you have to do: First thing you have to drive it straight. The first hole here is like the old slap in the face, you know, the skin bracer, whap, whap. You look right down there, and it's as narrow a tee ball as you're ever going to see here at Sahalee. And it doesn't get a whole lot wider than that when you're playing off the first tee.
And these varying types of pine trees and conifers, they get in your way, and they -- and they're positioned on several holes to be right in your way, so you really have to be very accurate on how you play the golf course.
The other thing is the firmness of the greens. The firmness of the greens is probably as hard as I've seen a green in America in a long time. They're very, very firm. And as a result the greens are not real big in depth. You're going to have to -- as I recall in 1998, you had to play to the fronts of all the greens, it seems like. And they can put the flags off to the rights and lefts, and the front is the toughest. Usually one of toughest pin positions is on the front because you have to land it short and guess how much it's going to roll. But still you have to fly the ball to the fronts of the greens and take your angles like this.
It's not a golf course where you fire at the flags. It's more of a chess match where you get in position for your next shot, and that's what makes Sahalee such a difficult course to play.

Q. What kind of golfer can be effective here? It's 6800 yards, so maybe the long driver does not have his normal advantage. Is it the approach shot, the putter, the wedge guy, all of the above, or like you, maybe the veteran guy, the guy that knows how to play these type of holes?
TOM WATSON: Well, it's kind of dull saying it, but you better be straight. You have to hit the ball very straight here. A guy like Mike Reid, for instance, who hits the ball radar, he hits the ball very straight. But you can find somebody who can hit the ball high, like Fred Couples, Calcavecchia, who can hit the ball up in the air. That's an advantage here to get the ball really up and coming down softer on to the greens. I think it favors a guy hitting the ball left-to-right off the tee, this way (indicating).
There's a couple of tee balls you have to work it this way, right-to-left. So left-to-right tee ball is the tee ball of choice, here. That's what I've been working on. I let the cat out of the bag, didn't I?

Q. To follow that, how does your game adapt?
TOM WATSON: It's good. I mean, I played well. I played well in the practice round today, and the way I assess -- the way I most play the golf course is I have to play the golf course to the fronts and the middles of the greens. And the greens are so hard that if you go off to the sides you're going to be hitting off the slopes. There's lots of slopes off the sides of these greens, and over bunkers, down slopes.
So if they tuck the pin over a downslope, it's too tough a shot to land it and stop it. You can't do it. So you've got to play up to throw the green and putt up from there. That's the way you have to play the golf course.
There's not a lot of -- length is always an advantage, but the height is a big advantage, here, get the ball up in the air, this way (indicating)and that -- I don't hit the ball nearly as high as I used to, but I'm hitting the ball pretty straight, so that's pretty good right now.

Q. You have a predetermined game plan? Do you have any idea how many drivers you'll hit off the tee this week or will you just see how you feel?
TOM WATSON: Well, I haven't counted them up. But I won't be hitting driver off every tee. There's probably five or six holes where I won't use driver. 14 driver holes.

Q. Are there any holes where you definitely will hit driver every day?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, there will be holes where I hit driver every day, yeah.

Q. Which ones?
TOM WATSON: Don't ask me such a tough question. I really can't go over the numbers. I'm driving the ball straight, and I feel like I could put the ball in the fairways with a driver on most every hole if I had to. This course is very similar to the course I grew up on at the Kansas City Country Club, a very, very narrow golf course. That's good. That's good for me. That's what I learned on. And I've been driving the ball well all year. That putts you into play. You've got to put yourself into play. And the rough is -- the rough is tough. This fescue rough is wet. This morning with the dew, it takes a lot off the ball when you get in the rough. You can get some bad lies in there.
We're in a USGA Championship. You're supposed to have to drive it straight, right?

Q. Were you surprised at how inspirational your performance last year at the British Open was for so many people? Did you have any idea it was going to be like that?
TOM WATSON: No, I didn't. Honestly I didn't. As I said, it was humbling to get the types of responses I got from so many people, from all sorts of walks of life. I still get people saying they watched it with a lot of emotion.

Q. Will you play the par-5s here fairly conservatively or will you try to go for some of them in two?
TOM WATSON: Well, No. 2 I think I can play that -- if I hit the driver that I hit there today, I had a 3-iron to the green, but it's hard for me to land the ball in the front of the green and stop it on the back of the green with a 3-iron.
So it's not one when the playing is on the right of the green, you're going to see Watson fire at the flag on the right side of the green. He's going to be over there on the left side over there somewhere.
I recall in '98 the greens were the same way. So it hasn't changed at all. The golf course has always played with firm greens. And the greens played smaller than they are, the way I look at it. They've got enough lumps and bumps on them, if you hit to the edges, sometimes you'll get a kick on to the green. Other times you'll get a downslope, and it's going to go off to the backs of the greens. And there's a lot of holes here you do not want to go over, you want to be short.

Q. On that 9th hole today on the practice round they were lined up 5, 6 deep just to get your autograph. We talked to one lady that said she almost fainted when you signed her visor.
TOM WATSON: I have that effect on a lot of girls. These are their grandmothers (laughter).

Q. How much joy, though, do you get coming to new areas and meeting these fans that have been watching for so many years?
TOM WATSON: It's great to put your game on display for people that -- and do well. That's what I do. I'm a golfer. I like to put my game -- I like to -- personally I like to hit good shots, obviously. You're a golfer. But it's fun to have other people watch you hit these good shots. And I've been that way ever since a kid, always enjoyed to kind of show off in front of the adults, and now I've had the chance to be able to show off in front of a lot of people.
Sometimes well and sometimes not so well. Understand my little shot at the 18th hole at -- in the first round at Carnoustie last week got on SportsCenter. Did you see that by any chance? Yeah. That happens to all of us. The shot was about six inches from the burn, "the creek" we call it over here, and I'm trying to hit a 5-iron, getting into this thing, and I can't stand up near it, at all, because the burn is right here.
So I'm trying to hit a shot, create a shot. Hit a 5-iron, get down here like this (indicating) open the blade up where it's like a wedge, and I'm trying to blade it and hit it down the fairway, because the wind is in our face, and I wanted to get some length over here. I could chip it sideways, but I've got a 3-wood to the green or probably couldn't reach the green. Couldn't have a layup short of the burn, so I'm trying to get a little creative. So I get in here, take a practice swing, and then I hit it, I hit it about six inches fat, just barely hit the ball and it just plops right into the burn like that. That made SportsCenter (laughter).

Q. You would make SportsCenter if you won this Championship. You've come 2nd three times in three different ways. How frustrating has it been not to win this championship and how much would it mean to win it at age 60?
TOM WATSON: Well, first of all it doesn't matter how old you are, this Championship is one that is about the most important Championship we play on the Champions Tour, bottom line. It's always meant a great deal for me to win our national Open and now it's our national Senior Open, and that to me has always been what I play for, is to try to win the best and toughest tournaments.
Yeah, we don't play golf courses like this on the Champions Tour. This is a tough golf course. And you're going to see some high scores out there. 60 doesn't make any difference. I think I still have enough game left in me to play well enough to be in contention, and that's what I'm planning on doing. I hope my plans come true.

Q. How much of that desire, Tom, to win, is the fact that you can punch your ticket to get back to The Open? You talked at Pebble a lot about that this year, outside of winning this that was probably going to be your last Open experience.
TOM WATSON: Yeah, let's take one step at a time. Let's win this one first and then I'll think about the other one.

Q. How much does the setup and the design of this course take a lot of players out of contention. For instance at a usual Champions Tour there would be 50 guys that can win. Here there might be only 15 or 20?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think it does maybe restrict the number of players that can win here, because of the severity of the accuracy needed. I think it's really a -- that first hole just tells you what type of golf course you've got. You're playing right down a bowling alley. And if you can drive the ball in those up rights between the -- those pine trees, those 100 foot pine trees, if you can do that consistently, you're going to be ready. And that's going to take a lot of people out.

Q. Tom, you had mentioned the firmness of the greens here. I wonder how they compared to Pebble Beach, which of course those greens were extremely hard. And also, of course, bumpy, as well?
TOM WATSON: These are harder than Pebble.

Q. Are they?
TOM WATSON: They are firmer than Pebble's, yes, they are.

Q. Does that give you an advantage playing Pebble, one of the few seniors there to have that experience?
TOM WATSON: I don't know if it gives me an advantage. What gives you an advantage on a golf course is if you played it a number of times, and I haven't played Sahalee like I played Pebble. I can get around Pebble knowing what I have to do there and trying to keep away from some of the problems there, because I played it so many times in various wind conditions.
Still haven't figured out how to play 14 yet. Although I do know you have to hit it about -- you have to hit your shot in about -- you only have about 20 feet of width you can hit it in, maybe 18 feet of width, going up to that top plateau there. And if you don't, you're left or to the right, you're stuck.
But here having not played it a lot I'm going to rely on trying to get around the golf course without getting the ball in the rough too many times, taking the driver out of my hands a few times, maybe going in with a little bit longer club.
I remember last time I played here it was a choice of either hitting a driver down there and taking the risk, putting the ball in play. Which you have to do on some of the holes. You just have to put the drive in your hand. You can't go into these greens with such long clubs. You have to go with the driver. And the fairways are 20 yards wide, 25 yards wide. They're "narrow," as they say in Texas, "they're narrow"! And, again, that's what you have to do. And that's why it's going to take people out of the mix, here, how accurate you're going to have to be off the tee.

Q. Your place in history was pretty much secured by your mid-30s. For players that didn't quite have the career you had on the regular TOUR, how do you think the Champions Tour performance should figure in how those players are judged when it comes to Hall of Fame or just their place in the game's history?
TOM WATSON: Well, I think if you're looking at the Hall of Fame, I think the regular TOUR really takes precedence. Our Champions Tour, the Senior Tour, Champions Tour, we play some quality golf, but we don't play against the best. And that's what the Hall of Fame is all about, is the best. That's the way I assess it.

Q. I alluded to this earlier but with 156 guys starting tomorrow, how many have a chance to win?
TOM WATSON: Oh, I don't know. Don't ask me to -- I can't answer that.

Q. 25?
TOM WATSON: I don't know.

Q. 15, 20?
TOM WATSON: Again, whoever is going to hit the ball, you know, straight off the tee, get the ball in play. That's No. 1. That's the critical factor, here, in playoff the tee. In playoff the tee.

Q. I wondered how you enjoyed your time at the TV booth in the British Open and if you had any designs on doing a little more of that or wanting to do more of that?
TOM WATSON: That kind of fit what I'd like to do as far as doing the broadcasting. I have a little bit of experience playing links golf. And they asked me to do it a couple of years ago, and I said, well, I'd give it a try to see how I liked it. It's something that I enjoyed doing on Sunday, in particular, talking about Oosthuizen. I know the broadcast wasn't probably watched by very many people. The ratings were down, because he had such a big lead and a no-name up there.
But from a guy who kind of understands a little bit about golf, that guy has a great golf swing. And it was wonderful to see how he played without any fear in the last round of an Open Championship. Those are the two things that I thought were extraordinary about what happened on Sunday. I hadn't seen him swing the golf club since -- the first time I saw him swing it was on Saturday. And I said, wow, what great positions. And then I said, I wonder how long this guy is. And then I saw he was out hitting it 30 yards. Casey -- and Casey is a long hitter. And he finished 4th in distance and first in greens and first in fairways, and second in putts.
And the question everybody is asking is where has this guy been? Where has this guy been? Well, maybe this will be the catalyst for him to have -- as they said, have the confidence in himself to perform at the highest levels, against the best players. And we'll see. I expect some good things from this kid, and he's something special.

Q. Do you think Tiger is going to catch Jack?
TOM WATSON: Yes. I do.

Q. You talked about how height was an advantage on a course like this and with any tree-lined course you're kind of playing target golf. Is it more you're aiming at a specific target as opposed to adjusting in your head for a roll or a release. You're saying, I need to hit it here because there's so many obstacles and everything is so severe as you said?
TOM WATSON: The great thing about this course is you have lots of trees to shoot at, you do (laughter)! You've got trees on the left, on the right. You have trees in the right center of the fairways, and the left center of the fairways. You've got them through the doglegs. You've got five trunks of trees through -- you've got lots of aiming points here. It's not like St. Andrews where you have nothing to aim at. The height is an issue.
If you can put the ball in the air on your approach shots into these greens, you can put it up here, rather than right here (indicating) you're going to be able to hit the ball on the greens in some of the locations where they put the pins and getting it closer rather than playing to the fronts of the greens and letting the ball release to the middle or the back of the green. Again, that's my game plan, at least.

Q. You might know the Greenbrier better than any of the guys playing there this week. How do you think they'll fare there?
TOM WATSON: If the golf course is soft, they'll shoot low scores there. The greens are -- they're very tricky; they've got a lot of contour in them. Lester George redesigned it a few years ago, and he put a lot of sharp contours on the greens. Yes, it does play pretty short. But it's got -- the greens play really small. And if the greens get firm, at all, if they don't have any rain there, they can get -- they won't get as firm -- Greenbrier never has as firm of greens as they do here. This is a semi-arid area up here. But they would be -- it will be a really good test. In fact, I just called Mr. Justice and said I have mixed emotions about being here, I'd like to be playing there.

Q. How long has it been since you've played there?
TOM WATSON: I was there six years ago.

Q. You've been involved in some design work. Do you have a particular golf course architect or designer that is your favorite?
TOM WATSON: Well, I study lot of the old architects to see what they do with the land. A lot of things you want to do on a golf course is make it as natural as possible. Make it fit the eye, and a lot of the old designers did that. We talk a lot about Alister MacKenzie. I've always like his bunkering, I like the way he did a lot of short bunkering. It caught your eye, but it really wasn't in play. But it created a flow to the hole. The toughest thing to do is to take a straight corridor when you're building a golf hole and make it not straight. And there's certain ways you do it. The old designers were wonderful at that.
And I basically try to let the land tell me what to do. I haven't had the privilege of being able to have a great piece of land on which to build a golf course. Many of them have been either in the mountains of Japan or flat, Cassique-type golf course at Kiawah Island where you had to create the canvas and then paint it. I haven't been lucky enough to -- been asked to do -- been asked to build a golf course on an existing canvas, which is beautiful, just absolutely spectacular. And that's the challenge.
One of the things that I think is really necessary on a golf course is allow the player to hit -- if he or she hits the ball straight, they don't have to look for their golf ball, ever. They don't have to hit over stuff where they lose their golf ball. And it's awful hard sometimes when you take a piece of land and do that nowadays.

Q. You were out with Fred on Thursday and Friday?
TOM WATSON: Yeah, I'm the real super senior golfer in this group.

Q. Do you think there's going to be room for the fairways and the trees for the people that want to watch it?
TOM WATSON: We're going to have a good go of it. It's going to be interesting to see how Fred plays the golf course. He won't be hitting a lot of drivers, I know that. But his 3-wood goes farther than my driver. So we'll have a good time. And Eduardo, he's as long as Fred. It's going to be interesting to see. I'll be learning from Fred. He's played this course more than I have. I'll be out there taking it in, trying to see how Freddie plays the golf course, see if it helps me.
PETE KOWALSKI: Tom, thanks very much. Appreciate your time.

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