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April 14, 2011

Jim Thorpe


PHIL STAMBAUGH: We welcome Jim Thorpe into the interview room today, Jim playing in the 2011 Outback Steakhouse Pro Am. Jim, I'm going to just turn it over to you. I know you've been working hard on your game. Maybe start us off with some statements and then we'll just open it up for questions.
JIM THORPE: Well, good. First of all, thank you everyone for being here. I'm very happy to be back. Can't wait to get back into competition. As you know, I've been gone for about a little bit less than a year, right at a year without playing competition, and probably never thought I'd miss it as much as I did.
But I'm happy to be back and looking forward to kind of doing the same thing as we did before we left, entertaining spectators and sponsors out here and being part of the Champions Tour.
A lot of things have changed since I left. We have put together a beautiful team called Team Thorpe that will make sure that things that happened in the past would not happen again, and sometimes in life we make mistakes and trust the wrong people.
But anyway, that's behind me, and you know, I just basically want to talk golf and get back into playing golf. I miss the excitement, miss the competition, and I thought this week coming back to a golf course I played quite a bit would be nice coming back here to kind of get my feet wet again.
Tuesday morning when I drove in I've never been that nervous on the golf in my whole life. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how the pros were going to receive me, what they were going to say; and it turns out that I got a lot of hugs, a lot of "good to have you back," a lot of "we missed you." And that's pretty much the ball game, guys.
So I just want to get back out there, and since I left the level of competition has gotten much stronger. And I think they're still shooting the same scores that we won with years ago, but there are so many new guys out here has only made the Champions Tour much stronger than it was.
Also like to thank all the pros. I got so many letters from pros and fans while I was away, beautiful letters from guys like D.A. Weibring, Jerry Pate, Andy Bean, Tom Watson, D.A. Weibring, you know, Dana Quigley, Allen Doyle and those guys.
And I personally think they realize in life we make mistakes and they don't really hold it against you because life is a game of mistakes and sometimes we don't see the forest for the trees, but now, you know what, it's behind me. I feel like I did what I had to do, paid my debt to society, and my life is on the right track. I got the right people in my corner, and I just want to play golf now.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Jim, I know our Titleist rep told me this morning that he played golf with you and that you were hitting it real good. Can you maybe tell us where you think your game is right now?
JIM THORPE: It's tough to say. We're playing in competition and we're playing with amateurs this week, which is good for me. And I'm playing with a very good friend of mine, looking at the pairing, Dana Quigley. And Dana and I played a lot of golf together, and I know he'll find a way to relax me out there.
For some reason I feel a little nervous. I don't really know why. Basically because I don't know what to expect when I hit the first tee shot and that sort of stuff. But it's like playing football. Once you get the first hit, the game is on.
So I'm looking forward to it. I played with the Titleist rep up there in Orlando. Around home I've been shooting some very good numbers, some 5 and 6-under par rounds. Whether it continues here is another story.
But other than being a little bit shaky, I feel pretty good. I've worked hard on it; I've prepared for it, and I know what to expect from these guys. They're excellent players, and I just want to be a part of that again.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Okay. We'll open it up for questions.

Q. I'm guessing this was probably the longest stretch you ever went since turning pro without hitting a golf ball? Do you know how long it was? Maybe aside from injury. And how hard is it just to get back into it?
JIM THORPE: Well, you know, aside from injuries, you know, I had wrist surgery in '87, so I went from '87 to '89. Probably hit a few golf balls. But it was a long stretch.
And basically what happened, because I'd never been in a situation like I was in, I never really thought about golf that much. I watched a lot of golf while I was up there, and you start to miss it, you start to miss the guys. You want to be in the competition.
When I first came back, basically what I did for about a week, I just chipped and putted, just chipped and putted because I knew I was out of shape. I'd gained a couple of pounds, and then about after a week I started hitting long shots, and it was almost like I didn't miss a beat, you know.
Sometimes in life, I think in my case that 10, 11 months was good because it gave me a chance to really take a good look at -- maybe do some soul searching, you know what I mean? Clean the closet a little bit and get rid of a few people that was in your life. I know now with the team I have I can focus on golf and they're going to take care of things and make sure I'm on top of it all, so that's a good thing.

Q. What kind of fan reaction, any heckling or anything like that, do you kind of expect to get this weekend?
JIM THORPE: I hope we don't get any, but then again, you know, we have a race and lose a horse, they blame the jockey. You'll probably get some comments out there, but you know what, I'm here to play golf, and you know, if they choose to do that, then they choose to do it. Hopefully it won't happen, but I'm just going to focus on playing.
And that's why I have Tony with me. He's a big guy, so he can take care of whatever happens out there.

Q. Jim, a couple of things. First of all, the subpar rounds up in Orlando. Where are you playing up there? And then the second unrelated question is you mentioned you got some nice letters from some of the guys. Is there any one particular letter that was memorable that you could share even a little bit of?
JIM THORPE: Well, yeah. I got a lot of letters from a lot of guys. I named -- I can't say the names of everybody, but I think the unexpected letter was from Tom Watson that gave me a putting tip. And when I saw Tom yesterday, I said, "you could have given me this putting tip 30 years ago." (Laughs).
But I got a wonderful letter from Jerry Pate, Andy Bean, Fulton Allem, Gene Jones, all these guys, Brad Bryant, D.A. Weibring and guys like Allen Tate. I think that was his name, Allen Tate, letters kept coming in. When I left there, I had a whole bag of letters that I need to answer. I thank the guys for that.
Being in Huntsville I really feel that I was missed. You know, the guys that have interviewed me are like, "Thorpy, we missed you. We're glad you're back" and that sort of stuff. I don't think any of them want to see me go through any changes, but sometimes in life things happen that you can't control. You overlook and it catches up with you.
And you know, the golf courses up there, of course, I'm a member at Heathrow and Legacy Club up there. So I kind of know those golf courses pretty good. And actually I was doing a little teaching over at the Legacy Club there. And I wasn't doing a lot of teaching of the golf swing. I was teaching more of the short game. That's pretty much the strength of my game.
I don't know how those guys teach for a living, man, because boy, you see a lot of funny swings out there. You think my swing is funny. You should see some of the guys I was trying to teach.
But you know what, it was -- you know, I did the things I had to do, but yeah, the most important thing is I'm back with my family, and I just want to go forward from this point.

Q. Jim, how did you spend your days in Alabama? And did you spend the whole time there or did you get to come back? I don't know if it was house arrest or whatever.
JIM THORPE: No. You know what, I don't have a lot of comments about that. I did what I had to do up there. No, you don't want to be there, you know. But you know, I realized what I had to do, so I just made it work. You know what I mean? And I've had guys that have said I never could have done that. Well, you'd be surprised what you can do when you have to do it. So other than that, I don't want to see any of you guys go there, but you get through what you gotta do.

Q. How tough was it for you to deal with that, though, because I heard you didn't want to have your family there. And you didn't want them to see you in that situation. So from the mental aspect, how was that dealing with it?
JIM THORPE: Well, I don't think you ever want your family to see you in a situation where you don't have control of your destiny. And I just talked to the wife and the daughter. They understood it. They know the type of person that I am, and I told them just let me do what I need to do and this will all be gone in 10 months; 10, 12 months, it'll all be gone.

Q. Jim, you're in great shape obviously physically, but you are 60 years old. Right? 61?
JIM THORPE: Age is just a number to me. I'm young a heart.

Q. Yeah, I know. But in terms of the career, the window for a Champions Tour player, is that part of the nerve thing? Do you feel like you've got maybe a couple of years to be productive here?
JIM THORPE: No. Being honest, I'm in very good shape. I think I can go as long as I choose to, if I continue to work out a little bit and keep myself in shape.
The good thing about me I've never lost distance. I've always been a strong individual, not just from a physical standpoint, but a strong individual with the mind.
So you know, we put a one on it, but basically what happened between 50 and 57, 58, I think most of the guys come out at that age, in my case I was hungry, and after five or six years there, I think it went for nine years Tony and I had a winning streak I think nine straight years. So I was hungry for a long time.
And so now I'm just as hungry as I was when I turned 50. So I want to go out there and play hard and still have fun and try to enjoy myself. But I will definitely be playing hard. That's one of the reasons Tony's back on the bag. He knows my game. We've been friends a long time. And Tony will kick you in the butt when you need to be kicked, and those are the things you need.

Q. Jim, are your expectations noticeably lower this week than they might have been a year ago?
JIM THORPE: You know, I've never played well here. I mean the golf course I love. I like it. And I think if you look back over the history of the last 9 or 10 years I've played here, I'm willing to bet that my scores this week will be just as low as I've ever played here. I think the best I've ever finished is probably fifth, and I think I can go out there, and yeah, it's a very difficult golf course. I don't remember the golf course playing quite as hard as it played -- it played very hard yesterday during the practice round and the pro a.m. And I just don't remember the golf course playing quite as hard as it is. So I'm just going to go out there and try to make birdies. Whatever happens happens, you know what I mean. I can't control it. Just going to hit it and hope it goes the right way.

Q. Jim, speaking of hard golf courses, some of us are U.S. Open is the next major. Some of us are working on stories leading up to the U.S. Open. Did you play in the U.S. Open in 1980 at Baltusrol?

Q. Do you have any memories of how tough that was, and any memories of the week at all and maybe anything about what Jack did that week, especially the 63 he shot in the first round?
JIM THORPE: Well, first of all, we thought 63 was impossible to shoot on the golf course. And back during those days, back in the 80s and that sort of stuff, you know, it was -- you could not afford to miss a fairway or miss a shot on the golf course at Baltusrol. And for him to go out there and shoot a 63 was just totally unbelievable.
It was a very difficult golf course. I remember missing the cut there. I thought it was one of the hardest golf courses that I've ever played, and actually I think Jack ended up beating a guy named Aoki. Is that correct? And I think they played magnificent golf, and it was a very, very difficult golf course.
And any Open course is very difficult. But the one thing I'm finding now with me, because of the changes in equipment, hell, I hit the ball just as far now as I did pretty much back in 1980. And you know, probably to answer a little bit more of your question is with the change of equipment, my pitching wedge still flies 125. And back in 1980 my pitching wedge only went 125. So golf equipment has made us I think a lot better players. I think the equipment today makes the game a little bit easier. I think with the titanium and the steel-headed woods that we hit make a good driver an excellent driver and a poor driver a better driver of the ball, and that's one of the things in the early days I could never drive the ball. Now I feel like I'm one of the best drivers out here of the ball. I don't look for distance no more. I just look for fairways and there's a big difference there.
Guys, once again, thank you guys for being here. Like I say, just to review a little bit, I have a wonderful team of guys in my corner now led by George McNeilly who a lot of you guys probably know, and I'm quite sure the right things will be done. And I apologize to everybody for the mistakes that I've made. And as you know from reading the articles, I blame no one but me. And it just goes to show you sometimes in life that you just make a mistake and trust the wrong people. But I'm very, very happy to be back and looking forward to playing some golf.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Thank you, Jim. Good luck.

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