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May 10, 2011

Mark O'Meara


MARK WILLIAMS: Mark O'Meara, thanks for joining us here at THE PLAYERS Championship. Get a start in the tournament due to winning the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship on the Champions Tour last year. It was your first individual title after winning with the Nick Price in the team event at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. Talk about coming back here. You made 23 consecutive starts from '81 to '03 and obviously you're back here again.
MARK O'MEARA: It's an honor to come back and play in THE PLAYERS Championship. Certainly winning last year at the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship gave me the opportunity to get into this field.
At 54 years of age to be able to come back and play with the kids again, it's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it. I was here two weeks ago Monday after the Tampa tournament and played a practice round.
It's funny, you just remember the past memories of the tournament, playing here many, many times. I played across the street at Sawgrass a couple times before when we came over before TPC opened. To see how this tournament has grown in stature and quality for the players, the amount of notoriety that this championship gets, you know, it's the place to play. It's the place to win. And you've got a lot of great champions that have got their name on that trophy.
For me it's just great to be here and play, and hopefully I can play well and compete on the weekend and see what happens.
MARK WILLIAMS: Before we have some questions, this year on the Champions Tour you've made seven starts. You're 26th in the Charles Schwab Cup standings and haven't finished outside the top 15. Talk about your form this year on the Champions Tour.
MARK O'MEARA: I feel like I've played fairly well this year. Tee to green I've been okay. Last week I finished T-12th at the senior event, our Champions Tour first tournament of the year up at Shoal Creek.
It's all about kind of putting it all together. I haven't won obviously yet this year, but a couple tournaments I've played well enough to give myself a chance to win, but the guys -- like on any Tour, it's difficult to win. It's difficult to win out here. It's very difficult to win on the Champions Tour. The guys play extremely well.
And my hopes this week are if I can play as well as I did two weeks ago when I was here on that Monday, I should do okay. But listen, 31 years of being a professional golfer, I just feel like I'm still kind of blessed to be able to play a game that I love and I'm still trying to compete at. I hope to hopefully play well this week.

Q. This course has never been about power; you don't have to be Tiger or Phil to win here. That said, do you believe that gives you a little bit of a shot if all the other parts of your game are working?
MARK O'MEARA: Like I said, if I can hit it like I did two weeks ago when I played that Monday, and I played one ball and I played well. But still, even saying that, power still has an advantage on some of the par-5s, certainly 2 and 16, and the par-4s like 5 and 14. You know, those two holes that length is still a factor.
But around here I think it does take a little bit of experience. It takes good management of your game, trying not to short side yourself on some of those holes because it's difficult to get the ball up-and-down. And now over the last couple years taking away the overseed certainly is going to make the golf course play a little faster, which to me is the right thing to do to challenge the players, speed the course up. Certainly they've done that.
And you saw Tim Clark last year perform extremely well. A lot has to do with the wind, too. If there's not that much wind, the scoring will be good. If the wind kicks up, then it's a little more difficult around this golf course when the wind is blowing.

Q. Do you like the way this course is set up for May?
MARK O'MEARA: I do, much so. And it's funny because to remember what this golf course was like the first year we came and played it, was it '83? '82 the first year we played here. You couldn't see any other hole from the hole you were playing.
Trying to explain that to young kids today -- when you stood on the first tee if you hit it left, you might have a yard or two off the left side of the cart path and then it was Palmetto palms and shrubs, and the golf course was wild. They've cleaned it out.
And in a roundabout way when you clean out a golf course, it's not that this golf course is easy because it's still a very challenging golf course. But it's certainly not as intimidating as it was when you stood on the 18th tee back in the olden days and if you flamed it up over the right you were up in the Sawgrass bushes on the hillside. There was no grass where all the spectators are.
From that standpoint the course has definitely opened up quite a bit. You can still hit it in the trees, but more than likely you can maybe find your ball and play it out, where early in the years you couldn't do that.
So back to having it Bermuda and no overseed, I think that that is a tremendous idea. And playing it in May like this, between the Masters and the U.S. Open, is also a great call.

Q. More on the discussion of what the golf course used to be like, can you think of any other significant changes? I know the greens apparently have been softened a little since the first couple of years. Any other things that come to mind?
MARK O'MEARA: No, just -- there's been some length added to it, just a little bit, not huge amount of length but a little bit of length on some of the par-4s. Like I talked about on 5 and 14, I believe, are certainly 30 yards longer, 40 yards longer. And No. 7, and the par-3, No. 8 is a little bit longer. But other than that, the course has kind of remained pretty much intact.
You know, I think in the early years there wasn't as much rough around the greens. The ball would really chase away and kind of get away from you. And even though there's no overseed, the Bermuda rough, when I was here two weeks ago, it was fairly decent, so I imagine it's even a little bit thicker now.
But there's been a lack of rain certainly in the southeast and through the south, so the course -- I haven't been out there yet to play, but it looked like it was going to be in great shape, so I imagine there's no reason why it won't. And it's just going to play quick, so you're just going to have to be precise with controlling your iron play and driving the ball well, and then it comes down to making the putts.

Q. Are you still working with Hank?
MARK O'MEARA: No, I've been working with Bruce Davidson out of Houston out at River Oaks for two and a half, almost three years.
I worked with Hank for a long time and then I kind of got away from Hank, and I was working with Mike Abbott for a couple of years. And then when I moved to Houston I met Bruce Davidson who's the head pro, kind of director of golf there at River Oaks, and he helps a lot -- a lot of the guys know him.
But he works with Keith Fergus and myself. And he's from Aberdeen, Scotland. A great guy, great friend and wonderful teacher. He's helped me quite a bit.

Q. Given equipment, the ball, and the fact you might be in a little bit better physical shape, are you just as long as you ever were on the PGA TOUR?
MARK O'MEARA: I'd say I'm about the same. I'd just say that the kids hit the ball so much farther. It's just amazing. I'd say I probably drive it -- at times in the last year and a half, two years, I've hit the ball as well as I've ever hit it in my life, probably even better than when I won both majors in '98.
But in saying that, a lot has to do with the rest of the players in the world, you know, the European players, the foreign players, the young players, the college kids. I played with this young man a week ago last Monday at Lochinvar there in Houston, Cory Whitsett, who's a freshman, 19-year-old kid from Houston that's going to Alabama. He hits it 40 by me, left-handed player.
And I reckon after playing 18 holes with this young man, I'm like, okay, I couldn't hit it like that when I was 19, I promise you. Not only is he long, he's got serious game. He's only 19. He's a freshman.
So there's a lot of these kids coming out, and obviously you just had one in here, Bubba Watson. Here's a guy that's got tremendous talent, great hands, pounds the ball, putts it well, and is playing with a lot of confidence, and confidence comes from playing well and winning.
You know, and then you've got -- you've just got a field here that is just -- I don't know, golf, even though age factor becomes a factor in the golf game, the golf ball doesn't know how old you are down there. It sits down there kind of waiting to be hit. So sometimes when you're out there practicing, even though I'm 54, I hit it and I'm thinking, even though I'm 54 I feel like I hit it just as well as I did when I was 38.

Q. Is there anything you're better at now than you were as a younger player?
MARK O'MEARA: I'm better at not getting quite as upset. You know, I just take it as it comes. I would say this year at the Masters, even though I shot 77-73 I hit the ball well enough to be playing on the weekend but I putted poorly.
But I would say mentally and emotionally I was much more at ease, and I kind of understand where I'm at at this stage of my life. I still want to compete, I still want to try to win, but yet I don't let it really eat me up as much as probably I used to early in my career.

Q. Is that just acceptance?
MARK O'MEARA: I think so. It just comes with time. You realize through thick and thin that there's going to be a tomorrow, and I may do well, I may not do well. And if I don't do well, then maybe I'll do well in a couple of weeks. Sometimes -- you can only push so far.
And you realize when you try to make something happen and push, or work at something, thinking, okay, I'm going to get the results because I'm putting in the time, that isn't always necessarily the case. And sometimes when all of a sudden you just let go and you step back, all of a sudden it just comes to you.

Q. The guys that you're competing against now who you competed against 30 years ago, how much -- because of that acceptance, how much are they more mellow? How much are they more human now that they're not trying to carve out a living or legacy, raising little kids and so forth? How different is that?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, I think it has a lot to do with it, and I -- just playing golf as long as I have as a professional golfer and witnessing what I've witnessed and playing around the world, you know, some of the most amazing -- certainly growing up as a Jack Nicklaus idol and then seeing kind of what those guys did. And then I've talked about my relationship with Tiger and watching what Tiger did in the game of golf and where he took this game, you know, amazing things that happened.
But I'd have to put -- after being out there for four years on the Champions Tour one of the most amazing things that I've also seen is the quality of play and what goes on out there. It really blows my mind how good the guys still play. It really does.
Maybe somewhere down the road, I know Watson said something about this, there could be a cool tournament where maybe you have the top 15, 50 and older players play against the top 15, 20 to 30 year old players on a 7,100-yard long golf course, which is still a decent length, not 7,400 but 7,100, and see what happens.
Because I know that the game has definitely changed to the youth, but I also believe the quality of what a guy like what Bernhard Langer has played like on the Champions Tour, and Tom Lehman is on a role out there now. I don't think Tom Lehman hits it much different now than when he was playing the regular Tour, but yet still difficult to win out there, too.
You know, listen, everybody -- what other profession can you be doing it at 54 and still -- we're lucky as heck. There's no question about it. But I do believe you're right. The kids are gone, a little more mellow, but that doesn't take away from the nerves and the wanting to try to win coming down the stretch. That's still the same.

Q. How much did '98 just change your career, your life?
MARK O'MEARA: It changed it quite a bit. There's no denying it. 41, not playing that well, not having the big expectations, myself nor anyone else, to have a year like that and to have broken through and win two major championships, Player of the Year, taking Tiger down in the World Match Play, having Tiger put the green jacket on me.
You know, those were life-changing events and something that was like the icing on the cake for a guy who had a nice career anyways. For a guy who grew up certainly in a nice environment but washing cars, picking up the driving range, doing all those things. And then all of a sudden still be a professional golfer at 41 and competing.
And 18 years prior to that, I played at Augusta at the U.S. Amateur Champion, and I was knocking names off the scoreboard on No. 11, shooting 81-80 or whatever I shot, thinking, no matter what happens, at least I got to play the Masters one time as the U.S. Amateur champ.
And I came back there 18 years later, stood there on 18 Sunday in the last group, last guy to putt, made it. I've seen guys make putts on 18, whether it's you name it, and I was wondering how anybody could ever do that, and all of a sudden there I was.
I don't know how I did it to be honest with you. I was in more shock and and disbelief when I made the putt to win the Masters. But I always felt in my heart as a player and more of an international player as an American player I played more abroad than other players. Winning in Europe, winning in Asia, winning in Australia, I took those wins very highly just as if I would have won in America that week.
And to have gone -- I felt if I was ever going to win one major it probably would have been a British Open because low ball flight hitter. I like playing in the wind. I've had a good record at Pebble, Hawaii. Windy conditions, tougher conditions, and that's what always happens at the Open Championships.
So later in the year to go win at Birkdale certainly after being last group in '91 with Ian Baker-Finch and watching Ian win at Birkdale and then to come back there in '98 to win, it was special.

Q. Did you see guys, contemporaries, who maybe missed by a shot or got a break or something that never got to enjoy what you got to enjoy?
MARK O'MEARA: Absolutely. And one of them is a close friend of mine, John Cook. We stayed together at Muirfield that year, and he had a chance to win the Open Championship. He had it in his hands.
It wasn't going to be gimme, but it was right there. Unfortunately, he three-putted 17 and bogeyed 18 and Faldo won. That was a heartbreak loss for John, and you just don't get that many opportunities to win major championships.
I felt that I was very fortunate in '98 to have that year.

Q. Two-part question. We're streaming live video coverage online from two holes. The first is No. 13. Could you describe it tee to green and whether you consider that like a birdie hole or just a par?
MARK O'MEARA: 13, a lot has to do with the pin placement certainly. You know, it's always challenging, that hole, because there's a lot of movement in that green on 13. You know, the water is in play.
There's no bail-out a lot on this golf course. You have to stand up there because even if you hit it to the right and play safe, it's just not an easy up and in. It can range from guys hitting an 8-iron to possibly a 4-iron depending on the wind. If the wind is coming out of the south east in off the left, that's always kind of a difficult shot for a player.
I think a lot of times we've seen guys make hole-in-ones there where the ball kind of rides the ridge and usually that back right pin teams to be one where guys have made a lot of hole-in-ones. The left side with the slope in the green, you just have to stand up there and be committed to your shot and try to get it on there.
So it's usually an exciting hole. I wouldn't classify it necessarily as a birdie hole, but I think it's a hole that you've got to try to avoid a little bit of the disaster, too, though.

Q. The same question for 17; what do you feel when you stand on the tee and survey what is in front of you?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, you know, 17, if you take up -- I've hit anywhere from a wedge to 17, I've hit 5-iron to 17. Now, it's not a whole lot of fun hitting a 5-iron. That's usually the one we play earlier in the year and the wind was coming out of the north and it was cold.
But the green is a fairly decent size for the quality of these players out here. But it is intimidating when you're playing and it's got so much history and notoriety. Once again, there, center of the green is not a bad play on 17, just get up there and make sure that you've got the right number.
Sometimes the guys -- we've seen more guys, I think, go long than that basically come up short because maybe there's a little more adrenaline certainly on Sunday afternoon, the pressure is on. You're a little more pumped up. All those things got to be taken into consideration. We've seen some amazing great shots on 17 and we've certainly seen some not so great shots.

Q. On Seve, how many times did you play with him and do you have any lasting memories?
MARK O'MEARA: I didn't play a whole lot with Seve but I played quite a bit. I played with Seve, against him, about three times in Ryder Cup matches. I've certainly been paired with him in major championships.
You know, like I said last week, I said, there's a man that had a great passion for the game of golf. He played with an unbelievable flare, creativity, just an amazing man when it came to playing the game of golf.
I know he's going to be sorely missed. Certainly we have missed him the last few years at the Masters, at the Champions dinner, past champions' dinner. He meant a lot to that tournament, he meant a lot to European golf. You know, we feel sorry for the loss that the Ballesteros family has had.

Q. How close do you think Tiger is to having one of his weeks?
MARK O'MEARA: I think he's close. I don't see Tiger that much. I just saw him. We played practice rounds at Augusta. I think he's doing better. I think he's very close. It's been a long road back, but he's an unbelievable talent. I think you all know that. I know that. He's been great for the game. It's good for the game when he plays well.
You know, he's got the major championships. He's got four to go. It's not going to come easy. He's getting older. But yet he's still got all the talent in the world. He's the best athlete out here. I know he's fought some injuries, too, but I still think the guy is an incredible athlete.
And he just needs to get out there and gain some confidence like any one of us, it's been a while so you've got to take little steps and then you start jogging and then you start running and then you start sprinting.
I think his play at Augusta on Sunday was evident that he's certainly taken the turn in the right direction.

Q. What have your caddies hit at 17 when they have the caddie contest?
MARK O'MEARA: I think Shane hit like a 9-iron. We played actually two weeks ago, and he hit a good shot there. Yeah, 9-irons, 8-irons, but they have fun with it, and it's great. Why not?
MARK WILLIAMS: Mark, we appreciate your time. Good luck.

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