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June 14, 2011

Michael Whitehead


BETH MURRISON: We are very happy to have with us this afternoon Michael Whitehead, who is playing in his first U.S. Open. He's here from Texas. He earned a place through sectional qualifying; he was the first alternate from the Dallas, Texas, site. He earned a place when Tiger Woods withdrew because of injury. Can you talk about your qualifier and also getting a call from the USGA?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yes. Obviously it was quite a bummer whenever I missed. It was just kind of a bad hole, so I thought my chances were done. One of the rules officials explained how the alternate, I guess, list, worked or something like that. And so I was like, well, there's probably very little chance. Then the next day I got a call from Betsy around 3:00, and she said if I would like to play that I had a spot. And so after I long, deliberating thought, I said yes.
BETH MURRISON: How long was that thought?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Oh, I probably said yes before she asked.
BETH MURRISON: Can you talk a little bit about the playoff, just what -- how you ended up in it and then what happened in the playoff.
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yeah, I birdied three of my last four to get to 4-under, through the two rounds to 68, 68. And I didn't think that had any chance. I thought it was going to be 7- or 8-under was probably the number. When I got in she said whoever was sitting behind the 9th hole, I think I finished on 9, she said 136 is looking pretty good. I didn't believe her. I said, you're kidding.
Then I got up there and all of a sudden I got down to the last group and was in without a playoff. And then Todd Hamilton birdied the last or something like that to fill up a spot and all of a sudden we had a three-for-two playoff. So I went out there and didn't play a scared hole, wasn't timid, just kind of reckless.

Q. I know you've told the story several times, but a little more detail on that call. Where were you, and excuse my ignorance, and who is Betsy, you said called?
BETH MURRISON: Betsy Swain from the USGA, championship administration.

Q. Elaborate on your reaction to find out who withdrew to create the spot.
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Just elation. I was at home. I had gotten home probably about 30 minutes before that, maybe an hour. I had stayed overnight to make a stop in the morning. So I had just gotten home, and I was just pulling out my laptop to figure out how I was going to get here because I was going to come anyway as an alternate to just be around, be in the atmosphere and see what it's all about. I've never been to an Open or even very many PGA tournaments. So really as I turned pro recently, I just thought I'd come to see what it's like, try to get acquainted to it.
And then she called and it was just pure elation. I was like, that's awesome.

Q. Talk to us a little bit about the golf course, Michael. What did you find out there? Where are you going to attack it? Where are you going to have to play defensively?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Right now I think it's very fair. Right now it's very playable. I've never been to a U.S. Open course before, but I imagine it's going to get a lot tougher the next two or three days. On the weekend it's going to be firmer, the rough is going to be a lot longer and the greens are going to be a lot faster. But right now it's very playable. I don't see anybody shooting real, real low. But they could shoot three or four under, probably, right now.

Q. What's the biggest event you've played in before, and by comparison, how do you get ready for an event like this, given the fact that you just haven't played in anything like this before?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: It would have had to be the Am last fall, would be the biggest one. And really over the last couple of days it's been the recognition that it's still a golf tournament. It's a different level and the field is a little deeper, I just go through my process of how to make it around the golf course. I think if you try to blow it out of proportion that it is a U.S. Open I'll probably get overwhelmed, and hopefully by keeping it fairly normal I do all right.

Q. Were you -- you grew up in the time when Tiger was dominating. Was he your favorite golfer during that stretch?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Oh, absolutely. He still is. He's awesome to watch. He hits shots that no one else can hit.

Q. Are you sort of enjoying a little slice of notoriety for replacing him? Is that fun?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Everybody keeps calling me Tiger's replacement. I walk around the golf course, Tiger's replacement. I'm not Tiger's replacement, I'm just the guy that got in when Tiger withdrew. Yeah, Woods and Whitehead in the same article. I'm glad he listened to his doctor this time (laughter).

Q. Can you kind of look ahead to Thursday morning, describe to us what you anticipate those first tee jitters to be like, and are they accentuated by the fact that you're playing No. 10, the par-3, 218, over the water?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: I don't think they're accentuated because of the hole. I think they're accentuated because it's the U.S. Open and I'm about to hit my first shot as a professional in a real tournament. Hopefully I just make solid contact.

Q. Could you give us a little background on your college career, where you attended and how you played as a collegiate?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yeah, I went to Rice University, just graduated on May 14th, great day. And I was home schooled in high school, and so I didn't come out of a high school team or anything like that, just played AJGA and other tournaments, and just kind of got better throughout college. I wasn't very good in college, probably averaged 75. Last year, senior year, averaged about three-quarters of a shot under par a round. I won a tournament, so that was a lot of fun. And kind of just kept working at it until I got here.

Q. Just another question about the Rice guys. Apparently your caddie is your former coach, and a bunch of your roommates and friends are also here in support, including someone who happens to be the club champion of Congressional. Can you tell us a little bit about the comfort zone they're putting you in, and have they given you some inside tips to the golf course?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yes, we've dubbed it the Owls' Nest, because we've had so many guys from around the country and everything like that, so they've been real helpful. I've had a couple of them walking inside the ropes, where to hit the ball, where to not hit the ball. It is nice. We have a real strong alumni base, as far as the golf team. We all get together and play once a year in a scramble. So it's very comfortable to have friendly faces around and people who do know the golf course.

Q. You mentioned people out there calling you Tiger's replacement. Any one or two examples of someone saying that that maybe stick out? Any kind of moments these first few days of wow, this really is a U.S. Open?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yeah. There's a lot of people, first of all, so that's how I know it's a U.S. Open. And then kind of as I walk by from signing autographs. I don't know why they want my autograph anyway. Whenever I'm doing it, someone down the line will whisper, that's Tiger's replacement. It's too many too much of a bother to say no, I'm not Tiger's replacement, but that goes through my head.

Q. Any interaction with other guys?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yeah, the guys I've played practice rounds with have all commented on it. I figure I got more press this way than if I just qualified.
BETH MURRISON: Who have you played practice rounds with?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: Yesterday we formed a college group, Russell Henley, Patrick Cantlay, and Williams, Chris Williams and I. Today I played with -- what was his name -- Elliot Gealy, who grew up with Coach.

Q. How did you get here? Did you drive or fly?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: I flew. My parents drove, but somehow I was going to get here, whether it was getting in a car and just driving east, but I ended up finding a cheap plane ticket here.

Q. Do you know what your second professional event will be?
MICHAEL WHITEHEAD: No, I guess it depends on how this week goes. If this week goes poorly it will be the Hooters tournament down in Pearland, Texas.
BETH MURRISON: Michael, thanks for joining us today, wish you well this week and hope you enjoy every minute.

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