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August 10, 2000

Paul Azinger


LEE PATTERSON: Thank you. Wonderful start to the week. Maybe just a couple of thoughts about your round today and then we will open it up for questions.

PAUL AZINGER: Well, I hit -- I think I hit four, five shots like that today. So didn't ever think too much on the green. I just -- I have three swing keys that have been working for some time, and occasionally I forget one of the three today and hit bad shots, but didn't get into any trouble, and you know, it is a good start on a pretty hard course. When you shoot a good score in the afternoon on a course like this where the greens can dry out a little bit, they didn't really dry out. It was just a nice way to start. It is a lot harder course than when I first started coming here in the early '80s, I know that. I could remember when you'd shoot 6-under here and be 4 back. (laughs) Not that way anymore.

LEE PATTERSON: Any questions?

Q. On your back nine I think it was the second hole you did have a little trouble. You were about a foot behind the tree and you hit a pretty nice shot. What were you thinking there?


Q. Yes.

PAUL AZINGER: My 11th hole?

Q. You were on the left side --

PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, not my favorite tee shot. I hit a pull 3-wood down into the trees and all I was trying to do was to keep it low and kick a -- were you standing behind me?

Q. Yes. Looked like a tough shot to me, but --

PAUL AZINGER: Well, yeah, if I pulled it a little bit, I could make a 9 or something. But I pulled it off and skated over the green there. I think it is the only green I missed all day. Only chip shot I had to miss really. Didn't hit that great a chip. I had about 15-footer for par, made that. But one of those things, it was wide enough and I had a good lie and I felt like I can keep it under the trees. Hardest thing when you are in the rough is being able to hit it low because you hit it too low, it sticks in the grass; then you are totally -- you are lost. I thought I could get it above the height of the rough, still keep it under that tree and then fit it between the two trees. Pretty good shot.

Q. (inaudible)

PAUL AZINGER: Trees have gotten so big, really have grown up. This tree that guards the left side of No. 4, I was showing Michael Bradley I said: When I first started coming here, I showed him how big the tree was, I couldn't find a tree that was that small anymore as that tree was when it first went in. Used to be wide open, I always felt. Now it is one of the most tree-lined courses we play. It is really nice.

Q. How come it produces so many birdies?

PAUL AZINGER: Well, you get a lot of wedge chances here. The par 5s, there is a couple that you can get to and depending on the conditions, maybe you get to all four of them, not likely though, and there is some short holes where you get some wedges, if you get 10 to 12 wedge shots a day out here, the scores get pretty good. And the greens are really nice, so, that is generally the formula that produces good scores. You get 8 to 10 wedges a day, you probably don't see the scores quite as low. You got four par 5s that you consider wedges automatically, you get four more of those, if you are getting six or seven or eight more of those, what you might get here sometimes.

Q. You are playing as well; in fact, better than you had since your health problems. How does it feel to be going back to the PGA Championship in this kind of form?

PAUL AZINGER: With some hope. (laughs) I'd say something, the hardest thing for me was to play for four years with no hope of winning. I held out hope always and never gave up that I can do it, but really, it just wasn't happening. I would hit a shot and look up and, you know, based on the way it felt, I'd look up surprised where the ball was trajectory-wise, all that. That has all changed and at the end of last year I made an adjustment in my stance and the club is not getting behind me like it was. I felt like if I hit the ball solid, it was looking -- if I hit it down the middle, it was floating. So I had lost really any integrity in my shot and when I quit getting the club behind me, I started getting a solid shot again and then all of a sudden, my confidence restored; my frame of mind changes and so now I go to every tournament thinking the way I used to think. And even though I haven't played a lot of events this year, I have gone to every tournament with a lot of confidence. And it is nice to know -- I mean, I really felt like I had a chance at Pebble Beach. Who is to know what was going to happen. I only missed -- I guess I lost by 5. Finishing second. And then the British Open I was 3 shots out of second there, so, I feel like, you know, kind of like I used to. When I get to the event I have got -- if I am clicking on all cylinders I got a chance.

Q. PGA Championship (inaudible)

PAUL AZINGER: It is a special event for me. But I think that as far as having prioritized it, I am not prioritizing that over any other event, the other four majors. I could stay I am sure it is not more of a priority to me than it is to the other guys that are exempt for the tournament. We all want to play well, but I love going back there and I like those guys at the PGA of America.

Q. What happened with your elbow? (inaudible) was that a setback --

PAUL AZINGER: Well, it was actually -- it started bothering me in December. It was bothering me a good bit even in Hawaii believe it or not. Just tennis elbow, and I have really, I just haven't quite known how severe it is. It is like the first time you ever hurt your back, you think, oh, my gosh, this is it, and then after a while you begin to understand what it is about your back and you can tell when it is going to go out, you know how severe it is when it does. My elbow was new to me. I didn't want to take any chances do anything stupid and create a situation where I might have to have elbow surgery and all it is is tendinitis. I just was really careful with it, I guess, more than anything, and I am glad I was. I took -- I have taken quite a bit of time off. I have missed five tournaments that I really love, you know, so that was kind of unfortunate. But I think I did the right thing by skipping them. I had to skip Riviera, Doral, Bay Hill, I had to skip Hartford. I really like Westchester. But I think I did the right thing. My elbow is better now. I don't have tendonitis anymore. But it took a long time for it to go away. You can't quit all together so you keep it flamed up, but now it is better; it is a non-issue.

Q. Paul, this is a golf tournament and the golf course where you made your return to the PGA TOUR. Does that make this place special at all to you?

PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, it does, really does. I remember what that was like to be here. You get a deja vu feeling or whatever it is when you first pull into the parking lot. I remember what it was like when I first pulled into the parking lot in 1994 and then just coming behind the clubhouse and walking down and I remember it was just a great feeling. I remember that was a triumphant moment for me to come back and get to play another tournament. I never felt like that -- that I wasn't going to get better from my cancer. I had a great diagnosis or prognosis was great and I -- just one of those things almost less career threatening than back surgery, you know, perceived as being life threatening, it was -- don't get me wrong six months of chemotherapy chrome and five months of radiation, but I always had the hope that I was going to get better. I think that a lot of times these guys who have back surgery, it is more career threatening than really what I went through if I survived the cancer then I am going to play golf again. But it was still a triumphant moment for me to be able to come back and do it. The first day, The first tee shot, all that, it was fantastic.

Q. (inaudible) was it all related to being off the Tour for a full year? Was that it or was it still regaining strength because of that?

PAUL AZINGER: Part of it was strength. There was other issues, you know, I just -- I tell you what it was. I could go -- two years ago I could play good everyday. I could play good for four days and finish 45th or 50th and felt like I played good that week. I could play -- hit the ball good and miss the cut; play good, miss the cut. That was the level I was on. I don't know how else to say it. This year I felt like I hit it really lousy three out of four days at Memorial and finished fifth. So I have come along way. I don't know how to say it. I had a chance to win at the Masters; really through that stretch I lost by 3 there -- felt like the 6-footer on the last hole thinking you make this, you are going to lose by one. I lost by 3. (inaudible) that was just like a little piece of cake or something, a little -- continued to keep me going; keep me inspired or whatever, but you know, when you are playing really well and you are finishing 45th or 50th, you have got a problem. Losing by 15 (laughs) losing by 20.

Q. (inaudible) how is it to play four days really well and finish 40th?

PAUL AZINGER: Because I didn't have the total package. You have got to have the short game, chipping and putting and state of mind, you know, it is a total package. State of mind is huge too. So I don't know how else to say it. You guys have all been through it. You play good, hit it good, you get nothing out of it. Well, try doing that for four years and then of course, I would only mix -- if I would -- was only mixing in hitting it good and here I am complaining about it, but I don't think I finished worse than 90th on the money list, still maintained, I felt like I could still play, but it just wasn't happening and it wasn't happening and it continued to not happen. I figured well, you know, it is maybe -- it is just never going to happen. Then all of a sudden I recognized that there was a fundamental issue there with my swing and then my state of mind changed and then it all started to happen. Here I am, I have shot one good round today, that is great. There is a long way to go here, but I wasn't going to shoot 65 here a couple years ago, there is no way.

Q. (inaudible)

PAUL AZINGER: I am putting better. That is a big difference, a big deal. This longer putter helped me immensely immediately. I was starting to really try to understand more about putting. I recognized that the best putters, the handle of the club points at their stomach for the most part the back and through. And I kind of -- the handle points out here; then I continued on and even pointed further out and I tried to correct that and I thought: Well, you know, I will just putt cross-handed because I did that pretty well cross-handed. One day I looked at the putter in the pro shop. It was designed for someone to putt this way, but it was a shorter guy. It fit me perfectly. I was just holing putts on the carpet all over the pro shop. I haven't even picked up a short putter since.

Q. (inaudible)

PAUL AZINGER: Actually the pro gave it to me. He was pretty excited. This is a different putter than that one. I had that -- I just took a regular putter head and cut the grip off; extended the shaft and put that big grip on. That is all it is.

Q. (inaudible)

PAUL AZINGER: What, the first one? Pro shop.

Q. What (inaudible) --

PAUL AZINGER: In December I used it for ten days; then went to the JC Penny and the two best ball days, I made 13 birdies and an eagle. I have never played like that. Never putted like that. (inaudible).

Q. We were talking to you at the beginning of the year; you were forecasting about Tiger (inaudible) --

PAUL AZINGER: I can't pretend to know what he is thinking. I won't try. But as far as the golf course is concerned, it is not as bad as I think that the press is trying to make it out to be. I was asked 4 different times this week about Valhalla and all the questions were like a bait to rip it. I felt like, you know, it is not justified. Hazeltine was ripped; then the next time the U.S. Open was played there, it was really a pretty nice golf course. Sometimes it takes time for a course to mature. PGA of America in my opinion has a bit of a dilemma. The game has exploded, popularity of the game, and the courses, we got a lot more golf courses; therefore, we have a lot more pros that are in that program and so what are they going to do, PGA of America is going to continue to just play old courses; give no credibility to the new golf courses? No, I don't think so. In fact, the owners might have something to do with it too. I think it is probably okay for them to periodically go to a new golf course and maybe try to build some prestige into that event or that particular course. They get hammered for it, but you don't have Augusta National, they don't have the United States Open. They don't have the Open Championship. They are the PGA of America and they get credit, I think, enough credibility to be considered a major championship is a big deal and they are the backbone of the game of golf and I think that in the best interest of the game, they are doing the right thing by continuing to go to newer courses. Hopefully we will get to Valhalla and we will see the changes (inaudible) better and the players will, as a whole, enjoy it more and hopefully it won't be 110 degrees out which would make it miserable. That is the short answer.

Q. Psychology going into the final major of the year knowing that it is the last one -- (inaudible) --

PAUL AZINGER: Probably a little bit. I think there is probably more of an urgency, somebody like Ernie Els might feel that a little bit more than anybody else right now because he has finished second three in a row. I remember in 1993 that I thought about Inverness from the very day I heard it was going to be played there. I knew the course. I played Pro-Ams there a bunch, and when it came around being the last major, I was having a good year that year in 1997; had a chance to win the U.S. Open that year, I had some serious anxieties to deal with before that tournament started. Something I had look forward to but also recognized that this was the last major of the year and so I am sure that there is a bunch of guys that are thinking that I won't be the only one. Guy like Mickelson or Montgomerie who really want to get one, you know, be really nice for one of those guys to not have to deal with an off-season of not having got one. The problem with major championships and how you are measured, only really get four cracks at it a year and you have to peak that week and you have to hope nobody is hotter than you. So there is a little anxiety at this last major.

Q. (inaudible) agree what Tiger is doing is good for the game.

PAUL AZINGER: I think the players will say probably something to the effect that, you know, if they are not going to show me playing great this afternoon, then I am going to probably be less likely to go do Golf shows. I don't know. If I work for a Golf Magazine and that Golf Magazine rips me then I will probably be less likely to give that golf magazine my time. If you rip me, then you'd be less likely for me to give you my time. But, see, this whole deal is that that is ratings; that is where their ratings are, so they are probably doing the right thing with respect to their ratings and you can't argue with that, but the people that are buying the commercial time as far as the state of the game, that is something Finchem has to address and maybe say: Hold on a minute, that is not the way we drew it up when we started and it is not for the players to address that issue. It is totally out of our control and I am not worried about it. I am trying to focus on my game and what I got to do, but you know, if a network chooses not to give you the time, then all likelihood the players will respond by not giving them the time. That is only thing I can think. If that is the worst that can happen, that is not that bad.

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