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June 13, 2000

Paul Azinger


LES UNGER: Let's proceed now with Paul Azinger, and some details about the ceremony, et cetera, tomorrow that I'm sure some of you would like to know about. Paul, we appreciate you coming by. As far as I know, there is a ceremony at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning, and I don't know very many of the details. If you could fill us in, that would be great.

PAUL AZINGER: Okay. You don't know what's going on tomorrow, most of you? I believe the ceremony is only from 7:00 to 7:30. And in everyone's packet this week was a invitation to be in the ceremony. Similar to a 21-gun salute. Everyone is going to hit a shot at the same time into the ocean, however many players show up and salute Payne. And then Larry Moody, who hosts Bible studies on the PGA TOUR is going to speak. And Trey Holland and I will speak for a few moments, and I believe Tracy will speak for a few minutes. And then the shots will be hit, and it will be over. I heard Roger Maltbie say this is really golf's last opportunity to say good-bye to Payne. And it's hard to imagine, but I think he might be right. Even though it's only 30 minutes, I think we just need to honor the defending champion, and the man himself, one more time.

LES UNGER: Is this near 18?

PAUL AZINGER: It's on the 18th hole.

LES UNGER: Anybody have any questions about this they'd like to ask?

Q. A lot of people have been talking about Payne this week, and I was just wondering, obviously, you've thought about him for the last -- almost a year, nine months, but is it special this year, and why?

PAUL AZINGER: I think the majority of us are still in disbelief that Payne Stewart is not here. I think all of us are still -- some were obviously a lot closer to Payne than others, myself included in that group. And we've all been affected and impacted in a big way, and all been impacted in a different way. I think just getting on a airplane now is different than it was for all of us. It's just hard to grasp, really, that a tragedy of that magnitude could have happened to the current United States Open Champion. I don't think that any of us realized his popularity. But I don't know any other athlete in the world that could command attention as Payne did in his death. If you think about it, he had that kind of impact on the world. Maybe there's a couple of guys only. And I don't think that any of us realized how big Payne Stewart really was.

Q. Phil came in here a little while ago and said that last year's outcome seemed like it was meant to be. When you look back on it --

PAUL AZINGER: When I saw Phil at the funeral, he was all teared up. We both were. I just kind of got real close to him and I looked at him, and I said, "Payne needed that U.S. Open more than you did. And now you know why." And it's funny, but I really -- now more than ever, am I firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Like at the Hawaiian Open this year, I felt like if I didn't win, I felt that somebody needed it more than me. And I think it gets down to that. Unless your priorities are in the right place, it's difficult to think that way, but I think Phil Mickelson really understands now the impact Payne Stewart's death had on the world. And that impact was magnified by the fact that he was the United States Open Champion.

Q. I heard Justin Leonard say that it is so overwhelming that you have to force yourself to stop thinking about it. This week -- after tomorrow night, are you going to say: "Now it's time to play golf"? Do you consciously have to try and not be distracted about it?

PAUL AZINGER: Everybody will deal with the situation differently. I think that for me, I personally don't ever want to really totally stop thinking about it, because it helps to prioritize things in my life. I don't ever want to forget the guy. I was very close to Payne, but I was extremely close to the other ones in the plane, as well. I don't want to get over it, because I don't ever want to forget them. Time, I think, always is a healer. But it can also be a revealer. I think a lot of things have been revealed to me through the time of the healing. But it's just really difficult to put into words the sense of loss that you feel when something like that happens so quickly. There was no preparation for that whatsoever. And I'll never forget how I felt when I heard the news. Even though my life has returned to normal for the most part, I still feel that -- my goal this week is to be the most focused man in the field, and my goal doesn't go beyond that. I'm not thinking about score' I'm not thinking about anything, but to be the most focused guy here. And I think that Payne was heavy on my mind at the Hawaiian Open, and I still felt I was extremely focused there, and probably a little more motivated, and might be a little more motivated here.

LES UNGER: Thank you very much.

End of FastScripts�.

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