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June 20, 2004

Walter Driver


RAND JERRIS: We're now joined by Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee. Mr. Driver will just take questions from the floor.

Q. A lot of players have been critical of the golf course today. They said it got away from you was the phrase they used. They were also critical of the way the 17th hole was watered between some groups and not for others. I wondered what your reaction to that was.

WALTER DRIVER: Well, it's interesting, and I was here yesterday and there was nothing but compliments about the golf course and the setup and the conditioning other than the 7th hole yesterday. I got great compliments on it the whole time. It did blow all night long, it did blow not in a prevailing way. The prevailing wind usually brings moisture off the coast. This wind brought dry, hot air, dried the course out. We went out this morning and moved the hole locations that we had anticipated using on both 7 and 11 to put those in the most accessible and benign locations on those holes.

I putted most of the holes myself. I thought they were playable. That was at 7:30 this morning. By about 9:30 or 10:00 it was apparent that the golf course had continued to dry out in that hot wind and we started to start putting water on it. We began syringing at the 7th hole and we syringed all the holes on the golf course at one time or another and some multiple times, so it was not just the 7th hole, although the 7th hole was particularly difficult, but we tried to maintain all of the greens in a consistent way.

The golf course was very hard, but let's keep this in perspective. This is the third modern Open at Shinnecock. Retief shot 4-under par. In 1986, 1-under par won the tournament. And in 1995, even par won the tournament. So yes, this is a very difficult golf course. If you were here for media day, I'm sure you remember, it's really hard. I thought it was really hard.

This is a very difficult wind, it did dry out, it became very difficult, but we start setting courses up for championships four and five years in advance, and you cannot change an Open course setup in 12 hours. It's not possible. So we went from having lots of compliments for what we did for three days, and then the wind blew harder and in a different direction than we anticipated, and you simply can't go redo the greens in 12 hours.

Q. You mentioned the winning totals for those three championships. If you just take the over par average for today's championship, which is somewhere in excess of 78 or 79 strokes, from your standpoint, is that an acceptable number for the field to perform on your course on the final day, or would you hope that the stroke average would be lower?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, we don't have a target stroke average for the field, so it would not be appropriate for me to say whether that was under or over our target. Yes, it was very high. Frankly, I'm surprised. I would have expected the scores to be lower. But the course played more difficult than we expected it to and the scores were higher.

But we don't manage toward a given score at any time, just the course got very dry and very fast and very hard.

Q. If I change the question, would disappointed also be in there along with surprised in terms of the way the course played?

WALTER DRIVER: I would rather not have had the controversy, but we couldn't do anything about it. You know, you can't be disappointed in something that you can't completely control.

Q. You said that the wind blew both harder and from a different direction. What direction did you expect it to blow from and to what did it change and at what time?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, the prevailing wind here is from the southeast, which in terms of the golf course would be into the players' face on the 7th hole, and it would make the 7th hole play much more easily. In fact, the wind came from the northwest, which is off the players' right shoulder and behind them on 7, which blows the ball right down the slope on 7 and makes it much more difficult.

The same wind, for example, on the 10th hole meant that the wind was behind the players on 10, which made it very difficult to stop the ball on the 10th hole, and so it impacts how the course plays.

But it's one of the factors at Shinnecock is they usually have wind, and it's not -- wind is not predictable. It comes from different directions.

Q. Did it surprise you by changing, and if so, when?

WALTER DRIVER: I would say that as of Friday night, they were telling us that they thought the wind would come out of the northwest, and when I left, I thought it was a nice breeze, but it was not a strong wind, and then late last night, I watched on television when Andy North was giving an interview and noticed his hair was going sideways at about midnight, and that's when I first thought, this is more wind than we thought, and we made a special point to get out here early and look at the hole locations on 7 and 11, which were the two holes which we thought were most at risk.

Q. There seems to be some confusion as to what happened with the 7th green yesterday. On the one hand that we're hearing you told them not to rolling it and then someone else is saying that they were asked to roll it.

WALTER DRIVER: I'm sure someone was asked to roll it, but that instruction came from someone down the chain of command, and I don't know who, because neither I nor Tom Meeks gave that order so counteract the prior instruction not to. I think it's just good faith human error. I think somebody thought they were supposed to roll it and told the fellow who was on the rolling machine to go ahead. He didn't just make it up, but it didn't come from me.

Q. Could you talk about the fact that you double cut most of the greens today? I believe you rolled most of the greens today. Wouldn't it have been more prudent to put water on them and not double cut them today?

WALTER DRIVER: We try to have the same preparation on a consistent basis. The purpose of rolling is not just to make it faster, it's to make it even, and you get truer putts, and it also compacts the green a little bit. So yes, we could have abandoned the normal Open routine, but I'm not aware of any time that we've done that. We stopped rolling the 7th green, as you know, except for yesterday, after Tuesday, but we try to follow a consistent pattern all the way through, and we didn't expect the condition to be as dry as it turned out overnight.

Q. Wasn't the entire day an inconsistency, you syringed at different times, sometimes after one group, sometimes after three groups?

WALTER DRIVER: If you're going to syringe, you have to do it at different times. I know I was told today the PGA Championship regularly syringes greens. What happens is syringe the greens and then a few groups go through and then they syringe it again, and that's common practice. I think we were concerned that had we syringed the greens, for example, the 7th hole, after every group, that green would have become the abnormality in the greens and frankly would have been wet and soggy relative to the others. We were trying to keep them all relatively consistent.

Q. But didn't you start syringing it after every group at the beginning?

WALTER DRIVER: We did it for the first four groups in order to get it back where we thought it roughly should be, and then we did it every two or three or four groups based on the condition the rest of the time, and we syringed 10 periodically, 11 periodically, I know we syringed 12 several times. You have to do that at intervals, and there's no way that you can do that in a way that every single player gets exactly the same syringing. It's not physically possible to do that.

Q. Don't you have an inherent unfairness then for some of the players?

WALTER DRIVER: I don't know what your definition -- yes, every player would like to have exactly the same conditions, but the fact is you can't do that if you're syringing greens because you can't syringe every green the same way for every player in the field. It's not possible. So it's going to be a little different. Some player is going to feel benefitted and some player is going to feel aggrieved by it, but I don't know how to do that when you have 18 holes and you're only going to syringe most of the holes two or three times.

Q. But if you would have watered all the greens last night, that would have eliminated the problem?

WALTER DRIVER: Actually I'm not sure that's true. You need to talk to an agronomist. But I was told that there is a difference in the absorption rate on the greens that in order to have changed the greens last night, we would have had to water for about three or four hours and it would change dramatically the character of the entire golf course in a way that we didn't anticipate that we would need to do that. We're not going to start watering at 11:00 o'clock at night based on how much Andy North's hair is blowing, frankly.

Q. Would it be correct to say that the circumstances were ones that you could not predict and therefore you're not second-guessing from the start of the week what your preparation of this golf course would have been?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, sure, we would like to have had the day be more predictable with what we thought we were going to have.

Q. But you can't do that?

WALTER DRIVER: But we can't predict that and we can't change the course setup -- they've been working on the firmness of these greens for several years now. They top dress them on an annual basis, they keep going through all that, and you can't undo that starting at midnight starting on Saturday of the U.S. Open. We tried to put some water on to get -- the water itself is not the critical thing, but the water will make the poa annua come back to life a little bit and actually set up more so you get more friction. That's the purpose of the water is to rejuvenate the poa annua grass. So we start syringing the greens.

Q. With hindsight, what would you do differently?

WALTER DRIVER: I think we probably would have started syringing the greens at 7:00 this morning, but as I say, when I was out there they were putting okay, but they dried out so rapidly as the hot day wore on that we probably should have started syringing a little earlier.

Q. It was half past 7:00 when you were there and you putted?


Q. Does the fact that Goosen and Mickelson were able to play really splendidly at times and shoot decent scores and come in under par suffice, or can this be a bad experience for you guys despite that?

WALTER DRIVER: Well, there's a great quote from Sandy Tatum, one of our predecessors, as the president of the USGA. We weren't trying to humiliate the best players in the world, we were trying to identify them. What you identified today is that Goosen and Mickelson particularly played wonderful golf under very adverse conditions. You know, I was walking in the Goosen and Els group, the last group, and when Ernie left a chip shot short of the green on the first hole and double bogeyed the hole, Goosen knocked his in. Who would have ever predicted that they would start off and have a three-shot swing on the first hole? That sets a tenor for the entire game, and frankly, the course conditions didn't have much to do with that particular relationship.

Q. You talked about the previous Opens here and producing also high winning scores, but I don't recall there being this level of criticism of the golf course. What, if anything, do you attribute this outburst to? Have players changed?

WALTER DRIVER: No, I think the conditions changed. My recollection was that in '96 it rained very hard for the several days beforehand, and people actually were worried that the course was too soft. There was a lot of rain right beforehand. So again, it's a function of weather.

Q. The players suggested that the rain on Thursday changed your watering pattern for the remainder of the week. They thought that the USGA reacted to the moisture on Thursday. Did your watering pattern, greens, fairways, whatever, change because of the rain on Thursday?

WALTER DRIVER: I'm not aware of any change in watering pattern.

Q. You talked about the rolling on the 7th hole yesterday. Does that change the speed or the hardness or does it really just change the consistency of the green?

WALTER DRIVER: It does a little of all of those things, but I can't quantify how much of any of those things it does. It does make it firmer, it does make it a little faster and it makes it smoother, but the greens at this level, I'm not sure what one rolling does. I can't quantify it.

Q. Did you double cut all the greens today with the exception of 7 and did you roll all of them?

WALTER DRIVER: All the greens were double cut and rolled with the exception of 7 and 11. That's our typical program and we thought it was appropriate. That starts at 5:30 in the morning.

Q. Is it fair to say that you guys would not like to have a stroke average of 78.7 on a day when the winds were typical of the region where the course is?

WALTER DRIVER: I don't know that the USGA has a position on what the stroke average should be. I personally would rather not be here discussing it right now, so for that reason I'd rather have had a lower stroke average, but we couldn't control it.

End of FastScripts.

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