March 20, 2001
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: We'd like to thank Joe Durant for joining us here in the interview room for a few minutes. It was 1999 the last time you were here at THE PLAYERS Championship. You played a couple of holes this afternoon. Why don't you talk about the week ahead.
JOE DURANT: I think it is going to be a great week. I've got to say that the greens superintendent and crew sure deserve a round of applause. I was expecting puddles on the back nine, and as it is with the winds and a little sunshine, the course is going to be in fine shape. I know they have had a ton of rain since Saturday. All in all, I think the course will be fine come Thursday. Other than that, this is the tournament we all love to play. It is probably the best field in golf that you will ever see, on a very challenging golf course, which is playing really long right now, too. A lot of the holes you are hitting long irons into. It is not firm and fast right now, obviously, but the rough is really deep. I think it is going to be a very tough test this week.
Q. The way you are playing now with your confidence level the way it must be, you've just got to be chomping at the bit for this tournament to get underway.
JOE DURANT: I'm looking forward to it, but every week you start over. I feel like I'm playing well, my confidence is up -- but still you've got to go out there and shoot the score. I'm not getting ahead of myself at all. I'm just looking forward to starting Thursday and just hope to play well. I feel like the course is going to require a lot of accuracy, versus distance, because of the way the rough is this year. So, you know, I usually drive it pretty straight, so I feel like if I play well I've got a chance to do well here.
Q. What do you remember about being here the last couple of years, not last year, but 1999 and '98?
JOE DURANT: '99, I thought the course was very definitely difficult that year. I know on the weekend it dried out a lot and the wind was up a bit, too. It was kind of cold. The greens were super firm that year. I don't remember what David shot that year to win, but it could not have been way under par. I thought it was a pretty high score. I don't know that we will see those conditions this year, but I think the trade-off is going to be that it's going to play a lot longer than it has in the past. So, again, it's just going to make it difficult either way.
Q. A little more difficult than the Hope, perhaps?
JOE DURANT: Light-years ahead of the Hope. There you are, in perfect scoring conditions, virtually no wind, and relatively short courses for the most part. Totally different ball game here. Length, rough, wind, water; I mean, you know, add them all up, it makes for a pretty stern test.
Q. Basically this year you have gained more recognition than all of the years you've played golf. You've been on the cover of Golf World, and people have been writing about you. What do you think about your own celebrity? Has your wife made any comments? Have you changed at all? Have you gained confidence from all of this, or are you sort of awed or can laugh about it?
JOE DURANT: I've gained confidence, no doubt about that. I've tried to laugh about a lot of it just because, you know, I'm no spring chicken. I've been doing this a long time. Certainly, I'm appreciative of everything that I have gotten this year, but I feel like I've worked for it too. You know, certainly not taking it for granted, let's put it that way. I'm just thankful. It has been busy the last few weeks, obviously, for someone who has played virtually his whole year anonymous, and suddenly having media attention, it's been different. It's been tough for me.
Q. Have people just been requesting interviews all of the time or other things beyond the normal?
JOE DURANT: Yeah, just a lot more interviews than I have had in the past. Just, you know, playing practice rounds, usually a play in oblivion. Now I have cameramen following me, taking pictures of swings. That's just stuff that has never happened. It's just been different. I've just laughed about it. My caddy and I, we've just taken it in stride. That's all you can do. We're just enjoying it.
Q. Did you ever wish for this? Ten years ago, did you ever want to be famous? What is it like being famous?
JOE DURANT: I don't know. I mean, famous is kind of a -- that's a word I'm not comfortable with, I guess. I wish my wife thought I was famous. You know, it's been fun. I mean I've worked hard for it. I'm just enjoying it, but I hope that no matter what happens from here on out that I'm just the same person, regardless of whether I play good or bad, and that's all I try to be.
Q. What's different? You look back out there, from a few years ago, what changed?
JOE DURANT: Tee-to-green nothing. At times I've hit the ball better in the last month than I have before, but I've never been able to get scores on the board. My putting has been suspect. Chipping has never been great. Really, my game from 100 yards and in is the difference. Statistically, I've always ranked pretty high in fairways and greens, but that doesn't get it done. No matter how good you hit it, you've still got to chip well and make putts, and that's the area I've tried to concentrate on the last few months, and it has gotten better. As a result, my scores have improved. I play the par 5's a lot better. That was one of my No. 1 goals for this year was to improve my par 5 conversion; and this year, it has been great.
Q. As you've gotten better, how much have you tinkered or consciously tried to change, and how much has your swing evolved?
JOE DURANT: My swing honestly had not changed much in the last ten years. A few fine points, but the basic movement has always been the same. My short game has changed. I've worked on some techniques to change and improve. That's where the majority of the changes take place in, your short game. I've worked with the same swing coach for ten years now. We basically have it down to about three things that I work on.
Q. Joe, I talked to one of the younger players who has been up and down between here and the BUY.COM TOUR for a couple of years, and he said that he's gotten a little inspiration that if you can be as patient as you've been, that he could, too. Is there a lesson here over the course of your career from where you were to where you are now?
JOE DURANT: Yes, definitely. I mean, I think my whole life in golf has been an exercise in patience. I was never a great junior golfer, but I always felt like I was getting better. College, I was not a great college player at the beginning, but towards the end of my college career I played pretty well. When I played mini tours, it was the same kind of thing. I never started off great, but I always felt like I was improving. I always felt like I was going to continue to play golf as long as I felt like my game was getting better. There's always something to work on, something to try to improve. I adopted that philosophy that if I just stay patient and keep working on the right things, that the goals that I have set, I will reach. I've looked at guys like Tom Lehman, somebody I've always looked up to, someone that I've tried to pattern my career after. He was on Tour for a while, lost his card, and then worked his way back up, and that's what I have done.
Q. Do you find people outside of golf recognize you going through airports now or anything, where they didn't before?
JOE DURANT: Not really. Maybe at home. Maybe in Pensacola. Not anywhere else, really. I think at home, just because I'm good friends with the news people. They splash it everywhere, so it is kind of hard not to, at home.
Q. How do you regard this tournament? At what level of esteem?
JOE DURANT: You know, it is every bit a major championship, as far as I'm concerned. It is just a fantastic tournament. I mean, the best field in golf, basically. I don't know, that kind of sums it up. I think it is a fantastic tournament. The course tests every aspect of your game, and the field, obviously, is as good as you'll ever see.
Q. Will you get a tougher test all year?
JOE DURANT: U.S. Open, probably. But it can't be far -- it's not usually far above this. I mean, this is usually as good as it gets.
Q. Was this one of your goals at the beginning of the year to qualify or to get into this tournament?
JOE DURANT: Well, I was in this one from my money list finish last year. I was 76 last year.
Q. You were not in the Masters. Were you in Bay Hill?
JOE DURANT: I was not.
Q. So that was a goal?
JOE DURANT: My initial goal was to get in Bay Hill off the West Coast.
Q. Would you like to see this moved? There's been talk for years about taking this to May and getting it away from a fortnight before the Masters.
JOE DURANT: It's been talked about. I know different reasons for not moving it had been discussed from an agronomy standpoint, that's one thing: Can they maintain the surface we play in March in May? Once you turn the corner in April, you lose the bermudagrasses and you have different grasses you are playing on. What they can do with grasses now, I don't see why they could not.
Q. Would you treat this any differently if it were in May?
JOE DURANT: No. I don't think the field would, either. This is THE PLAYERS Championship.
Q. Do you think the public would look at it any differently?
JOE DURANT: I don't know if they would or not. Obviously, the last few years this is what people felt like kicked the golf season off in some regards. This kind of sets the tone for the majors, that kind of thing. I don't know. It would be interesting to see what happens.
Q. What are the folks back in Pensacola saying these days?
JOE DURANT: I'm lucky that I live in a community like Pensacola, where I have almost been adopted like a son. I have so many friends there. I have lived there my whole life. My friends there, they all treat me like a king. I cannot thank my friends at all enough for how they take care of me.
Q. What about on the course, do people ask you for autographs, how do they treat you?
JOE DURANT: You get some guys who scribble your name, and they kind of look at you like: Who are you? I don't have the best penmanship either, so I get that more than some guys probably.
Q. Do you have a favorite course in the state of Florida? You've been around Florida a long time?
JOE DURANT: I don't know, there's a lot that I like but none that really jump out at me in Florida as like my favorite course. This is, obviously, a great one. I enjoy playing here. But not in particular.
Q. Once you escaped Edwin Watts and you got back to playing again, was there a low point, one point where your patience kind of ran out and maybe you said: This isn't for me?
JOE DURANT: Actually, after I came back out and got my Tour card in '93 and played horrible that year. But I took that as just experience-building here. But the next year on the Nike Tour, I didn't play very well. I was a little disheartened because I felt like I thought that I had gotten past that point in my game. But that was more or less a rebuilding from the previous year also. At the end of 1994, I was still trying to stay upbeat, but that's a tough year. '93 and '94 were tough. But after that, I felt like my game has been fine.
Q. '95, something happened and you started going back, at a particular tournament or anything?
JOE DURANT: I just started playing better as a whole. I got in contention at a couple of times in a couple of events on the BUY.COM TOUR, Nike Tour, and I finished decent. I finished well. I had a chance to win a tournament, and I think I finished third. Somebody shot a great round to beat me the last day, instead of shooting 75 or something like that. I felt like my game was turning the corner a little bit. Next year I played real well and got my card back.
Q. How much did your wife have to do with injecting some of the confidence back?
JOE DURANT: She had a lot to do with it, she really did. It was not so much injecting the confidence as much as it was getting me to believe in myself a little more. She felt that I had the talent to be out here. I sabotaged it half the time, you know. So she just said, "Hey, go play like you know how to play. You don't have to impress anybody but yourself. Don't worry about all of us. Just go play and enjoy." That's really what she said. She was pretty smart in that respect. She was not trying to give me visions of grandeur or anything like that. Just go play and enjoy, and you'll be fine.
Q. We know your confidence level is up right now coming here. Two-part question. How do you feel you are striking the ball right now, at this course, which takes a shot-maker like you; and how do you feel you are putting?
JOE DURANT: As far as the ball-striking, I didn't hit the ball very well at Bay Hill last week. Getting in the wind on Thursday afternoon, I started getting into some bad positions at address. I got with my coach today, and between my coach and my caddy we worked it out. I'm hitting better. I'm squared up a bit. Putting, I'm rolling the ball fine. I feel like I'm rolling it as good now when I won a couple of weeks ago at Doral. If I can just keep doing what I'm doing, I think I'll be fine.
Q. Was your wife the one who literally said: "Go back on Tour"? Your thoughts were already there?
JOE DURANT: They were there. I think, if I'm not mistaken, I think Lee Janzen won Phoenix in '92 when I was working for Edwin. And Lee and I played college golf against each other, and we have been friends a long time. When I saw him win, A, I was happy for him, and B, I was like, "Hey, I want to be back out there." It made me just want to play that much more. So my wife and I kind of sat down and said, "Hey, let's think about this a minute. Maybe we ought to give it one more shot." She was like, "I'm not going to be the one to tell you no, but we need to have some ground rules before we go back out there." And No. 1 was have a good attitude.
Q. As you grew up and played golf, you seem always an upbeat guy, did you ever have a real negative attitude?
JOE DURANT: My first few years as a pro, it was terrible. That was such a far cry from where I was in college because our coach was always such a motivator. No matter the situation, just try and stay as positive and upbeat as you could. Mini tours can beat you to death, too. You're out there, grinding for nickels. You are just scraping and scratching to get by. It's tough. It's very easy to get demoralized and I fell right into it. My cousin, who was a good player at one time, told me to be careful with who you travel with, because if you travel with somebody who has a bad attitude, it will rub off on you. Well, it happens.
Q. Even the best golfers get mad at themselves. Did you throw clubs? Did you curse yourself? Go back to the hotel or motel and sit and sulk? What did you do when you say the attitude was bad?
JOE DURANT: I think it would have been better if I had buried clubs or bent clubs because it was a release. I boiled from the inside out. I would stew until I could not take it anymore. Instead of releasing it and letting it go, it would affect the next shot and the next shot. It just didn't work. I still get mad. I get mad today. Nobody likes to play bad; and you are out there working your butt off and you play bad, it's not fun. I still try to find the positives even though I have not necessarily played well.
Q. For the first time in your career, I assume you're at this stage without having to worry about, you know, being on TOUR for, you know, at least a couple of years. That being said, what does the money seem like to you in this? Is it too astronomical to comprehend or the money getting so good across the board or does the $6 million purse not seem like much anymore?
JOE DURANT: Oh, I still think it is a motivator. It is, definitely. This is such a great tournament that guys would love to have this as a tournament they could put on their resume that they have won. Look at the list of champions. It's incredible. If you win this tournament, you've really done something. That's why all of the guys play here. That's why you get the field you have every here. Like I said, it's a stern test and great field. If you are the champion, obviously $1 million is a million dollars, but I promise you, guys would love to have that trophy sitting in their living room. I know I would.
Q. You said the mini tours can beat you down. What is the positive side on that? What can you do to get you back here?
JOE DURANT: It's almost more of a test of your mental discipline than your physical skills. You have to have the discipline to know that you are good enough to move to the next level. And you have to just adopt the philosophy -- at least, I did. You have to adopt the philosophy that I'm on the mini tour, but for me, it is the PGA TOUR right now and treating it like the PGA TOUR. So when I play well and move to the next level. I'm not going to be awestruck. I'm going to be ready. And you move to the next level and do the same thing. I felt like every stage I was at was the most important place I could be at the time. You can't just treat it like, "Well, this is just a mini tour," because that's just the wrong attitude. I always try to be a professional whether I was on a mini tour playing at home or out here. It's always the same. I think if you treat it that way when you get out here, you are more prepared to take on everything.
Q. Can you talk about the guys you played with today? Are you friends with them? Do you play with them a lot?
JOE DURANT: Yes, Jimmy and Glen are both buddies from mine at home. We've come up through the ranks at basically the same time.
Q. Tell me about Glen's game?
JOE DURANT: Glen is a great player. Glen, his time is going to come shortly. He's a great ball-striker. He's a very quiet person, but he's a very solid player. I have the utmost respect for Glen, because he's gone through so many injuries in his career, but you would never know it. He's not the type to complain about things and he's a good friend. Jimmy is the same type. He's a good player. He has not played as well this year, starting out as he hoped, but his game is coming around. He's swinging really well. We had a great time. We're just friends.
Q. When you talk about changing your attitude, it's not like changing a shirt. What did you have to do? Did you see anyone? Did you and your wife talk it over? Did you talk it over with family? How do you make yourself approach what it is you are doing in a different way? How do you turn those negatives into positives?
JOE DURANT: Well, I have to work at it every day. Not something all of the sudden you flip a switch and it changes. Little things. It's easy to wake up in the morning and start complaining about stuff, it seems like, but it's also easy to wake up and say: "Look how fortunate I am. I have a great wife. I've got two healthy kids. If I shoot 100, so what. They will still love me." My wife might not love me so much because I shot 100. (Laughs). But in all honesty, playing bad golf is not the worst thing in life. I think that's one reason I think that I have played better is because I don't take it as serious as I used to. But having said that, it allows me to play better because I think when I am out here, I am more focused on it, but I allow myself to play better because it is not life or death and I am willing to take a chance. Whereas before, I was too critical of myself or not willing to take a risk. If I hit eight balls in the water, I hit eight balls in the water. So what.
Q. Is that just maturity?
JOE DURANT: It is. You grow older. You realize that, you know, as much as I want to play golf well, and I do, and I work it every day, but to be as good as I can, you know, you can only do so much. You just have to let it go.
Q. Can you talk about maybe winning Doral helped you to gain even more recognition than the Hope, because a lot of people probably thought at the Hope, conditions were great and some people thought it might be a fluke. But at Doral, the way you came back and beat a really good field. Do you think that, in some ways, is even more important?
JOE DURANT: Yeah, I guess I was a little irritated, too, with that, because I felt like when I won the Western at Cog Hill; that's no pitch-and-putt golf course, either. I played really well there. But the first thing people say is, "Well, one-shot-wonder," kind of a thing. I can understand that. And that may be. But then I win the Hope and I played really great there and win. I was like, "Man, you know that's about as good as I can play." And then people are like, "Well, it really didn't mean much because it was the Hope. It was in the desert and there was no wind." I was like, "Well, what do you have to do?" Then to come back at Doral and shoot like I did on Sunday; the weekend I played great. I had one bogey in two rounds. I played solid. I was like, well, if this doesn't do it, it's never going to happen."
Q. We'll leave you alone if you win this week.
JOE DURANT: (Laughs).
JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you.
JOE DURANT: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
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