June 15, 1999
PINEHURST, NORTH CAROLINA
LES UNGER: You're the only person who can win the Grand Slam.
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Are you talking about me? I truly believe nowadays that the closest thing to impossible to winning the Grand Slam in a single year. That's how I feel. I might be wrong, but the level of the game nowadays is so high, and there are so many players that can really win all the events that it makes it really tough for just one player to win all four.
LES UNGER: You'd like to be wrong, though.
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I would like to be wrong, especially this year. (Laughter.)
LES UNGER: That's my point. Jose, how much opportunity have you had to practice here?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I got here around 4 o'clock yesterday. I played 18 holes yesterday and 18 holes today.
LES UNGER: And your assessment?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I think the golf course is very tough. The greens and the surroundings of the greens are very treacherous. They're very, very tough with a lot of slopes. And that is going to make scoring really, really tough.
Q. Other players that we've talked with have mentioned your skills as fitting this golf course especially well, and they were talking about the short game. Would you comment on that?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, at least this week, I cannot deny that the short game plays a part in this tournament, which hasn't happened for the last few years, anyway. I don't think I'm the only guy that his short game is pretty good. I think there is a lot of players here that their short games are really good and good enough to get something out of this golf course, without a doubt. I still believe that driving plays a very important part this week. You need to be on the fairway to really have a chance to put the ball on the green and make, if you can say, an easy putt. You know, that's why I've always said that the U.S. Open doesn't suit my game, because my driving is not all that accurate. Obviously, you can use a lot of clubs. You can use a 3-wood, a 7-iron, a 9-iron, a sand wedge, a lob wedge. But to hit a good shot, to judge the distance and the speed, to leave the ball 3, 4, 5 feet from the hole is going to be extremely tough.
Q. Do you think it's a fair assessment to say that this course opens the door for more Europeans, possibly?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I really don't know how to answer that question. Monte has been close a couple of times. How many years that -- 29 that a European doesn't win the U.S. Open, but I really don't know about that. You still have to be a very mechanical player. It's important to go from point A to point B, from point B to point C, like tee to fairway, fairway to green. And I think the Americans, the U.S. players, are doing better that than the Europeans, with maybe an exception of Monte, that he's very straight off the tee and very good iron player; he's been doing well. But I still believe that the kind of player that is -- his game is very straight off the tee, and playing good with the irons, does have a good chance to win. I don't think a player that just has the short game is suited for this course.
Q. What's at the root of that difference in style between Europeans and Americans? Where does that come from?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, maybe because the golf courses we play. Up to now in Europe, the way the golf courses have been set up, it allows us to use more imagination. We could run the ball, bounce it 20, 30 yards short of the green, run it onto the green. We could use all kinds of clubs around the greens, from a 7-iron to a sand wedge to a lob wedge. We play sometimes in pretty bad weather conditions, rainy and windy. And somehow, you have to have more imagination to hit those shots. In the States, you know how the golf courses are set up. You need to hit a high shot to the greens, and that's the only way, virtually, that you can put a ball close to the hole; so I think that's the only difference.
Q. Talking about the imagination, did you run into anything out there today that you could give us as an example of a shot that you had to kind of manufacture or something that surprises you?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: What surprised me? There's not many things that can surprise me now. There is only certain holes that somehow cut you. Like No. 5 or No. 8, any player that goes long on No. 8, for instance, long left, from that point -- I mean, just to put the ball on the green is good enough. You can use a 3-iron; you can use a 3-wood; you can use a 5-iron, 7-, 9-, sand wedge, lob wedge. It doesn't matter what club you choose. It is really, very, very difficult to put a ball on the green from the back left. I don't think anybody will be thinking of leaving that shot around four or five feet from the hole. That's how tough it is out there.
Q. Did you try anything today?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I hit 3-irons. I hit 5-irons, 7-irons, 9-irons. And out of ten, I think I missed the green five times. And that is, you know, without the pressure of playing the tournament. So that gives you an idea.
Q. Jose, do you feel like you're a little bit behind after yesterday, and what have you done to sort of get caught up in terms of familiarizing yourself with this course? Did you get your whole round in today?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Yeah, I played 18 holes today all right. Maybe I didn't have the rest that I was suspecting to get on Monday. I'll try to take as much rest now in the afternoon as possible. And I'll try to do the same tomorrow. I'll try to be as fresh as possible for Thursday. But I think I played 18 holes today; I will play 18 holes tomorrow. After what I've seen today, and I think I've seen enough, I think we all know how difficult the golf course is, how tough it can be played. Now, it's just a matter of preparing yourself for it.
Q. Jose, how would you assess this course, as opposed to Olympic Club last year?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, I think it's more fair. Last year, we did have fairways that sloped from right-to-left or left-to-right, fairways were like 22 yards wide, and you could hit a wonderful tee shot, and then end up in the rough. This year, it's just fair. I mean, you can -- if you hit a good tee shot, you're going to end up on the fairway. From then on, you still have to -- have a tough task to make par on that hole. I think it's a fair test, but a tough one.
Q. Jose, do you have a sense of whether the rain affected the course appreciably today?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I think the greens were pretty firm today. I hit a lot of shots into the green that -- they were expecting the greens to come and didn't water the greens, I suppose. But I'm pretty sure that it can really get the greens pretty firm, even though we get a little bit of rain.
Q. You said you need -- do you expect this is your best chance to win a U.S. Open?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I hope this is not my best chance. I hope my game will be improving as the years go by, and I will have a better chance somewhere down the road.
Q. Can you tell us if, since winning The Masters, you've been more recognizable?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, after winning the U.S. Masters, obviously, a lot more people have been wanting me to make interviews and things like that. But I think the press has been pretty much the same. It was hard the first two or three weeks, but right now, it's okay. Especially this week that is the U.S. Open, I think the rest of the players, or at least some of the rest of the players, are getting a lot of attention, too.
Q. Some players have compared this course to Augusta National. Do you see any comparison?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, the similarities, if anything, might be just the greens and the surroundings of the green. Apart from that, the rest of the golf course has nothing to do with Augusta National, that's for sure.
Q. Have you ever come into a major shooting a 62 in your last round? And how does that 62 compare with some of the better rounds you've shot as a pro?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, it was the first time I've shot a 62, yes, before coming into a major event, that's for sure. But you have to take into consideration that we were playing a golf course that virtually there was very little rough. The greens were very soft. And if you look at the scoring during the week, it was very, very good; so I don't think that that 62 was one of my best rounds. I think I've shot better rounds than that one.
Q. Jose, can you tell me specifically what types of shots you've been using around the greens, shot off which clubs under what circumstances?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, I've been using -- from -- a 7-iron, 9-iron, sand wedge and a lob wedge around the greens. Obviously, the 7-iron, I tried to run it through the slopes. 9-iron and sand wedge, trying to pitch the ball against the face of the greens; face bounce onto the green, and then tried to stop the ball on the greens. And obviously, the lob wedge, just trying to hit it up in the air; bounce it onto the green and trying to stop it.
Q. David Duval was talking about his injured finger and how it really wasn't bothering him. But you played a lot of years with injuries. Does it really come into play, when you start thinking about it, when you know you're not 100 percent physically, does it affect you physically and mentally?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, when I was playing in '95, I was feeling a lot of pain. And when you're in a situation like that, somehow it's very difficult to concentrate on the golf course to keep concentration all through the round. I don't know how bad the injury of David is, but it might play as a positive thing, at the same time. He might get out there and feel relaxed and no responsibility because he's not a hundred percent. He might -- it might be a help. At the same time, if he gets on the golf course and feels some pain when he's striking the ball or gripping the club, that won't help at all, that's for sure.
Q. How surprised were you when you got here and saw there were only three inches of rough? Is that a good thing, and what sort of effect do you think it will have on the week?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, I don't think this golf course needs any higher rough, anyway. A good thing? I think it makes the golf course play fair. If you have five inches of rough on this golf course and 20-yard wide fairways, I think Tuesday or Wednesday next week, we will still be playing golf here.
Q. Does what you have to do around the greens here compare at all to European courses? Lee Westwood was saying he expected it to be very much like a European course, and found out it's not at all.
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: It's not at all. Not even close. I don't think you would see any other golf course in the world similar to this one. You're playing in a golf course that there's a lot of pine trees, but sort of a links course tee-to-green, but around the greens is very unique layout. So obviously, there is nothing like this on the European Tour.
Q. Can I pin you down on your expectations this week? Would you agree that of all the U.S. Open courses you have played so far, plus the fact you're coming in on the back of a 62, that this is your best round in all you've played?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I don't want to think that. I think that -- as I said before, I hope part of my game will improve as years go by, and I will have a better chance, even though the golf courses at the U.S. Open might be set up in a different way than this week. Up to now, what, this U.S. Open might be the U.S. Open that is going to be played more fair for the Europeans in the sense that the rough is not going to be all that thick off the tee. But it's going to be difficult to control the flight, the distances. And taking into consideration the difficulty of the greens, there's going to be -- it's going to be a very, very tough golf course. And I truly believe that the guy that really hits the ball straight off the tee will have an easier job to score well this week.
Q. You said you're concerned that your driving has been erratic in the past. With the three inches of rough, are you able to take a better chance, and are you less concerned about your driving here than you have been at other courses?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: I'm still concerned. Maybe less concerned. Obviously, if you have three inches of rough, instead of five inches of rough, that is pretty obvious that the three inches of rough shouldn't hurt as much as the five inches of rough. I hit a few roughs today. Sometimes you get really bad lies. But sometimes you can hit a 6-iron, something like that to be able to put the ball close to the green. Very difficult to put it on the green, because there's no way to stop the ball on the green; so it has to run in there. If there is any cut in front of it, you have to run it in front, but at least it gives you a chance to put it close to the green. And from there, maybe you can save par with a chipping putt.
Q. Mark O'Meara was alluding to the fact that Tiger and playing with him the other day, Tiger was receiving some comments from the crowd that wouldn't have occurred 10 to 12 years ago, and it obviously upset him. How have Americans treated you? You've now emerged in a much greater way as a contender for majors. You've won The Masters twice. How are you treated? Colin Montgomerie has had some difficulty. What about you?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: Well, I've always said that I've been very lucky in that sense. I've never had problems with that in the States, and I'm very pleased. Obviously, the situation that part of the crowd would love to see an American or a U.S. player win the U.S. Masters or the U.S. Open or the U.S. PGA, and sometimes they do not make it very fair on Europeans. But I've been very lucky. I never had a problem at the U.S. Open -- at the U.S. Masters this year. I never had a problem when I won there in '94. I understand that the people will be rooting for Tom Lehman, in one case; for Greg this year, or Davis Love or any U.S. Tour player. I understand that. But as far as being fair to me, I have not a problem with that. And they've been very fair.
Q. When was the last time you think you would consider that you drove the ball well for 72 holes?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: 72 holes? Never in my life (Laughter.) 72 holes in a row? That's a miracle. My memory is not that good. I've had tournaments where I've drove the ball well for two or three days, but I don't think I've been very, very pleased with my driving ever in my life.
Q. What is your greater asset, your head or your heart?
JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL: My nose. Look at it (Laughter.) I think both of them. I think they have to go together. I think you saw that at the U.S. Masters this year. There was a lot of heart in it, and there was a lot of head. I don't think you can do certain things if both of them are not working well together.
LES UNGER: Thank you very much, and good luck this week.
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