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June 15, 1999

Mark O'Meara


LES UNGER: We have with us Mark O'Meara. And Mark, from the previous occupant of the chair, we find out you have a house guest this week.

MARK O'MEARA: I do. And actually, he's very quiet, very reserved, and it's nice to have him at my house.

LES UNGER: Pays his rent?

MARK O'MEARA: We haven't discussed that. I know that he's a little bit financially well off more than I am. But I felt like I invited him, but I felt he's my guest. He mentioned something, but I said that's okay. If he wins, I'll definitely give him the bill. The way he's playing right now, he looks like he's got a chance of finishing higher than I do. Tiger and my friendship goes back a long way. And I felt like a lot of times at major championships, there's a lot of stuff going on. Usually when I try to stay at a house or place, I try to keep it low-key and quiet. And basically, he came to me, and I was more than happy. It's just my wife and I, and my daughter and her girlfriend and Tiger. It's been very quiet and very nice and relaxing.

LES UNGER: How do your kids react to him?

MARK O'MEARA: I think they like Tiger Woods. What kid doesn't like Tiger Woods? Tiger is great to them. I don't think they're overintimidated by Tiger. And Tiger is like a big kid, himself.

LES UNGER: Getting to golf, look being at 1999 so far, I would imagine this is not the best early start you've had.

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I would anticipate that. I expected somebody to say something like that. Golf is a great game. Golf is a fickle game. And last year, coming in here, I'd won The Masters; I was riding a pretty good high. This year, I've made 663,000. I'm 32nd or 33rd on the U.S. Money List. But I've played in Japan, in Europe. I've bounced all around the world. So granted, I haven't played as well as I would like to so far this year, but I'm not overly disappointed. Sure, it would be nice to have had a win under my belt coming into the U.S. Open, but that hasn't happened, and it's not the end of the world.

LES UNGER: This golf course, you and this golf course in the past, what's your assessment of these things for this week.

MARK O'MEARA: I think this week, it's neat to come to a new venue such as Pinehurst, from the standpoint that the golf course is an old tradition style, Donald Ross style. Greens similar to Augusta National, but a little bit of rough and some length out there. And I just think that it's right now, as I've seen so far, it's been really set up nicely. The rough is pretty deep, but not as deep as past U.S. Opens off the edge of the fairway. There's going to be times you might be able to advance your ball. Maybe get it on a green. In past U.S. Opens it was usually a sand wedge out. So from that standpoint, I like that, because I tend to hit the rough a little more than most players. But I think the whole key this week is going to be really, once again, if you look at past Open champions, management of your game, hanging in there, fighting and just staying patient. And par is a good score out there; and managing yourself around the course, short game, having a good touch, being able to pitch the ball correctly or having a good imagination out there. Especially this week, because as we all know there's not deep rough off the side of the greens, the ball is going to run off the green, and you might decide to putt it off the green; you might 7-iron it; you might 5-iron it, you might take the 3-wood out, a la Tiger Woods and try that. So there's going to be a lot of creativity around the greens, and to my standing, I think that's wonderful.

Q. Mark, I didn't get an opportunity to talk to Tiger about his relationship and what a relationship for a mega-star, what someone like you must mean to him. Let me put the shoe on your foot. Describe how that relationship originated, and what has that relationship meant to you?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, first of all, I met Tiger -- I watched Tiger when he was about -- I think he was either 15 or 16 years old. Larry might know. He played in the U.S. Junior Championship at Bay Hill. He was 15. I went out and watched him play, and I was very impressed with what I saw. He was incredible. Then Tiger and I played golf together when he was 17 during the holiday time, Christmastime. He was coming through central Florida with his father, Earl. We played golf together, and actually we had a nice day. He was very nice. He shot 71. Played reasonably well. I shot 64. I played obviously reasonably well. I made a bunch of putts and explained to Tiger: Look, if it's not me making them, there's 140 other guys on the PGA TOUR that's going to make them every day. Our friendship struck that day and kind of continued. He decided to make central Florida his home after he turned pro, I think more so than not, the traveling aspect, and maybe he knew some guys that played the Tour that lived there. We've just kind of grown and struck up like a big-brother, younger-brother kind of relationship. I think I've been helpful to Tiger, and I think Tiger has been helpful to me from the standpoint when you play with someone -- I made the analogy about tennis, when you play tennis, you want to play with somebody a little better, even though you want to beat them. If you play with somebody not as good as you are, your game doesn't get better. But it's amazing how your ground strokes get better when somebody starts firing them over to you. When I played Tiger, in my estimation, he's the most talented player I've ever seen. I played for 20 years, and played with some great players, and I think that pushed me a little bit from the standpoint of figuring out how I have to step my game up to compete at the same level as Tiger Woods or David Duval.

Q. Mark, this being a very different Open venue, can you talk a little bit about the players who may be in contention this week? Perhaps they would not have been in contention if it was a typical Open setup?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, that's a good question, but it's a question -- and I'm still going to go with guys who have performed well in past USGA events. I'm going to go with guys that have been playing well of late: Tiger, David Duval, Colin Montgomerie, players who have been winning frequently. Because winning breeds winning, and your confidence steps up a beat. But I also think this Open Championship is going to let some other players who maybe don't drive the ball quite as straight or have a great short game come into the mix. So I wouldn't say it's wide open, but I think you're going to see some familiar names at the top of the leaderboard after the first few days. And you're going to see some new names right alongside. And a lot is going to depend on what the weather does. If we continue to get rain or softness, of course, that yields to more players. If it gets a little drier and the wind comes up a little bit, I think you're going to go with more experienced players.

Q. Mark, of your skills and in your own estimation, where does green-side chipping rank in your repetoire, and how does that impact what your expectations are personally for this week?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, my expectations are out of the question. They're not high, but I feel like I'm close, Larry. I feel like I'm very close. But, yes, I think my chipping has improved tremendously over the last five years. My short game has gotten better, and that was evident at the British Open win. That was evident at the Masters win. So I don't have a problem with having to pull my putter out and putting it from 15 yards off the green. For me, of late, my putting has been so-so. I haven't been making that many putts. My game has been good on the practice tee, but not so good on the golf course; so I would say that I have modest expectations this week, but yet don't maybe count me out of the realm of possibilities of having a chance to win. I think if I get out there and get some confidence and start hitting the ball the way I can hit it, there's no way I can't pull it out. I think most of the time I'll probably putt it. I was messing around with a 3-wood, playing with Tiger, and that really is a nice play. With a 7-iron or 5-iron, there's more chance of the ball spinning off the face, or you can catch it and it will dig a little. But the 3-wood, because the bottom is so shallow and rounded, you're very well going to -- it's a very good play, and not a bad choice, and I'll practice more with it today when I practice today.

Q. Mark, could you analyze your season so far? And you said it's been good on the practice rounds, but not so good on the course. Is there any reason why?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I push pretty hard. Let's face it: I am 42, and I've taken advantage of some of the opportunities that have come my way, playing internationally a little bit more. But that takes a little bit out of you. There's no doubt about it. And it takes more out of you when you're 42. I could tell at Muirfield on the weekend, I was mentally a little bit out of it. I didn't practice that hard preparing for the Open. I practiced a bit on the weekend. I would not lie to say that I'm not overjoyed at the start I've had this year. But I'm not that disappointed. And no matter what happens in the future, I would like to keep playing well, and I want to win tournaments, but I also have to say to myself: Hey, look, I'm not a kid anymore, and I've been very lucky to play well for a long period of time. And golf is about ups and downs. And I've had them in my career, and all the young players or players who are playing well right now are going to experience them. And that's part of the game of golf. For now, I would like to play well here this week. And if I don't, certainly, I'd be disappointed. But life will go on.

Q. Mark, given the popularity of the U.S. Open and the prestige, do you think there's a danger in maybe normalizing the Open courses a little too much?

MARK O'MEARA: No. I truly believe that the USGA and the way they set up, a golf course is always going to be very demanding and difficult. Sure, there might be a little bit of difference this week, because the weather hasn't yielded to a lot of good grass-growing conditions. It's early summer, but maybe they haven't had that much rain in North Carolina. Maybe it hasn't been that warm. But I personally think the rough should be a penalty. But from the standpoint of how severe that penalty should be, there's always something that's been maybe misjudged a little bit. I don't think every time you drive it in the rough you take your sand wedge out and whack it 40 yards up the fairway. That's not a lot of fun for me, and I don't think it would be fun to watch. But maybe -- everybody knows how good the pros are, and everybody thinks they're hacking it around like we hack it around. I don't think they're trying to make it easier. Maybe a few changes and bring chipping into the game, and I don't see anything wrong with that.

Q. Tiger said his game is better than it was at Memorial. Do you feel with your exposure to him his confidence is higher now than it has been?

MARK O'MEARA: I would have to agree with that assessment. He played well in the one at Memorial, but let's face it: His short game and putting were tremendous; hit a lot of irons off the tee; hit a lot of drivers. I played with him one day last week, and we practiced a little together. And we played together yesterday. He's hitting it as good as he can hit it. Sometimes you go in and you're hitting it great and you have high expectations, and that puts more pressure. And even though you're hitting good -- you want to hit it good Thursday, trust me. I think Tiger will play well this week, because, No. 1, his putting is extremely good, and he's confident with his putting.

LES UNGER: Mark, I just want to ask you a question, about the Tiger relationship. It would appear that you've had an awful lot of positive impressions made on him. Has there ever been another "relationship" like this that you can think about where a young guy got coaching from a rival, actually, because you're still competing for the same pot of gold.

MARK O'MEARA: I don't know. A lot of times people ask me about that. I don't have a problem when people ask me about Tiger Woods or certain issues. Obviously, my personal relationship with him away from the course is kind of -- should be sacred between he and I. But if he confides in me in trying to want to help him along, I find a lot of enjoyment out it, honestly. I feel like Tiger and young players such as David Duval and Justin Leonard are the future in the game. And if I can help him along a little bit, even if he beats me the majority of the time, I think he should, because I think he's got a lot more talent than I have. But that's not to say he can't be beaten. For example, at the World Matchplay last year at Wentworth, we had a great match, and I was fortunate to win. But I'm glad that we've struck up the relationship that we have. And I hope that we continue it. And I hope when I see something he might not be doing right and I point it out to him, he listens.

Q. Mark, Isleworth for your home club is a fine course. It's not Pinehurst No. 2, but what were you able to do practicing at Isleworth, particularly in and around the greens that might help you guys? Were there any sort of similarities?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I personally last week went down to the Loews Hardware Store and put Diaznon (ph) down because I had bugs in my grass, and I fertilized my yard, and right after, we got a nice rainstorm. And I'm not going to lie: I didn't stand out last week and hit a lot of bump-and-run shots. I know Tiger practiced Wednesday and Thursday, and took it easy on Friday and Saturday. And we went out and played a few holes. But, unfortunately, the golf course is in transition in Isleworth, as is central Florida, aerating the greens, because the greens were slow, and it isn't like what we play here. I can't honestly say I thought about it or worked that hard on it last week.

Q. Had you ever seen anybody hit that putt with the 5-wood shot before Tiger did it?

MARK O'MEARA: I can't remember seeing it, but maybe I have. But I can't see -- he holed it off the green. He had the arm up and had the charge. There was no one around, and he's doing it. I said, "Wait." I said, "Look, don't be doing that junk to me. I know you made it, and it's great. And you've gone 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, but don't be doing that with me; otherwise, I'll come back and wax you, and I'll take the 3-wood and break it and you won't be able to use it again." He definitely tends to be creative. And it's interesting because, trying to see what he does, a lot of times he changes -- he uses a lot of different grips out there, too. He's not afraid of the change a little bit when it comes to using the interlock when he swings his golf club, sometimes 10-finger on the 3-wood; sometimes a reverse overlap; sometimes the interlock. "It's amazing," he says, "whatever I feel comfortable with at that particular moment, that's what I go with."

Q. You said a year or two ago, you were talking about the possibility that Tiger could burn out because of all the pressures on him. It seems from my perspective he's coming out of that.

MARK O'MEARA: I think he's grown a lot. I think in the media you've seen he's grown a lot. He's definitely learned to deal with all the attention and understanding what he can do and what he can't do. I can tell you right now, I mean, I played a lot of practice rounds with him, and I see what goes on out there. We were playing with Craig Parry yesterday, and he said, "Is this the way it always is?" And Tiger said, "Yeah, pretty much." And he says, "No thanks." So there's a lot -- just comments, people yelling. The game has changed, you guys, and girls, it's just -- it's not the same as what it was 12 years ago. I can tell you when I'm out there playing, either that or when I play a practice round, there's ten people that watch me play. But when we were out there yesterday, there was thousands of people. There's a lot more smart comments coming from the gallery. He's very good at fending them off. He tries not to let them bother him. But deep down inside, you know, you hear those things. And unfortunately, that's the aspect of the game that has changed that I don't like. And I would hope that the fans would realize that the players are trying to conduct themselves in a professional manner, and the fans would conduct themselves in a professional manner. There's no need for yelling out certain comments out there. That would never have happened 15 years ago or 12 years ago, but it's starting to happen more.

Q. I've got a couple of questions. No. 1, how easy is this rough compared to the U.S. Open rough?

MARK O'MEARA: By what I've seen so far, because I was in the rough some yesterday, the majority of the time, I was able to put a club on it. So it's definitely easier than it's been I think in the last -- well, it's probably as easy as it's been in a long while. I haven't seen it -- it's still deep in spots, but there are some times where a lot of times your ball is sitting there and looking pretty good. So it's going to be more interesting to see how players control how the ball is going to react coming out of there.

Q. Can you get it to the green from there?

MARK O'MEARA: I think so. Yeah, I do.

Q. The second question: Who are the best chippers in this field?

MARK O'MEARA: The best chippers in the field? Well, I think David Duval has a wonderful short game. I think Tiger is a good chipper of the ball. We all know that Phil Mickelson is very creative around the greens, very nice chipper. I think Justin Leonard has a great short game. Lee Janzen is good around the greens, Ernie Els, Payne Stewart. A lot of guys that have won U.S. Opens, have good short games. A lot of that is not brought up. If you look at their short games, and I play with these guys all the time, those guys all have tremendous short games. And I think that's an aspect you have to have.

Q. Earlier, you said that you think Tiger has more talent than anybody you've ever seen?

MARK O'MEARA: Absolutely.

Q. Why do you think he has more talent than Nicklaus?

MARK O'MEARA: I just -- I think that Jack Nicklaus is by far the greatest player that's ever played the game of golf. There's not an issue on that. I have tremendous admiration for Jack Nicklaus. But when it comes to raw talent and hitting a golf ball, I've never seen anybody hit shots like this guy hits golf shots. If you're asking me my opinion, my opinion is that he's the most talented player I've ever seen when it comes to striking the golf ball; being able to hit it far and/or hit it tremendously straight and be able to produce shots that I've really never seen other players be able to produce. Some players come close, and I know that when Jack was dominating, he hit it that much longer than everyone else, but I'm not so sure he hit it as far as Tiger hits it.

Q. You talk about your big-brother, little-brother type relationship with Tiger, and giving him advice occasionally, maybe things in his game. Does little brother ever proffer advice to big brother?

MARK O'MEARA: Oh, yeah, he does. I think he's pushed me a little bit, either trying to work on my physical conditioning a little bit more and/or the fact that I hadn't won a major. And he kept hounding me: You've won tournaments all over the world, why haven't you won a major championship? Is it this, this, this or that? He kept pushing me along, and that maybe helped me win a couple of tournaments last year.

Q. How about technical?

MARK O'MEARA: Maybe a little bit. But I think I know enough about my swing. But, yeah, he'll point out some things, because he knows where my mistakes are on my swing, too; so that helps a little bit, too.

Q. Could you be specific about comments made about Tiger taking things on his character, his lack of ability to play the game or racial overtones, what is it that's negative out there)?

MARK O'MEARA: You hear comments coming out of the gallery, that "You're not the man"; "David Duval is No. 1, you're No. 2." You hear all sorts of things. But usually not too bad from the standpoint of -- I can't answer the racial aspect of it. But more so people coming in with smart kind of ridiculous comments, that there's no need for it. And he's not going to snap back, but I let the fans know what I thought yesterday. I set them straight.

Q. Do you think you're getting more people that are not golf people?

MARK O'MEARA: Maybe, because the game has grown so much. And I think 10 or 15 years ago, if someone in a gallery made a point and made some kind of smart as remark to the players, the person in the gallery next to him would have grabbed him and said: Hey, you don't do that, that's just not right. Now, the gallery seems so electric has become more vocal and wanting to make these comments, that just makes them look bad, really. It's just ridiculous to make some of the statements that they make. So, does it bother a player, I think he's learned to deal with it. I think David Duval has learned to deal with it. And I can deal with it. But it's not right to go out there and not respect the players that are trying to play the game.

Q. Two years ago Tiger got all the attention coming in after The Masters win. Last year had Casey Martin riding his cart. What story line this year intrigues you?

MARK O'MEARA: I think the emergence of David Duval playing the way he has played, four tournament wins already, 2.8 million or 3 million, whatever he's made. His continued fine performance has been a highlight of the year. To see Tiger starting to win again is obviously been a highlight. Other than that, there isn't that many issues. It's just that the players that you think should be playing well are playing pretty well. Colin Montgomerie is playing pretty well in Europe. He's won some tournaments. And there's some old crusty veterans that might contend this weekend. I wouldn't put them out of the mix. Nick Price comes to mind; straight hitter of the golf ball, very good control of how far he hits it. I wouldn't be surprised if he plays well.

End of FastScripts….

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