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June 17, 1998

Mark O'Meara


LES UNGER: Congratulations on this side, on what you have received hundreds of times at Augusta. I am curious how has your life changed since then.

MARK O'MEARA: I think it has been a great experience. It was a great week for me in April there at Augusta. To have the opportunity to win the Masters and birdieing the three last holes was a dream come true. I think when I am playing now, to know that I have finally got over that hurdle, I was 0 for 56 or whatever I read in the paper, 0 for 57, in major championships, it just goes to show you how difficult it is to win on any Tour, let alone a major championship. For me, my take on it has been that as I am travelling or playing, so many fans have congratulated me and said what a great victory it was at Augusta, not to say that other victories I had weren't important, but there is no question that that was kind of the icing on the cake for me.

LES UNGER: You do count the amateurs, so we have got two.


LES UNGER: So does Jack.

MARK O'MEARA: Well, good. I think the fact that I have got two Majors now is great. The U.S. Amateur in '79, at the time people were asking me what were some of the greatest moments in my life. I would say when I won the U.S. Amateur in '79 when I won my first PGA tournament in '84 beating Tom Watson coming down the stretch; when I played with my father at the AT&T, I was fortunate to win and now The Masters. So, when it comes to golf, those are pretty much the highlights for me.

LES UNGER: Mark, '84 and '88 were very successful years in the Open for you. But, I am sure there is some room for others.

MARK O'MEARA: I definitely had a stretch for about five, six years where I had missed the cut. I think it was a combination of things, the standpoint a lot of times, when I was missing my drives, they were running just through the edge of the fairway. As all of you probably know, that is where the deepest rough is at a US Open. I missed a couple of cuts by a shot. So that was disappointing. I missed qualifying for the U.S. Open when it was at Shinnecock. Gave me a good time to think about what I needed to do. Now I have come back and played a little bit better in the U.S. Open last couple of years. This being our National Championship always on a demanding golf course, it requires accuracy off the tee, good concentration, good placement with your iron shots and a great putting touch. I mean, the guy who plays here this week and wins this Championship, whoever it may be, is going to have to deal with the emotions and playing a difficult golf course, such as an Olympic setup to where you have got to really play well. You cannot go out there and not perform at a reasonably high level and expect good results out there.

LES UNGER: As you are describing, how does this course fit your particular swing pattern?

MARK O'MEARA: I have been very happy. Yesterday, I hit the ball reasonably well in the practice round. Today, I felt like I played very well. There is some things that I have been working on my golf swing over the last couple of years with Hank Haney, the guy who teaches me, and my ball flight has gotten a little bit better. Hopefully, that will carry on for the rest of the week.

LES UNGER: Questions, please.

Q. In the past couple of weeks all the talk coming into the Majors has been centered around talking about the young guys. Fred Couples wins a couple of times. You win the Masters. Tom Watson wins. Kind of a little bit of reversal of the trend here. All of a sudden, people are looking at a lot of people to win rather than just those four, five young guys.

MARK O'MEARA: I would have to say a -- I would agree with that statement very much from the standpoint that there are so many good players now in the world and a lot of them happen to be young. They have burst onto the scene with high expectations, and they have lived up to those expectations. There is just so much talent that it is also neat and very interesting to see. The fact that I have actually played some of my best golf over the last three, four years, and I am now 41 years old; Tom Watson has been playing some extremely good golf. Obviously, his putting touch has returned because we saw that at Colonial. There are other good players. I think that that is nice to have a good mix. And, once again, I have said this before, I mean, the golf ball is sitting out there on the ground. It really doesn't know how old you are. It doesn't know if you are 20 or 30 or 50 or 60 or 70. It just kind of sits there waiting to be struck. That is what makes this game so special.

Q. There has been a history here in the previous Opens of like a lower-profiled guy coming up to knock off one of the big names in the game. I wondered if -- does it have anything to do with this course's set up, or have to do with anything else? Also, if you could, are there any names that come to your mind this week of maybe low-profiled, unheralded guys that could do well here?

MARK O'MEARA: If I was going to be -- to be a betting man, I would look at players who have been playing pretty well lately. I would look at players who have had relatively past good success in U.S. Opens. Players who manage themselves around the golf course who are methodical-type players; who can understand what they can do and what they can't do with a golf ball. Those are key elements, I think; that you are going to make some bogeys out there. I don't think the U.S. Open is ever about, you know, who makes the most birdies. It is definitely not a birdie feast out there. It is more about, I think, managing your good shots and your bad shots. So you eliminate the big score and try to do that. I mean, at The Masters, that was my game plan because it was real windy and the course was playing tough - try to eliminate the scores. Let's face it, Davis Love, Jim Furyk have been playing well, very straight hitter of the ball. David Duval, Tiger, Justin Leonard, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, I mean, there is a lot of players -- the game is so worldwide now, it is hard to put your finger and say: Well, this guy is going to win. It is just very difficult to pick one individual.

Q. (inaudible)

MARK O'MEARA: I think this golf course is set up for someone who has a little bit of experience; who has played here maybe in the past, understands the greens. These greens are poa annua-type greens. They have got a lot of slope in them. Where to miss the ball, where not to. You are going to see the names fluctuate on that leaderboard. It happens every year. We might see some prizes. If we do, I think that is good. But I would think that coming down the stretch on Sunday, you are going to see a guy who is kind of either been there before or who has been playing well of late.

Q. What changes have you made when you talk about change in ball flight? Explain that. What is your strategy for your game on the golf course to be successful?

MARK O'MEARA: What I have tried to do on my ball flight is I have tended to always be -- when I get in trouble, my ball flight starts coming down. It is a lot lower with my driver. And, when you hit a lower ball flight, on firm fairways or fairways that have got some undulation, the ball tends to run. Yeah, it might go further, but it also has the opportunity to get into trouble quicker. So I have tried to learn to get my ball flight a little higher with my driver, so it will still go, but when it hits, maybe not quite as much run on it. So I have been working on that. When it comes to my game and what my game plan is around here has a lot to do with what the wind is going to do; how firm the golf course gets. Sometimes on tee shots, let's say, for example, yesterday -- 10 o'clock I teed off on hole No. 4. I hit driver off the tee; maybe even 3-wood. This morning I played at 7:30, I hit 1-iron off the tee. So the course is getting faster because of the sunshine and the wind. And, I think sometimes you have got to be aware of that. The fairways might look like they are wide, but because of the way they dog-leg left-to-right and right-to-left, you are -- and the way they slope opposite of the dog-leg, your actual landing area is very small.

Q. You have so much experience in this game. This is the first U.S. Open one player is allowed to drive in a cart. What is your opinion about Casey Martin?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I think, you know, there has been a lot written about Casey Martin. Needless to say, what he has accomplished and done is incredible. My feeling is that any disabled person that can come out there and do that, I am all for that. I have really no issue with Casey riding in a cart. My issue would have been earlier that, listen, you know, no one wants to be the bad guy and everybody wants to see everybody succeed. But we did have these rules and then the rules were challenged and the USGA knows about this, the Tour knows about this, and you know, it is unfortunate this incident came to light. I think the players feel like, hey, if it's about giving Casey a cart, we have no problem. But the issue was: Where do you draw the line, and who can make their own rules. Can the Tour make their own rules, or are we going to let the court make the rules? It is a sticky thing. But, overall, I don't think the players have any objection to Casey riding.

Q. Do you draw a little extra confidence -- this is a course that is going to require shot-making golf and not home-run-derby and the other thing is, are you relieved at all with the announcement this morning apparently you will get -- you and all the guys will get to keep your double-titanium-nuclear-Viagra drivers?

MARK O'MEARA: I wish I could say that my Ti-22 driver was nuclear, but unfortunately Tiger still hits it 80 yards by me. No, I think that this golf course definitely requires a lot of shot making. The greens are small. Once again, the fairways, undulating, tilted left-to-right, right-to-left. So you have got to really work your ball into the fairway. You have got to work your ball into the green. And so that is what, I think, any U.S. Open should be about. This course is that way.

Q. (inaudible)

MARK O'MEARA: I think it is getting that way because I think I am becoming a better player to be honest with you. I was happy with what I saw today on the golf course. My expectations are a little higher going into the U.S. Open this year than they have been in year's past. The confidence that I got from winning The Masters, I think, will be helpful. I will try not to put anymore pressure on myself. I will go out and do the best that I can. If it doesn't go well, that is okay. I mean, there will be another time. I know that a lot of people were concerned, I think, the United States Golf Association never really wants to hurt the game. They want to protect the game. But let us face it, you know, technology is advanced not only in golf but in everything in life. And, I think that the choice that they have made and to try to look at it and basically if you look at the average handicap of any player out there today, it is actually, you know, at about 16 strokes or whatever. It is not like it has gotten that much lower. The Vardon stroke average on the PGA TOUR hasn't gotten that much lower. The thing is players of today's era, there is more good players because of all the media attention. There is more money in the game. The players are better conditioned. They are working out in the fitness vans. I think the instruction and understanding of the technique of the golf swing is much, much better and because if you put all those elements together, I mean, sure technology has improved a little bit. But I can't honestly say that I think, in my opinion, that it has made this huge difference in the way players are playing the game. I mean, the golf courses today are manicured, much better than what they were 15, 20, 30, 40 years ago. Greens are faster. All these other elements come into play. So, if push comes to shove, I think it has kind of equaled out. But there is no reason not to make sure that the equipment doesn't outrun the game.

Q. What bit of wisdom, if any at all, did you impart on Tiger with regards to managing one's way around a US Open venue.

MARK O'MEARA: I think Tiger, after watching him play today, he is really hitting the ball well. He is swinging as good as I have seen him swing. He knows that he has got to really control the distance that he hits his shot. He told me he is not going to really try to go for the long ball. He realizes maybe more 3-woods off the tee, more irons off the tee. And, really control the iron play into the green; not the real full swings, more little shots, 3-quarter shots. He was doing that out there today on the practice round. I would like for Tiger to have a good tournament this week.

Q. How has playing so much - if we can believe what we read with Tiger - affected either you or him or would you say?

MARK O'MEARA: I think it has helped both of us. I think it has helped me in the standpoint, here I am playing with this young very talented 22-year-old individual who has actually kind of rekindled my spirit or my drive because I am a competitive person, like any other player out here, and I always want to play against the best. And if Tiger is not the best, he is right there. And, I think that that in itself has helped drive me a little bit. And from the standpoint of my relationship with Tiger, I think that I am kind of a sounding board for him. I think he trusts me. We are good friends. He can confide in me. And in that way, that is how our friendship has developed and I think it has helped him.

Q. I know you are thoroughly sick of the ball-mark situation. I am wondering if this is the fallout of winning a major tournament, if you become a target of these kinds of things, if it would have been anywhere near as big a deal if you hadn't been The Masters Champion suddenly becomes an International deal instead of what appeared to be a very minor situation?

MARK O'MEARA: You know, obviously winning The Masters had something to do with that. I knew that. But my issue was with myself - what I felt like I saw and what happened. I approached the commissioner and other people in the hierarchy of golf before it had ever become apparent to the public. It was an unfortunate incident. I am not denying that that camera angle and everything appeared that way, but I can only tell you my recollection when I was on the green was my intent to put it back in the same place. Now, I discussed this with Jarmo two, three weeks ago in Germany. He doesn't see it the same way. All I can say is that every guy in the PGA TOUR here and most of the players in Europe have called; come up to me and said: Hey, look, we understand your intentions, your integrity of the game and your sportsmanship. We don't have any problem. Could have happened to any one of us, if you felt that that was the case, which I did, the rules of golf and the way it was explained by the commissioner, that if my intent was to replace it in the same spot and six months later it looks like it is a quarter inch closer. Hey, you know, I don't know what to say. I think I am a pretty damn good putter and I don't need that help, to be honest with you - not from one and a half, two feet, or whatever it was.

Q. You were the 14th straight different player to win a major. Tom Lehman was in here talking about how tough it is to maybe go back-to-back anymore because of constraints and all the obligations after you win that major. Have you done anything to kind of make sure that doesn't happen or do you think it has affected your preparation coming in here?

MARK O'MEARA: I don't think so. I have been pretty busy. I have tried to live up to all my commitments that I have. I play a lot of golf. I do a lot of corporate outings. I enjoy doing that. I feel pretty rested. I mean, I would hope that I'd come in here and play well. I understand golf is a pretty tough game and sometimes you don't -- confidence is a big factor. Confidence varies. It goes up and down with every round you play. Tom Lehman is one heck of a player and I realize that -- I think he has been playing pretty well. It is just such a fine line between winning and playing well. You have got to get a little bit lucky. You have got to be in the right place at the right time. Get the right bounces, so, if I play well, great. If I don't, there is always next week.

Q. Following up, twelve months ago all the talk was about Tiger doing the Grand Slam. This year we come in and nobody talks about a Grand Slam at all.


Q. As the only man who can do it, how do you feel about that?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, you know, I don't live for the limelight. I play the game the best I can. If somebody thinks I am a nice player or good player or whatever you want to call it, that is fine. I appreciate that. Let's face it, to win the Grand Slam would be pretty much -- I don't think it is a total miracle, but it is not far off from being a miracle only because the competition is so keen and so close. So, not to be mentioned, that is fine. I don't have a problem with it.

Q. Do you think that you have an advantage over many of the competitors with the poa annua greens and the success that you have had at Pebble Beach reading the greens and gauging distance, that type of thing?

MARK O'MEARA: I think I do. I think that has been a part of my game. Where I tend to play well is on poa annua-type greens, but the U.S. Open is a little different situation from the standpoint that the greens are quite a bit speedier, quite a bit faster, quite a bit firmer and a lot more rough. So, I am pleased with the way I am rolling the ball right now. I think it is all about just make sure you are having the right pace and really there is sometimes where you can be somewhat aggressive but most of the time you have just got to be playing to put it in the hole. If you don't make it, you have got the easy tap-in.

Q. What exactly do they mean by shaping a shot? Lehman said that it is going to favor a guy that can shape the ball, a fade --

MARK O'MEARA: A lot of the holes out there really are holes that -- there is quite a few holes that do shape from left-to-right and the fairway -- I mean, they bend from left-to-right and the fairway actually slopes opposite of the way the hole dog-legs. So on a hole like that, more than likely if you want to hit a draw, you have got to - you have got a very small margin in the fairway because the fairways are firm - (cont'g) land your ball and have it still stay in there because the ball is working with the slope. If you fade the ball, you have got a better chance ever when the ball hits, your fairway is wider. So there there is a lot of this and there is some of this too because you have some par 4s that are long and pretty straight but the fairway tilts from left-to-right. Let's say, for example, I mean, No. 11 out there, No. 12 some of the fairways that have a little bit of left-to-right tilt to them. Number 17, those holes might require a drive high and somewhat of a draw for the ball to stay in the fairway and not slide over to the right. That is what I think he is meaning in the fact that you have got to be able to draw the ball and be able to cut the ball.

Q. (inaudible)

MARK O'MEARA: Into the slope, exactly. Into the slope.

Q. How much practice time on a course does it take you to feel comfortable and what are some non-obvious things --

MARK O'MEARA: I think that if you are playing well and you feel pretty good about your game, a couple of practice rounds, hitting a few balls, work on the speed of the greens, you are ready to go. I think here, what most of the guys you see them doing is practicing around the greens because the rough is very severe, very deep. Getting a feel for how much swing they need to make just to put the ball on the green, time in time out. Let's face it, not every week do we play with conditions such as this. So, granted, you don't need a whole lot of practice if you drive the ball in the rough because you are pretty limited in what you can do - pitching wedge, 9-, 8-iron. You are not going to be going in there with a 4-, 5-iron. So you know that is what to live up to. But around the greens, the bunkers, the speed of the greens, those are the things that you look at when you are practicing for a tournament such as the U.S. Open. Thanks.

End of FastScripts....

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