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March 26, 1997

Mark O'Meara


WES SEELEY: Joined by the TOUR's leading money winner as of now this year, Mark O'Meara. What has all the rain done to all that golf course.

MARK O'MEARA: Well, the golf course, I was up a couple of weeks ago, and it is in ideal condition, as you probably obviously know when you have been out there and looked at it. With the rain, it has softened it up a little bit. The rough is about as deep as I have ever seen. It may be even a little deeper. There are some holes out there that definitely require some accuracy off the tee. So you want to obviously keep it out of that thick stuff, but the greens are in super condition. And, you know, if the wind doesn't below, and now that the moisture has set in a little bit, I imagine there will be some relatively decent scoring. A lot depends on what the wind does, as it does in any tournament. You know, if the wind kicks up and blows, it will obviously make the conditions a little bit tougher out there.

Q. Talk about 16, 17, 18.

MARK O'MEARA: I think those are exciting holes as you could ever ask for. And, a lot of that comes about because of the holes themselves. You've got a par 5, a par 3 and par 4, a par 5 that a lot of things can transpire, as well, as has happened in the past. Anywhere from a 3 to a 6 or 7. One that is reachable with an iron if it is dry. Today it was. I hit a pretty good tee shot there, and I hit a 3-wood to the green, but it is one of those risk-reward-type holes. It creates a lot of excitement. 17, as you well know, I remember the year that I played in the last group on Sunday with Nick Price, who went on to win the tournament. We walked onto that tee, and I remember him talking to Squeaky and saying all the time: "I don't need yardage. Just tell me it is a 9-iron. Just tell me it's a 9-iron. Just tell me it is a 9-iron." "Okay. It is a 9-iron." "Okay, good." So, you know, the green obviously gets smaller as the pressure is applied. But if the wind doesn't blow, it is not that difficult of a shot. I mean, you have to hit a pretty poor shot to hit it in the water, these guys, with the ability that they have out here. On the other hand, if you get a little wind coming out of the northwest or whatever direction that is off the left and into you where you are hitting a 6-iron into there or 5-iron, then it is a brutal golf hole. So I think the fans can appreciate that. A lot of attraction with finishing like that and, you got the 18th hole is a long par 4 that requires accuracy off the tee. And, it requires precision on your second shot coming into the green to get it on the right tier. So it is just, you have got to play some golf shots coming down the stretch to really produce any kind of good score whatsoever.

Q. Do you think 17 is -- not overrated -- but do you think attracts a lot of attention for how it plays as an amateur?

MARK O'MEARA: More so probably than anything else, and I had know that a lot of people out there that come and watch golf, you know, they can appreciate when a pro hits a bad shot. They say, "Hey, I have done that before. Hey, those guys are human. They can do it too." And, I think because of people -- because the uniqueness of the hole and the attention that that hole has gotten, yes. But, to be honest with you, that hole is not really that hard. Now, that could be the kiss of death for me, but I am just being honest with you. If the wind doesn't blow, like today, it is just a nice smooth 8-iron. It can range anywhere from 100, I guess, 120 -- I guess that hole is playing anywhere from 128 yards to 154 yards or 157 yards, somewhere in that range. And, I think the key is to get aiming properly and be committed; just going to hit your shot; trust your golf swing.

Q. You have soaked it there before?

MARK O'MEARA: Yes, I have soaked it there before.

Q. Mark, two-part question, if I might. No. 1, how are you playing coming into this tournament, and how's that confidence level, still way up there?

MARK O'MEARA: I finished third last week at Bay Hill, tied for third. Actually, I was within a couple of shots of the lead with a few holes to play, and Phil played some extremely great golf last nine holes. My game this year has been one-of-kind in a way, not a surprise, but I really don't feel like I've played my best golf yet. I feel like I have managed myself well. I feel like I have scored well. I have putted very well most of the time. And, you know, I have had some success with winning two tournaments, and then I think I have had about five top 10s out of the eight tournaments that I have played in, and I have made every cut. I have always been a player who thrives on consistency. I take a lot of pride in that. And, even if I am not playing that great, I think over the last couple of years because of maybe the maturity factor and now that I am 40 I have gotten sometimes a little bit more out of my game than what I might have gotten five years ago. Whether that is just being a little bit more patient and honest with my feelings when I am playing out there, that if I am not hitting it 100%, finding the next best way to get the job done.

Q. There has never been an event that had 50 of the top 50 in the Sony Rankings here. How much attention do players pay to how many of the world's best players are here at a given event, and are you motivated by that as much as you are the money, the title, the course?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, I think THE PLAYERS Championship is one that every single guy that is out there on that driving range realizes the importance of the tournament; understands the golf course itself is very challenging; requires a guy that is really playing well to do well, and they also understand that the quality of the field, probably the best field that we play all year long in any tournament, anywhere in the world, this probably has the best actual all-around field because of what you stated. I mean, 50 of the top 50 Sony world ranked players playing here, 48 out of 50, whatever it is, this is an elite field on a relatively tough, demanding golf course, depending on the conditions. If the wind doesn't blow, it can play -- I don't think it ever plays easy. But, it definitely is scorable. You have seen guys last year, Freddie, the scores he shot, 64 the last day; a few years back when Ray pretty much put on an unbelievable demonstration. But, the guys who are past champions here, you look at the players that have won here and most of those players are very, very high quality players. So, I think that this championship would look great on anybody's record.

Q. I have one question about Jack Nicklaus and the President Cup, being the captain. What do you feel about that?

MARK O'MEARA: I think it is great. I think that the -- firstly, I didn't play on the first President Cup team, but I played on this last one when Arnold Palmer was the captain, and I felt like that was a great experience for me, and now the fact that Jack has taken up the reins and is going to be our next captain now in Australia, you have to understand those are two of the all-time greatest players that have ever played the game, and to be on a team or be associated with them, at any given point in time, is a tremendous honor for any teammate. And, I felt that way when Arnold was the captain last year, and then if I am fortunate enough to make the team down there in Australia, I would say the same thing. I think Jack has been the man. It's going to be a long time before somebody takes his place - if that ever happens at all - in what he has accomplished in the game of golf.

Q. Mark, do your swing keys change when you are playing in major tournaments or more important tournaments, so-called, like the TPC, Masters, etceteras, do they change at all or are they the same? Do you try to make them more simple? What kind of thinking do you go through when you are out here?

MARK O'MEARA: I think the best time to really prepare yourself for a tournament is not necessarily -- I think Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, you know, you are trying to get a feel for your game and for the course. But, it is very difficult for anybody to make super big, major changes couple of days before the tournament. When you are coming in, you kind of know how you have been playing, how you feel. And sometimes if you get your expectations up to high or too low, those can be two tough issues to deal with. For myself, I feel like the best thing to do is come here and keep everything in perspective from the standpoint if I go out there and play the way I can play, hopefully I can challenge for the championship on Sunday. There is no question that players are constantly trying to improve their game. But, if you are working on big major changes, it is going to be tough to play in a competition like this. So, I think you'd have to stay away from some of the big major ones. But minor ones or little key, things that you tend to stay away from or avoid, those are fine little keys.

Q. Talk about windy conditions. Do you change your setup or do you change your swing to accommodate --

MARK O'MEARA: If it gets windy, I think the ball flight is important being able to control the trajectory of your golf shot; a little lower flight is going to be beneficial. Now, that wouldn't work if the greens were hard and the golf course was fast. But, the golf course is soft, so, you can come in lower and still hold the greens.

Q. Are you changing your setup or your swing?

MARK O'MEARA: Just depends on how hard the wind is blowing. If it is blowing real hard move back, then, yeah, the ball definitely moves back and my stance a little bit; I will take a little bit more club to try not to hit it so hard, which, you know, if you swing it hard, a lot of times you will produce more backspin. The higher you get it up in the air the more chance the wind has to affect the golf shot, so, yeah, I would change it a little bit, back, a little bit in the stance.

Q. What is your view of is the whole Tiger Woods phenomenon? Obviously, it hasn't distracted you.

MARK O'MEARA: You know, Tiger Woods is a heck of a player - there is no question about it. But there is a lot of talented young players. I played with a kid on Sunday at Bay Hill Stuart Appleby who just won two weeks ago, who, he is pretty impressive. I mean, I knew -- I heard he was a pretty good player, but he impressed me on Sunday the way he played at Bay Hill. Tiger obviously has been good for the game. He has been good for himself. The media has done an unbelievable job putting him up to where he is right now. Granted, he has played well and deserves a lot of that attention. But, there is no question, a lot of attention, like anything else in life, if you are just kind of a normal person, and just kind of walk the straight line and not too controversial one way or the other, then, you know, you are not going to really be written about very much. And, if you are a little bit different, if you are talented - which Tiger is - he is young. He is aggressive. He had a heck of an amateur career. But, Phil Mickelson had a heck of an amateur career and he didn't quite get the same notoriety when Tiger came out. It is all timing. Everything in life is timing. It was the right time for Tiger Woods to come along. You know what somewhere down the line someone else is going to come along. Four, five years ago, John Daly came along and he got tremendous exposure. So, you know, when the media asks a player that question, a player has to turn around and ask you that question because Tiger created his ability to play good golf, but the media has helped publicize that even to a higher extreme. So, the notoriety he has achieved is tremendous. His ability definitely warrants it. But, you know, if he was -- maybe didn't have quite the amateur career or just maybe he had won three tournaments -- Paul Stankowski has won five tournaments in the last eleven months. I don't see you guys write about him. It is hard for me to -- I have no animosity towards that - don't get me wrong. But, I appreciate his ability. I appreciate Paul Stankowski's ability. I appreciate Stuart Appleby's ability. I don't have a problem with somebody who has beat me or I mean, it is just going to elevate other players to want to played harder. Use that as a positive force.

Q. Is that what is happening?

MARK O'MEARA: I think so. I think --

Q. Is there elevation?

MARK O'MEARA: I think people, you know, if Tiger Woods is drawing more people to the game then that is good for everyone. It is good for you guys as writers. It is good for the players and the PGA TOUR, if he is attracting more people, which he has. The ratings are up on TV when he plays. It is kind of like the snow ball rolling down the hill. It is collecting more snow; getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I think Tiger and I are pretty good friends. We spent sometime together. There is obviously a big age difference. I am 40. He is 21. But, he lives in my community. We fish together and, you know, he doesn't ask for a whole lot of advice. But, believe me, I will give him advice if I see it is warranted.

Q. What kind of advice have you given him?

MARK O'MEARA: That I am glad I am not him. How do you like that?

You know, I feel like -- I have got a nice family life; people don't recognize me. That is okay. I can live a pretty much normal life and I am fourth on the all-time money list and I have done pretty well on the PGA TOUR. So, I have some privacy. When you get to the status that he is at or Ken Griffey Jr. or super celebrities like that, they don't have a whole lot of privacy left. That is something they give up. Fortunately, for me, I have privacy and I appreciate having some privacy.

Q. With all the attention that Tiger generates out there, some people say it is a distraction. In some ways, is it a blessing for a guy like Paul Stankowski; takes a little of the pressure away from these guys?

MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, because you know, you have to realize that the amount of exposure that Tiger has gotten and the way he has played and conducted himself, it is not easy. He is under the microscope. He knows that. That, in itself, applies a lot of pressure to him as an individual. As you said, it takes a lot of pressure off John Daly or Paul Stankowski or Mark O'Meara or whatever. Because he -- because of his play and because of who he is and because of the attention that he has received, you know, people are looking at him under a microscope. And, a lot of people want to come out and watch him play. So, it is tough. And, I tip my hat is off to Tiger the way he has handled himself. He has done a tremendous job. But, I think he has kind of known what to expect, so he doesn't play every single week. He has got to pace himself because when he says he plays, it takes a lot out of him. He says to me: "This is your fifth week in a row. Why do you play every week? What are you doing?" "Well, I like to play a lot." I am not quite under the scrutiny quite as much as he is.

Q. You guys play for three and a half million this week which is awfully nice. I guess the other side of that is for all you have done this year and accomplished someone could win one week and pass you on the money list. Should one or two tournaments weigh so heavily on --

MARK O'MEARA: There is a couple of ways you can look at it, Jeff. There is no question that I have won twice this year and I have made 826 thousand or whatever I have made, 5 top-tens out of the eight tournaments I have played in. And, to me, that shows a sign of consistency and some pretty darn good play and now the winner this week makes six --


MARK O'MEARA: 630. Our feeling as a player and also as a player/director on the PGA TOUR that approved the raise in purse, we are keeping it the same as it was last year. I think that a couple of papers kind of misunderstood that this tournament was raised to $4 million which is not the case, THE TOUR Championship at the end of the year is 4 million. This is 3.5. It was a tough decision to make, but we have money there that is sitting there. It is generated for the players. And this is THE PLAYERS Championship. Yeah, I will be disappointed if some guy goes by me because he made 620,000 and I made 5,000 this week, but you know, it is an important tournament and we feel like because it is our championship; that we need to make sure that we let every other championship around the world know what this means to the player and the significance it means to the players and that is why the purse has kind of been pushed to where it is at.

WES SEELEY: Anything else, folks?

Q. What would a 10-year exemption mean to you at this point?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, Cathy, it would be nice. I know right now with my stature by winning twice this year by my all-time money list position and stuff, I mean, I am pretty much exempt for the next three or four years on the Tour. I know I could probably play for another four years. I am 40 years old. My game plan is to play pretty solidly for the next two and a half to three years. Then I am going to back off some because I feel like if I back off a little bit from 44 to 50, then I will be ready when the 50 comes around. So there is no question that if I won here, having that exemption, would be very, very large, good timing.

Q. You would rest a little bit?

MARK O'MEARA: I wouldn't play 26 or 27. I would cut back to maybe playing 15 or 16.

Q. You plan on playing the SENIOR TOUR?

MARK O'MEARA: Right now. But, that is ten years away. Of course, I always said eight years ago I am going to retire. I told my wife I am going to work two more years then she is going to have to go to work. Have my contracts for the next few years, then she goes to work. She goes, "That is fine, you have got to take care of the kids." I said, "No, no. You take care of the kids." (.

Q. Buy another Porsche?

MARK O'MEARA: I don't know about that. You can only drive one car at a time.

WES SEELEY: I heard that. Thanks.

End of FastScripts....

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