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February 15, 2007

Mark O'Meara


PHIL STAMBAUGH: Last week the Champion's Tour class of 2007 welcomed Nick Price, and this week it welcomes Mark O'Meara. Mark won 16 times on the PGA TOUR including major championship victories in the 1998 Masters and British Open, 1998 PGA TOUR Player of the Year, and a five-time winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Just a couple thoughts about your debut this week.
MARK O'MEARA: Well, obviously it's exciting. I mean, from the standpoint I played golf now for 26 years as a PGA TOUR, and now the opportunity to move over to the Champions Tour and compete with a lot of great players that, you know, I grew up admiring and certainly played with when I first played with when I came on the Tour, guys I didn't get to see because they moved on to the Champions Tour and I was still playing the regular tour.
It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. It's going to be new. I haven't been too excited about too many things about my game obviously the last three years or so. Any time you do something new, it kind of gets the juices flowing a little bit.
But I also realize how my state of my game is, you know, decent. I wouldn't say it's outstanding. I've played three events already this year, two on the regular tour and my trip over to Dubai a couple of weeks ago. And I've hit the ball well but I haven't played up to my expectations.
My expectations on the Champions Tour is to try to get back to playing, you know, some good competitive golf and trying to win. That's kind of been my philosophy. Golf, you don't win a lot, it's always nice to be able to stand there on Sunday afternoon and hoist a trophy. I kind of miss that and hopefully I can get my game into a position where I can get that feeling again.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: You played yesterday in the Pro-Am and had a chance to see some of the guys. Your early impressions of this golf course and seeing some old faces.
MARK O'MEARA: It was nice to see. Everybody welcomed me back, you know, called me "the rookie," called me all that stuff. That was really pretty nice. I mean, the guys, "you're going to have a lot of fun out here."
I said, yeah, I'll have a lot of fun out here if I play well. No matter what you do, if you're a writer, you're a photographer, you want to do it well.
I thought the golf course was very nice. My son's played a couple junior golf tournaments over here, I think I walked around it a few years back. The golf course is in good condition. If the wind blows, it's going to be challenging. There is a lot of Walter out there. I understand it's a Bobby Weed design. The ball really wasn't rolling that much yesterday. Some of the holes are playing pretty long. Anybody who thinks that the Champions Tour guys play these short courses, I don't know the length of is, 6,900, 6,800, but it was playing all of that yesterday for sure: 18, driver and 3-iron this morning; driver, 4-wood or whatever. They are not a pushover out there by no means. You're going to have to bring it and play some pretty good golf.
So far this year, what I've watched on the Champions Tour, some of the scoring is has been pretty good. I know I'm going to play my best to compete at a high level.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Can you comment about the format, you've had a lot of success with an amateur partner, winning five times at the AT&T Pebble Beach. Make talk about that.
MARK O'MEARA: For some reason majority of my career has been when I performed my best in Pro-Am type formats. I think a lot of it is I tend to be more of an outgoing person who likes to talk a little bit, and if I can spend time with my amateur partners out there, or amateur partner -- like this week, Tom Shannon who I'm playing with is a friend. He's obviously an out back guy, an ex-sports guy, he's a positive guy. So to have him as my amateur partner is going to be a lot of fun.
I think a lot of times is the reason why is because I spend more time thinking about them and hopefully they are going to play well and less time worrying about me, and that just gives me a form of relaxation. The opportunities of playing so well at Pebble Beach and winning Disney and some of the other events I won were Pro-Am formats; maybe I'm not the type of person that can just walk down the fairway and totally stay focused all day long.
If I speak to my amateurs, converse with them and spend some time with them, they realize that there's more to the game of golf than just a player hitting good golf shots and trying to win. From the aspect of a little bit of the socializing is not too bad. Maybe not to the same extent of Fuzzy and Lee Trevino, but probably somewhere in between those would be what's best for me and my game out there.

Q. Is it not a coincidence that you decided to make your debut here in a Pro-Am event?
MARK O'MEARA: Well, a couple things. No. 1, it's close to my home. Certainly living just up the road in Orlando, No. 1. And No. 2 I didn't feel that comfortable going all the way over to Hawaii to play one event. And No. 3, I had made my commitment to play in the Hope in San Diego and then I have a responsibility to be in Dubai, and I didn't think it would be wise to try to play three events and throw Naples, last week's event as my fourth.
I felt like it would be better to come home and get acclimated with the time zones and try to prepare, hopefully for this event, even though I hate to tell you that I was snowmobiling last Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I was riding my shred, and I did practice this weekend; a little bit of that. And the fact that the guys Outback, Mr. Sullivan and certainly Mr. Shannon, have been unbelievably gracious to my family, especially my father who is good friends. He's come over and played golf with the guys at Old Memorial. I've never played Old Memorial, but Outback is a great company and great sponsor. You're right, the Pro-Am aspect of it, it intrigued me for sure.

Q. Looking back from last time you were a rookie --
MARK O'MEARA: That was a long time ago. Volkswagen Rabbit, the young wife, no money, it was a little different.

Q. That's what I was wondering, do you look back and go, "I've come a long way?"
MARK O'MEARA: You know, you're right, I've got to tell you, it's been a dream ride. When I look back at what's really transpired in my life and what's happened to me as a professional golfer, when I first got my card in the fall of 1980, I was hoping to get on the Tour and try to survive. Maybe get out and make some money, do well enough to stay on the Tour for a while.
Then I started to do better and I was hoping to maybe some day win a tournament. That came true in 1984 when I won the Milwaukee Open and it was really great because I was paired with Tom Watson on Saturday and Sunday, and he was by far the best players in the world. And to be able to beat Tom coming down the stretch to win my first tournament was unreal. I thought, well, no matter what happens, at least I won one tournament on the PGA TOUR. That's a great accomplishment.
You know, I've had my up-and-downs in my career. There's been times, for a long time I was pretty consistent, but I've my moments where I struggle like all of us do in life at whatever it is. It's just a matter of hanging in there, hanging in there. And maybe more so than a lot of young American players, I played a lot globally. I thought the game was a global game. I played a lot around the world besides just playing in America.
But God, you're right, to think back to have played on five Ryder Cup teams, two Presidents Cup teams, to have won maybe almost 30 tournaments around the world, to have won on all of these other Tours besides the U.S. Tour. Look, I never classify myself as a great player. You know, I think I'm a good player. I think I've had a great career, for me. But relative to the greats of the game, I mean, no, would not put myself in that category.
Financially obviously to have made money doing this all along the way and to have started really with nothing and to be quite a bit better off now than I was when I came on the TOUR 26 years ago, I'm a lucky guy.
I feel very fortunate to have made the friendships, played the game, hopefully at right level, act and conduct in the right manner out there on the course, and the game has changed. That's fine. I have no problem with that. I've witnessed it firsthand as much as anyone of you guys, women have, with Tiger's emergence and watching what he's done and brought to the game. You know, he really in a roundabout way kept me going. Because before he burst on and became my neighbor and my younger brother, you might say, I might not have won the two majors. I mean, he pushed me for sure. It's been fun. I have no regrets.

Q. I was going to ask you about Tiger and how much he did influence, the effect he did have on you and especially winning the two majors, was it motivation he gave you or a new outlook or trying to keep up with him?
MARK O'MEARA: I would say that golf is -- golf is an evolution, and what we've witnessed in the last ten or 11 years is something that I would have never dreamed of and I don't think that anyone in the sports industry would have thought that if I came to you 15 or 20 years ago and said, there's this golf that's going to come along, doesn't matter what ethnic culture they are, a golfer is going to come along and be one of the most famous athletes in the world.
You would say, no way, that ain't going to happen. It's just not going to happen. I mean, golf is a nice sport and it's grown, but are you kidding me, to being one of the most recognized athletes in the world playing our sport? You know, that's what's happened.
So to have spent the time that I've spent; I've known Tiger and met him when he was 17 years old and I've known him since then and now he's 31. I've witnessed kind of his lifestyle, what he has to deal with, how he's accomplished what he's accomplished. You know, does he work at it? Yes, he works at it. Is he talented? Beyond means he's talented. He's the Michael Jordan of the NBA, that's what Tiger is and we all realize that.
For me personally to have been by his side, witnessed it, traveled with him, stayed with him and be his big brother/mentor, whatever you want to say, has helped me just as much as it's helped Tiger. I kind of -- the way I would maybe analyze it or maybe make it seem similar would be like if you were playing tennis, and you were playing somebody who was quite a bit better than you are, and even though you can't beat that person, your ground strokes get better. The ball comes off your racquet with a little different sound. You know you may not beat them it but boom the racquet came off. Your game gets better by playing with somebody that's better. That's certainly happened with Tiger Woods.
You know, when I was still playing relatively well, not at my prime, but when I could still feel like I was competitive, I could beat Tiger and he knew that I could beat him. I took him down. There's not many guys that could say that, but I could and he knew that I knew that.
So that was even more of an advantage, even though he says now: That ain't going to happen because you're old and you're playing the Champions Tour, you're out of here. And I couldn't beat him anyways. San Diego a couple weeks ago after two rounds, I was 5-under and he was 6-under and one of the guys in the media said: "Mark, is this your last PGA TOUR event?" I'm like well more than likely it is but I may pop up somewhere down the line. I'm going to play the Masters and the British Open, but as it is for the PGA TOUR my main focus is going to be on the Champions Tour. This is where I belong.
They are like: "You're only one behind Tiger."
I'm like: "Listen, I'm going to make it real simple for you. Come Sunday afternoon, I've got news for you. If I'm only one behind Tiger, it's going to be very special. You know why? Why? Because I'm going to make a lot of money. If I'm only one behind Tiger come Sunday I'm going to be doing pretty good." And sure enough, Tiger went on to shoot whatever, 12-under on the weekend, or let's see, he was 9-under on the weekend and I shot, you know, 2-over unfortunately. So I got beat by 11 on the weekend.
He's definitely been an inspiration. He's helped me. I'm a fan besides a golfer, and I love what I have seen by his accomplishments. People a lot of time will say, gosh, doesn't it drive you nuts that people always ask you about Tiger Woods. I say, well, you know, not really. I think any time you're able to be around somebody like that, and for Tiger to act and conduct himself as well as he has under the expectations and the pressure he lives under, it's been a lot of found for me. And he's been there for me. If I needed help or I needed somebody to kind of be there, if I picked up the phone, I know he would be there for me. Besides the fact that he's a killer and a competitor and likes to win, he's got a heart, too, so it's good.

Q. You talk about different periods of your career, going through times where you had to really hang in there, curious, the last couple of years, what kind of challenge has that been when you know your game wasn't up to your expectations?
MARK O'MEARA: You know, it's been trying. Certainly I haven't played, like Loren played well leading up to his Champions Tour debut. Jay was playing well leading up; they kind of turned on their career in their mid 40s to late 40. They started having some really good finishes.
Besides winning in Dubai three years ago, you know, it's been a little bit of a battle. And when you're not playing or hitting the ball that well, you know, and you are a competitor, it's difficult to say, boy, you know -- that's a lie, that's not true at all. I tried to remain competitive. Could I have done something else, could I have ventured down a different highway maybe, doing TV or whatever, I could have. But I wasn't ready to make that commitment. I still felt like if I stayed competitive and still played, at times I see good signs of starting to hit the ball better. I saw in Dubai a couple of weeks ago, I hit the ball well. I missed the cut but I was hitting the ball better and I didn't putt well. I've got to put it all together.
This is going to give me an opportunity, two or three years, really focus and put all of my attention into playing and trying to win again on the Champions Tour. And if I'm fortunate enough to do something like, I don't know if I could do Hale Irwin-style, because that's phenomenal in my opinion the way Hale has played, but I would like to be competitive and try to win.
All through my career, whether it was in high school, college golf, amateur golf, professional golf, you know, I steadily had progressed in the right direction. And you know, even in my professional career, I might have had a couple of years where I kind of lost it or I didn't play that well. I think '92, '93, I didn't play that well, '94, and then I turned it around and won in '95 again and then certainly '96, '97 and '98 was the big year of winning both majors.
You know, you're kind of always in that no-man zone, 47 to 50. Was I competitive? Not really. But I still felt in my mind that if I played well and things went my way, and I had the cards lined up right, that I could still win. And that came true certainly in Dubai, because I had not been in that position in a while. The last day I missed maybe one green in regulation and I played well. Was I nervous? Yes. Will I be nervous tomorrow? Yes. I want to play well. Not just for everybody that's watching me or wants me to play well or my family or my friends. But I want to play well for me, too.
You know, pride -- I put pride as the No. 1 issue of why I play golf, is to try to compete, whether it's washing my car, planting flowers in my house, washing the windows, I want to do it right. And when I can't do it right, it bothers me. That's kind of where I put myself on the TOUR. I've been working fairly hard, not like incredibly hard but fairly hard on my game and I've been working with Mike Abbott and he was out in the desert and I was out in the desert with him. I hit the ball when I'm out there practicing, I'm starting to get it. Then you come here, you don't hit it as well or whatever, you second-guess yourself. Your concentration as you get older is not as good. There's a lot of different issues that go on, and those are all of the little battles that us as professional golfers we have to deal with and try to play with and try to get better at.

Q. Any thoughts on where Tiger's current winning streak ranks and all of the great things he's done, winning seven in a row?
MARK O'MEARA: Listen, he won six in a row before, hasn't he? He's done that before.
I had this discussion with Gary Player in the locker room the other day. I said, when I grew up, Jack Nicklaus was my idol and Jack's record is second to none, it's phenomenal. I reckon and I've said this many times before all of this came about, in the last three or four years I've been saying, I'm not trying to be disrespectful because I never want to be that way.
But, I mean, I find it hard to believe that anybody has ever played golf like this young man has played. In my opinion, whether he called you tomorrow and said I'm done, never playing again, raw talent-wise, you would say he is the greatest player that ever played. Now it will be debated because somebody said, well, you know the equipment is better this is better, that's better.
You know what, if you brought the old ball back and wooden clubs and old equipment, Tiger Woods would win more tournaments. He'd beat the guys worse than he's beating them right now and I'll tell you why. Because he's by far the most skilled player out there. His record proves it. He keeps proving it day-in and day-out. You know what, he's just got the best mind and the best heart.
So I mean, you put that combination together and no disrespect to Ernie and Phil and I'm not saying they can't take him down, they have all tried. I think Tiger is getting better in my opinion. Those guys are getting better, too, but there's a little bit of that gap. Will he win every tournament? No. The fact he's won seven in a row; I just don't know of another player that can do that.
And you guys, the media and all of us and fans, we put higher expectations on Tiger, too. Higher on Tiger than maybe on Phil or Ernie. They kind of miss the cut, you let them -- nobody says anything about it. Tiger, when we're playing -- like when I'm playing with him and against him, like he's my partner in the World Cup and he won or Ryder Cup Team member partners on that, World Match Play, British Open, Masters, we've played so much together; I sense the difference when I'm playing with him. British Open at Muirfield trying to win, getting out there Saturday morning, he and I are paired together, the weather is terrible, all eyes are on Tiger Woods. All eyes are on what's Tiger going to do.
I sense it, like not only is he good, but this guy delivers. It's pretty amazing. It really. So I think the streak he's got going now, the thing he's got going against him is the match play, because if he wins there, he's definitely got my vote, but because the Match Play is different. He can play well and get beat there. It's out of his control.

Q. If he continues to work hard, he keeps improving, do you think he can challenge Peyton Manning in commercials?
MARK O'MEARA: I tell what you, Peyton has gotten good and winning the Super Bowl was great because he's a super human being and a really polite guy.
But I tell you what, the tackle that Tiger laid on that guy, Tiger's bulking up a little bit -- I don't think, I think he would love to do that. I think he would love to be in the NFL trying to take Peyton Manning down. May want to get a little bigger offensive line, Peyton Manning.

Q. Does he ever talk about his commercials? Seems he enjoys doing it, or does he mention that?
MARK O'MEARA: No, like I didn't know he tackled that guy until I saw it. He didn't call me and say: Hey, wait until you see this commercial. Tiger, I tell you, I know him about as well as anybody knows him besides his mom and certainly Earl. He doesn't brag very much, he really doesn't. He's a pretty humble guy. Does he have confidence, a lot of self-confidence, certainly he does. But he's not the kind of guy to call you and tell you what he's going to do or what he has done.
He didn't tell me about that. I asked him: "Aren't you a little worried about it? The guy might sue you. Was that in the script? "
He said: "No, they were going to use a double to do that. I just decided I was going to do that."
"So the guy had no idea?"
He's like, "No, he had no idea."
That's kind of what makes it more special. He's very good at -- yeah, he got a little cut on his lip, too, I think. I said, how did you feel about that?
He said he was laughing, thought it was funny.
I said: "Obviously you didn't have to do a bunch of takes after you did that one, took him down, right?"
He said: "No, that was pretty much it." He's a practical joker. He does that with his friends, Notah Begay and all those guys. That's kind of part of Tiger Woods that people that are close to him see that a lot of other people have never really seen. So he's very professional when it comes to shooting those commercials. That's why he makes the big money that he makes.

Q. You talk about the expectations that are placed on Tiger, can you talk about the expectations that can be placed on you when you bring in the credentials that you do to the Champions Tour, do you feel those expectations?
MARK O'MEARA: I feel a little bit. I have always tried to downplay, and I think it's better for me to do that, that's my personality. When I try to put high expectations on myself, I tend to not do as well. And I knew coming into this thing that first of all, the guys on the Champions Tour, they can really play. I've known that. I think a lot of people think, well, you know, Mark, you're still young, you're the new guy on the block, blah, blah, blah. You can say all that stuff.
But the bottom line is, I still have to perform. And I want to try to perform well and I will give it everything I have. But I'm not going to -- I'm also going to realize that no matter what happens on the Champions Tour, you know, I've got to take life that I've been very lucky and I've been very blessed. I've had a wonderful life because of that great game of golf to accomplish the things that I have done and had a very long career pretty much injury-free. I know I broke my hand, but overall, I've never really been away from the game for a long period of time since I started playing when I was 13; so 37 years.
Now this is a new thing for me. Like I said earlier, will I be nervous tomorrow? Certainly I'll be nervous. Hopefully I'll play well and if I don't, then I know in a matter of time I will. I know that I have a better chance of winning out here than I would on the regular tour. Still I'm not going to discredit how good those guys are, I know how good they are. Are they as good as all of the young guys on the regular tour? Probably not, but they still compete. These guys, like, oh, they have fun -- they are all winners. They all want to win and that never leaves. That drive to try to perform and win really never leaves.
So from that aspect of it, I'm going to try to keep it relatively, not low-profile, not underestimating what I think I can do, but on the other hand, until I do it and get going good and win we'll just have to take one step at a time.

Q. Price talked about nerves and pressure but seven of the past 19 champions here won championships on the PGA TOUR; do you see correlation?
MARK O'MEARA: After seeing the golf course, I played in the Pro-Am and I played nine holes this morning, I can see why. I think this golf course requires some accurate play coming down the stretch. You know, there's some good golf holes out here that require a player to be able to stand up and hit a shot and that's what it takes in a major championship, and it also takes a good short game and good putting. When you take a look at the list of guys who have won, not only at this event the Outback, but on most tournament, you have to putt well and you have to roll the ball. There's not many guys that win major championships not putting well.
So the chipping, the short game, the course management and being able to hit some shots, on these last few holes, on that 18th hole you have to drive it good and you have to hit a pretty good medium to long iron shot in there. So that will test your nerves coming down the stretch Sunday afternoon.
PHIL STAMBAUGH: Mark, thank you very much.
MARK O'MEARA: Appreciate it very much. Thank you.

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