Peter Dawson and David Pepper Open Setup Press Conference Transcript
DAVID PEPPER: Thank you, Stewart.
First of all, welcome to Muirfield. I have no doubt you've been here for some days already. Can I also say thank you to the Association of Golf Writers for a delightful dinner last night. It was absolutely delightful and it was interesting to meet Penny Grize-Whittaker again. I think it was 11 years ago that I was the chief referee at the Weetabix when sadly she touched the sand in the bunker, after having a bad shot, was penalized two shots. This was in the third round at the 12th hole, and she went on to win by three shots. She was pretty happy about that.
To more recent events, the Championship starts tomorrow. I think we're pretty happy the way the course is set up. It has obviously been a very wet summer for Scotland and we would, in a perfect world, would have preferred it to be looking rather more strawlike and the ball bouncing further. In compensation, of course, the rough has grown very much more than it might do in one or two summers and I'm sorry if from close to the ropes or behind it, in one or two areas it's difficult to see over the top of that rough. Believe it or not, it was all cut during the winter and certainly after the short cut of rough, the next 5 or 10 yards was being cut all the way up to the middle of May. So you will, if you look carefully, see two distinct areas of rough there, so very much the wider you go, the worse it becomes.
We've got a weather forecast which is changing day by day. We're told there is high pressure around. Tomorrow might be dry and calm, but not very hot. But we are threatened with some rain on Friday and reasonably high wind on Saturday. So with a bit of luck, the wind will be coming from a different direction certainly on Friday than the rest of the week.
There hasn't been a lot of comment about the course, because all the comments we have had from the players have been favorable so far and we hope that that will continue, although there are bound to be one or two comments from those who don't hit the ball as straight as others.
We hope we are set up for a good Championship. Muirfield has always, in the past, produced a great Championship and we hope it will again this year.
Thanks very much. If you would like to ask some questions, Peter and I would be happy to try to answer them.
Q. All three other major championship venues this year went through substantial lengthening. You have chosen not to do so here and in the last three Open Championships. Can you speak to that?
PETER DAWSON: Yes, we haven't lengthened Muirfield very much, just the two Par 3s are 35 yards longer than the last Open. We didn't feel it was necessary at Muirfield. Still even in the modern era, a very, very stern test and a very varied test. I think all the golfers will be tested throughout their range of skills. And I think we will also be in a situation - at least I hope - where we have quite a number of players in contention towards the end of the championship. This golf course is set up for the shot-maker. It can't be overpowered, and we do expect a number of -- quite a number of players to be close to the action at the end, which we think is good for the crowd, good for the championship.
Q. Can I ask you about the qualifying situation. I have a club pro in my area who participated for the last 17 years. His name wasn't on the list this time and I rang him and he felt the odds had become too great now against getting through (inaudible) Do you think that maybe the pendulum has swung a bit too far towards exemptions; is this something you're thinking about reviewing?
PETER DAWSON: It is true it is very difficult to get into the Open Championship through the qualifying process, but I don't think we're in any way apologetic about that. This is, if not the, one of the world's premiere golf events, and we have to strike a balance, don't we, between ensuring that the strongest possible field tees it up in the championship on the one hand. Whilst on the other hand, retaining the championship's open ethos. This year, one place in every six has been attained by the qualifiers, and we think that's about it, especially if you then want to add the Western Open and the Loch Lomond event, Scottish Open to the qualifying process, which in theory it is, then you have a quite a number of qualifiers, but for the club pro, 160 of the field is open to him at the moment, roughly speaking, and yes, somewhere between 6 and 10 percent at regional and final, it's tough, but not too tough, we would think.
DAVID PEPPER: I think it's also fair to say at regional, we might say that there are eight certain spots to get into final, but we also get eight alternatives and probably six of those alternatives get into final qualifying because there are a lot that drop out of final qualifying both from the Western Open and from Loch Lomond. So in fact, the odds weren't quite so great. They are more than 10 percent of getting from regional into final.
PETER DAWSON: It would be impossible, just to finish that, to significantly increase the chances at final qualifying without, I think, weakening the field too much. I mean, to make it -- where do you want to go, one in every two spots from one in six to make it significantly easier. I don't think that would be appropriate.
Q. I think in previous years it had been nine or 10. Now it's down to six.
PETER DAWSON: Well, it's gone down a bit because of the spots allocated to the Western Open and the Scottish Open. Conversely, of course, that means that the field in final qualifying are perhaps not as strong as they've been in the past year. That's no criticism to the players that did play, but tour players who otherwise would have been at final qualifying were getting in through the Western or Scottish Open.
Q. Isn't it a danger by minimizing their chances that pros like the one the gentleman has mentioned, entries will drop because they don't think they have as much of a chance. They may as well stick to the lottery than try for the Open. Is it a danger we might lose the ferry tail stories?
DAVID PEPPER: We have got two amateurs, neither of whom are internationals who haven't actually gotten through regional and final qualifying and they are in the field.
Q. So you don't think it's a danger --
DAVID PEPPER: I don't think so. If you look at the numbers that enter the Open each year, the numbers were just as high this year as they were last year, I think over 2,200 entries.
Q. If this trend did start happening, would you look at it again?
DAVID PEPPER: I think it's fair to say that we constantly look at it and we would love anybody to be able to hold that dream and have a chance of qualifying for the Open Championship and, in fact, that is probably one of the few roots through which an amateur can get in, other than winning the amateur championship or the European's amateur championship.
Q. The subject of women in men's clubs has been raised. Two of your ministers have criticized the R&A. How does the R&A respond to that?
PETER DAWSON: I think the ministers' comments were pretty unfortunate. We announced this was going to be the venue for the Open Championship four or five years ago. It's strange we have had no remarks from the ministers in all that time about the choice of venue, but during the week of the championship suddenly we do. The Open is one of the very few truly world-class events that this country hosts every year, and perhaps we would expect a little more support than we've had this week. On the substantive issue of whether we should be bringing the Open or whether we should care about the type of club that the Open comes to.
Our policy, as I've said many times, is bring the championship to the best links courses we have available in Britain and which can also take the infrastructure required for the championship. We believe there is plenty of room in the game of golf for all types of clubs, be they all male, be they all female, or be they mixed, but we do feel that in mixed clubs equal rights should apply. In Scotland there are many all-women clubs as well as all-men's. It's just the way the game has developed. It doesn't imply anything. And we're here because this is one of the finest links in the world and what you're seeing out there is a crowd coming to watch the championship. There is no restrictions. There are lots of juniors. We have got a junior golf tent, if you haven't seen, you should see, where juniors are getting lessons and the fact that the Open is at Muirfield is in no way damaging the championship or changing what Muirfield is. It's just one of the finest courses we have. We have no apology about this and we are very honored to be here.
Q. Do you think that the timing of the statements had anything to do with what happened with Augusta recently in terms of the women's organization criticizing?
PETER DAWSON: I couldn't answer that. I have no idea.
Q. Going back to qualifying, Peter, there has been some talk about the clash between the Scottish Open, their finish on a Sunday and the fact that qualifying for this, for the Open is Sunday and Monday, and the problem that might cause the players, is there any discussion between yourselves and the tour about how that might be resolved?
PETER DAWSON: I think it's quite important to understand the recent history of this. Up until two years ago, I think it was, the Loch Lomond event finished on a Saturday, and quite legitimately for commercial reasons, the tour were quite keen to have a Sunday finish and we helped them to accommodate that by allocating some spots in the Open Championship to Loch Lomond. A bit strange, isn't it, that that's suddenly become a problem, from what really seemed to be a quite good idea at the time. Now, I quite accept that qualifiers from the Western Open, in America, if they failed, do have a chance to come to final qualify. The solution to that might be that the spots for the Open go to the event the week before, but I'm not sure the tour would be very keen on that, and we'll just have to see. We think Sunday and Monday for final qualifying is right. This allows the qualifier sufficient time to prepare the golf course, if they didn't know they were in until Tuesday night. They would have a half day for practice, because the course is closed on Wednesday afternoon for greenkeeping purposes, and that would be completely unreasonable. We are having a review, as we've said before, of our qualifying process to see if we can increase it's international flavor and we may see some changes to it in the future, but that won't be because of the conflict at Loch Lomond; it will be because we want to internationalize it. I believe the tour players have been given a greater chance to qualify for the shop chip by this arrangement than they had before.
I don't know if you want to add anything.
DAVID PEPPER: I think that's a fair comment, because you asked the question about if the club -- should the club player be able to continue. As PETER says, the tour player is probably getting a slightly better deal, but there is still room there for the club player.
Q. There is no agreement in principal between you and the tour to switch the qualifier to the week before?
DAVID PEPPER: We've had a number of discussions with the tour, but I think it would be premature to say that was the case, yes.
Q. Do you feel the tour members have so many different ways of getting an exemption into the Open, is there any need to accommodate them further?
PETER DAWSON: Well, I wouldn't want to make it sound like a war between the tour players. There are many many ways they can get into the Open. I think that's proven by the number we get and their status in world golf. I don't feel that we're undercooking that in any way.
Q. Have you told Ken Schofield he was premature in saying that?
PETER DAWSON: I haven't talked to him about it.
Q. You mentioned there were all-women clubs in Scotland. Since there are none in American, that I am aware of, how many are there, roughly?
PETER DAWSON: I don't know. For example at St. Andrews, around the links, the links are public at St. Andrews and anyone can play with equal access. There are no mix-sex clubs. There are three mens and two women's and have been for a long time. Not very far from here there is a women's club, in this village, and it's just the way the game has grown up here in Scotland. I'm not saying I support it or disapprove of it, I just think there is room for everything. Why do we have to have the same template. I don't think we do. There are thousands of golf clubs in Britain. They don't all have to be the same.
Q. Do you see a day where the R&A would accept women's players eventually?
PETER DAWSON: Never say never. It's a matter for the members as to who gets into the club, and where that will go in the future we'll have to wait and see. Society has always evolved, but it will do so at it's pace. It's not our job at the R&A, reverting back to the Open, to try to use the Open as any sort of a weapon to make clubs change their policy. We would never dream of doing that.
Q. Do you have a personal opinion on that (inaudible)?
PETER DAWSON: No, I don't. My job at the R&A is to carry out the wishes of the committees and it's a matter for them.
Q. Just to continue this, for the record, can I ask you something that we talked about yesterday. I mean, you presumably would not take the Open to a club that had no blacks, for example, or no Jews or no Catholics. You presumably wouldn't do that. What is qualitatively different about a club with no women?
PETER DAWSON: What you've asked me is a totally hypothetical question. There are no links golf courses in this country to which the Open would go to where the first half of your question would apply, so that's a hypothetical question that takes us nowhere.
Q. Do you plan to hold a separate qualifying section in Nigeria next year?
PETER DAWSON: That's an interesting idea. We'll give it some thought.
Rahm (62) fires career low round
The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:
Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)
What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.
Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.
Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.
Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.
Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.
Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm
Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder
Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.
"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."
Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.
Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.
"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."
Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn
There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.
Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.
Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.
Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.
The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.
Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta
Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.
The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.
It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.
"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."
Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.
Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.
"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."