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2001 US Open - Hale Irwin News Conference Transcript

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HALE IRWIN: There's always the hope that you can go out and -- Mr. Tommy Bolt, come on, Tommy. He's one of my heroes, and he should know how to play this course as well as anybody -- I hope -- the hopes are that you can go out and have this kind of a start. There's always the hopes and there's the expectations and sometimes there's reality. And you kind of hope that they all sort of meet in the middle somewhere. My hope was to go out and be competitive, to have that kind of a -- this kind of a round, to establish the credentials, if you wish. I think too many people are saying, 'Gosh, you're the oldest guy in the field, you're 56 years old', but let's not forget that there are a few championships and three U.S. Opens to my title. So it's not like I've never been here before. And I'm going to sort of champion the cause, I think, of those of us who are over 50 that don't feel like we're gone. Who knows what tomorrow may bring, I don't know that. But I think that there's a point to where you say, 'Yes I can' -- in my heart I can still do this. And there may be another point where you say, 'Maybe I'm a little bit over my head'. At this point in time I don't think I'm over my head. I feel confident about what I'm able to do, whether or not I can do it, I don't know. My purpose here this week is not to be ceremonial, it's to be competitive. And I think today established those bonafide credentials.
 
Q. I'd like to ask you about the 9th and 18th green, the speed on those, have they softened those up enough for holding?
 
HALE IRWIN: Yes, they're fine. I know we were all concerned about that the earlier part of the week, but they have slowed them up to where they are of sufficient speed to be manageable.
 
Q. Do you have the feeling that the Open is made for you, that the style of play required in it is exactly the style of your play?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, it's not necessarily made for me. I think it's made for those players that have to go out with a complete game. It's not just how far you hit the ball, but how do you control what you have and how do you manage what you have. And it's not looking at the statistics and saying, 'Yes, I'm leading in driving' or -- it's more important to me is, 'What did you shoot?' And by doing that I think it keeps things in perspective, rather than getting hung up on all of the hype and the glitter, let's just get out there and play golf. And if it's a difficult golf course, well then you're going to have to play your way around it. And if you can't handle it, then you're not going to play it, it's just very simple. I enjoyed that kind of golf course. Whether it's a USGA event or other event. That's why I've liked to see the courses out there, because it puts the game of golf on a different stage, rather than it being a birdie barrage, now you have to hit some real golf shots to get those kind of shots.
 
Q. Hale, can you talk walk us through 16 and did making the putt there kind of keep your motivation going?
 
HALE IRWIN: There's a lot of putts that kept my motivation. Certainly 16 I hit a very poor drive, I hit it in the right trees. And from there -- I just threaded it through some trees, to pitch it down to the fairway. I had 80 yards to the hole and I hit it 81 in the air and it went to the back edge of the green. Probably the best putt I made today. It was a putt of probably 25 feet. It took probably ten seconds for it to get down there, because it was one of those trickle, trickle, trickle, trickle. It just did what I had hoped it would do. It wasn't necessarily keeping the round together, but I think you could certainly classify it as keeping the momentum going, because I had just come off a 3-putt on 15 and I birdied 14, so I had momentum going. I didn't let the 3-putt deter me, because I played the hole well, I think I got excited on the first putt and hit it too hard. I knew 17 was a potential birdie hole. And 18 you don't think of as a birdie hole at all.
 
Q. Hale, did you feel this round coming on or did something happen during the course of the round to say, 'Hey, this feels good today, I'm comfortable, I feel right'?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, I sure didn't after two holes, with a bogey, bogey start. I didn't feel particularly in it. But knowing that there were a lot of golf strokes still to be played, a lot of golf shots still to be managed, I tried to take the positive approach and look at it that there are some birdies that can be made here, I just have to be very careful about how I go about managing things. Still I tried not to shoot at very many pins today. I tried to play to areas where I would have some potentially -- maybe longer putts, but easier putts than coming down some of these hills and putting across these hills. In some cases you don't do it all the time. But my efforts today was to keep the ball pretty much in the center, underneath the hole as often as I could.
 
Q. Hale, would you talk about your two birdies after your bogey, bogey start, and then also on, was it 14 you made a nice par saving putt or earlier than that, 12 maybe?
 
HALE IRWIN: 12.
 
Q. Could you talk about that putt?
 
HALE IRWIN: The birdie, birdie at 3 was a pretty good drive, it just kicked into the first cut of rough. The difficult part is that you're hitting -- we're hitting flyers off that and I played a shot to the middle of the green. It was not a birdie opportunity from where I was, unless I were to make a nice putt. But I played it exactly the way I wanted to. It was probably about a 20-foot putt. And I hit a good putt and it went right in the hole. And then at 4 I played a nice shot off the tee, I hit a great 7-iron, just a little punch 7-iron up the hill to within two feet of the hole. And made that. The thing I liked about the 4th hole was I didn't try to fly it in there, I tried to keep it underneath, bounce it back there, rather than trying to fly it back there. 12, I actually hit a good tee shot. It just trickled into the first cut of rough. And from there I just hit a rocket. I hit a 6-iron that came out into the wind like there was no wind. It landed in the middle of the green, very nearly hit the pin on the way over the green. And from there I was probably only 40 feet from the hole, but 20 feet or so of that was the rough, the cut rough. And I played a 4-wood, tried to putt it up over there. I've been doing that successfully of late. Just didn't hit it quite hard enough and left it about ten feet short and made that.
 
Q. Hale, there's probably no player in the field that wants to be in this championship every year more than you do. Can you talk about what the anticipation of playing the Open does to you, say a month out, a week out and once you get here, and how are things changing, how do you feel approaching this compared to everything else?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, my whole career, I've said many times, has been defined by U.S. Opens and USGA events. Three U.S. Open Championships, and two Senior Championships. It's pretty well defined that that's what I've done. Where I come from as a younger player, I'd always put the U.S. Open up there, because that's the only tournament I had access to. I couldn't get into the Masters, and I wasn't eligible for the PGA, and the British Open, that was something I didn't even know where that was. So the U.S. Open is something I could qualify for and that's how I obtained that position. Having played in -- this is my 32nd one, I kind of think there's a little experience that goes along with that. Having played from, the hardest course is still Winged Foot in '74, through this one, ranks up there pretty high as well. And I enjoy playing golf to where golf has a chance to bite back at the player, where the golf course has a chance to not intimidate, but to play at a level that we're not accustomed to. And that's fun, that's enjoyable, I think that's the way we should be playing.
 
Q. Hale, have you ever taken advantage of any senior citizen discounts, like a free checking or movie theaters?
 
HALE IRWIN: Want to see my AARP card? When you turn 50, you're not there yet, you'll get, in the mail, your membership to AARP. No, I haven't and I won't, not yet. But I will (laughter.)
 
Q. Hale, I think a lot of us can appreciate what changes with age make, and in a golfing sense, specifically. What's the difference from say '90 when you won the Open at 45?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, '90 I had just come off of three, three and a half years of pretty unspectacular play. I had stepped -- mentally stepped out of the competitive arena to set up my golf course design company. I really kind of floundered, I didn't play well. I'd won The Memorial in '85, and shortly thereafter I picked that up and I didn't play well. Once '90 came it was sort of, 'Okay, I'm going to give this one more shot. I don't like playing like this.' And once I got that game together, then it was back in that thinking. Now, from that age of 45 to the age of 56, an 11-year span, some of the best golf I've played has been since 1990. Probably the best golf I've played in my entire career was in 1997. So I'm not letting -- I refuse to let, or I'm fortunate enough that it's not happened yet, age, having that creeping in effect where it seems to have affected my game in a little way.
 
Q. Do you hit the ball farther, do you putt better?
 
HALE IRWIN: I think I hit the ball probably a little farther than I used to. And my iron game is still very crisp. I don't think I've lost anything in my putting.
 
Q. Hale, two parts, anything happen this week or today where you felt like the old guy out there? And secondly, as a three-time U.S. Open winner, what were your thoughts coming in about the perception that Tiger is the only guy that can win this thing?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, let's not deny that Tiger is certainly the best player in the world. I'm not here to deny that or dispute that. I would love to play Tiger every day, because I think it would create an environment of which it would make me a better player. But I know that when I come to this championship, regardless of whether Tiger is here, there are some other players on that leaderboard that are pretty good players, too, and you have to step up your level of -- your skill level has to come up. And if you're not capable of that, then you become the ceremonial. I don't want to do that. If I can't pull my game up to where it takes to compete at this level, then I don't want to do it. But the fact that we've got such a strong field, I mean, this is -- and probably 80 percent of them I don't even know who they are. I mean, I have to get the roster and look at the bag and say, oh, -- put the name and the face together. But the fact is they still play very, very well. Some of them still have a lot of the skills that they will eventually come to have, they have the raw skills, but whether or not they're really ready to jump into the true playing of the game is yet to be seen. And that environment I think is really wonderful to be around. I just enjoy the heck out of it, being with these younger players, it's terrific. I don't know as I'd take it on as a steady diet, they'd thrash me unmercifully. I had my day today and that was fun.
 
Q. Hale, there's probably no other major sport where somebody 56 can come to the top, even for a day. What do the other sports lose or golf gain by having somebody that age come to the fore, especially the ability to talk about the game. We see so many guys that by the time they can talk, they're gone?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, age is a three letter word, but I think we try to make it something that's bigger than we will let it. And I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you keep yourself young at heart, if you keep your thoughts in a positive manner, if you don't accept the word, 'I can't do it', then you can certainly extend your career. Now, again, we're not talking about great physical trauma, busted out knees and things like that. So we do have the opportunity to have the longevity factor on our side. But just because you turn 40 or 45 or 50, that's a number. If you've taken care of yourself, you still have your skills, your nerves haven't gone, you still can do this, if you work at it. But it does not come without some sacrifice. It does not come without some effort. It's just not an automatic, like it might have been when you're 20 years old. So by my sitting here, I think is testament to that. It's not been just, 'How lucky can I be?' I've worked to get here.
 
Q. Do you think an effort like today's is made possible only because of the physical condition you keep yourself in and what do you do to stay in good shape?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, first of all, I use the excuse that I haven't had time to really work out lately. But I think my athletic background has been there. Prior to the last year or so I was pretty strenuous in my workouts, and I frankly got a little burned out on it. I am now in sort of resurgence. I'm going to start that up again. But the carry over effect I think is still good. Genetically, I've been very lucky. Yes, I have my aches, I have my pains, I go in and get my treatments on the various things that are wrong. But I think there is a point to where you say, 'I'm not injured', I may be in discomfort, but you play through that. I think because of some of my athletic background I understand that principle, whether it be a sore hand or knee or ankle or whatever it is, I can still play. That is fun, to me being part of this arena is terrific. And to have the success I have had is terrific. But I'm not ready to say I can't do it. I may not do it as well as I once did, although today may have proved that differently, I can still play. I will continue to do so. I don't know if I answered your question, but is that close enough, rounding it off?
 
Q. Hale, if you hadn't won at Saucon Valley last summer, would you have played here this year?
 
HALE IRWIN: Possibly, but that thought didn't -- it wasn't in -- I've only got that much time to think about things. I might have tried, sure, because I knew this venue would be a good venue.
 
Q. Could you talk about your second shot at 18? Did you pull it off exactly where you wanted or did it come off better than you thought?
 
HALE IRWIN: Yes. (Laughter.) Well, it was pretty much of a call shot. That's a shot I was trying to hit. To say out there in the fairway, 'I'm going to put it two feet from the hole', that's stretching it, I won't say that. But it went pretty much as I had tried to hit it, yes. Do you want me to go through the details of it? 198, uphill, low under the tree, tried to hit it flat, low, so it won't hit that steep hillside and stop, because I wanted it to bounce up, a little left-to-right, what else can I say? It was well hit.
 
Q. 2-iron?
 
HALE IRWIN: 2-iron.
 
Q. Hale, of all the skills and traits that you mentioned a moment ago, nerves were the last one you mentioned, how have you managed to keep your nerve?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, I think part of that is the experience of having done it before. I think it has a lot to do with your confidence factor, are you still able to do it. You need to have that deep rooted belief that you can, yet at the same time I think along with those vitamins you take the reality pill. You have to take that realism pill. And you have to be realistic about what you can do and what you can't do. And not expect something -- I cannot drive the ball with Tiger. I cannot drive the ball with many of these guys. But I can certainly play the positions where I can play. If somebody wants to go around looking, go in my bag and playing in my bag, have at it, because you're not going to believe it, but I'm comfortable playing that way. So I play to my strengths and not to someone else's strengths, I don't get caught up in that. And I think the nerve part certainly has something to do with how well you can continue hitting those good shots and converting those difficult putts. And that's where it shows up first is in the putting. And fortunately right now I feel very solid. I get excited, I blow putts, but for the most part I feel very good about those.
 
Q. Hale, you mentioned you make sacrifices to play at this level, what would they be for somebody your age as compared to the sacrifices people might make when they're 20 or 30? You don't know 80 percent of the field, do you get the sense that most of the field knows you?
 
HALE IRWIN: Well, I never knew Mr. Ben Hogan personally, but I sure knew who he was. I dare say that most people might not know Tommy Bolt. But if you go in the locker room you see the pictures and you read the papers. And I think people know who the past champions are of this event. I think there's been enough written and said that we know what I've done. For me, I think it's a matter of, if you're 20 years old, you have great athletic ability, but it's raw. If you're 56 years old you have a lot of experience, and your abilities may be less than what they were when you were 20, but the experience factor is far greater, in my world I would take the experience over the youth anytime, particularly in these kinds of situations. And you can see it in other activities, other sports as well. That experience factor, it's priceless.