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2001 US Open - Nick Price News Conference Transcript

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NICK PRICE: Well, I've played here twice in two tournaments, one PGA Championship and then THE TOUR Championship which we played here in '96, I think it was. And both occasions the course played totally differently. At THE TOUR Championship it was very firm, very slippery. The wind was out of the north. It was cool. And it really wasn't the Southern Hills that I remembered of '94. And I didn't play very well, primarily because I had just come from the Dunhill Cup, and I think I beat Jeff Sluman in THE TOUR Championship that year by about $18 into 30th place. So I arrived here and I was looking forward to it. By the end of the week I think I finished last out of the field and took my last (place) money, and ran home with my tail between my legs. The course is closer to August time, of the PGA Championship, than it was to THE TOUR Championship in November. The course -- I think the condition of the course is absolutely perfect. They could not have asked for the course to be in better shape. The greens, they're pretty quick. They have the ability to get really quick this week. I think if they let them dry out a little bit -- I don't remember No. 9 and 18 greens being as severe as they are right now. They really are going to have a tough time using any of the front portion of the green pin positions on 9. And there's going to be a lot of guys, you're going to spin the ball off the green and come back down 20, 30 yards or putt the ball off the green. Ernie and I, we played early this morning. We got through there probably about 9:45, 10:00. We were hitting putts from the back edge, and it didn't take a little roll off the top edge of that shelf and the ball would release 20, 25 yards down the fairway. So it will be interesting to see what they do there. And most of the changes, they're very subtle. They've added some length to some of the holes by putting in new tees, and you don't really notice them. 5 is quite noticeable for me, because I used to be able to carry that bunker. Now I can't. And it actually is a bit of an advantage for the longer hitters, because the longer hitters are driving it over the bunker to a flattish part of the fairway. An average hitter is maneuvering it around with the fairway from a reverse camber, and the wind is blowing left-to-right. It's a difficult fairway to hit. And then 18, I don't know what they were thinking about on 18. That's probably the worst change. They've ruined a perfectly great hole as far as I'm concerned there. That's the only thing that I would have to criticize, because for most of us we'll be driving it on the downslope -- downslope, sideslope, having to hit a 3- or 4-iron up a hill to a green. So there was -- the water was always in play off that tee shot, and you're never sure whether to hit a driver, 3-wood or a 3-wood or 1-iron for the long hitters. Even the longest hitters are going to hit driver off that tee; I don't think there's any doubt. And if you did hit a great drive there, you could drive it on to that flat spot. Well, I don't think probably 85 percent of the field won't be able to drive it on that flat spot this week, especially with the wind into it. There's going to be some big numbers on that hole.
 
Q. Nick, the last time you were here to play, it seems like Tulsa summers have been fighting an air quality problem. We seem to stay off the dirty air list by a few inches, it seems like. Considering your history of sinus problems, do you prepare differently or do you do anything different for a tournament like this?
 
NICK PRICE: Knock on wood, since '96, I haven't had much problem, because I'm aware of what my problem is. I have a constriction in my one sinus up here, and if I have an allergy or if I get a head cold, if that constricts, then I get an infection. The nasal sprays that I've been taking, and I take them regularly, has really helped that quite a lot. So I just guess it's something -- I never had allergies until I came to America, but they're quite common over here. And this time of year -- in fact, Augusta time is normally the worst time for me, because of the pollen off the pine trees. So right now, I haven't suffered at all.
 
Q. Nick, how do you make sure the heat doesn't catch up with you, if it stays this way during the course of the week, and does it affect your day-to-day routine?
 
NICK PRICE: Well, not really, because I think most of us who play over here full-time are used to this kind of heat. In fact, it doesn't matter where you go in summertime in America. You're going to be -- it's going to be hot and humid. And most of us who have played over here know what to do: Drink a lot of water. You start drinking a lot of water before you even get to the course, before you even get out on your round. But I think that the weather, the biggest factor with the weather is going to be how to fix the golf course. If you have this dry wind and the sunshine that we're having now, it's going to dry those greens out and make them firm and very, very fast. And with the wind as hot as it is, taking all the moisture out of the greens, it's going to be a big disadvantage playing late in the day, because those greens are going to probably get a foot, foot and a half, maybe two feet faster on the Stimpmeter, plus being firmer. It makes your target that much smaller. So everyone out here is fit. Everyone out here can play 18 holes in any kind of heat. And I think the slow play, we know it's going to be slow out there. There's going to be guys who do take a lot of time, and guys who are slow players are going to slow the whole field up. And there will probably be five-and-a-half-hour rounds out there. So it's not something we're unaccustomed to.
 
Q. You talked about the course changes, Nick. What are the changes in your game since '94?
 
NICK PRICE: Where do you want me to start? (Laughs.) Well, I came here in '94 probably at the pinnacle of my career. There's no doubt having come here winning back-to-back majors, and getting to No. 1 in the rankings. There were so many great things that happened to me that week. More than anything else, though, was coming to a major championship and absolutely dominating. I think that was -- that's the one thing I recall the most about that '94 PGA, and coming off a summer of just having played just so, so very well. My game is not far away from where it was, but there's something missing somewhere. I can't quite put my finger on it, whether it's the intensity, whether it's the desire, whether it's the inability to focus as well as I did. I'm not sure. But I feel like from tee-to-green, my game is more consistent, and in that I don't hit as many loose shots as I did back then. But my putting is probably the one thing that isn't as strong. On a scale of 1 to 10, my putting in '94 was a 9. Now I'm putting at about a 7, which I've always felt I've got to putt at about 8, 8 1/2 to win. And that's the difference, I think. Plus, I'm seven years older.
 
Q. Nick, considering Tiger's domination of these events the last couple of years, do you get any sense at all that some guys are just saying 'let's go for second'?
 
NICK PRICE: I doubt it. That's something you'd have to ask them. But my opinion, no. I think Tiger is well aware and would be the first one to admit or to tell you guys that he has to play well to win. The question is, when he plays well, can anyone beat him. There are a few guys out there that can. But I would say this: You can probably count them on one hand right now. When he plays really well, he doesn't seem to make that many mistakes. And when the other guys are playing well, they make a few mistakes. They have to stop making those mistakes, if they're going to challenge him. But what he did at this Championship last year at Pebble Beach, I don't think we've ever seen golf played like that before. He absolutely annihilated that golf course. What he did to the rest of the field was part and parcel of what he did to the golf course, as far as I'm concerned. It just shows his ability, his mental toughness, and he's got a -- he drives the ball far and straight. He hits beautiful, long irons. And around the greens from 20 yards in, there aren't very many players out here who are as good as he is. And when you couple all those factors with his mental discipline and his intensity and his drive, it makes a very formidable opponent. There are a few guys out there that can beat him, and I think he's aware of that. But he's going to have to play well.
 
Q. Nick, in '94 Crenshaw came into this press room and described you as a player in full flight. He said you were involved in the best ball-striking since Byron Nelson in the '40s. Obviously, that applies to Tiger Woods. Can you talk about maintaining that excellence as it applied to you, and how it might be different as it applies to Tiger?
 
NICK PRICE: Well, I've always felt that golf is a game of momentum, and taking the momentum from one good week over to the next week, and so on. And that's what Tiger seems to be able to do so well. When you look at the way that he's running his schedule right now, the amount of tournaments he's playing in, not playing overseas as much as maybe someone else who would be in that situation would, he's pacing himself so well. He's focused totally on the Majors. It looks like he works his schedule around the major championships, which is what Jack Nicklaus and so many great players have done over the years. They want to try to peak their games for major championships, and he has that uncanny knack of being unable -- being able to do that, as we've seen in the last seven, eight majors that he's played in. When you have that momentum and you have confidence in your ability -- plus the fact I think he and Steve Williams make such a great pair out there. They kind of feed off each other. If you watch the way they work together on the golf course, their caddy/player relationship is a very strong one. If you see what Tiger has done since he's had Steve Williams on the bag, I believe Steve has had a huge effect on Tiger in that respect. But you take those factors and you put them together, you've seen the result. It still surprises us. But when you see him play the game day-in and day-out and the shots he hits under pressure, and the pressure that he puts on his opponents when he hits those shots, it's phenomenal. The guy seems to be able to spot that weak moment in his -- with one of his adversaries, and just hits a great shot. And he's just done it so many times now. And I don't know how to explain it. I mean, I've never seen anyone like him in all the years that I've been playing golf. We always said someone was going to come out here and drive the ball 300 yards, in the middle of the fairway; and hit high, long, irons, like most guys hit wedges; and putt the eyes out. And he's doing it. He's going to win a lot of majors, no doubt about it.
 
Q. (Inaudible.)
 
NICK PRICE: Squeeky and I had a great relationship. In fact, Ricci Roberts who caddied for me the last two years, went back to work for Ernie. Because I said to Ernie in April, I said, 'You know, when you have that caddy/player relationship, and that chemistry, it doesn't come along that often.' And no disrespect for any other caddies that worked for Ernie, but you've got to have that chemistry. I think a lot of great players have had that chemistry with their caddies over the years. And sometimes it's one shot on the back nine that can determine whether you come first or third. And that one shot might be a little chip shot, it might be a bad club, it might be reading the way the ball comes out of a flying lie in the rough. It could be a break on the green. It could be anything. But that one shot, be it destructive, be it a great shot, makes all the difference. And you just have a look at the way Steve and Tiger work together. I think there's a mutual respect there. I think Tiger respects Steve and his opinions, because Steve's an exceptionally good caddy. And obviously, Steve respects Tiger for his ability to hit the shots when he needs to, and he's always very quick to praise Tiger. If you listen to him, he says, 'Great shot.' When you're playing well, that's what you want to hear from your caddy. You want to hear that, because that's the guy -- the crowds and the galleries don't really know what kind of shot you've got to play. But if you normally draw the ball and you've got to hit a high cut with a 3-iron, and you hit the shot, you want your caddy to say that's a great shot. Tiger is constantly pumped up by Steve.
 
Q. Nick, it was a little strange not to have Jack Nicklaus around here this week, and also you played with his son today. How is Gary coping?
 
NICK PRICE: I have to tell you one thing, Jack and Greg Norman and myself all keep our planes in the same hanger in Palm Beach. When I left yesterday, their two planes were in the hanger, and I cannot tell you how strange a feeling that is for me. For two guys -- one was an idol of mine, and the other is still a very good friend of mine. To come to a U.S. Open and not see them here, that's -- it's just strange. 25 years I haven't seen that -- or 20 years. What was the second part of your question, about Gary?
 
Q. How he's coping with being Jack's son, the pressure that brings?
 
NICK PRICE: Looking at Gary, Gary is Gary Nicklaus, not Jack's son. And I think that's one of the reasons why -- he's his own person. I think there's a lot of pressure that some people put on him and expect him to do well, but he's learning to play the game really well. If he can get through his first couple of years on Tour and keep his card, I think he'll mature into a really nice player.
 
Q. Nick, it took you a couple of years to kind of break through and get your first major title. So I'm sure you can empathize with David and Phil, what they've gone through. Do you find it amazing that those guys have not been able to win a major? Is it just because you have a guy out here like Tiger winning them all, the reason they haven't won a major?
 
NICK PRICE: I started panicking when I got to my mid-30's, that was when I really started worrying a little bit -- worrying a lot whether I was going to win a major championship. Then in '92, when I was 35, I won my first one. Both Phil and David haven't quite got to that age yet, but they've both had numerous chances, but you're a very fortunate person, indeed, if you get in the hunt in your first major and win it. That doesn't happen too often. And I think you're seeing those guys are both -- it's steeling them up. It's making them harder guys, harder people -- not in a bad sense, but when they get under the gun, more determined. Certainly the disappointment on David Duval's face at Augusta was very evident. And every one that goes by that you have a chance and you don't win, it puts more pressure on you. And I don't know, they've just got to perservere. They've just got to keep knocking on the door, and hopefully it will open. They're two extremely good players, and I think it's just a matter of time. But I'm sure it's very frustrating for them right now.
 
Q. My question was kind of like that, too. How badly did you want to win that first major before you actually did it? How badly did you want it?
 
NICK PRICE: How bad did I want it? Well, after '88 at Lytham, the next day, on the Tuesday, because we had a Monday finish at Lytham, I sat back and I thought to myself, 'I don't know if I'm ever going to win a major.' I've had the chance in '82. The '85 PGA I had a chance, '86 Masters. And then the '88 British Open I played so well tee-to-green and I came up second, and I started questioning. I said, 'Am I ever going to win one of these things?' And the determination that I had inside of me then, I think if you could have measured it in some form or fashion, I was going to win one. And it took me another four years. But I just felt that I was going to win one. If you see the way that I played at PGA at Bellerive, the back nine on Sunday, you can think back, look back to that '88 British Open and that's where it really matured or -- it was really coming out in me. It was tough. I can empathize with other guys, David and Phil, because they are playing well. And they both want to win majors very badly, but it's a tough deal when you play well and you're not winning one. That, 'the best player never to win a major' is the worst tag you can get put on you.
 
Q. You referred to Pebble Beach last year. How likely do you think it is that something like that can happen, if not this year, but a semi-regular basis with this guy?
 
NICK PRICE: I guess I'll never be surprised in golf again, after having seen what Tiger has done. And I think you've got to look back to the college kids and the young teenagers now who are watching what Tiger is doing and saying. For the longest time for us, that kind of thing didn't happen too often. I only wanted to win a major championship by one stroke, and you would play that way. If you were in the lead and you had a chance, you would play that way. But what he's doing now, as we all know is he's raising the bar, and the youngsters are seeing that. And the sky's the limit. It's like there are no more rules in golf anymore, and that's changing golf tremendously. And I think one of the things -- and I'm going to go back to this -- because I really believe it is the equipment issue. I think the equipment issue is changing the game phenomenally. If you had to look at it in a percentage scale over the last, say, 20 years of why the players are so much better than their counterparts 20 years ago, I'd have to say ten percent of it is like physical conditioning, ten percent of it is maybe knowledge of their golf swings, working with video cameras. When I was a youngster, we never had video cameras. Having the ability to have a shutter speed on a video camera that's 3,000 frames per second and can freeze the club on the downswing, can teach you a lot and help you with your swing. And Charlie Howell, he's worked with David Leadbetter since nine years old; he's swinging a club efficiently. Ten percent, 15 percent perhaps now is on course agronomy. The courses are conditioned so much better. And the balance is the ball and the driver, I guarantee you. I'd love to see some of the guys on the range now with wooden drivers, because you just cannot swing the club as hard with a wooden driver as you can with these new ones, because the old sweet spot on the wooden driver was the size of a pea. Now it's the size of a peach and you can't miss. It makes a big difference. So that's one of the reasons -- it equates to guys hitting more fairways, hitting the ball further. When you put players the caliber of this tournament and this championship in the fairway more often, they're going to make more birdies.
 
Q. You're just missing something, you talked about. Is it you have one major and then you have another major, and you've talked about working up to this, then the goals, what comes after that? What kind of goals do you set? You get to the top of this mountain, and then you've done all this stuff, and you're in your 40's now.
 
NICK PRICE: Well, just the love of the game, more than anything else, I suppose. And not to get away from your point, but I can remember going to Bay Hill one year and watching Arnold Palmer on the practice tee -- this was probably ten years ago. He was 58, 60 years old and he had played just in front of me, went and had lunch, came out and hitting balls, and he walked up and down the range the whole afternoon, looking at everyone's bag, pulling out the clubs, hitting a couple of shots. I thought, 'What is he doing out here? Why is he still out here?' Then I realized this guy loves the game so much, he's got the option to do anything else in the world that he wants to, but he loves playing golf, he loves being out on the practice tee and he loves to hit balls. He loves to fiddle with golf clubs. He's probably changing shafts in his workshop as we speak. That's what he's done all his life. It dawned on me that this guy loves the game. I do love the game. I don't know if I love it as much as he does. To me, it's a challenge. And as long as it's still a challenge and I have the ability to come out and compete and win, I'll stay out here. As soon as I feel that diminishes or falls off, I will be fishing, believe me. I'm not going to stay out here to try to make cuts, because I've done all that in my life. And I've got a young family, so I'll end up spending more time with them. To be honest with you, it's self-motivation, trying to lengthen my career as long as I can, and have the ability to win in a major championship in my 40's.