Hal Sutton Press Conference - The Players Championship

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HAL SUTTON: ...I think this is a special event for anybody to be able to win, and to be able to do it 17 years after the first one was pretty exciting. And then to be able to top Tiger was fun, too, you know.
 
Q. This is always referred to as the 5th major. Obviously, it's your PLAYERS Championship. Can you just speak to the importance of this event and why winning it is so special?
HAL SUTTON: Well, I think it is on one of the most challenging golf courses that we play on a regular basis. You know, most of the majors move around, except Augusta, to different venues. And I certainly think that it is one of most challenging places that we play. I guess the best field every year. It's one like no other tournament. I think every other tournament could take a lesson from this tournament in the way that they run tournaments. I think the players take a great deal of pride in the fact that it's our tournament. It's just a special place to be. I mean, I don't get the -- everybody talks about they get charged up driving down Magnolia Lane. I get charged up driving down PGA TOUR Headquarters and knowing that we are embarking on a TPC week.
 
Q. You mentioned it being a difficult venue. Why? Norman was so low seven years ago, and the last two or three years, this has been one of the highest scoring averages of the season. Why?
 
HAL SUTTON: I think this course is no different than any other course. If you get calm conditions and the golf course is in perfect shape, you're going to be able to shoot some low scores. But if the golf course gets firm and fast, it gets pretty tough. You all could see last year when it landed on 17, could hit a pretty good shot and still be in the water, you know. This golf course really plays tough when it gets that way. Nobody's heart stops beating fast. I don't mind telling you, you get to 17, you don't know what you're going to finish until you get through 17. 18 is the same way. You get scared of 18 and play away from it, you might miss in the water on the tee shot, but if you try to go to the green, the water is going to play on the second shot way over to the right. I think the last two holes here are unbelievable holes. In fact, I think there are no other holes in golf like the last two holes. I think it sets itself apart completely in that regard.
 
Q. May I ask you a two-part question, please. First of all do you come here with a different philosophy as defending champion, and how are you playing, striking the ball and putting?
 
HAL SUTTON: I don't change my -- the way I want to approach the game this week just because I am a defending champion. You know, somebody is going to win this golf tournament; it's going to be the guy that hits it in the fairway the most and hits it on the green and makes the most putts. That's going to be my strategy going into the week. The last two tournaments I played, I played a lot better than I had been playing. I played good on the West Coast, I just didn't make any putts. You know, there's a lot of excuses for why: Where we play a lot of golf tournaments, where we play multiple golf courses and different sets of greens every day, and I don't mind telling you all seaside poa annua is not my favorite. It's like putting on a gravel pit. So, you know, I was happy to get to Florida where we are playing one set of greens each week, and they were pretty nice, by comparison.
 
Q. And are you putting well coming here now, do you feel?
 
HAL SUTTON: Yeah, I feel like I'm putting the ball well.
 
Q. All of the rain that we had on Monday, is that going to have an effect on Thursday? Is it drying out?
 
HAL SUTTON: Well, you know, days like yesterday and today I'm sure will dry it out a great deal, but I think we are still going to have pretty soft conditions. I think the conditions will be softer than they were last year.
 
Q. And what will that do to the playability of the course?
 
HAL SUTTON: Could do a couple of things. One thing, it's going to make it play longer than it did last year. But No. 2, you are probably going to hit some precise iron shots because the greens are going to hold really nicely. So, I mean, if the wind doesn't blow, we are going to be in a scoring situation, where the scores might go lower.
 
Q. Thomas Bjorn was talking a little bit yesterday about those intimidation -- the intimidation issue with Woods and whatnot. You came in here around 365 days ago and talked about that and went out and beat him straight up. What are your thoughts on that? Do you agree with some of the things he said? Is there less of a, I guess, mental fear factor, if that's the right way of putting it, than there was a year ago?
 
HAL SUTTON: Do I agree with some of the things that Thomas said? I didn't see what he said, basically. Are you talking about a couple of weeks ago what he said?
 
Q. At Dubai where he said the intimidation is gone; he needs to learn how to lose was the gist of it.
 
HAL SUTTON: Well, Tiger doesn't need to learn how to do a lot of things. I hate to -- I always sound like I'm defending Tiger, and I'm going to step out on a limb here and say a few things. You know -- I have to be careful how I say this. Tiger raised the bar by winning nine tournaments. He raised a bar that he probably can't even reproduce. But the problem is that that's where y'all's expectations lie. I mean, let's be real. Let's talk about what's possible and what's not possible, you know. I see Tiger being frustrated right now because people are saying that he's 'not doing this and Tiger's not doing that.' Tiger is not playing that bad. He's trying to defend himself, yet he's being backed into a corner, and I see frustration coming out in Tiger. I see all of that because I've been there, not nearly to the degree that Tiger has had. But be careful how you all handle this, because you might make him hate the game before it's over with. And we need Tiger in the game. I'm being nice about this, but the truth is he's in a frustrating spot because if he does not fulfill your expectations, then it's tough to write good things. He's failing you, in other words. So, you all be careful with that.
 
Q. Ask you about another player, Vijay has played pretty good this year, has not won, but he's coming off of some good tournaments in this Florida swing. He won twice in Asia, and this is an event that since he practices so much out here, that a lot of people have expected him to do a little better and actually win. Do you think that he might be on the verge of breaking through here?
 
HAL SUTTON: Vijay is on the verge of breaking through every week, you know. Vijay is a great player. He's always playing well, and he's capable of winning any time that he tees it up. So, you know I'm sure that he will definitely be a force this week, especially with it playing a little bit longer. I mean, Vijay hits it a long ways. Vijay is a very comparable player. Certainly capable of winning here.
 
Q. And can you comment about the -- I don't know how often you have played with him in past years, but last year was an abnormal year for him in putting. He was 99 or 100, and now he's in the top 5 on TOUR in putting. Do you think that was the last piece of the puzzle for him to be really consistent was to improve his putting the way he has?
 
HAL SUTTON: Vijay?
 
Q. Yeah.
 
HAL SUTTON: I didn't know he was in the top 5 in putting. I'm like anybody else. You know, when I go home, I watch the telecast sometimes, and everybody talks about how he is not a very good putter, and he's in the top 5? That just goes to show you how misleading some things you read and hear are. (Laughs). Good for Vijay. That's great. I'm glad. Certainly if he's in the top 5 of putting, he's making a lot of putts, and that makes him even more of a favorite.
 
Q. In this era of let's say the disposable caddy, you and Freddie have obviously been together a long, long time. How would you describe your relationship? And also, there was some information last year that you guys were not together anymore, and obviously that was not right. What happened there, if you can just go over it?
 
HAL SUTTON: Freddie has been with me for a long time, but it's been off and on. I've used other caddies in the 22 years or whatever it has been. Last year for three tournaments, I used somebody else. Freddie had a couple of things that he needed to take care of at home, and I felt like I wanted to try something different there for a few weeks, just to put some spice in the game, I guess. But he's back on the bag and everything is okay.
 
Q. You talked about making sure that we don't write, or perhaps back Tiger in a corner to where he starts to not like the game of golf, and you can speak to some of the experiences of expectations on you. Did you get to a point where you didn't like the game of golf very much?
 
HAL SUTTON: I did. I did, because I found myself forgetting my own expectations and what I wanted, and trying to buy into what was written, you know. You know, Tiger did something nobody else has done in modern times. He won nine tournaments in one year. You know, I had a conversation with a writer -- I don't mention any names or anything else -- where he said if he wins the Masters and four other tournaments, everything will be okay. I said, 'Listen to what you just said. Listen to what you just said. How many people do that?' 'Oh, but we are talking about Tiger.' But we are talking about a human being. We are talking about the same game that's been played for one hundred years. Let's be realistic and honest about this. That in itself is a major feat. That might not be -- you know, he might have a great year and not do that, too. I mean, depends on who you are comparing him to when you talk about great years. His last year, a realistic comparison; I don't think it is. I mean, I said last year that I felt like this was going to be a pivotal year, because I felt like, that Tiger had raised the bar so high that not even himself could live up to those expectations and the challenge of him trying to do it and meet everybody else's expectations, because that's what they expect out of him then will be insurmountable. I only say this because I like Tiger and I think Tiger is great for the game and I see frustration on his face.
 
Q. Just to follow up about your feelings about not liking the game for a while, how much do you enjoy the game now?
 
HAL SUTTON: I enjoy the game a lot now. Sometimes when you've had a lot of struggles in what you do, you appreciate being able to get back a lot more than you would have. I just feel like I had a taste of it at one point and lost it and didn't know if I would ever get it back. And to be able to play at a level that when you go out there, you feel like you've earned everybody's respect and they look at you as a worthy competitor, that's exciting, to be able to get back to that point.
 
Q. This is a Ryder Cup year, obviously. How much would you like to some day coach and be the captain of the Ryder Cup team?
 
HAL SUTTON: I would like to do that. I think that is a real compliment to one's career to be asked to do that. More importantly, I would like to play on this next one. It's exciting to be part of the Ryder Cup, no matter what capacity you are a part of it. It's exciting to be there, to see it, to feel the tension and the, you know, it's one of those places where you really have to embrace your fears, you know, and you are forced to do it. So I think that's fun. That's exciting.
 
Q. I've known you since your amateur days, so forgive me for this, okay. But since your resurgence and the Ryder Cup and various things like this -- or shall I say so-called resurgence, I don't think you ever went away. But anyway, I listened to some of the questions that are asked of you and the way you are answering things, and I get the feel that people are putting you in the role of like the elder statesman of golf, and you still have got a whole heck of a lot to play here. Are you enjoying this role and the way that people are approaching you now, please?
 
HAL SUTTON: I feel like the older statesman when we had our meeting in here last night. I looked around to see if there were many people that were much older than me, and there wasn't. They talked if you play out here after 17 years and talked about our retirement plan, and I looked around to see how many of us were around here 17 years and there were not many of us. So the reality is, it is tough to make a career of 17 years on the PGA TOUR. I think we have got the greatest game in the world. I think we have got some great leaders in the PGA TOUR. I'm just really happy to be able to still be part of what's going on, on the PGA TOUR. I think, you know, in a time when every other sport is spiraling in a downward motion, the PGA TOUR is taking off, sprouting its wings and really taking off, and I think the world is embracing golf right now like it never has. And to be part of it is exciting.
 
Q. How would you like the opportunity to actually sit down with Tiger and talk about the problems of handling other people's expectations, or are you at the end of the day a fellow competitor hoping to take advantage of his frustration?
 
HAL SUTTON: No. I don't want to take advantage of anybody's frustrations like that. I want Tiger to be able to be the best that he can be. That's going to drive the game. If I want to take advantage of Tiger's frustrations, I would not even say that publicly where he might read it in the paper, you know. I mean, I feel for Tiger in that regard. I see him when he hits a bad shot right now because he has not won a golf tournament. I watched this last weekend; I didn't play, you know. I was curious as to what would happen, just like you all were. I could see that when he hit the ball in the water on 16 on Saturday, I saw frustration in his face, it's like, 'Dag'gum it, it's slipping away from me a little bit.' Well, that's not the way that Tiger did the things that he did. He didn't panic over things. When you panic over things like that, it's because you're not -- you have forgotten about your own expectations and the job at hand. You are worried about what everybody else is putting on you. The minute he walks off the golf course, Jimmy Roberts comes up to him and he's talking to him about why he has not won. That's all everybody talks about. I mean, the truth is that I played out here 20 years, and I won 13 times. I mean, you don't win a lot. The people that win the most don't win a lot. They lose a lot more than they win. I mean, I just, you know -- I don't know why I take the trouble to even explain that. (Laughter.) Truth of the matter is that, you know -- and this is by no means a slam -- we understand golf as players a whole lot better than y'all understand it as writers and reporters. So when we say something like that, it's not that we are trying to slam the fact that you don't understand it. We're trying to give you some wisdom because we do understand it, you know.
 
Q. You talk a lot about expectations so far of making the Ryder Cup team. What are your expectations for the year, other than hopefully qualifying for The Belfry?
 
HAL SUTTON: I always want to win. That's why we tee it up every time. I mean, you know my frustrations are at whatever point in a tournament you realize it's probably not going to be possible for you to win the tournament. Then you go into the mode of cutting your losses, you know, and trying to have a high finish. But winning is the name of the game out here. That's what we are all trying to do.
 
Q. Following up, it's almost become -- you still talk about Tiger raising the bar. It's almost come to the point now where you have to have a multiple-win season for it to be looked at as a successful winning season. Is that our fault or is that how the players look at it?
 
HAL SUTTON: It's not the media's fault at all. I think it's just how good the players are out here right now. I marvel at how good players are now. I mean, you know, we talk about this before. Players are more athletic than they ever have been. They are in better shape, more fit. You know, they do all of the things that enhance their playing ability. They don't drink. They don't smoke. They don't do a lot of the things -- they think golf, eat golf, breathe golf. They just do the right things to be better players, and that equates into lower scores on the golf course and that equates into more multiple winners. That's what makes the PGA TOUR exciting right now.
 
Q. Can you comment a little bit on the ShotLink? And also, how do you think some of the issues between the caddies and players and the TOUR will wind up being resolved?
 
HAL SUTTON: I don't know. I really don't know. I've made a few statements lately that got bent out of shape about that, and the truth of the matter is -- and I'm going to reiterate this fact, is that the whole world is headed to the Internet. The PGA TOUR is trying to get on the Internet and build a platform that there's a lot of things that can spring off of it, and ShotLink is that platform. I will reiterate this; that the PGA TOUR has never paid anybody. We have no precedence where we have paid anybody for anything other than performance. I think that's the way it needs to stay.
 
Q. From the players' meeting, I don't know if it was discussed or not, do you see them having some kind of agreement in place this season or any time in the near future?
 
HAL SUTTON: Who are you talking about? The caddies and the TOUR? Caddies don't work for the Tour. The caddies work for the individual player. The agreement will fall between Freddie and I, not Freddie and the PGA TOUR. Freddie works for me, not the Tour. That's one of the things that I don't want to see happen. I don't want our caddies to go work for the PGA TOUR. I want them to remain my employee and have no other allegiance at all. This is one of the things that bothers me a little bit. Freddie's allegiance is going to be to me, because the Tour is not going to pay him near as much as I can pay him. But that's not always the case with guys if we are going to pay them 75 dollars a day. I think that the process is set up in the most effective way right now. The Tour doesn't get into paying people. I mean, if you believe in the Ronald Reagan trickle-down effect -- I'm going to go through this one more time. If you believe in that and we have -- we have a better product because of ShotLink, and we sell our product for more money and that goes into the prize money, we're all eating from the same piece of pie. If we make that pie go from this size to this size (indicating larger) we have a better chance of having more of it, don't we? And all of the caddies work on commission, so they get more, too.
 
Q. In that role that we talked about, you being an elder statesman, you had a chance to be in contention in tournaments with Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Given the changes in equipment and agronomy and things like that, would great players of any era be great if they were magically transported to another time? Would Jack and Arnie and Ben Hogan be great now or would Tiger be great with Persimmon 40 years ago?
 
HAL SUTTON: That's a great question. Truth is that yes, they would, because what makes a great player is what's inside, his will to win, his heart. Jack Nicklaus would be a great player today against the great players of today if he had the same equipment and the youth that you are talking about. Yes, he would be. And yes, Arnold Palmer would be; and yes, Tiger would have been then, too. We are not comparing apples to apples here. We are trying to put it in an apples-to-apples situation here. All of the guys you mentioned here, they have heart, and they have the will to win. You know, we could look back in time at some of the -- you know, Jack Nicklaus only had one little slump in his career, and it was only a small one, but the truth was that he was frustrated when he was there. He was trying to do everything that he could to get out of it, and that's what made him the champion that he was. He was not complacent about mediocrity. He wanted to be the best that he could be. That's where all great players are at.
 
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