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.
Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:
The Monday morning headline will be …
REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.
RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.
MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.
JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.
Who or what will be the biggest surprise?
HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.
LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.
BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.
COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.
Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?
HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.
LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.
BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.
COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.
What will be the winning score?
HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.
LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.
BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.
COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.
Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty
Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.
Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.
This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):
While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:
Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.
McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.
Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.
“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”
McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.
“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”
He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.
Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign
A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.
Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.
Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.
And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”