Tiger talks about his leadup to the US Open
BY iseekgolf.com | US PGA Tour | 2003 US Open | General | 14 May 2003
Q - Let me start by just asking you with three Junior trophies sitting there, three Amateur trophies sitting there, two of the last four U.S. Open trophies, do you think you have room for just one or two more? And what does it mean to win a major title? Tiger - First of all, there’s always plenty of room. The second part of your question is, yeah, I’m excited about the tournament, I’m excited about having a chance and looking forward to giving it a run.
Q - Tiger, the expectations that you have coming into a championship are far greater than most. Talk about how you mentally and physically prepare for a major championship like the U.S. Open. Tiger - Knowing the fact that it’s going to be difficult, you have to understand that you’re going to have to be very patient, stay very level-headed, and above all, you have to drive the ball well. You can’t drive the ball poorly and win a U.S. Open. It just puts too much of a demand on the rest of your game, so you have to keep the ball in play. And from there, you know, take your chances whenever they present themselves. But you know that par is never going to be a bad score.
Q - That brings me to a question, in the early part of your professional career when a bogey came up — playing the U.S. Open you know that a bogey is going to come your way. With you winning a U.S. Open from a front-running position, it makes it difficult for people to catch you when you are not going to make any mistakes. Tiger - Well, that’s the whole key is not to make as many — not to make any mistakes, but you know you’re going to make a few. True to eliminate them and the worst score you make is going to be bogey. You just can’t make a double-bogey because it makes it so difficult to try to come back, especially on a U.S. Open course, because you know birdies are going to be very few and far between.
Q - Have you a awe chance to learn anything about Olympia Fields? Tiger - All I know is it’s in Chicago. (Laughter.) That’s it. That’s all I know.
Q - Jack Nicklaus once said that the season was over if he didn’t win the Masters. What’s your mindset heading into the U.S. Open this year? Tiger - Get ready for the U.S. Open. That’s one of the beauties of playing professional golf is there are four big tournaments a year; not like Amateur golf, because in Amateur golf there is only one.
Q - Will you have a chance to come to Olympia Fields before June? Tiger - Yeah, I’ll play there before the tournament.
Q - Preparation-wise, missing the early part of the year, what will you play in between now and the U.S. Open to get yourself prepared? Tiger - Right now I’m getting ready for Germany, and then from there, I know I’m playing Memorial and that might be it.
Q - No Colonial? Tiger - No Colonial. I’m out.
Q - How much of a physical strain has it been so far this season, being up and down in tournaments, and how much of a problem has the surgery been? Tiger - Surgery has been very good, one of the reasons why I’m not playing that many events. I’m taking easy, I’m taking it real slow this year. I’m probably going to play fewer events than I did last year just to make sure everything is okay. I’m taking more time off and just making sure that everything is all right for the future.
I don’t want to create any further damage to it. I want to have a good, solid healthy knee, and from there I can pick up my schedule and go about playing my normal schedule.
Q - Speaking of schedules, do you plan to play the Western Open in Chicago this year? Tiger - As of right now, I’m planning, yes.
Q - You’re used to playing in the Midwest, but does your mindset have anything to do with the weather? Tiger - Nothing to do with the weather, no. Generally when you play a U.S. Open, it’s always going to be cooler than it is down here in Florida. So it’s nice to get some relief.
Q - Knowing the two times you won the Open, you started off as the leader in the first round, how important is the first rounds particularly at a difficult setup like a major and the U.S. Open? Tiger - Well, it’s always difficult to try to make up shots on a difficult course. You can do it progressively throughout rounds, but it’s hard to get it back in one round. So you know that you just can’t shoot yourself in the foot and put yourself too far behind because it’s just too hard to make it up in one round. So you’ve just got to plod your way along and just don’t make any big numbers and big mistakes and drive the ball well and you should be okay.
Q - Both of your Open titles had some special significance, the first one coming at Pebble near where you went to college and then last year, at the first public course. Have you thought any special significance in returning to Chicago where you period of dominance in the majors began and coming back to that area? Tiger - I always loved playing in Chicago. I’ve played in the Western Junior and I’ve played there obviously at the Western Open. I enjoy playing in front of the Chicago fans. They have been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun for me. Hopefully I can use that good karma come U.S. Open week.
Q - A lot has been made about getting the course ready for the Open. What do you look for in making a course worthy of an Open? Tiger - Well, you know the fairways are going to be narrow. The golf course is going to be long. Generally the greens are going to be hard and fast. The rough will be up. It’s really no big surprise. Every U.S. Open course is about the same.
Q - The fact that there are no par 5s on the back side at Olympia Fields, does that take away your advantage, and do you have to play defensively on the back? Tiger - Well, I think it’s going to force everybody to play more defensive. I think that’s what a U.S. Open does. If you play aggressively and miss the ball the wrong side, you’re going to pay the price, more than likely with a bogey or a double. I think the U.S. Open in general makes you play more conservatively.
Q - What were your recollections on Sunday at Medinah and how does it compare to what you had last year at Bethpage? Tiger - The galleries in Chicago certainly didn’t tell me that they hit that ball there two weeks ago, like they did at Bethpage. A couple of guys, I hit a shot over there and one guy said “Yeah, two weeks ago, you’ve got no shot.” (Laughter.) They weren’t like that at Medinah. (Laughter.)
Q - The fact that you will be paired with Ernie Els in the first round, does that make the first two rounds more of an incentive for you? Tiger - No, it doesn’t, because you just play your own game. Obviously, it’s always fun playing with a great player like Ernie. But, you know, he’s going to be playing his own game and we’re going to be in our own world just because it’s such a long event, such a grueling event that you just play your own game and plod your way along. He knows how to win U.S. Opens; he’s done it. He’s done it twice. I’m sure he’ll go out there and play his own game and so will I.
Q - The last time we saw you play was at Augusta, and in the final round you were not necessarily thrilled. Reading on your Web site, talking about work you’ve done over the last month or so, what have you done with your game? Tiger - It’s the same old thing for me. The club lays down on the way down, I get stuck, my body races out ahead of me and I either have to shape it with my hands or fight it across with my body. It’s the same thing, basically work on the plane of my golf swing, work on the extension of my downswing, make sure I’ve got plenty of whiff (ph) and from there go ahead and make the shot.
Q - You said that U.S. Open courses force players to play defensively. Have you always known that even when you were an Amateur or did you develop the play you play U.S. Opens a little different as you’ve aged? Tiger - I have developed a little bit, but, you know when I first played the U.S. Open, I knew how to play a U.S. Open. I knew how to strategize and put myself from Point A to Point B. But my game didn’t allow me to do that. I didn’t drive it very straight and on top of that, my distance control wasn’t very good. So you combine those two things, no matter how good you are mentally, if you can’t do those two things, you don’t have a chance to compete in the U.S. Open.
Q - For the average weekend golfer watching at home, watching for four days, watching you at Olympia Fields, what one or two details can they take from watching you play for four days that maybe they can apply to their own games to make them a better player? Tiger - I think the most important thing when I play is how I always stay in my own rhythm and I’m always focused on what I need to do over each and every shot. You look at most amateurs, they don’t give the attention to detail like they should over each and every shot. Their mind tends to wander and starts thinking about a lot of other different things instead of the golf shot itself. If you look at my swing, my rhythm stays about the same, my walking stays the same pace, and so I’m kind of always in my own rhythm.
Q - Just looking back, which U.S. Open was more difficult for you to win, the first or the second? Do they get more difficult or when you look back can you look back now with a sense of greater accomplishment as the years go by and say, “Hey, these things were not quite that easy to win and I already have two?” Tiger - The second one by far was a lot more difficult. I wasn’t playing as well as I did in 2000. I had to rely on different parts of my game to try to bail me out. On top of that, our weather wasn’t very good last year. As you know, it was rainy, it was difficult, and then the last day was very windy and it dried out and then it rained again. So we are always adjusting to the different conditions and I think that’s what made it even more difficult to do, but everyone still had to deal with it.
Q - David Toms has not won for a while and he won yesterday. Davis Love is having a big year. Fred Couples won a few weeks ago. Do you enjoy seeing some of the big names at the top? Tiger - Yeah, I do. I enjoy seeing them play well, especially since those guys you mentioned are friends of mine. So it’s always nice to see those guys play well. I think it was huge to watch Freddie win, for him to come back after that many years of not playing to what he knows he can play to, to finally come back and get the job done. It was a lot of fun for me to watch.
Q - I think we can say that mental toughness is one of the extra clubs in your bag. We have often heard Nicklaus say that when the golf course was tough and everybody that complained in the locker room were people he didn’t have to beat on the golf course. So do you enjoy a U.S. Open challenging setup? And let me make it just a broad one, if you could change something, can you think of anything that you would do differently? Tiger - I think the U.S. Open setup is wonderful because it puts a premium on ball-striking. And on top of that, it really puts you in a position where you have to think your way around the golf course. It’s just not about teeing up a driver and bombs away and hit it as hard as you can and go find it. You’ve got to really strategize and position your golf ball more so than most tournaments we play in. And there’s a reward for doing that. There’s a reward for making the good pars. Nowadays, most tournaments, if you don’t go out there and shoot 4- or 5-under par a day, you’re going to get lapped. I think it’s fun when you go out there and you shoot a great round and it’s a 69 or a 70, you will go up the board with that number instead of moving down the board. But there’s only one thing I would change in the U.S. Open, probably not to have the rough four to six inches around the greens, as close as it is generally. Because if they move the pins three or four steps from the side and you short-side yourself four- to six-inch rough, that’s pretty tough.
Q - Back in 2000 at Pebble Beach, you pretty much lapped the field. We saw a level of focus and intensity that a lot of us had never seen before; is the fire still in your belly now to that same degree, does it go up and down? Is there something that you can do to control it? Tiger - Yeah, it’s still there. It’s still there. It is still there.
Q - Do you still get butterflies when you stand on the first tee at a major championship, or at any tournament? Tiger - I do. Every day, in every round I’ve played in, I’m always a little bit nervous, and I think that’s good because that makes you concentrate a little bit more. It’s good to have that little bit of edginess.
Q - Getting back to the mental toughness question, when the tournament is on the line, when the pressure is on the most, what do you rely on the most? What do you use to try to get you through those moments when the pressure is on the most? Tiger - I just play my own game. I just play one shot at a time. I know that’s a credo we’ve heard a lot in golf, but I really focus on what I need to get — what I need to do at that moment in time, and that’s it. I block out everything else.
Q - At the Masters, we heard Phil Mickelson single out Hank Kuehne and I know at the Masters you played with Ricky Barnes. My question is, how good are the young players that you’re seeing now, as opposed to Ricky Barnes, amateurs, as opposed to people you play played with when you won your Amateurs? Tiger - They are certainly longer than when I played amateur golf. But I think a lot of that is technology and the fact that they are working out at an earlier age. When I got to college, we just now started to get into the fitness program. Obviously, it takes a few years to get more developed and have it be more beneficial to your game so it takes awhile. I think when you are finding now is that these kids are stronger, they are bigger, and with this new equipment, they just bomb it. But what you end up finding is that every one of us comes back once we turn pro because you realize there’s more of a penalty for missing fairways. You need to keep the ball in play. Hitting the ball all-out all the time isn’t going to get the job done. You need to keep the ball in play. I know I’ve given up quite a bit of distance from when I was an amateur. The longest I ever was when I was probably 18, 19, I was probably the longest I’ve ever been. Ever since then, I’ve really tried to keep the ball in play and because of that, I’ve lost some distance. But my winning total has gone up.
Q - A lot was made this year about the feud between you and Phil. How much of that was overblown? I guess things have probably been settled but is there still, I guess, kind of a little rivalry there between you guys? Tiger - Well, I think it’s more of a media rivalry than anything else. I think when Phil and I talk about it, we cleared the air and it was always said down in San Diego.
Q - Talking about Davis and some of the other older players, do you see yourself playing competitive golf like that in your 40s trying to make a comeback at some point? Tiger - I hope I’m not trying to make a comeback. (Laughing). I think — hopefully it will be a lot like what LL Cool J says: “You can’t call it a comeback; I’ve been here for years.”
Q - Anything you want to say about the Lakers game yesterday? Tiger - The right team won. (Laughter.)
Q - Is it easier for you to win a major championship given the field that you play against and the fact that you are more focused most of the time? Tiger - I’ve always felt that majors are probably going to be the easier tournaments to win, if you’re playing well. A lot of the guys will eliminate themselves from the tournament mentally. If they are not swinging the club well, obviously they don’t have a chance to win. But if you’re swinging the club well, I think a major championship will probably be the easier tournament to win.
Q - If you’re not playing at the top of your game, can you still compete and win a U.S. Open as long as you play a little smarter and avoid mistakes? Tiger - Well, you cannot play well and be in contention but you have to — I think you have to play — you have to have some stretches where you are playing pretty darned good in order to win. If you don’t have that big stretch of holes where you’re making some birdies and get yourself in it, then I don’t think you have a chance, if you’re not on your game.
Q - A lot of times people have will say you win U.S. Open by making 5-footers for par. Obviously that goes back to the prerequisite of driving it in the fairway, so you just don’t eliminate yourself. But steady nerves on the green, kind of speak a little bit to that. Tiger - Well, I’ve always felt that a big par putt is more of a momentum-builder than it is making a birdie. Always saving a shot, just makes you feel that much better instead of dropping a shot. When you have those 10-foot and in par putts, you have to bury those because you’re going to face those the entire week. You’re going to hit good shots, end up in the little bad spot and the best you can do is six, eight feet, and you have to make those putts. The winner of the U.S. Open, if you look back throughout history, are the guys who have made more of those putts from ten feet and in than the other guys.
Q - Considering how things have gone for you in the last three majors, how big is this one for you? Tiger - I’m excited. I’m excited about this one. I’m excited about playing the U.S. Open and hopefully contending.
Q - A lot has been made in recent years about golf courses getting too long, what’s your opinion on that? Tiger - Well, they could do a lot just narrowing the fairways down. You don’t have to make a golf course 7,400, 7,500 yards to make it difficult. If you narrowed the fairways down, then you’ll see guys not pull out the driver.
I think what they want to do now in order for us to use the driver, you have to make the golf course that long. You have to make them 7,400 yards if it’s a par 72 in order for guys to be able to ultimately use their driver. Because the equipment has gotten so much better, the ball goes flying forever. You look at everybody, they are working out now and are stronger than they have ever been. So if you combine all those different things, everybody is hitting it that much further.
Q - Even though players are stronger and better, and balls and clubs, in the last 30 years since Johnny Miller shot 63, no winner has come close to that in the fourth round. Why do you think that is? Tiger - I don’t know. That’s a good question. Maybe it’s just because a U.S. Open course is difficult.
Q - We are four weeks away now from the U.S. Open. Do you literally go to the driving range today and think about the U.S. Open? Tiger - No, not yet. I’ve been working on getting ready for Germany.
Q - Can you talk about technology and also the premium on accuracy? Tiger - Oh, without a doubt. I’ve always had natural length and I’ve always wanted to try keep the ball more in play. So my equipment is old standard; it’s 43 and a half inch driver, X100 steel. So it’s not the 45 inches now that everyone tends to use with graphite. I just don’t like — I like hitting the ball further but I want to keep it in play. When you look at most of my rounds when I play, I don’t really hit driver that often. It’s usually a 3-wood or 2-iron; keep the ball in play. If I can keep the ball in play, I like my chances that week.
Q - Only playing two more tournaments before the Open, are you satisfied that you have enough competitive rounds under your belt? Is that a worry at all? Tiger - Well, I’m not worried about that. I’m actually — if my practice sessions go well, then there’s nothing to worry about.
Q - There’s a lot of kids that when they practice, they always — and you said it, too — they used to practice and imagine you were hitting shots to beat somebody in a U.S. Open. Nowadays, who do you imagine you’re beating? If everybody is imagining you, who are you imagining? Tiger - Actually, I’m still — when I go up there, I still play against Hogan, Snead, Jack, Arnold. So when I’m out there, I still do the same things. It’s the same old guys.
Q - What’s interesting, when Fred introduced you, I don’t know if you caught wind, one of his first statements was that you have won eight of the last 14 primary USGA Championships for which you have been eligible dating back to the Juniors, the Amateurs and two of the last four U.S. Opens. Just looking back, can you look back now and just say how incredible winning three straight Juniors was, knowing that the age limit is involved? Tiger - That’s one of my biggest accomplishments I’ve ever had. Winning three USGA Juniors, that’s tough to do, because there is an age limit, as you said. You have to do it at age 15 in order to do it. Because there’s such a big physical difference from a person who is 14, 15, versus a person 17. Most of the Junior winners are usually 17 because of the physical difference. I was lucky enough to get it done early at age 15.
Q - During this layoff, have you had an opportunity to talk or work with Butch at all on your swing? And secondly, after what happened at the third hole at Augusta in the final round with Steve, will you take a different approach if those situations come up in the future? Tiger - As far as working with Butch, yeah, I did work with him last week. It’s the same thing, just what I described earlier in this press conference is what I need to work on. He just confirmed what I thought and I’m working on it. It’s just a matter of doing it. As you guys all know, I’m a great range player. As far as Stevie, when you’re out there competing like that, sometimes you do make mistakes. Stevie has made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes, every player/caddie relationship, they have had mistakes. Unfortunately, we made one on the third hole that really cost us a chance of winning the tournament but I think in the future, we are going to do the same things. We’re just going to go out there and focus on what we need to do and hopefully make the right decisions.
CRAIG SMITH: We are going to let you get ready for your tournament later this week. We look forward to having you here, and to echo again what Fred said, not only are we proud of your accomplishments on the golf course, but probably even more proud of what you do off the golf course.
But now I understand that you are old school at age 27. That’s pretty neat.
Tiger - Thanks, Craig. I’ll see you there.
Source – USGA