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June 18, 2011

Jeff Hall Thomas O'Toole, Jr.


Q. Is the fact that the greens are relatively new, does it relate to the moisture they're holding? Even though you've had some weather, I know you have SubAir, for example, would that SubAir be more effective if the greens weren't as new?
TOM O'TOOLE: I think the moisture that the greens have held aren't particularly correlated with their age. I think it's the oppressive heat we had last week that started us off on this dynamic of weather that we've experienced, and then of course making sure that we maintain the health of those greens by hydrating them and raising the cut of our mowing, not rolling, and the number of times we've mowed and rolled. So we've done all those things to maintain the health of Congressional's greens. I think actually the SubAir has helped us with the moisture that we've experienced since the championship started.
While they're certainly soft, as evidenced by some of the scoring, I actually am -- I'm surprised they're not softer, I guess, is my point. And so I don't -- I think the age of those greens are not correlated at all with the presentation of that surface the players are experiencing the last couple days.

Q. This would have happened with mature greens?
TOM O'TOOLE: I think so, yeah. Arguably these greens, because they're built to USGA specs would be better than mature greens because of the sand base and the ability to get the moisture out of them. And then you add the fact that Congressional spent the money for the SubAir, which also improves for the removing of the moisture. So I think the age is not a factor.

Q. Thus far, Congressional has handed out an awful lot of mid-60s rounds, and it seems while Rory has been the defining story, it seems the story would also be that we have seen so many low scores. Will we see a tougher, longer, more strategic Congressional tomorrow?
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, we really haven't -- because of the scoring changed our roadmap that Mike Davis and Jeff Hall and I set in motion a week ago. And I suspect we're going to continue on that path because it's not about the scoring. The scoring is representative, as the comments I made earlier, about the soft golf course and the fact that that, to these players, is more receptive, and that enhances scoring, and that's why the scores are where they are. I don't think we're going to try to trick Mother Nature. This is what we got in 2011. You come to the U.S. Open in the District of Columbia or in Maryland in June, that's the dice you roll, and that's what we got. We ended up with a soft golf course. It's not coastal California, it's not Long Island and Shinnecock where the golf course is built on sand. It's a heavy soils golf course that if you have water and rain and it's going to play softer. And with these, the greatest players in the world, it's going to enhance scoring.

Q. I was really surprised yesterday that all three par-5s, the tees had been moved up 50 yards. Today -- or close to 50 yards, including 16. You moved up 9 again today, and just by that move it was a half shot difference in scoring on that hole from Thursday. I know tomorrow 16 is going to be set up pretty reachable. Any thoughts on why that or what you're going to do with 9 tomorrow? You do have some flexibility in terms of tee locations and pins.
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, the 9th hole, we always knew we would move it up significantly one day, and that was today. Again, this roadmap that we set out in motion more than a week ago, but we certainly put it in place, was that we were going to make those par-5s the risk-reward of this setup, and that's what we told you here on Wednesday, that that was probably the unique part of the Congressional setup. Now, the changing of the par-3s and the risk-reward and the variety of the par-5s from day-to-day, and we wanted those well executed shots to play to those putting greens to create excitement in scoring. We haven't changed from that, and I don't anticipate changing for tomorrow. Mike and Jeff and I haven't conferred because we came hereafter we went to scoring, but I don't anticipate that changing. I won't vote to change it.
JEFF HALL: I think the plan is the plan. We've been executing the plan. And as Tom alluded to, the par-5s were intended to be the risk-reward, and you happened to see the 9th hole play appreciably shorter on Friday and Saturday. I suspect that won't be the case tomorrow.
I wanted to take a moment to speak about the weather we've been fighting here for two weeks and just give you a little insight into tomorrow's forecast. Obviously when we got here during advance week, we were fighting the heat. We were fortunate to dodge some thunderstorms that week but haven't been quite so lucky this week. The forecast for tomorrow morning is for the highest probability of severe weather to be in the pre-dawn through the early morning. The last 48 hours, I've spent an appreciable amount of time in our weather room with Greg Quinn from Thor Guard, and I'm hardly an expert but I've spent enough time, I know a little bit more about it than I did when the week started.
But with the forecast being what it is tomorrow with the most severe weather scheduled for that pre-dawn early morning hours, we have opted to keep our starting time window similar to what it was today. We're off the air at 7:30 tomorrow, so we did make an adjustment 30 minutes because of our TV schedule. But we wanted to share that information with everyone.

Q. Given the stifling heat that stunted the growth last week and just looking back, is there anything you could have done differently or was this being totally at the mercy of the weather?
JEFF HALL: Well, it's an outdoor game, so I think we're at the mercy of the weather. Certainly our forecasters have done a nice job once we got into playing Thursday. We've been fighting this same type of system all week. We were quite fortunate Thursday. We were not quite as fortunate yesterday, and we were fortunate again today. We'll see what tomorrow holds. We know what the forecasters have suggested, that our highest probability of trouble is early tomorrow morning, and we'll see what Mother Nature brings.

Q. Going back to the point about good scores, would it be fair to say that this is the new USGA as far as Open setups are concerned, that compared to when Tom Meeks and the organization was setting up Open Championships, the severity, the risk, the aversion to good scores was greater than it is today, that you're not so much opposed to a number as they might have been ten years ago?
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, I don't know if that was a myth. I certainly didn't sit in that chair in those years. While I knew P.J. Boatwright and Tom Meeks, I couldn't tell you what was in their mind. But as I sit here and listen to the question, I suspect there was somewhat of a different USGA philosophy that's being employed here. I believe Mike Davis implemented that change in philosophy in 2006, and it continues on here today.
So while -- certainly we always confer, the three of us, before we embark on the setup for the next day about what happened that day. There certainly isn't the mindset to react to good scoring and say, aha, we'll show 'em; we're trying to test the greatest players in the world physically and mentally, and that's what we're going to try to do tomorrow again. And if that score, whether it's Mr. McIlroy or anybody else, is substantially under par, it's perfectly all right with us, at least it is with the chairman.

Q. How much does what is going on right now and the score that's being put up by Rory and all the birdies that are being made by everybody else factor into what's going to happen next year? There were a couple players saying next year we might get an 8,000-yard course and we'll have Rory to thank for it. How much does one year impact the next year?
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, again, we don't live in a vacuum or a cave, but we have a completely different presentation next year. We're in northern California. Let me tell you what's going to change between this year and next year. Hopefully no thunderstorms, hopefully no inclement weather like we had. We'll knock on wood that we don't get fog in San Francisco. No, we will endeavor to do the very points of the U.S. Open philosophy we talked about here on Wednesday and we have talked about since 2004. Try and get the golf course -- again, depending on where we are, we know when we got to Pebble Beach or Shinnecock where it's built on sand that we might have the proclivity or good fortune of getting the golf course firmer than we would in maybe an area like this built on heavy soils, and we get hot and oppressive weather.
So we're not going to react next year to what the scoring was this year. We're going to take Olympic Club and set it up to again, employ that setup philosophy to test the greatest players in the world.

Q. I just wanted to know, you said you put the plan together last week I guess it was. Have you made any adjustments at all this week to the plan that you put together last week?
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, the plan has been in evolution for over a year or year and a half, but it gets fine-tuned down to a week ago when you start talking about specific hole locations. And no, I think the only things we reacted to were green speeds, that if we thought a hole location could be challenged because the grains were a little slower than we had anticipated or projected. We told the group here that Mike's objective was about 14 or 14 and a half, and we haven't quite got there. So then we can maybe be a little more aggressive with a hole location based on the slower green speed. Other than that, we haven't made any adjustments.
We're consistently reviewing those hole locations. We set out the hole locations every day we do setup. We putt to them, we're monitoring them for damage around the hole that would preclude us from using them, but we have not abandoned a hole location and said let's not use that one, it's far too easy, let's go over here. We would modify it to reflect the conditions that we're up against. And I would say in most cases we have made that hole location slightly easier from a putting standpoint. The accessibility, we certainly monitor that relative to a player playing from the fairway and getting to that particular hole location. Certainly the softness of the greens has its own impact on -- yes, they can spin the ball and control the ball a little bit more, but sometimes they're spinning it further from the hole. We've seen some shots that have gone deeper into the green on the assumption it would spin back and get caught in the rough or the fringe in the back. But we certainly monitor those hole locations and we make adjustments as we deem necessary. But we certainly haven't abandoned a hole location and come up with another to make it more difficult. Not at all.

Q. In hindsight, in looking at the greens and what they've been able to provide for you this week, would you rather have waited another year or two to come back here?
TOM O'TOOLE: I don't think that is the mindset of anybody within the organization. Congressional fit into the schedule when it was selected, and the club contemplated building new putting greens, and we could have got just as inclement weather next year and just as oppressive heat, and I think we would have been dealt the same cards. As we said earlier, it's not our opinion that the age of the greens has impacted any of this.
Let me make one point here before we leave. Some of the scoring is because of the quality of these putting greens, and of course the putting capabilities of these players, if you watch on high definition TV these putting greens, if Mike Davis was sitting here, I think Jeff Hall would concur with this, and certainly my 20-plus years at the U.S. Open, these are the smoothest rolling putting greens we've seen in many, many, many U.S. Opens. So it's a tribute to -- we try to view the telecast a lot so we can see how the golf course is playing. Every time I looked up, there's a putt going in the hole.
So while there's been some question about the heat and maybe the discoloration of some of those putting greens, I think by and large the players have been very happy, and it's reflective in their putting stats for the week.

Q. The gaps between appearances at Congressional for U.S. Open were, I think, 33 years and 14 years. Congressional has given up in its three majors, 276, 278 and 281; whereas, the last two times at Winged Foot and Oakmont the aggregate was 285. When a course gives up remarkably low scores on a consistent basis, does that possibly get reflected in how often it gets brought back around in the rotation?
TOM O'TOOLE: Well, I think the overall experience of a U.S. Open at a club, whether it's a private club, public facility or a resort, the association, the organization looks at collectively how they performed. The golf course performance would be one of that criteria, but a lot of other things: operations, and traffic, and parking. But yeah, primarily we're trying to select U.S. Open sites that can test the greatest players in the world.
It's, again, our position that the golf course was more forgiving this week because of the weather that we experienced, not because Congressional is not a worthy golf course for a U.S. Open. I mean, it's a big, long, difficult golf course. These players caught it on a week when it's very soft.

Q. If you set up or if you select and set up a golf course to test the game's best players and somebody goes out and shoots 14-under or whatever his final score is, what do you make of that?
TOM O'TOOLE: I make of that the very points we've been making here this evening, and that is, this golf course was less defensible because of the weather and its softness, and these players are that good. And while Mr. McIlroy is leading, there's other players who have played well here, also.
The golf course has been forgiving because of the heat initially and the moisture, secondly.
Jeff, I don't know if you have some other thoughts about that.
JEFF HALL: You've got one heck of a player playing some great golf, period. If he wasn't in the field, we'd be talking about a pretty tight U.S. Open, and, gosh, who's going to -- the ebb and the flow, and there's X number of players within the lead. Rory is just obviously playing at a level that's a bit above everybody else this week. Hat's off to him. There certainly are a number of birdies being made, but some folks are not finding it quite as easy as others.

Q. There really weren't that many concerns about the golf course earlier in the week as there are now, which I find always weird. But I guess the real question is: Do you ever find yourself in sort of a bind where if you set it up hard with high rough to be punitive and demanding and precision and the scores are too high, you guys are mean, miserable people, and now you're being too soft because the golf course is too easy? It's almost as if no matter what you do, you're going to be wrong.
JEFF HALL: We have been very consistent in the application of our setup philosophy, and under Mike's leadership and tenure, 5-over par has won this championship on two occasions, and it looks like something pretty low is going to win this championship here at Congressional. The same philosophy, the same philosophy. Nothing has changed in the philosophy, nothing has changed in our execution. I think the difference is Mother Nature. It's an outdoor game. We've got greens that are very receptive, and these guys can just flat play. They're that good. And one of them is obviously exceptional this week.
BETH MURRISON: Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. We appreciate it.

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