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July 10, 2013

Tim Flaherty Jeff Hall Thomas O'Toole, Jr.


JOE GOODE:  Good morning, everybody.  Welcome to Omaha Country Club for the 2013 U.S. Senior Open Championship.  I'm Joe Goode, Managing Director of Communications for the United States Golf Association.  I'm pleased to be joined by a number of senior USGA leaders with us this morning.
Tom O'Toole, USGA Vice President and Chairman of our Championship Committee.  We also have with us today Jeff Hall, who is the Managing Director of USGA Rules, Competition, and Amateur Status, and he's responsible for the course setup here at this week's competition.  And also, Tim Flaherty, who is the Senior Director of the U.S. Senior Open Championship, responsible for the operations of this week's event.
We're especially pleased to welcome the golf community to Omaha for what will be another exciting USGA Championship.  The U.S. Senior Open will showcase the beauty of the Omaha Country Club and will challenge the game's best players as they compete for the most coveted championship in senior golf and strive to become our national champion, a champion like our dear friend Miller Barber, who was the only player to win the U.S. Senior Open three times.  Miller, of course, passed away a few weeks ago, and his spirit is certainly with us here this week in Omaha.
It's now my pleasure to turn over the program to Tom O'Toole, who is USGA Vice President and Chairman of our Championship Committee.  Tom?
TOM O'TOOLE:  Thank you, Joe.  Good morning, everyone.
On behalf of the USGA's over 700,000 members, our staff, Glen Nager, our President, our entire executive committee, welcome to Omaha Country Club and the 34th version of the United States Senior Open Championship.
The Senior Open continues to be an exciting USGA Championship, carrying on a season that will see 13 individuals, 2 teams, amateurs and professionals, men and women crowned as our champions.  While all will be very deserving, none will be more visible, certainly within the senior golf community, than the 2013 U.S. Senior Open champion here at Omaha Country Club.
Recently, we added Justin Rose and Inbee Park to our illustrious list of champions, and we look forward to adding another great champion, the 2013 U.S. Senior Open champion, later this week.
This will be the first USGA Championship to be held at Omaha Country Club, but it's not the first time the State of Nebraska has welcomed the USGA, nor is it the first time the City of Omaha has figured into our championship history.  Who could forget native son Johnny Goodman, who 80 years ago became the last amateur to win a U.S. Open Championship and who in 1937 won the U.S. Amateur after winning the second of three consecutive Nebraska Amateur titles right here at Omaha Country Club in 1930.
The State's USGA history continued with Marvin Ward, who in 1941 won the U.S. Amateur at the Field Club of Omaha, and, of course, Kelli Kuehne captured the 1996 U.S. Women's Amateur Championship down the road in Lincoln at Firethorn Golf Club.  With all that USGA history, we're delighted to be back in Nebraska for the U.S. Senior Open Championship.
The U.S. Senior Open Championship is truly fortunate to be able to conduct this wonderful championship at America's finest courses like the Omaha Country Club.
Following this year's Championship here in Omaha, the 2014 version will travel to Oak Tree National in Edmond, Oklahoma, the site of the 1984 U.S. Amateur Championship.
In 2015 the Championship will be contested at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, California.  Del Paso hosted four prior USGA championships, including the 1982 United States Women's Open Championship.
And in 2016 the U.S. Senior Open Championship will be back in the Midwest at the home of Jack Nicklaus' youth at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio, where three previous USGA championships have been held, including the 1926 U.S. Open, the 1968 U.S. Amateur, and this Championship in 1986, the U.S. Senior Open Championship.
This year we received 2,746 entries for the Senior Open Championship, the highest number in four years.  The 156 competitors in the field represent 14 countries, 10 past Senior Open champions, and 26 amateurs, and also 25 former USGA champions.  We're excited about the entire field, some well‑known and others not so well‑known but who persevered the long and hard road of local and sectional qualifying in pursuit of excellence in this place, in this historic championship.
Like Peter Horrobin, the 52‑year‑old first native Jamaican to play in the U.S. Senior Open Championship, who survived a two‑for‑one playoff at the sectional qualifying in Port St. Lucie, Florida.  Peter learned to play as a child with a broken club fixed to a PVC pipe.  He caddied at Constance Spring Golf Club in Kingston, Jamaica, where a member loaned Peter his first full set of clubs, where he went on to break 80 before his 11th birthday.
We know many of you may have seen an emotional appearance by Peter here in the Media Center earlier this week, and you saw what the 34th Senior Open Championship meant to him.
And how about the two Jeffs?  Jeff Brehaut and Jeff Wilson.  Both turned 50 one day apart this past June.  Both played golf at the University of Pacific together on the same team.  Both obtained entry here by qualifying at the same qualifying site at Green Valley Country Club in Green Valley, California, where both shot 69.  You can't make this stuff up, only at the Senior Open.
I'd also like to welcome Senior Open participants who are here for the first time:  Steve Elkington, Duffy Waldorf, Rocco Mediate, who so famously battled a guy named Woods in a historic U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008, and, of course, Colin Montgomerie, three‑time U.S. Open runner‑up and a 31‑time winner on the European Tour, who's just joined the Champions Tour here in the U.S.
I'd be remiss if I didn't extend some thank yous before I turn the microphone over to Jeff.  Certainly, we've always looked for a committed and dedicated partner in a club.  We've had that at Omaha Country Club, led, of course, by President Mike Kelly, but more specifically, relating to the U.S. Senior Open Championship, General Chairman Patrick Duffy.  What a fabulous job this club has done.  Tim will make reference to their successes both in tickets and corporate hospitality, really primarily led by the group of these two men and this great membership.
I'd also like to recognize Liz Leckemby, the Championship Director, who's been here several years in contemplation of this year's Senior Open.
Also, the Omaha Country Club staff.  First of all, Jon Davis, the General Manager, Tony Pesavento, the Head Golf Professional, and Eric McPherson, who's here today, the Golf Course Superintendent.
Ladies and gentlemen, we say it every time, but it does bear repeating.  The most important person for us to interact with this week, as it relates to the presentation of this Championship, particularly inside the ropes, is the golf course superintendent.  Eric has done a fabulous job.  Those of you that have been out on the golf course have commented, and we couldn't be any luckier to have Eric at the helm.  Eric, thank you for all the hard work you delivered leading into this championship and that you'll deliver between now and Sunday evening.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank our wonderful staff.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the biggest production in senior championship golf.  It could not be done without a professional staff and ones that are really the best in the business.  To my far left, Tim Flaherty, who's the Senior Director of the Senior Open Championship, and his right hand, Matt Sawicki, who's in the back of the room.  They're handling everything outside the ropes this week and interacted with Omaha Country Club and guided them through this preparation for this Championship and the successes that they enjoy.
And, of course, to my left, who you'll hear from next, Jeff Hall, who's our Managing Director of rules and competitions and amateur status, who handles and interacts with me mostly on the matters inside the ropes.  They've done a wonderful job and continue this great championship season we're enjoying in 2013.
Finally, we'd like to express our gratitude to the Omaha community.  Again, Tim will share with you comments about hospitality and ticket sales.  This community rallied by this great club, and Patrick Duffy has been so supporting of this championship.  We would be remiss if we didn't also include them in our signs of appreciation.
Finally, I'd just leave you with one thought, and that is, as you move around this Championship over the next several days, you will see the magnitude of what has happened here in Omaha.  This championship will feel like a United States Open.  It will have galleries and crowds that rival that that we see at a U.S. Open.  This community and its support, it's going to be some exciting event.
We hope you all will enjoy and look forward, as much as we do, to the 34th United States Senior Open Championship.
With that, I'd like to turn it over again to our Managing Director of rules and competition and amateur status, the man handling matters inside the ropes, Jeff Hall.
JEFF HALL:  Thank you, Tom.  Good morning, everyone.
It's certainly just wonderful to be here at Omaha Country Club.  This journey started several years ago, and I think, as Tom alluded to, we've got just a wonderful traditional classic golf course out there that's been well, well prepared by Eric McPherson and his staff and the team of volunteers that have come from around the country to assist Eric in the preparation of the golf course inside the ropes.  We're just confident this is going to provide a wonderful test of golf for the 156 players here this week.
The USGA's setup philosophy is a consistent philosophy across our championships, and that is firm and fast.  We want a very rigorous test that will examine each player's game, not just their shot making, but their mental toughness and their physical endurance.  Certainly, from all the comments we've received so far, we know the physical endurance side is definitely in play this week at Omaha Country Club.
We just had a chance to visit with Hale Irwin, and he indicated it's perhaps the most difficult and longest 6,700‑yard golf course he's ever encountered in his playing days, and he's played for a few days.
Wonderful variety of holes here at Omaha Country Club.  There are long holes.  There are short holes, par 3s, just good variety.  6,711 yards is what we'll play at, par 70.  Really believe the elevation change that we find in this property, which is something that really took me by surprise when I arrived in Omaha for the first time, very pleasantly so, is going to play a key factor.  Again, we talk about the physical challenge of getting around this 18‑hole golf course.
But the number of blind shots that are‑‑ or semi‑blind shots that are available out there.  When we talked with Patrick Duffy, the General Chairman, who I'm sure all of you know is a very good player, as members, you get comfortable with those shots.  You see them every day that you play.  These players have but just three days to get comfortable with those shots, and if there's a little bit of discomfort as they step over a shot, with the trouble that lurks on each hole, I think that will really add to the challenge.
So the elevation change and some of the semi‑blind shots should play a big part in the challenge of Omaha Country Club.
As I mentioned, a wonderful variety of holes.  We have par 4s that we might see as a drivable par 4 somewhere along the week, stretching out to par 4s that are 490 yards, the 10th hole, and the 477‑yard 8th hole.  So a great variety of golf holes here, which, again, adds to the challenge.
While there are a number of holes where scoring clubs will be in the players' hands, trouble lurks.  The May and June‑‑ the months of May and June here this year apparently were excellent months for cultivating rough, and we have some rough out there.  It's being managed in a thoughtful and appropriate way, but it's clearly going to add to the challenge that Omaha Country Club will present.  So driving the golf ball in the fairway will be at a premium this week.
The putting greens are pretty small targets.  On average, about 5,000 square feet.  And in discussing with Eric what was the smallest and the largest putting greens, 4,000 square feet and 6,000 square feet were the smallest and largest respectively.  So they're all pretty small targets.  Again, that rough that surrounds the greens is going to be a key part of the challenge.  We're looking for green speeds in the 12 feet on the Stimpmeter.
Mother Nature has certainly played a little role in our preparation the last few days.  With the extreme heat, we've had to be very mindful and responsible in our preparation.  So the green speeds are getting there.  The firmness is getting there.  We had rain Monday night, which set us back a little bit.  And, again, just the extreme heat.
We're being very mindful that we get to leave Omaha Country Club, and the members are going to stay here.  We want to very careful in preparing the golf course appropriately for the championship, but being very conservative, very respectful of the golf course and that we're guests here this week.
The fairway widths are going to be in the 30 to 33‑yard range.  We made no adjustments to fairway widths in our setup, but a number of those fairways cant quite a bit.  So they'll play a little bit more narrow.
As I mentioned, we had an excellent growing season with rough.  Our rough for the week will have an intermediate cut at 6 feet wide.  That will be cut daily at 1.5 inches.  The first cut of primary rough will be at 3 inches.  That also will be cut daily, and that varies in width.  On the shorter holes, it's approximately 8 feet, and on some of the longer holes, it's approximately 15 feet along the fairways.  And then the primary rough is at 4 inches, and that will be cut periodically as necessary.
I think the back nine, as we get into Sunday, is going to really provide some wonderful opportunity for excitement.  With the elevation change and the little valleys here and there, I know we're going to hear some wonderful roars from the very appreciative Omaha fans when great shots deserve such, and they'll‑‑ I just think there's going to be an energy here this week that will be outstanding.
And there's going just some great opportunities on the back nine.  There's some very stern holes and somewhere you can catch up.  As mentioned earlier, some of those holes where you can catch up, you can lose ground as well.
Should we have a playoff, here we use a three‑hole aggregate, and that will be holes 16, 17, and 18, and it's an aggregate score for those three holes.
We're very excited to be here at Omaha Country Club.  We just know we're going to have a great week.  The world's best players and the world's best fans are going to be here.  They're going to unite for just a wonderful championship, and we thank you for your participation as well.
At this time, I'd like to introduce my colleague Tim Flaherty, who will give you an update on the outside the ropes preparations and procedures for the week.  Tim?
TIM FLAHERTY:  Thank you, Jeff.  Thank you all for being here.
As Jeff and Tom have alluded to, obviously, they talk about the excitement in Omaha.  We are very excited to be here.  There's a lot of people excited to be here.  It's easy to say‑‑ to quantify some of that excitement, for example, the corporate support from the corporate community here is the best ever at a Senior Open, the highest ever.  We did $5.6 million in corporate hospitality.  That is the highest ever for a Senior Open.  The second best was at 5.3 in Baltimore in 2002 with Caves Valley.
Ticket sales are over $2 million.  That's only happened two other times before.  I don't think we'll get to where the size of galleries we had in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1999, but I think this will be the second best, expecting over 150,000 people here for the week.  That translates into 30,000‑plus on the weekend.  These are quantifiable numbers.
The support from the community also is seen in the volunteers.  We stopped taking volunteers.  We have over 3,000 volunteers.  We stopped taking names.  We stopped taking volunteers nine months ago, which is pretty much unheard of.  We're generally recruiting volunteers to park cars and clean up trash right up L in the championship.  We had to shut it off here.
So as Jeff and Tom talk about how excited we are, there's obviously the great show of support here from everyone in the community.
To talk a little bit about the galleries, I think with the facility and the operations have gotten a good test the last couple of days.  As Corey Pavin said on Monday, where else can you find 8,000 people out here for the Monday practice round?  But the facility and the operations have gotten a good trial run.  We expect much larger crowds going forward, but the transportation is working very well.
For spectators, really what we want to emphasize is that there's no parking around the golf course.  There's no parking near Omaha Country Club.  There's all the public parking is only about two or three miles away at the North Omaha Airport, which is convenient to 680 Loop, and it's right down there.  The buses get you here in about five minutes.
To date, that system has been working without a hitch.  So I urge everybody not to come to the golf course, but go to that parking lot, and we'll get you in and out of here pretty quickly.
I just want to thank some people.  Those types of things, shutting down roads, shutting down neighborhoods, it takes the cooperation of a lot of people.  The City of Omaha has been a tremendous partner from the start.  The new mayor was out here today.  I'd like to thank her, Jean Stothert.  She was on the 1st tee as an honorary starter.  Another person, Deputy Chief David Baker, has been working with us consistently for the last three years on safety and parking issues, he and his staff, the whole Omaha Police Department.  They bring a lot of experience.  Obviously, they run the College World Series every year.
This is a little unique.  This is not downtown with regular parking garages and things like that.  This takes a whole neighborhood to get comfortable with 150,000 coming to their backyard, but the police and all those folks have been great to work with.
Also like to mention Bob Stubbe, Director of Public Works for the City, and Dana Markel from the Convention and Visitors Bureau.  From the start, this town has been aboard, and they've been a great partner, the Convention and Visitors Bureau making sure all our needs are met, all the players' needs are met.
Finally, I just want to talk a little bit about volunteers.  Again, I mentioned the 3,000, but I'd like to mention Omaha Country Club.  I think it's sometimes underestimated, sometimes overlooked the sacrifices that clubs make.  Sure, they get a lot of attention, and they're on national TV, but they lose their club for quite a long time.
And this club has really stepped to the plate.  In all the key volunteer positions, they're all club members.  When we get here at 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, we see club members.  We see Jon Davis and his great staff in the clubhouse.  Eric and his crew is out a lot earlier than that.  I mean, this club has really put their best foot forward for this, and it's not just with their help with corporate support, and it's not just their help with other things, it's really a commitment from day one that this was going to be the best Senior Open ever.
Omaha Country Club‑‑ and I was talking to Mike Kelly last night, and I asked him sort of how the membership is enjoying this, and his number for me was less than half of 1 percent don't like it.  So that's a pretty good figure.  It's usually at least 10 percent of the club.  According to him, he tells me it's less than 1 percent.  So that says a lot about Omaha Country Club and being here.
Patrick Duffy's been mentioned.  A lot of this discussion started with Patrick.  And from the very beginning, he has said this is going to be the best Senior Open ever.  That has been the goal, and I think they're well on their way to achieving that.
But Patrick and Mike Kelly and the club leadership, as I mentioned, has just been a tremendous partner in all of this.  In addition to the club staff, Jon, Eric, Tony Pesavento has gone out of his way to make all these players the last few months, calling for practice rounds.  It's just been a professional staff here, is topnotch, and has been a great partner as well.
With that, I just want to say thank you all for being here.  We have gotten tremendous coverage here, both in print and on the air.  We love to see it.  This is why we like to come to places like Omaha.  We appreciate all of your support and all of your help.
I just want to mention again that tickets are still on sale.  People can still come.  Again, I mentioned easy parking, transportation system, but it's $50 for a ticket.  Kids 17 and under are free, and we are still selling.
Thanks, everybody.  Looking forward to a great week.
JOE GOODE:  Tim, thanks very much.  A lot of excitement here in the big O.  We're pleased to open up for a few questions.

Q.  Tom, as Chairman of the Championship Committee, in your estimation, have you ever seen any golf course used for any USGA Championship with hills this severe?
TOM O'TOOLE:  You're going to test my memory, Jim, and my age as well.  Probably not.
But the elevation and topographical changes here‑‑ most of you have been on the golf course, but if you haven't, Jim's reference is accurate.  It's unique.  That's the character of Omaha Country Club.  That's what Perry Maxwell saw when he came to this golf course to design it in its infancy stage, and that's what players will see this week.
It's a wonderful golf course, and it does have that very unique trait.

Q.  Tom, you've had a relaxed ban on electronic devices at the Women's Open the past couple years.  How does that work, and do you see that expanding to a Senior Open in the future or possibly a U.S. Open?
TOM O'TOOLE:  Good question.  We have relaxed it at the Women's Open.  We are looking to technology in this area that would allow us to be able to present that at our Senior Open and U.S. Open Championships that's not disruptive to the production of that Championship.
We said at the beginning of this we were going to be followers in this path and not leaders because, frankly, those that have implemented it have seen some glitches.  So we want to make sure that we have the bandwidth, we have the infrastructure built in.  We're definitely moving to that direction because that's where our world is today, but we're not going to do it where we think it either disrupts the spectators' enjoyment, the players, or our ability to conduct or administer the championship.

Q.  For both Jeff and Tim, what last‑minute tinkering or any adjustments had to be made here?
TIM FLAHERTY:  I'll let Jeff speak to the golf course.  As I said, operationally, we've had good crowds Monday and Tuesday, and the facility is working very well.  The tweaks have been very minor.  We moved back some rope lines where spectators are getting hit, things like that, all very minor.
In essence, the plan we have in place, we'll pretty much follow.
JEFF HALL:  The golf course is really coming along pretty well.  I think the only adjustments we've had to make were just being a little more conservative in our preparations due to the weather.  We're trying to be very responsible in our preparation.  We haven't wavered in where we'd like to get.  It just may take us a little bit longer to get there.  The extreme heat Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the rain Monday night have set us back a little bit.
We have communicated to the players, the caddies, that we have every intention and believe we will be able to provide a firm and fast golf course, but we'll have to do so weather permitting.  The weather has hampered us a little bit, but Eric and his staff have been working tirelessly to keep us moving in a very appropriate fashion here the last three days.
Certainly today, we have every opportunity for some excellent drying conditions with a north wind and cooler temperatures, low humidity.  So I think we'll see some real solid incremental improvement by this time tomorrow.

Q.  For any of you guys‑‑ and you sort of touched on this‑‑ can you address how the Midwest and courses in the Midwest have really played favorably in this tournament?  Several of them have been used in recent years, I think.
TOM O'TOOLE:  I'll let Tim talk a little bit about the marketing of these championships, but from a Championship Committee perspective, I think most of you know we react to invitation.  Tim has tried to take those invitations and somehow or another massage them and move them around the play board so we could get markets that fit with this and our Women's Open championships so we can enjoy the success we've had here in Omaha.
But it starts with invitations from clubs, and then we try to react to those invitations and fit them into our puzzle.
TIM FLAHERTY:  I don't think‑‑ it's not a secret that you don't see the Senior Open in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York.  We have found success‑‑ and it really hit us over the head when we went to Des Moines in '99‑‑ in markets that don't have professional sports teams, markets that don't have Malibu, California, right down the street, that the Senior Open does very well.  We follow that pattern.
As Tom mentioned, we react to invitations, and we get great invitations from places like Hutchinson, Kansas, and Toledo, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio, and we found a lot of success in these places.

Q.  Tim, do you know what the numbers were for the week, spectators at Des Moines?  You mentioned the possibility of getting to 150,000 here.
TIM FLAHERTY:  We approached 200,000 spectators.  We were upwards of 190,000 people for the week there.
JOE GOODE:  Seeing no further questions, enjoy the week.  Welcome to the 34th U.S. Senior Open.

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