FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, March 24th, 2017
2017 ANA INSPIRATION CONFERENCE CALL TRANSCRIPT
Friday, March 24, 2017
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Thank you for joining. This is to talk about not only the Kia Classic this week where Judy, Karen and Jerry are at Carlsbad, California, but also to preview the first major of 2017, the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage that we’ll all be at next week.
On the call, Mike Tirico, Judy Rankin, Karen Stupples and Jerry Foltz. We’ll have more than 25 hours of news coverage of ANA next week. Thursday and Friday, similar to what we’ve done in the past, we’ll have live coverage and two broadcast windows.
I’d like to welcome Mike Tirico, thank you for joining us. Mike and Judy, this is going to be their reunion of sorts. They both did this tournament for a lot of years. I believe it was ’97 to 2006. So it was probably about 10 years they were in the broadcast booth together. It’s been about a decade they’ve been in the booth together for this tournament. I know this has a special place in Judy’s heart and I know it does with Mike, too.
Mike, start off and talk about you’re looking forward to next week and your thoughts about next week.
MIKE TIRICO: I recognize some of the voices as everyone was clicking on. Good to connect with everyone. You are right. From ’97, when I started in the role with ABC as the lead host for our golf coverage, on to about ’03 or ’04 until we got the NBA coverage on Saturdays, I had a chance to do this tournament.
Looked forward to it for a number of years, variety of location and the importance to the tournament, what it meant to the sport, women’s golf, and without a doubt at the top of the list a chance to work with Judy in the booth. As everyone on this call knows she’s the first lady of American golf, and forever will be for many of us. She is one of a kind person.
I’ll even still, to this day, think of Judy when I am on TV. How can you say more meaningful things with fewer words? Because I’ve never met anyone who was better at that than Judy.
JUDY RANKIN: You’re going to make me choke (laughter).
MIKE TIRICO: One of the friendships that I cherish through all the sports I’ve covered and all the people I’ve had a chance to work with. And when Molly Solomon reached out to me and mentioned this to me, a chance to work with Judy again, completely makes this one of the events I’m looking forward to the most this year.
So I’m so excited to be there and work with Judy again and be a part of this tournament. I’m without a doubt, Jeremy and everyone else, looking forward to that. And I’ll be happy to answer whatever you guys talk about along the way here.
For the most part I’ll be listening to Jerry and Karen and Judy, who obviously I look forward to working with as well. Karen and I haven’t worked together. Jerry and I have last year. And just a big fan of everyone on this team. So look forward to all of that as well.
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Judy, first your thoughts on being back in the booth with Mike, and then your thoughts on the tournament next week.
JUDY RANKIN: Well, I texted Mike yesterday that he would make us all better. He is so very, very good at what he does. And I think the LPGA and every one of us should be honored that he’s taken the time to do this event.
Honest to goodness, if he says one nicer thing about me, I will choke. So we do have a history. And the very last time that I worked with Mike was at the Open Championship in 2015 and I’ve had one, good, long visit with him since then. So we don’t see each other very often but we are sometimes in touch.
And he is a dear and close friend to me. So it’s fun to work with him. It’s very special, I think, for women’s golf for Mike to do this. And it just automatically, with his name and his presence, raises the stature.
So I think Karen and Jerry and myself, Tom Abbott, everybody’s thrilled to have this experience. And hopefully, Mike, we’re not any older than we were that last time we did this together.
But the golf tournament itself is so special to everyone involved in women’s golf. And we have a great old cast and new cast of characters. So I think it couldn’t be a more fun week.
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Karen, give us your thoughts. First off, kind of what you’ve seen this week at Kia and kind of your thoughts on who you might be looking at as favorites for next week.
KAREN STUPPLES: It’s an interesting thing coming from this week to next week. But looking at who’s doing well right now, who is in form. The person that really springs to mind at this point is Inbee Park. And part of the reason is that she’s driving the ball well. She’s No. 6 in driving accuracy. She’s fourth in greens and regulation. And when you play in a major, those things are pretty important.
You’ve got to hit fairways because hopefully the rough this year at the ANA Inspiration will be up a little bit. It’s been down the last few years, but it would be nice to see it back up a bit.
And then of course if you’re hitting fairways you have a good chance to hit the greens. Having won it before, she knows exactly what it takes, and we know how great her putting is as well. Already a winner having come back from injury last year. She seems pretty motivated again to play well. That was a bit of a surprise to us. I think Inbee is really going to be a good one to contend with.
Anna Nordqvist, as well, hitting a lot of fairways and In Gee Chun is hitting a lot of greens. But when you look at the world No. 1, Lydia Ko, Judy said it yesterday during the broadcast, she’s not putting quite as well as we’re used to seeing her. She’s not making those putts as well. And that’s what Lydia will have to do if she wants to contend next week.
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Jerry, what have you seen so far this week in who you’re looking at as a potential favorite for next week?
JERRY FOLTZ: First, I’ve got to put my two cents in the gushiness column. We do a rookie night every year with the LPGA. We did it actually last night. In past years we used to have to get up and say who we were and what we did to introduce ourselves to the rookies so they’re comfortable with us. The greatest thrill in golf, the first time I had to do that, the first thing that came to mind was my greatest thrill in golf was getting a chance to work with Judy Rankin, unquestionably the first lady of American golf and the classiest person that God ever created.
Combine that with her old friend and the best broadcaster in the business, Mike Tirico, and without question the nicest person, nicest male in the history of sports broadcasting that I’ve ever known. And it’s going to be a special week for all of us doing the broadcast.
When I look ahead to next week — because this week, we talk about it, perhaps in preparation for next week because you have to hit good shots around this course. But the playing surface is totally different. The terrain is totally different. The greens are completely different.
So I’m not sure how much you gain other than knowing you’re hitting the shots you want to. Playing well this week, that stands you in good stead for next week.
What I like most about next week’s course, it’s one of those rare occasions on the LPGA TOUR that a course is set up that actually rewards length. Length is always an advantage, Judy says it all the time.
This course, none of the fairways shut off in any distance (phonetic). Doglegs you can cut, except for No. 9, if you’re a long hitter. No reason to take driver out of play at the Dinah course. So I look forward to that.
You don’t need length if the course is not long. But it certainly rewards — and the overall track record of the winners of the ANA Inspiration will show you that the length stands in good stead. Fun to watch.
If Ariya gets a driver out of the bag, I’ll have to have a sit-down with her, because I was talking with one player’s husband yesterday while I was following Ariya. He said when she figures out how to hit a driver, it’s going to be all over, so I’ll be playing for second. I certainly agree with that.
So I look forward — like we said in our last conference call, with many of the same cast of characters that are on this one, I look forward to what is going to be an exciting year.
But leading into this first major championship and all of golf, we have a lot of the stars of the LPGA TOUR, a lot of the great stories and best players played well. So I think we’re going to have some real compelling action coming.
And we don’t root for people but for stories. When there’s high drama it gets us excited to be there and present it to the viewer. That’s what I’m looking forward to most, Jeremy.
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Thank you. Questions.
Q. I want to ask Jerry, why do you think Ariya doesn’t hit driver with that move –
JERRY FOLTZ: We’ve talked about it. Karen and I have talked about it a bit. It’s the only club in the bag that you don’t hit down on. Even the 3-wood, as well as she tees it, a properly executed 3-wood swing you catch the ball with a descending blow. I think she’s just not comfortable with any golf swing because she does kind of stay centered and a little bit on the left side in the backswing. I just don’t think she’s comfortable swinging up at a golf ball. I really can’t explain it.
We’ve seen her hit driver. We’ve seen her hit driver very well. Her golf swing is very sound. And there’s no reason why she can’t hit driver. Absolutely no reason in the world why she can’t hit driver except that she doesn’t feel she needs to, number one, and she’s not confident with it. Obviously not confident with it.
But next week I just think you have to. If you want to give yourself the best chance to win that event, granted she had a good chance last year but essentially gave it away. I just think she’s not comfortable swinging up on the golf ball and I can’t tell you why. I really can’t.
KAREN STUPPLES: Can I jump in and add? I mean, if you look at — I think about it in these terms. Ariya hits it with her driver, I think, so much longer than anybody else out on the LPGA TOUR.
And if you take any guy — Jerry, you included – and you put yourselves on a tee that’s short, all of a sudden the golf course becomes really narrow. And it’s because you’re driving into smaller areas. And the way the LPGA sets courses up, they set it up for the – not so much the shorter hitter but the lower end of the driving scale. They don’t set it up for the longer players.
So she’s always hitting in with her driver. If she was to hit it in the smallest areas, which I think once you start missing them, can affect your confidence. You can hit it into some bad spots. You can have some big numbers. I think by not hitting driver, hitting the 2-iron — she is hitting her 2-iron to where the top half of the LPGA players are hitting their drivers to.
She’s not actually really losing anything by not hitting a driver, but she’s just not able to take advantage, because she’s almost too long for the courses that we’re playing, I think. It just makes it hard for her confidence-wise to stand there on the tee knowing that the fairway she’s trying to hit is a lot smaller than the fairway that the other players are trying to hit.
JUDY RANKIN: If I might interject a thought. The biggest thing that she says is I don’t need it. So if she doesn’t see a need to hit it farther than she can hit that 3-wood and 2-iron she’s never going to take on the challenge of figuring it out.
JERRY FOLTZ: One last thought on that. I said it last week on the air, I couldn’t imagine Dustin Johnson being the No. 1 player in the world if he couldn’t hit driver. I think she’s giving away too much by not trying to figure it out. I think the game will be easier for her, if it’s not easy enough already.
Q. That’s what I was going to ask, because in the men’s game they don’t seem to have that worry, bomb it out there as far as you can because having a wedge from the rough is a lot better than having a 7 from the fairway. Is that not the case in the women’s case?
KAREN STUPPLES: No, because Ariya is hitting a 2- iron off the tee and still having to wedge into the green.
JUDY RANKIN: I just was going to say I think the women’s game is far more about fairways and greens. And somebody said to me last week, I mean, I don’t want to say anything negative. But somebody said you know why it’s not more exciting? They never miss a fairway.
So people like to see people in deep trouble and with that great ability to recover. But it is beat into our consciousness from the time we start playing golf that you hit fairways and you hit greens. And because the female margin of error, not in Ariya’s case, but for most people, is smaller, everybody lives by that.
Q. I’m working on a profile of Hannah O’Sullivan, and here’s a person who seems to be putting the brakes on her career trajectory a little bit. And I guess Judy and Karen, just what do you make of it? What do you think of her choosing to go to college for four years?
KAREN STUPPLES: I would say that I would commend anybody for wanting to go to college for four years and not come out straightaway and play on the LPGA. The competition on the LPGA is tough. It’s hard. It gets deeper every year. And it is just — it’s a battle out here.
She’s young. She should enjoy her golf and enjoy playing amateur golf, enjoy the experience of going to college. Learn everything about life, of living on your own in the college environment, and it will really help her for when she turns pro because she’ll be selfsufficient. She’ll be able to do things for herself. She’ll be well-traveled, she’ll have had a good time with a nice backing at college behind her.
And it’s an experience that I cherished. I had a really good time going to the university and it’s the best decision I ever made coming to the university. And I would really recommend it for anybody to be able to go.
College golf — pro golf will be there. If you’re good you’re not going to — you’re not going to fall off the face of the earth in three or four years’ time. Those opportunities will still be there for you.
I think that you look at Phil Mickelson as a great example of that. He stayed on in college and look at what he’s done. He didn’t lose anything by doing it and he spoke very well on that subject in the interview he did the other night. I think it’s a great thing for her to do and really hopefully more players will decide to do that in the future.
JUDY RANKIN: It appears as though she’s got a gap year going on right now. Taking a year to practice and play golf and so on. And I think we all think if you can have that college experience, it’s wonderful. Even if it’s just a couple of years.
But as in all sports — and I know Mike could really speak to this — you are taking that little gamble. It’s a smaller gamble in golf than other sports. But you are taking that little gamble that you’re never going to get hurt. And that you have this time to spare.
Q. Do you think that’s why this is still sort of a road often not taken? If you have a lot of success as a teenager, you tend to want to go pro?
JUDY RANKIN: Some depends on how keen of a student you are. Some people really want the education. Some people would say: I didn’t care for school much anyway. So I think it’s a very personal thing.
KAREN STUPPLES: I also think as well it’s down to what money is offered as well. If you get offered a great deal from a manufacturer or from a sponsorship or something like that, it’s very hard to turn down.
MIKE TIRICO: I’ll chime in with — I’ll chime in with the all sports perspective on this. Just because you go doesn’t mean you have to stay all four. And not everyone does. And you can still have some of the college experience at this time in your life, go back and finish it if you choose. It keeps all options available and on the table for you.
And as someone with teen-aged kids, as you try to remind them all the time that you’re not guaranteed anything, it’s really refreshing to actually hear people who have the option but want to experience college life. It could be for a year, three, it could be for all four. It’s refreshing and will probably then bring an athlete to a sport with much better perspective of what they’re doing out there and how to accomplish it successfully.
Q. Mike, just from your perspective, having done many other sports that draw larger audiences than golf, the fact that this tournament has a completely new name and is named for a corporate sponsor, how much, if any, do you think that affects how the casual sports fan might appreciate this championship?
MIKE TIRICO: Oh, slightly. But there are sponsors on the PGA TOUR that people still struggle to identify with events. I mean, let’s just say it as honestly as possible. The folks at Career Builders, I’m sure, are wonderful people, but it’s going to take a while not to call that the Hope, and this is very similar connectivity over time.
But I think for fans, they are trying to figure out what is this event. And because this one is a major and because it’s the first major of the golf season, I still think that resonates with fans no matter what corporation has done great work to attach themselves and really support the event.
Let’s always remember this: Golfers work the other 47 for the LPGA, 48 for the men, they work all those weeks during the year to make their life and have a way of existing. This is when you make your career, in major championship golf. This is the time to define yourself for the four days of the five majors. So those 20 days. Those are the most important rounds of golf.
When you announce to fans at home that it’s a major, they stop. It doesn’t matter what other names associated with it. While it may not resonate as quickly and as easily as it did back in the Dinah days, I think people understand this is an important spot in women’s golf on the calendar and the first chance for major golf to be played for the year in the entirety of the sport.
So I don’t think people are not going to watch because they can’t figure out what event it is; the attention span is ten seconds and you stop to hear that this is the first major of the season, I think people will come and watch.
I know being on the outside of it, it didn’t stop me for one second. I knew this tournament was being played still. There’s familiarity of the golf course and the significance of the event still always brought me back as a viewer when I could on the weekends to watch what was going on.
Q. For Foltz or Stupps, we’re always asking where the Americans are. And Nelly Korda, Megan Khang, Angel Yin, they’re like teenagers out there who look promising. Have you guys seen enough of them to be able to evaluate how seriously we should be taking them?
KAREN STUPPLES: I think you can definitely count on Nelly Korda being a serious contender. She has all the game you could wish for, and a really healthy attitude towards playing golf and a big sister who is there for her every step of the way, can give her advice, help her in any way she needs. Very talented, put every single aspect of her game in good order.
And I think the showings that she’s had already this year have been particularly impressive. I really see her going far.
Megan Khang has already proved she can play. Angel Yin, I’m not sure yet. I haven’t seen much of her golf. We’ll see. But she has plenty of personality. That’s for sure. And there are players coming out that have plenty of things that can be the next generation coming through.
But I think Nelly Korda has a pretty good chance to be in the running for a Solheim Cup place this year, and I for one would really love to see her play on that team. I think she’d be a great addition.
JERRY FOLTZ: In regard to those specific three players, I couldn’t agree with Karen more. I think Nelly is the real deal. We’re all prisoners of the moment, and we’re just getting to know her and watch her. And she’s playing well thus far. To me, what I like the most, her attitude on the golf course. She doesn’t seem to be fazed in any way about being a rookie on the LPGA TOUR.
She’s a nice, young lady, really, really mellow and laid back, but not intimidated at all by looking up and down the range and seeing Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn, Suzann Pettersen and Cristie Kerr and all these people she’s watched in recent years and many years and being intimidated by them. She feels like she belongs out there.
That’s what I pick up from her body language and talking to her. She seems pretty mature for a laid-back girl and has all the physical skills to be a good player.
Megan Khang started off really well early, last year, 16 when she played well and introduced herself in the Bahamas, had a Staff bag that was at least a generation old, probably eight or 10 years old.
She had used shoes. She didn’t have enough money to get to Australia. So instantly we all became fans of her and hope she does really well.
And combine that with her dad who is out here with her every week with her, really fun guy to be around. We’re all fans of hers. But she hasn’t shown the ability to jump to that next level to be in contention on a regular basis.
And Angel Yin, I don’t know her well enough to judge her ability, her ability long term. But I think the American game is in really good hands. We have a lot of talented players starting to play well. Michelle Wie obviously will be the headliner. And you can never really guess what’s going to happen next with her, but she’s showing signs of life again.
Gerina Piller on the course next week is one of my dark horse favorites, it’s one of the few courses we play out here where even the long hitters still have some medium irons to a lot of the holes. She hits the medium and scoring irons as consistently good as just as about anybody, save perhaps Anna Nordqvist.
I think when you look up and down the list of the American players, I think we’re in pretty good shape right now. But to me, in all honesty, I don’t mean to sound like a politician — when I used to watch as a fan, that mattered to me. But now that I’m kind of invested in the LPGA as a product, I don’t look at flags anymore.
They’re all incredible players and to me it’s an honor to be able to watch them, whether or not they speak perfect English or whether or not I have any idea who they are when I go follow them for the very first time. They’re amazing players. And I really couldn’t care less about which flag is next to their name.
MIKE TIRICO: I just want to interject. Because you said that and I was going to keep my mouth shut, but I was listening to the answer. And I just recently, over my last six years at ESPN, had the chance to cover Wimbledon and U.S. Open and be part of our tennis team. And you wanted to see Federer play Nadal or Djokovic. You wanted to see the absolute best in the world probably overseeing the young American player or any other American player you could name.
And to Jerry’s point, I think American fans are sophisticated enough, they want to see the best in the world, especially since they play a lot of their season here in the U.S., compared to, oh, it has to be an American on the board.
I do think that was a part of our thinking as a sports culture. But I think as our world has shrunk, and I think as things are closer to us and we are more aware of global, I think it doesn’t have to be wrapped in red, white and blue for us to enjoy it and watch it.
So while we want to see where the next American players are coming from, I don’t for a second look at a leaderboard. I think leaderboards look better when it’s full of players from all over the world, then you know you’re watching the absolute best in the world compete with each other. To me that always carries values in sports.
JUDY RANKIN: If I could say one thing about Angel Yin. Angel and I had dinner at the rookie dinner and I found her very engaging. I know she’s a very good player. She had a good week last week. But you might find this a little humorous. I did because I was a player who would obsess a little bit about everything.
Katherine Perry — well, I think our director John DelVecchio asked Katherine Perry and Angel if they were in next week. And Katherine Perry was saying that, you know, she is at the moment, and blah, blah, blah. And Angel Yin turned to her and said, “How do you know if you’re in?” (Laughter). She said, “If you look at the priority list.”
So now she gets on her phone and she is looking at this priority list. And she said, well, I was 71st, I should be in, but I didn’t know how to check it. But she’s flying by the seat of her pants. And she’s a very nice and engaging young girl, and I think usually if you’re really talented and you’re in that relaxed mode it’s a good combination.
Q. She’s a hoot on Twitter, that’s for sure. In 2007, Suzann Pettersen won five times including a major. At the end of that year she changed coach, caddie, clubs and ball, and she didn’t win again for another two years. Do any of you have concerns like that about Lydia, or do you think she’s just too focused and too good to let that happen to her?
KAREN STUPPLES: I think that we all certainly have concerns about how it’s all going to turn out. I think, though, that she is particularly good mentally, and that’s what sets Lydia Ko apart from everybody else in this game. It’s how strong and how tough she is mentally. She does it very naturally. She doesn’t even have to try.
And that’s what gives her that little edge. And no matter what’s going on around her, she always finds a way to get the job done. I think that the coaching changes, I don’t think are going to be any real big deal for Lydia.
The swing changes, I think she’ll slot right into those, because essentially she’s going back to how she was swinging when she first turned pro. So that’s not going to be much of a big deal for her.
I think the equipment changes, they’ll eventually sink in, everything will be fine with that. It could be a little bit of a process. And I think we’re seeing a little bit of that somewhat with the struggles with her short game, certainly this week and then the past few weeks. It’s not quite been as sharp as she usually is. But I think she’ll work through all of that as well. Primarily because she’s mentally so good.
I think Suzanne is very much a team player and she loves doing it just for the sake of doing it, whereas Lydia is not really up in that vein.
JERRY FOLTZ: I’ll chime in before Judy. We all have concerns about Lydia. Why the changes? Who is she listening to? Why the caddie changes when you had a good relationship that was working so very well? And why change clubs when you had such a better season?
I understand why those decisions are made. Yeah, I think my greatest concern with Lydia is just who is influencing those decisions. If it’s all her in an effort to get better and to take advantage of what she’s accomplished, then I’m all for it. But if there are other people involved, Judy will say in fewer words and far more eloquently, when you’re good enough to get there and good enough to do what she’s done — I just always question when a player, a young player seeks change.
I just don’t understand it, because I said it in our last conference call, when you make change, you lose to an element of what got you there to begin with. When you make especially swing changes, wholesale swing changes, you lose the fear and instinct of what got you there to begin with. And more often than not you spend your time trying to get back to that feeling you had before you made those changes.
JUDY RANKIN: From my part, first of all, I know the club she’s gone to, PXG. They’re apparently wonderful golf clubs, but there are a lot of wonderful golf clubs out there. It is my understanding it was an enormous amount of money. And that’s hard to pass up when you’re at the top of the game. Those kinds of things that secure you and your family for the rest of your life — even if you are in her position, you know — turn out to be pretty important.
And it’s not like, it’s not like she’s made a change to something that doesn’t seem to be proven. But the big thing that I would say is Lydia is such a nice person. Unless she’s the worst — unless she’s the very best actress in the world, my exchanges with her in the past ten days have been she is a very relaxed, happy person. So for that reason I think she’ll be fine.
I think the harder thing in Lydia’s case, and this could have something to do with changing clubs, with changing everything, is I think she sees that a little more length would solidify her position where she is. And that can be not such a great thing, if that is any part of the thought process. I don’t know that it is. But it’s pretty tough to give up 30 and 40 yards to somebody who’s only hitting a 3-wood.
Q. I was looking at the past results and so far this year these players have just beaten the grass off of it. You’ve had 26-under, 25-under, 22-under, 19- under. Ha Na Jang wins at 10-under, and it looks like the U.S. Open. Does that speak to the golf courses they’ve played, the weather conditions, or has the competition and level of play improved that dramatically?
KAREN STUPPLES: I’m going to jump in straightaway here. I think two things, one is that the level of competition has improved. No doubt about it. It’s very competitive. And all the players out here have the ability to win on any day of the week.
That being said, I do see a trend in how the LPGA are setting up courses. Even from when I played, which wasn’t that long ago, and I’ve played on the same courses, I played them longer than I played four years ago, three years ago.
So they’re setting the courses up shorter. And it’s very rare now that you have a golf course that requires much more than a wedge into a par-4. And it would be nice to see every once in a while for a bit more of a challenge in that department. I just think there’s a shortening up of the golf courses which is why we’re seeing all these great scores, and the players are so good with their wedges.
JUDY RANKIN: Last week, I really don’t know if you can equate that to any other week, because 95-degree temperatures and very fast fairways, you know, changed it for everybody. But those earlier weeks in Asia and so on, I really can’t speak to.
KAREN STUPPLES: I think if you go even to last year, for the Ricoh Women’s British Open that was, what, 6300 yards for a major. Evian Championship was less than 6300 yards for a major. If you look at the total yardages they play on any given day, we’re given from the LPGA, that’s really short as far as I’m concerned.
JUDY RANKIN: Not the case next week, 67-something.
KAREN STUPPLES: No. I know. And I’m looking forward to watching it.
JERRY FOLTZ: My two cents is this, that when you see scores going low, I believe that raises the level of competition for everybody. It’s just the mentality. All of a sudden I guess to simplify it a bit what goes through an athlete’s mind is you can’t afford to be conservative. You can’t afford to not to try and shoot something really low when you know the scores are going really low, and especially if the golf course allows it.
I think it’s an overall more aggressive mentality on behalf of the entire field when you see play at the level we have seen this year. The golf course set up is certainly a big part of it, no question about it. But I think it’s a mentality where the scores drive the competition. And I think that’s human nature, and it brings out the best in people that perhaps otherwise they wouldn’t, just the mindset that wouldn’t always be so prevalent with so many.
I think they’ve raised the level of competition. The talent is at a whole different level. But then again, to the point of course setup, we’re supplied a scorecard each week with the tournament yardage for our graphics. And then we’re supplied each day the yardage that each hole is set up at. And not one time this year — and I’m not sure it happened much last year — not one time has the actual yardage of the course played that day been at or above the scorecard yardage that is the official tournament yardage, meaning the courses are set up just a little shorter each and every day and sometimes it’s significant now.
Pace of play is a concern Thursday to Friday to keep the courses from being too tough. But I agree with Karen, I would like — the LPGA game is far more about precision than the PGA TOUR; no question about it – I would like to see power rewarded a little more.
KAREN STUPPLES: I think that they’re underestimating the skill of the players by setting it up the way they do. I think the players are better than what they’re giving them. I think they should be allowed to, they should be made to hit 7-irons and 5- irons to par-4s to just give them a better test. Because I think they are up for that challenge.
And it’s very easy to be aggressive and go for a flag if you’ve got a wedge in your hand. In fact you should be doing it. If you’re not doing it with a wedge in your hand then you have no business being on the LPGA TOUR. You’ve got to be aggressive.
For the most part we see a lot of wedges and 9-irons and short irons. For me personally, when I played, if I had an 8-iron in my hand, that was my club that I felt like I could be aggressive with. Anything below an 8-iron, it was attack.
JERRY FOLTZ: Keep in mind, too, Lydia Ko is one of the few players in golf that considers a fairway wood and a hybrid a scoring club still.
Q. It seems like, for better or worse, President Trump is inextricably intertwined with golf in general and women’s golf in particular this year. I was wondering how you guys, when you see some of the things said about what the women should and shouldn’t do, what is your response and how do you think the players should deal with it moving forward?
JUDY RANKIN: The U.S. Open at Bedminster was long before the president was the president. And there are so many things that go into a golf tournament at that level, a championship. And to simply suggest because part of our country does not, either doesn’t like him or doesn’t like his politics, that the U.S. Open shouldn’t be there is really unfair and they put people like the USGA and like these players in a somewhat impossible position.
No one knew when this was committed to that Mr. Trump would even be in politics, for goodness sakes. So I think there’s an unreasonableness to the discord.
JERRY FOLTZ: I second that. My answer is I second that. I don’t think the players can win by taking a stance individually. I don’t think any player can on a political map. As a group, I think it’s their responsibility to support their tour and the decisions made by the executives of not only their tour but the organizing bodies in golf.
KAREN STUPPLES: And my thoughts, which aren’t great — you know, which aren’t too many on the subject — but having played in the ADT Championship when it was held at his course in West Palm Beach, I have experienced nothing but good things from him and his golf course. And I think the LPGA in general feels that same way, that he was very respectful to the LPGA, to the tournament, for how they played when they were down there. And I think that they didn’t have a bad experience with him. And so I think that it’s hard for them to see that side of it.
But I think the LPGA stance is the correct one, when you read what their statement was about it, I think it’s the right approach; that really this is a USGA event and they have every right to host it wherever they want.
Judy, on the money as always, when they said that this was decided a long time ago. And really I think that it’s really an impossible position for the players to be in because they wanted — it’s the U.S. Open. It’s the best tournament in women’s golf. And it’s such a tough spot for them to be in.
Q. Ernie and Rory play golf with President Trump and are immediately vilified in certain quarters. I think there were people saying they were going to boycott Ernie’s wines as a result. Lexi has played with President Trump. Lydia said she would have no problem playing with President Trump and there’s no sort of reaction at all. And I was wondering what your reaction is to that disconnect.
KAREN STUPPLES: I think that you’re dealing with people from completely different walks of life. I mean, you look at both Lexi and Lydia, and they’re so young. They’re so young. I mean, we’re old. We have opinions on all manner of different things. And life. And because we’ve lived life. We’ve seen all kinds of different stuff as we’ve grown older and stuff. Lydia and Lexi have both led a very sheltered life; they’ve played golf. And that’s it. They probably haven’t seen much of what goes on outside of the golf course and a hotel.
So I would say that it’s very unfair to even think about that. And if you ask me that same question: Would I play golf with him? Probably not. But then that’s me. That’s because I’ve been around the block a few times and seen a few other things.
But it’s only because of my life experience that I feel like I can make a good judgment on what I want to do personally. And I understand the reasons behind it.
And the same way as I didn’t ever play Royal St. George’s golf course, I grew up next door, it’s an all men’s golf course. I got invited to play a number of times but chose not to. For some reason, I really don’t feel like I want to. So that’s how that went.
MIKE TIRICO: I would chime in on that real quick. At the risk of trying to — I could have avoided a controversial subject, but why bother, if everyone else jumped in?
So many of the players are also as was alluded to before not American-born and how much of the politics of an overseas country do American athletes deal with when they’re playing in an event in any sport overseas. Very often it’s the blinders of competition, especially with the younger ones, as Karen was just alluding to. My head’s down, this is my schedule. This is what I’m playing; I’ll let all you adults deal with that.
Some are very comfortable in every sport. Some are very comfortable with sharing and stating their opinions, their thoughts, their feelings. Just because somebody can hit a golf ball into a hole better than someone or hit a baseball or another object farther or better doesn’t mean that they then become political experts and have an opinion they want to share with the world.
David Duval said it very well, when he became number one in the world: All of a sudden his opinion on stuff mattered when a month before that it didn’t. And David was always reluctant to share it because he said what’s the big deal? Why does everybody care what I know. I just play golf.
So it’s going to be put the players in an interesting, difficult and in some cases unfair spot as to weigh in on matters of significance where all they’re trying to do is play golf for four days and win a major championship.
Q. To support what Karen said, ADT when it was held at Trump’s course, did offer the first ever million-dollar first prize. So I see why people say he’s been very, he’s been a positive force for women’s golf especially up to this point.
KAREN STUPPLES: I don’t know if you want to look into it — I did hear on the grapevine, and I don’t know how — I’m just throwing this out there for you to look into, not because I know or anything.
But I had heard that wasn’t Trump’s Bedminster course like the back-up course should anything happen to any one of the courses on the open —
MEDIA: That’s how he got his nose into the USGA tent. He offered that he would be — and if an emergency happened and they couldn’t use the U.S. Open venue that he would be the back-up course, yeah.
KAREN STUPPLES: There’s not many I suppose he did that ultimately because he wanted to have a tournament. But there’s not many courses that you’re just throwing your name in there to put yourselves out there on short notice and be able to pull that off. So maybe there’s a little bit of gratitude going on there, too, on their part for that.
JUDY RANKIN: I know it’s a volatile situation going on in politics. But back in the dark ages, I did not agree with everything Gerald Ford did. I found him to be the most wonderful man. And I certainly played golf with him.
And I can’t think of a president that I agreed with everything that they did. So what happened to, depending on who is in office, what happened to they are the President of the United States? Because you play golf with them does not necessarily mean you support every single thing they do. But they hold the highest office in the land. And I’m not sure that an invitation to play golf should be answered with a political statement.
JERRY FOLTZ: On a lighter note, I played Bedminster last year, fifth game during the U.S. Open tennis time, so it must have been September, and Donald Trump was there. And it was a beautiful golf course. It was a great day. Wonderful facility. And I watched him wolf down five hot dogs in the lunchroom before he went out on the golf course. (Laughter).
Q. I wanted to ask Karen and Judy, when you have Sunday scar tissue at a particular course, I’m thinking of Ariya, Suzanne, Cristie Kerr, they come to mind, how do you get over that when you’re back in contention?
KAREN STUPPLES: I think the biggest challenge is get yourselves back into contention, because you arrive at that golf course and that tournament with a greater sense of urgency through knowing you came so close and you could almost — you almost have your fingertips touching the trophy. And it does hurt. And anybody who says it doesn’t hurt is lying, because it does.
And you need to — so even just getting over that hurdle of getting yourself into contention again is a big one. But you do that. You do that by trying to forget everything. I mean, you forget everything that’s gone in the past and you put yourself in that spot that’s called desire, the cliche word of the day, you put yourself in there and play one shot at a time. And if you can get yourself into that little bubble of your own and play one shot at a time, just going to hit this shot now, what’s next, this shot now, you know, not thinking forward, not thinking back, then that to me is the only way you can get past all of those feelings of urgency. And it’s not real stress. I would say it’s literally an urgency, a desire that’s big that wants to make you reach out and grab it more. And that’s the only way you can do it.
And sometimes you can’t do that because that level of urgency is just too great because the passion and want to have your hands on that trophy knowing that you almost had it are too great.
JUDY RANKIN: I think it’s extremely important to get off well. It’s not a golf course or a tournament where it’s great to be fighting your way back up. So I think any of those people who get off well, I think that will mean a lot. But I suppose a psychologist might tell those people you only had that great disappointment because you played 70 holes or 68 holes unbelievably well on this difficult golf course. So maybe that’s what you put in your head and not what ended the dream.
Q. Going back to Ariya Jutanugarn and not hitting the driver, can you speak to the 2-iron? It’s so rare, I would imagine if a 2-iron was a great weapon everyone would be hitting it, yet I don’t think anybody but Laura Davies would be hitting it. So the question is two-part: How valuable of a tool is it for Ariya and how much has that helped her and second how hard is it to hit that club?
KAREN STUPPLES: I think you have to have – you mentioned the two names there, probably have some serious club head speed. First you’ve got to be able to get the ball airborne with it. Because of the loft, it’s not always easy if you don’t generate enough club head speed to get enough spin on the ball coming off the club face for it to rise higher in the air. So Ariya and Laura definitely fall into that category of being capable of hitting it.
Lexi Thompson hits a 3-iron incredibly well, but again she’s long. With the invention of a hybrid, most women don’t need to or want to even try with a 2-iron. And there really isn’t any need for them to do so. But with the lower loft on the 2-iron and the lower the spin is coming off of it, obviously creates straighter shots.
JERRY FOLTZ: This is my little nugget, two cents, the 2-iron — the 4-iron in the player’s bag today, that’s the club on the LPGA, grab the 4-iron, that’s essentially the loft of the 2-iron from my childhood, something what Judy was saying.
All the clubs are stronger now than they were loft-wise. That’s one reason why you don’t see many, because essentially if you’re a carrying a 4-iron now, you’re carrying a 2-iron of old. The harder golf ball compared to the balata balls we hit in our generation is harder to hit with the lower loft, to get any height out of it. I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s Ariya’s club head speed only that allows her to hit that 2-iron, which is a bit stronger than the 1-iron that I used to hit when I was younger.
And it’s a great tool. Last week she hit a 298-yard 3- wood, slightly uphill on 11, a little bit down breeze, not much. She hits the 2-iron out there with her competitors’ drivers by and large. She’s playing with Suzanne yesterday and that 2-iron was not far behind Suzanne’s driver and certainly ahead of Ashleigh Buhai, ahead of her driver. So it’s a good weapon, but I’d still love to see her hit driver.
JEREMY FRIEDMAN: Thank you.