The PGA Championship

Interview with Hank Kuehne

Monday, August 11, 2003

JULIUS MASON: Hank Kuehne, ladies and gentlemen, playing in his very first PGA Championship.

Hank, welcome to Rochester. Some thoughts about playing in the 85th PGA Championship, and then we'll go to questions.

Hank Kuehne: I'm basically just really excited to be here. Especially my first professional major being here, I don't think I could have asked to be at a better place, based on having the Amateur here and everything else. The golf course I really like, and so I'm just very pleased to be here.

Q: Probably the question everybody wants to know: Are you going to go for it on 13?

Hank Kuehne: I got it there today. So, I mean, it just depends on -- it all just depends on the conditions when the time comes to getting there. If it is downwind or the tee is not all the way back, or even if the tee is up, if I don't feel like I'm hitting my driver solid, I won't hit it. But as of right now, I would say I'm probably going to hit driver. I mean, I pretty much am one of the only couple, if not the only person in the field, that can actually get there in two. So I have to try to take advantage of my strengths, and if I have that opportunity, I definitely think I should try to take it.

Q: What did you hit in on your second shot there? How far were you today?

Hank Kuehne: I had 249 to the front, something like that. I hit 2-iron, right to the middle of the green.

Q: At the Amateur, did you get home in two?

Hank Kuehne: No. I just hit iron. Iron, iron and whatever up there.

Q: How much longer are you off the tee now than five years ago?

Hank Kuehne: I wouldn't say -- it's very similar. All of my iron numbers are the same. I think when I used to catch my driver, I probably hit it a little bit further then than I do now, but as far as -- I hit it a lot further, a lot more consistently now. I don't really have -- I hit it a lot more solid every time. I would say it's pretty much just a wash.

Q: The conditions of the course now, compared to what you remember, does the course look much different? The rough, could you talk about that?

Hank Kuehne: I think the golf course, it's very soft right now. I remember it was a lot faster, a lot firmer. The greens were not very quick today. The rough is a lot longer now. I think with the new tee boxes and everything else, I think I'll probably hit 12 drivers out there. I hit a lot of irons I think in the Amateur, but it all depends. If the golf course firms up, I'll probably hit some more irons off the tees, but the rough is a lot thicker.

Probably one of the biggest differences that I noticed today versus the last time I was here was there are a lot of really big trees that were around greens that are gone. They seem to have -- the trees are still there, and they definitely frame the fairways the same, but there are several trees that are missing that were right on the edges of greens before.

Like the third hole, there's a big tree that was just right at the left edge of the green and there was another tree just to the left of eight green. But for the most part, it seems to be pretty -- very, very similar to the way that it was five years ago.

Q: Is this your first time back in the City of Rochester since then?

Hank Kuehne: Yes.

Q: Did you get much response from the galleries at all?

Hank Kuehne: Yeah, actually, the people have been great. It's a lot of fun. I've had a lot of people who said they walked every hole with me in the final and watched all of my different matches when I was here before. I see a lot of faces that I actually recognize from before, and the people have been extremely kind.

Q: How much of a comfort factor is it to be here where you've had so much success, and how much psychologically is that going to be a help?

Hank Kuehne: Well, obviously any time you've had success at a golf course, or what venue it is, you have a very good feeling. When I drove in yesterday, I just came in to hit some balls and get registered and everything else, and when I drove in, it was kind of like -- it seemed like it was yesterday that I was here, that we had the final here.

I definitely have a very, very good feeling about the golf course. It was kind of, especially at a lot of majors, especially your first professional major, or this will be only the third major that I've played in. But playing, it's very difficult because you've never played the golf courses before. So you don't know what they have played like.

I had the opportunity to play it and had a lot of success on it when the USGA set it up, and the USGA sets up golf courses extremely difficult. So I feel really good about the golf course, and it was a lot of fun to be back out there today.

Q: How much have you changed as a player in the years since you've won here?

Hank Kuehne: I think I've gotten a lot better. I think I hit the ball a lot straighter. I hit the ball a lot more solid. I think I'm a lot more complete player today than I was before. I was always very streaky with my putter and my short game or when I hit it good, I hit it really good, but I could also hit it pretty wide.

Now I feel like week in, week out, I hit it straight, I put it pretty good, I pitch it good, I wedge it good. So everything, just a lot more complete. My game is a lot more complete than it was.

Q: At the beginning of the year, did you give yourself any chance to be here this week, considering your status?

Hank Kuehne: Well, it wasn't something I thought about, really. It was one of the -- after Houston, it was one of the first things that I thought about. After I made enough money to have status and be able to play out here, play on the PGA TOUR, it was one of my immediate goals was to try to make enough money or try to figure out however I could get into the PGA.

Q: Was that really the first time that you let it enter your mind was after Houston?

Hank Kuehne: Definitely. There was really no reason to think about it before then, because, I mean, there was no way that I could have got in. I'm not a Class A pro. I can't go play in the club pro qualifier. If you've got conditional status on the Nationwide Tour, I don't think that's going to get you in.

Q: Do you feel that it's almost maybe a little bit of destiny considering your past here at Oak Hill?

Hank Kuehne: That would be nice. I mean, as I said I feel really good about the golf course. I'm very pleased with my game. I've got my teacher, Kevin Smeltz (ph) is here and I feel very good with my golf game going into the week.

Like I said I'm very comfortable with the golf course. I actually, really like a lot of the new tees. I think any time -- I don't know exactly how much yardage they added but it seems to be 300 or 400 yards, something like that. They added 50 yards probably to 1, 9, 17 and 18, so there's a couple hundred yards on those holes. I think that definitely makes the golf course a lot more suitable to my game. So I feel really good about it.

Q: Why do you feel like this golf course has suited your game? I think a lot of people, if they just looked at the course, at first thought wouldn't think that this would be such a friendly course to you, yet you've obviously taken to it so well.

Hank Kuehne: Well, I think part of the reason that people just look at it and not really think that it suits me is they don't watch me play. They don't know the way that I play golf. I mean, the first cut I made as a pro was a USGA event. I played very well at the U.S. Open. I played very well at the U.S. Amateur. I think everybody just thinks because I hit it far, I don't hit it straight.

I think that they can look at the fairway stats or look at whatever they want to from the PGA TOUR, the stats, but, like I said, I hit the golf ball straight. I hit it a lot straighter than anybody really gives me credit for, and those stats are very skewed. You take 14 here, if I hit it at the green four days, if I get it in the greenside bunker or on the fringe or just in the rough right around the green, that doesn't count as a fairway hit. But I'm a lot better off than the guys that are down the fairway 150 yards from the green.

So stuff like that happens a lot. I just think that people look at statistics and look at a piece of paper a little bit too much and don't really know that much about the players and how they actually play. I think that might be one of the reasons why people would think that this is not a golf course that suits me.

Q: Have you hit on the green off 14 before, during the Amateur?

Hank Kuehne: Actually I think I played that hole seven times in the match play and everything else and I birdied it six times. I either hit it in the front bunker or just in the rough right on the upslope of the green. Today I hit it just -- I just caught the tree right there just front left and just went in the bunker right in front of the green. I made bogey I think in the second 18 of the final. I pulled my tee shot a little bit and I hit a terrible pitch, but I played the hole very well hitting driver. It was actually about perfect for me to fly it about five yards into the green, just with how far it is to the front.

Q: How much did you think back to '98, maybe when you got to the 17th green and did you hearken back to those days a lot?

Hank Kuehne: Definitely. As you're playing, I mean, obviously, this is first time I had been on the golf course since then, so I just think about a lot of different things. When we got to 17, I thought about the line that I took in the last hole of the match, and I actually hit it on the same line today. Only difference is it's 50 yards further than it was back then. It just got in the fairway, but it wasn't -- I didn't hit wedge in. Like I did back then.

Definitely, the new tee on 18, I got up there and it was just like I had played the week of the Amateur just yesterday because I still saw the same lines and I still felt the same things. Only difference is when they add the new tees, you hit it there and you're like, oh, it's perfect. And it goes in the rough. The rough out here is very, very long and thick. I was looking out here, it says four inches. I'd like you to show me where it's four inches.

Q: Considering where you started from this year, how would you describe this year; and how much, if any, your expectations for yourself have changed in eight months?

Hank Kuehne: Well, I mean, at the start of this year, I felt like even having conditional status on the Nationwide Tour, eventually I was going to get into tournaments. And I felt like if I played a full year out there, I would finish Top 20 on the Money List and get my TOUR card. So I was a lot more relaxed.

When I played at, I finished third at Atlanta, I thought, well, if I just played good in my next couple of starts out here, that I could make enough money that I don't even have to play on the Nationwide Tour. I went from there to -- I the week after Augusta, I was at the Monday qualifier trying to get in the Nationwide events. I missed every one of those by a shot. I ended up finishing second at Houston and now it's just kind of -- I achieved one of my goals, which was to basically have my PGA TOUR card before the year was over. So I basically had to sit back and reevaluate. I really haven't had time to stop and think that much about it because I've pretty much played almost every week. I think I've only taken two weeks off since I've been able to play out here.

So, I think in a couple of months, I'll sit back and think about it and figure out kind of what happened. I'm very proud of the things that I've done and where I've come from to get to where I am right now. I'm not satisfied, but, I'm pleased with the way things have gone, and hopefully they will continue to head in the right direction.

Q: Have you had the chance to keep in touch with Tom at all since the final in '98?

Hank Kuehne: Tom McKnight, I've seen him a few times. I saw him on a couple Canadian Tour events last year. I saw him a couple times this year. He turned pro. I think he's trying to get ready for the Senior Tour. He's 48 now or going on 4.

Our relationship is still great. I don't really spend that much time with him or get to see him but every time I see him, we have a good time and it's just like we never missed a beat. It was a lot of fun. It was definitely fun to share the experience with somebody that you were friends with. I'm very pleased with the way the outcome was. But I also feel sorry for him in some respect, because I know what it's like to finish second with my brother. I don't know personally what it's like, but I know what it did to him with his career, with the deal there with Tiger at Sawgrass.

We still have a good relationship, and I hope that everything goes really well for him and I hope that he's able to have a lot of success out there on the Senior Tour, but I don't really get to see him as much as I would like.

Q: When you won here in the Amateur, did you think it was going to take you this long to get to where you are now or did you think you were going to leap right in?

Hank Kuehne: When I turned pro, I really was ready when I turned pro. I felt like every aspect of my game was where it needed to be. I thought I needed to curve the ball a little bit less.

But the answer to your question is: I would have told you you were crazy if I thought it would take me this long to get there. But now, given the way that my playing is and the way things have gone since I turned pro with my injuries and the different things, I'm probably here a little bit ahead of schedule, actually, after the setbacks and everything else that I've had.

So, I guess one of the things that I've learned through everything that I've been through with my personal life and in my golf and injuries and everything I've had is that you really can't take anything for granted. You can't just say: Well, okay, I finished wherever this week; I'm going to win this tournament; I'm going to do this; I'm going to do that. You just have to enjoy the moment and do everything that you can for right now because you're only one step away. You never know what's going to happen, whether physically, you get hurt or something crazy happens.

I guess there's just a plan for everybody. I think that it's taken a little longer than I would have liked, but, you know what, just like my recovery, I don't think I would change any of it. I think it's made me a lot stronger. It's made me a lot tougher and it's also made me appreciate where I am today and where I was eight months ago.

I realize what a privilege it is to be out here and what a privilege it is to just have the opportunity to play golf, especially on the PGA TOUR.

So I think everything just happens for a reason, and that's about it. I mean, I don't really know what else to tell you.

Q: You talked about the effect finishing second had on your brother, and I wonder how much of a difference do you think it made in your life, the difference between first and second in one big tournament at that stage of your life?

Hank Kuehne: Well, I don't think -- I doubt I'd probably have the opportunities that I've had, given sponsor's exemptions. I don't think I would be in the position that I was in where people would have given me the opportunities that they have given me in order to play.

I think it does so many things for you. If you finish second, the only tournament you get in is Augusta, which that's fantastic, but I had the opportunity to play in the other majors and had the opportunity to play in other PGA TOUR events. I didn't play because I wasn't aware of the rules at that point in time, like Memorial, Bay Hill, some of the other tour events with some of the best fields.

I think they really tend to forget about you if you finish second. I mean, yes, it's great, it helps you out through Augusta, and it might open some doors up for you there; and it might open a couple doors up for you when you first turn pro/ but I don't think that I would have had the same opportunities that I have had and I would have been given the same opportunities by the tournaments and the sponsors and the people who have given me exemptions to play in tournaments in the past.

Q: How about for yourself, does it change who you are as a golfer at all, just that difference? We saw how it affected your brother --

Hank Kuehne: I don't think there's not much that can really change me as a person. I don't feel like golf, if I won tournaments or didn't win tournaments or played the Canadian Tour or played wherever I played golf, I don't think that winning or finishing second would have changed my outlook on myself or anything else. I think it would have changed everybody else's outlook. I mean, no matter what happens the rest of my career, I'll always be the U.S. Amateur Champion. That changes everyone else's perception of me. I think is basically the thing. It doesn't really change the way that I look at myself. I don't think that I'm holier than thou or have done something great. I did something great on an amateur level.

I think that the level that I'm playing at now, I'm playing against the best of the best. It's the pinnacle -- I'm playing and I get to play every week with the pinnacle of my profession, which I don't care what job you have or if you're a lawyer, doctor, I think that's the ultimate. If you get to go out week in, week out and test yourself against the best players in the world, I think that's fantastic. That's what I love to do, but I definitely don't feel like it will change who I am.

Q: I was watching you on the range today and with Paul Azinger. All of the fans, they come, they see Tiger. From your peers, Phil Mickelson said it before and I overheard Zinger today, how does that make you feel, in a sense you're hitting the ball better, farther, straighter than a lot of other people?

Hank Kuehne: It's fun. I mean, obviously, you're talking about Paul Azinger is a guy that I watched -- I had an opportunity to play with him a couple weeks ago, but he's somebody that I looked up to, watched play Ryder Cups, win golf tournaments and somebody that, "God, I've love to play with him." I stand on the range and I love to watch guys play, guys swing.

It's kind of funny. Now I get out there and when I'm warming up or when I'm hitting drivers, everything kind of stops right there around me and all of the guys turn around and watch and kind of laugh. They just are kind of amazed in some respects. It's almost embarrassing, really, to be honest with you, because I look at Paul Azinger, I look at a lot of these other guys, they are guys that they have had unbelievable careers. You've seen them put themselves on the line, whether it be from the Ryder Cups or other golf tournaments, and it's just amazing to me when I sit back. It almost is embarrassing and you sit back and think, "Well, now these guys want to watch me hit it."

It's fun. It's interesting. I mean, they all want to know where it comes from or how you do it. I wish I had an answer for them.

Q: The club that you were hitting that caused Paul to get on the cell phone immediately, what was it that you were hitting and how far were you hitting?

Hank Kuehne: I don't know. The driving range -- it's a new sonar tech. You're going to have to ask Paul. I don't even know what it is. All I know is I hit it a few times and I liked it. He was amazed by where it was going. He called them, they are bringing a few out for me and they are getting a few situated. It's a new prototype sonar-tech type of driving thing. They are going somewhere around 285, 290, I don't know.

Q: Is it like a 4-wood?

Hank Kuehne: I think it's like a -- like I said, I don't even know. All I know is I hit it and it went pretty good. (Smiling).

JULIUS MASON: Thanks for coming down, Hank.

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