The PGA Championship

Interview with Jeff Sluman

Monday, August 11, 2003

JULIUS MASON: Jeff Sluman, ladies and gentlemen, PGA Champion, in his backyard of Rochester.

Thanks for welcoming the PGA of America to your hometown.

Jeff Sluman:: Obviously, it's great to be here, and a unique experience for me, playing on a golf course that I didn't actually grow up on. I've played hundreds of times out here, and coming in to register, seeing all the members, that is an experience you don't have that often when you go to a major.

So it's a special week for me, and I'm just going to enjoy it and try and go out and play ?? kind of, if you looked at my record lately, you'd say I haven't been playing well, but I'm playing very well tee to green and just feel like I've got my putting straightened out. I feel like I'm playing very well tee to green, which is what you're going to need here, absolutely.

Q: Since you've played it a hundred times or are more, for those of us who are not nearly that familiar, what do you like about the course, and what particular attributes as a player are most necessary to put up the numbers?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, it's quite apparent once you get out on the golf course that you really have to drive your ball well out here. You can say that about any major tournament, but this one in particular. And you have to understand, I think, obviously how to play the holes. There's a lot of 3-woods, and even with the added length, you'll hit a couple more drivers, but that's really about it.

It's not a bruising kind of golf course with length, but you really have to shape the ball well, be able to hit it high well, and obviously left to right and right to left, to really kind of take advantage of Donald Ross and how he designed each and every hole.

The greens aren't particularly undulating, but if they dry out, they will be a lot quicker than you think and they will there will be a little more break in them than you would actually initially think, too.

Q: You played here in '89, for the U.S. Open?

Jeff Sluman:: Yes, I did.

Q: What's the difference coming back now, as opposed to '89?

Jeff Sluman:: First, there's about 40,000 people out here on Monday.

The golf course, unfortunately, I would say, is pretty similar, and I say that in the regard that I think the true flavor and test of this golf course is if it plays hard and fast. At the U.S. Open, we had tremendous amounts of rain, and I was here last week to play a couple rounds; I got five holes in. It's been an extremely rainy summer. So in that respect, some of the nuances, you don't really get, as I mentioned earlier, with shaping the ball. If the fairways stay soft and it doesn't dry out at all, it will take a little bit away from a guy having to hit shots both ways. He can play a little more one-dimensional.

Q: You're talking a lot about the course, I was thinking more along the lines about what's different for you; you were the reigning PGA Champion in '89, what was the reception?

Jeff Sluman:: The reception is still the same. I feel like I'm a little healthier. In '89 I had an emergency appendectomy maybe 17, 18 days before the tournament. So, quite frankly, I really wasn't in the kind of shape I would have liked to have been, stepping up on No. 1 on Thursday with Trevino and Nicklaus.

Q: You said you've solved the putting problems, can you talked about what was wrong?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, I'm putting better. I don't think anybody is ever really happy with how they are putting unless you're winning every week. I've got a much better idea. I'm trying to simplify it. I worked with Bob Rotella over at the British Open and he game me some ?? just kind of a system to take away from, as we would say, paralysis by analysis. I was getting over the ball, and not that I was freezing or anything, but was just too concerned about the path of the stroke and the length and did I do this, did I do that. Once you start doing that in your putting stroke, you're not going to be very successful.

So he just gave me some ?? a system to kind of get over that, and basically, he wants you to putt like you're a 10-year-old kid again. And what I mean by that is, when you were 10, what were you thinking about? Just trying to make it. You weren't worried about your stroke, you were not worried about how far it went by or whatever. You just tried to make it. It's helped quite a bit.

Q: Do you look back, particularly your last tournament you played very well, as you said, tee to green, and if you had just been average with your putting, you probably would have won by four to six strokes that tournament, does it drive you nuts when you look at that?

Jeff Sluman:: Not really. Because the statistics are what they are. But the more greens you hit, the higher your putting average is probably going to be in general. I mean, if you're hitting ?? I hit 66 greens in regulation out of 72 in my last tournament, so you are probably not going to average 28 putts a round in that case. I certainly felt like could I have putted a little better, certainly, at the Buick. And if I did, I would have had a good chance to win.

Q: With the added yardage that Oak Hill has put on, did that change the course at all or did that just put it back to where it was to account for technology?

Jeff Sluman:: It's going to make it play a little more difficult, which is what they needed. You know, with the fairways not getting any roll, once again, like I said, I really haven't gotten out to see it. I only played three holes today and my practice rounds last week consisted of the first five holes.

So I really don't know how it's going to play yet because I honestly have not seen where some of the new tees are on 17, 11. I can answer that question a little better today, but right now, just not seeing it, it's hard to imagine. But every course we play, they are not shortening them. Those are things we don't hear anymore: "The course is too long so we shortened it for you guys." That has yet to be heard in the last 20 years.

So they are taking it back to kind of counteract some of the distance gains the guys have made.

Q: You had a nice round of applause as you walked up to the driving range today, what does that do for you? You probably won't have the biggest galleries, but maybe the second biggest this week.

Jeff Sluman:: Well, it's a unique experience to play in your hometown in a major, and everybody knows you and everybody is pulling for you. Like I said, in '89, it was pretty ?? you could say emotional going to the first tee. You kind of keep your head down and you have to stay focused. But once the bell starts, you kind of have to get into what you do and that.

But run into a lot of high school friends the first three or four holes already today and the practice tee. It's just a lot of fun to know that people are really pulling hard for you.

Q: When you play in your home town, there's probably a lot of demands on you, too. How have you been able to handle all of that and people are probably asking you for tickets and things of that nature, how have you been able to separate that and be able to focus on your game?

Jeff Sluman:: Nobody has asked me for tickets. Don't ask me after this. But it's pretty hard, it really is. This is a very important tournament for me. This is really the last time I'm going to play legitimately in front of everybody in my hometown.

The Presidents Cup ends after this week, and I'm in a position if I play well this week, I can make the team or be a real high consideration on Jack's list.

You know, I'm going to do what I can Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on the golf course and signing. But I've got to get my work done and I've got to do what I normally do when I go to a tournament, and that's kind of stay in and rest and then that might make some people unhappy. You can't try and do everything for everybody and then let your golf game go, go out the side. It still actually is my business and I'm just going to try to do the best I can for everybody, and hopefully that will be good enough.

Q: I watched you when Tiger was coming out, you were by the pro shop up there, do you just ?? this is the first time we have had the Tiger phenomena in Rochester. Do you just shake your head every time you see that?

Jeff Sluman:: It really, truly is incredible. He can't go anywhere, and he handles it better than anybody could possibly imagine. I take my hat off to him because, like you said, can't go to McDonald's or a movie theater or anything anymore. That's got to be a hard thing to have thrust upon you at that young an age. He can't sign every autograph, or he would be here 24/7 and would not get any work done, either. I think he does the best that he can and he does a fantastic job at it.

Q: Have you talked to Jack at all about what he might be thinking on captain's pick, whether it's a straight 11 and 12 as he's done in the past, or whether he has a better leeway? And as a follow-up, just curious if you were here when Trevino won ?? you were about 11?

Jeff Sluman:: In 1968, yeah, I was here. I came out here. To answer your second question, they actually parked cars on the West Golf Course, I think in the rough. I remember walking on the fairway saying to my dad, "Oh, my God," and they were better than the greens I was playing on at the time. He took me out to watch that. It was pretty exciting.

In regards to the first question, the last time I was at a tournament that there was a meeting with Jack was at Muirfield this year, and he did not, he definitely said that 11 and 12 weren't definite picks. He would take everything into consideration and make his choices after that. But 11 and 12 weren't locks.

Q: Have you seen Jack since then?

Jeff Sluman:: I have not seen Jack since then. Is he coming tomorrow night or not? I won't see him tomorrow night, either.

Q: As you said, you haven't really played the course under it's new configuration, and obviously you have not probably even got to the 18th hole yet, but what do you think that will add to the finish of this tournament, will that be like the deciding hole?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, I would think the PGA would love for it to be the deciding hole. But 17 and 18 are going to be great tests. 17 they stretched back to about 490. And 18 is a difficult hole anyways, and then with the added length, you are coming out through a chute of trees, and if the prevailing wind is blowing, you never really feel it, but it's always kind of down left to right and you can hit in those fairway bunkers in a hurry. It's a really difficult tee shot to get in the fairway there.

So that's really the key, because if you don't get in the fairway with the second shot, it's basically a forced carry, you're going to have to try to get the ball up-and-down from 100 yards.

Q: You were kidding about before about the big difference, 40,000 people out here on Monday, but what does it say about golf now, that it has just exploded like that?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, it has exploded. When I first came out on the Tour in '83, it was Jack and Tom. And then it was Tom and Greg in the late 80s, early 90s, it was kind of Nick Price and Freddie and Faldo and then Tiger came on the scene, obviously. And then it's just exploded ever since then.

Since Tiger came out, the growth, the diversity of the game, has been something that no one could have ever really dreamed of and I think it's just fantastic. It's great to see people out here. Like they are coming out today on a Monday, just to see guys coming in off a plane and trying to get nine quick holes in and not really ?? but just having fun. I think it shows that golf is very healthy and it's going to continue to grow.

Q: How far do you think this tournament will go in terms of the Player of the Year? If you had to vote today, who would you vote for Player of the Year?

Jeff Sluman:: That's a good question. There's three or four, obviously, really outstanding candidates. But I think the next two weeks will really settle it.

Voting it right now, that's a hard one. Davis has got four wins, but then you've got to take into consideration the guys that have won majors. I mean, a guy ?? you look at a guy like Kenny Perry, if he comes out and wins this week, you throw him into the mix, also. He won great events at Muirfield and Colonial. I think these next two weeks will be really the deciding factor in who.

Usually, it's been the last four years a closed case by the time we got to the PGA who was going to win it, but it's kind of exciting. It's going to be fun to watch and see who really does prevail.

Q: Can you compare your game between now and 15 years ago when you won the PGA the first time? And do you think you would have won another major from that time to now?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, I think my game is as solid. I think I understand it better than I did then, as well I should at this point in my career.

Tee to green, if you statistically look at everything, I'm hitting better, I'm hitting it straighter, I'm hitting it longer. So I feel like in that regard, I certainly have the capability to win another major.

After I won the PGA, did I think I would? Well, they are very hard to grab and to win. But I certainly gave it my best shot every time I teed it up and came close at the U.S. Open and close one time at Masters. So I've certainly got nothing to hang my head about.

Q: You have a reputation, fairly or unfairly, for playing the occasional practical joke. What's been the most satisfying stunt you've ever pulled?

Jeff Sluman:: Maybe the fake lottery ticket on my wife on Christmas Day. Long story, but she thought she hit a pretty big jackpot. That was a good one. It was in front of the whole family, my side and her side. So I thought I might possibly be in trouble because my mother-in-law was there, and she said, "Why didn't you tell me? I would have got a camera to film this." Then I knew I was all right. That was a pretty good one.

JULIUS MASON: Follow-up question was: Where did you sleep that night?

Jeff Sluman:: She got over it after a while. But it was pretty funny, I must admit.

Q: How did you end up at Florida State from up here? Is there a story there at all?

Jeff Sluman:: There's honestly absolutely no story. I played community college up here and after my first year, I had the grand total of one scholarship offer at Tennessee Tech. So I went there and they cancelled the golf program, so I was wondering if I had the black cloud following me. So a friend went down to Florida State on a golf scholarship. It was the first semester, I said, well, that's as good as any, I went down there and walked on. Whether it's University of Florida or Florida southern, probably would have ended up there. There's no real rhyme or reason. I had a good time and learned a lot.

Q: When majors roll around, particularly this year, do you guys still consider Tiger the player to beat or has that changed?

Jeff Sluman:: Oh, absolutely. There's no question. I think if you asked everybody in the field you would probably get about 90 percent response on that. And I think if you beat him every week, or if you beat him a couple times in a major, you're probably going to have a good chance to win that major. So I think he's the man to beat every time he tees it up, as far as I'm concerned.

Q: All things considered, how do you treat this, like a normal week on a normal course? Is that going to be the hardest part for you this week?

Jeff Sluman:: Yeah, that will be a little bit of a difficult task, I would think. But I'm really just going to ?? Craig talked to me earlier and just said: "Go out and really embrace and enjoy the week and have fun and stay relaxed and really, that's the only thing you can do."

I think those are great words of wisdom from him and I'm going to go out and just have a really good time. It's like Rotella said, the less you try, the better you try or the less you try, trying to make a putt, the more putts you are going to make. So don't get too wound up in it. Just enjoy the week, go out and play golf the way you're capable of playing. And sometimes things go very well for you when you do that, and other times, maybe you miss a few here and there, but you've just got to enjoy the experience.

Q: The results from Flint, how much of a boost was that, given the preceding two months?

Jeff Sluman:: You know, like I said, I felt like, and I knew I was playing well tee to green but I just wasn't getting anything done as far as score. So it was very good at Flint to go out and get rewarded for playing some good, solid, tee to green golf. This is a different golf course than Flint, let me tell you, but fairways and greens are really what are going to be the key this week. If I can just keep doing that, I'll be very comfortable every time teeing off.

Q: Of course, a lot has been made of this quote unquote, Tiger slump, because he has not won a major, but is this more of a case of maybe he has played so well for so long that he has elevated the play of other people? We are seeing other guys winning majors that they have had to really step up their games to compete with him?

Jeff Sluman:: Well, I think that's that way in any sport. You get someone that comes along and does something so much better than anybody else, everybody else quickly has to figure out how to get better or, you know, they are on the wayside.

As far as a slump with Tiger, that's just one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Until yesterday, he was still the leading money winner and he won four times. I'll take a slump like that.

Q: Playing at Olympia Fields, the Open, in another kind of hometown crowd, or at least a crowd that was familiar with Jeff Sluman:, what did you take out of that experience coming here to play this week?

Jeff Sluman:: Two different experiences entirely. Obviously, I grew up here. I've played the golf course hundreds of times. Olympia Fields, honestly I had to call the pro shop on Sunday to ask them how to get there. I wasn't very familiar with the golf course. Still had a lot of people pulling for me, of course, but it's quite a bit different here. So kind of hard to parallel them.

Q: Given what this week means to you, have you allowed yourself to daydream just a second, what would be like to win here?

Jeff Sluman:: Not in the least. There's no reason to do that, and I'm just kind of one of those guys that I never really ?? even as a kid, didn't think about things like that. I just went out and try to accomplish the task in front of me, which is to play four solid rounds of golf. You've got a chance going into Sunday, then your mind might wander a little bit, but you can't let it wander out there, because if you do, you're going to be making bogey after bogey.

So I'm pretty much focused on what I have to do. It would be the greatest experience of my life if something like that happened but I'm not really going to think about it too much.

JULIUS MASON: Thanks very much, Jeff.

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