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An Interview With: Hal Sutton

JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Hal Sutton, 2004 United States Ryder Cup Captain, joining us at the 86th PGA Championship.

Hal, welcome to Wisconsin, Whistling Straits. How about some opening thoughts about being here and we'll go to Q & A, please.

HAL SUTTON: I'm excited to be here. I'm going to knock off a little early today and hug on my children; they are much warmer than it is outside.

What an imagination Pete Dye used here. I don't know that there would be any way any of us could use that kind of imagination. I'm excited about the golf course. I think it's going to take a complete player to be the champion at this venue. Herb Kohler's vision here is to be applauded, the whole setup of this whole area is spectacular, and we have an extremely tough golf course and the conditions could make it even tougher.

Q. You had mentioned a couple of weeks ago after the Buick, Jerry Kelly in particular, about how he and Jim Furyk had driven to the course where the Ryder Cup will be played in a driving rain storm in that mentality. Jerry has talked about his mentality seems to work for match?play. Can you comment on what you see in Jerry that might make him a strong player for Ryder Cup competition and how that will come into play if he, in fact, has to be a captain's pick to make the team?

HAL SUTTON: Well, you know, Jerry likes to think of himself as a fighter, and, you know, I see a lot of fight in Jerry. I liked his comments in the paper where he said that he felt like 11th was even a better position than being in 10th because he had something he had to go for.

The truth is, every day that we play golf, we have something that we have to go for; we can't protect it. You know, my advice to everybody that is outside that top 10 and to those that are in probably eighth, ninth and tenth, is you'd better go after it this week because there's a bunch of guys right behind you that are going to be going after it.

I don't want to single any one player out on who I might pick, but we want people that finish strongly.

Q. Everyone is obviously very excited about this thing. The players, it doesn't really make them any money, but it's important for them to make this team. Why do you think it's so important to the players to be on this team?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I've said it for a long time; I thought it was one of the last true barometers of success. So many things have changed in the game around us. The equipment has changed, the golf courses are changing. Used to be you'd be able to compare yourself against Ben Hogan at Augusta National before they made all the changes. Well, now they have made all the changes and Ben Hogan played a different golf course than we played.

But the way the points have been compiled for years and years and the way the Ryder Cup has been played, it's still the same. So it's a way to parallel your career to somebody in the past, if you will. Some guys, it's been important to make the Ryder Cup team. The Ryder Cup started elevating itself -- unfortunately I have to say that I was on the two teams -- well, actually '83, I was really not on that team. That was the year the Europeans actually said, "Hey, we might be able to beat these guys," and starting in '85, they did start beating us. I was on the '85 and '87.

It's been a tough-fought battle for both sides ever since that point.

The world has embraced the Ryder Cup. They look forward to the Ryder Cup. The players, likewise, look forward to it. They gear up for it. If you watch, I've obviously watched for many reasons this year, which most are obvious, you watch what guys do coming down the stretch. You can tell that it means a lot to them. Some guys perform better under that pressure, some guys perform worse.

I had a conversation with Steve Jones, who is one of my assistants, the other day. He made this statement to me: He says, "I was on the bubble in '95 with Tom Kite's team," and he said, "I did not play well the last six months because I kept thinking, 'I've got to score points, I've got to score points.'" He said, "I told my wife, Bonnie, 'as soon as it's over with, I feel like the freedom will release me and I'll win,'" and he won the Canadian Open right after that because he felt like the pressure relieved itself.

That's one example of what one player felt under the gun like this. So there's a lot of guys that are going to tee it up this week. There are two things going on in their mind. There is the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits that everybody would feather their cap by winning this tournament, but the other side of the coin is there's guys that really want to make this Ryder Cup Team and be part of the American squad that goes out, and that's a tournament within itself.

Q. You've had several looks at Oakland Hills now; you've been there quite a lot. Has your impression of how the course is going to play changed, and do you believe in horses for courses?

HAL SUTTON: I definitely believe that certain guys' games fit certain golf courses, and if you watch guys that have played out here for quite a few years, they will play the golf courses that tend to favor their game.

My impression of Oakland Hills is different than what my first impression was. My first impression of Oakland Hills was in 1985, and I thought it was absolutely the hardest venue that I had ever seen for a major championship, and one of the reasons why I thought it was is because it was one of the longer golf courses; at the time I thought so because the ball didn't go as far as it's going now. Secondly, the greens are so undulating.

Now that I've played it quite a few times, the length is not the factor that I thought it was. But you've still got to drive it in the fairway because you have got to put your irons below the hole. So I think accuracy and being a good iron player, and then obviously, you've got to be a good putter to close the deal. That's what I think is important at Oakland Hills.

Q. Given the potential severity of this golf course, how much will you read into those players, 8 through 15, 16, their performance here in perhaps formulating your captain's picks?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I think this golf course is going to test a lot of things. I think it's going to test their talent level. I think it's going to test their patience level. I think it's going to test their mental tenacity.

I mean, really, I'm excited that we are playing this golf course this week because I think it's going to be a true test of what champions are made out of it. I applaud the PGA for picking Whistling Straits. I think that was a little bit of a branch of what everybody considered the norm, but after we got up here and we've seen it, my hat's off. I think it's going to be a great championship.

Q. The Ryder Cup, a home advantage under the circumstances, and the circumstances under which it isn't an advantage at all, or is it always an advantage?

HAL SUTTON: I think it's got to be a little bit of an advantage. I think when you're playing in front of people that you know, friends, comfortable settings, you're familiar with -- I mean, every time you good into a different country, the food is even different. These are familiar settings to the American players, playing here, so it has to be some sort of advantage.

Q. There used to be a notion in the past that a first-time player had to automatically qualify his way onto the first team. Is that obsolete now, especially how well Scott played as a first-time captain's pick?

HAL SUTTON: I've said this many times. I think 20 years ago, guys were unaware of the pressure that was involved to a certain extent, but they knew they were supposed to feel pressure, so they were overcome with it.

Today, the young kids that play the game, they come out there, and all they want to know is where the first tee is and what the course record is, and oh, by the way, I don't care who I'm playing with. That's kind of the attitude of the younger players today. I think there's a lot of reasons for that.

Junior golf has got bigger and it's spread its wings, and it's gone to all four corners of the world basically. You can play all over the world. You can certainly play all over North America.

Secondly, you go into college, and it's spread its wings; it's very competitive. They play all across North America.

And then when they get to the PGA TOUR, they are very seasoned. They show it.

Q. It seems like there's been a ground swell of support for John Daly and how he's played recently. In your mind, how do you weigh the positives of John Daly with maybe some of the negatives that he brings along?

HAL SUTTON: You know, I treat John Daly just like I treat everybody else that's on that list. Some of the officers are sitting right up here in the front row that asked me to be the Ryder Cup Captain, and they mentioned one word to me that was very important to me. They said they'd like to win. Imagine that (laughter).

So whenever I look down the list of the 25 names that I see here, ten will be automatic, and the two that I pick will be the two guys that I feel like can help us win the Ryder Cup.

So, you know, I'm looking at all angles, and I know you mentioned positive and negatives, and everybody has those, not just John Daly. Everybody has things they bring to the table and things that we wish we had that we don't bring to the table.

Monday morning, we'll know how this is all going to play out.

Q. Outside of his golf, what positive what negatives do you think John brings?

HAL SUTTON: Oh, you really want to go specifics, huh (laughter)?

John's short game is much better than anybody ever gives him credit for. John's length is not going to be that big of a factor at Oakland Hills. I mean, if you think his length is going to be a real factor, I don't see that being the case.

You know, one of the things that I've been looking at, I look at a lot of stats. I've spent last two weeks looking at stats. I'm going to give you some stats and let you go look them up instead of me go looking them up, okay.

There is three par 5s at Oakland Hills. There's more par 3s and more par 4s than there is anything else. And go look at everybody's stats for par 3s and par 4s for the year. You'll find out what I think is important and what's not important.

Q. You kind of answered the question about what factors that might not be obvious to the general person like a stat like that. Are there other things that you've learned over the course of your captaincy that have emerged as factors that going into it you didn't think were in terms of who you may pick?

HAL SUTTON: What time's the next press conference? We might run over time here (laughter).

I've learned a lot of things. I said yesterday on the practice tee -- and I hope everybody caught what I said. I want to give Curtis Strange a special appreciation as a player underneath him, because if something happened today and they came to me and said, hey, we are going to put this off for another year and you're going to go through this again, I'd say, oh, you've got to be kidding me.

But, you know, I don't think any captain ever comes into this realizing exactly what's in front of him. Especially if he takes pride, and I don't want to use the word ownership wrong, there's no such thing as ownership in this, but everybody wants to do a good job, I think. They want to be respected by their peers and respected by the people that thought that they were worthy of the honor.

As time wore on, I knew the knew the significance of this and I knew how much harder it was going to be, and I knew that whenever I had to make the telephone calls on Sunday night that I was going to make two guys happy and several guys unhappy.

I guess the last thing that I want to say on this, there's so many things I won't even touch on, but one thing they'll touch on, but in order to go accomplish a goal, we have to be mature and we have to be respectful and we have to understand the other person's needs. The truth of the matter; we need to all be big boys, and I'm going to ask everybody that's in the top 25 to be big boys. Let's be grown men about this and let's look at what our mission is really about and let's go with it. That's the way I'm approaching it.

Q. Do you come to Whistling Straits with a pecking order in mind, and if so, how much does a particularly outstanding or a poor performance this week move a player up or down?

HAL SUTTON: Well, okay, between 8th and 14th, there is 31 points difference -- 29 points difference. I mean, that's not very many points there. So we may see some jockeying around from eighth to 14th here.

I'm not looking at any particular pecking order. I tell you what, this may or may not mean anything to anybody, but I'm looking at the way a guy finishes; the last, 16, 17th and 18th hole has a great deal to do with what will happen in a match.

I mean, I know in particular, one team that I was on, if we could have just played the 18th hole, the outcome of that match would have been a lot different. 1987 at Muirfield, we lost the 18th hole, practically everybody that played it. We don't play 17 holes in a game of golf; we play 18 holes. So I like the way Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas finished last week, as a matter of fact -- I'm sorry, Stewart Cink and Jay Haas.

Q. As far as the closing stretch of holes, 15, 16, 17, 18 on this course, do you feel that is where the tournament could be won or lost, and if not, is there a section that you think may be the toughest?

HAL SUTTON: I think that's a real tough stretch of holes, there's no doubt about it. I don't know where you could have found a 17th and an 18th hole that's going to be any tougher than you're going to find here. I mean, the 17th hole, if you miss that green on the wrong side right there, we all wish it was water over there (laughter).

It might take three or four shots to get back up to green level. So, yeah, that's a tough stretch. That probably -- you won't win this tournament without getting through that stretch, I can tell you that.

Q. After the U.S. Open, the list didn't change very much one through ten until the Buick and over the last few weeks there's been some jockeying at the bottom. Can you talk about how you felt over the summer not seeing anybody really step up and all of a sudden seeing those changes happen over the last two weeks?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I think that happens. That can happen more than it has happened.

The guys that played pretty well, that built up enough lead that regardless of what they did, it didn't change -- one of the guys, I'll pick out Chad Campbell's name, he played very well for a while and has not played quite as well right now. He's one of these guys that can come on strong today; that's just how good his game is. I've love to see Chad play well here this week. I think Chad has got a very bright future in this game, and he's somebody to be reckoned with for a long time.

But he had a big enough lead, he didn't have to worry about not playing very well.

It has changed a little bit the last few weeks. Didn't we all expect that? I did expect that. It could really change a lot, and that's why I brought up the fact there was only 29 points separating six guys. It could change a lot this week. I would say -- I'm stepping on a limb; Julius, you and I haven't even talked about this, but I think Chad Campbell is pretty rock solid, isn't he?

JULIUS MASON: Mathematically, no. But if you're rolling the dice, yes.

HAL SUTTON: Mathematically, no. Okay (laughter). Looks pretty good to me. If I'm Chad Campbell, I'm thinking it looks pretty good.

Q. The last month or so, there's been a couple of players, even before the points have shaken out, that have been vocal on the system, almost like they are getting the shaft because of finishing 11th to 20th. Am I wrong in assuming that that probably doesn't sit too well with you, considering they could go out and win a golf tournament?

HAL SUTTON: I talk to him quite often. He's a Shreveport paper (laughter).

No, you're not wrong in assuming that. We're all looking for comfort in the area that we are, wherever we're at. I think those guys that are saying that are probably figuring out a way that they might be getting some points for probably not finishing where they should be.

The system has worked great for a long time. It's put the best players in the world on the Ryder Cup Team. I don't think the system needs to be revamped. The PGA is always looking at ways to improve whatever their product, and my advice, much like Jim Colbert's, was many years ago, if you want something, then play better. The practice tee is right out there, putting green is right over there, first tee is right over here.

Q. With Bernhard Langer being one of the towering figures in Ryder Cup history, are you at all intimidated having to go up against him as a captain, and do you expect any kind of gamesmanship from Langer, anything that you might have to be cautious about when making your decisions as far as format and so forth?

HAL SUTTON: I'm not the least bit intimidated by Bernhard. He's a good friend. He's a great competitor, great champion. I don't anticipate anything gamesmanship?wise. I think that was your word, not mine.

I think we are going to have a great championship. He'd better be as concerned about me as I ever would be about him (laughter).

Q. Today Bernhard said, when asked what size of a role a captain plays on the team, he said he didn't think a very big part, that the players play The Matches. What do you feel your role is as a captain during The Matches?

HAL SUTTON: I think that the role of the captain is overstated the week of The Matches. I think there's an awful lot going into The Matches. I think there's a lot of preparation. I said in LA last week that I felt like decisiveness was going to be an important part of being a good captain. I think that in order to be decisive, you have to have done your homework prior to it, which makes it quite a bit easier.

So it makes your role maybe not as substantial the week of because you've already made your mind up what you're going to do.

But the truth of it is, the nuts and bolts of whether someone wins or loses the Ryder Cup will be if the 12 guys that make that team play well that week. If they don't, nothing a captain can do will make up for that. If they do, I probably couldn't do anything to get in their way to keep them from winning it. Does that make sense?

I mean, these guys are champions. They know what to do. They have won, and they will win again.

So, all I can tell you is, I don't know what my role is in terms of importance. I will tell you that I'll be prepared, I've taken the last three months off, basically, and haven't played golf in order to be prepared. I'll be prepared. I'll make decisions and I'll be decisive about them, and then I'm going to let the 12 great champions that the United States fields, I'm going to let them go do their job.

Q. Somewhat related to that, of the guys that are pretty much locked into spots, how much thought have you given to combinations as far as two?ball partners, four?ball partners, and how much are you a believer in the fact that personalities need to mesh well in order to play well, or is that sort of irrelevant?

HAL SUTTON: I'm giving it a lot of thought to who might mesh well together. I've already got several things in mind, and I don't think personalities play as big a part in it as maybe some things do. I think sometimes being comfortable with one another can be a detriment. Sometimes maybe if you aren't so comfortable with one another, that can be a positive.

Q. Care to share your possible combinations?

HAL SUTTON: No.

Q. Just trying.

HAL SUTTON: I knew. I knew you were just trying. That will all unfold in six weeks, right?

Q. On the subject of finishing and getting the job done, since May 30th when David Toms won, Americans have only won two PGA TOUR events out of eight or nine, and those were on the same weekends, Jonathan Byrd and Todd Hamilton. Are you concerned that more Americans have not won in the last two months?

HAL SUTTON: Not really. I'm not really that concerned. I mean, this is not going to be the performance of one single guy or anything else. It's going to be a combination of a lot of guys. You know, the truth is, this used to be an American tour. This is a worldwide tour now. You know, each week that we play -- I don't know what the stats on this are, but we could get them if they would be important, there's 50 or 60 foreign players every week we play an event, and usually it's the 50 or 60 foreign guys that want to come over here and play. We basically have a worldwide tour right here in the United States.

It's not surprising to me that less Americans are winning each week, and I don't think it's going to hurt our team, no.

Q. I know that you've obviously spent most of your time thinking about your team, but in the moments when you haven't been thinking about your team, have you thought why it is that the Europeans generally seem to, as it were, fight above their weight in this competition? Can you put your finger on anything?

HAL SUTTON: We're reinventing the wheel here. Everybody always speculates as to why, to coin your phrase, the Europeans fight above their weight, and why the Americans look like heavyweights and fight like featherweights, basically.

Q. You said that, not me.

HAL SUTTON: I'm using your words here, basically.

Q. Wish I had said that (laughter).

HAL SUTTON: Here's the real truth in this: The Americans are independent contractors going in different directions all across North America at the end of every week. We have our families with us most of the time. We work hard on the golf course during the day, we leave the golf course at the end of the day, we go home, we spend the evening with our family.

Now, if we were foreigners, if we were playing the Open Championship, I know y'all like to call it the Open Championship, so I did that out of respect to you (laughter). If we were playing the Open Championship, we would be going over there without our families, we'd probably be going to dinner with our friends, which would be other American players, and we'd be talking about upcoming events.

Now, that is the European players coming over here. They come over here, they go to dinner with each other, they socialize with others because that is their friends.

In the past, the Americans have been held to task because that has been our role in life; that's what we do. Well, that is our family life, that is what we do every day. It's always been the captain's challenge to change that course and to unite this team. We don't have very long to do it.

The truth of the matter; this will be solved by who plays the best golf at Oakland Hills September 17 through 19th. If the Americans do, the Americans win, and if the Europeans do, the Europeans win. At the end of the week, we'll all assume the team that won united and played like a team.

So, I can't answer that question; it's reinventing the wheel. You can come up with something better than I can, surely.

Q. Wonder if you could just address when Bernhard Langer was in here, he was talking about preparing his team for, his words, a hostile environment. Since the war at The Shore and Brookline and obviously the events of 9/11, people have speculated on what the next Ryder Cup in the U.S. might be like. I want to get your feelings on what you expect from the crowd at Oakland Hills during the tournament.

HAL SUTTON: I expect the crowd to be perfect gentlemen and ladies. I hope everybody is very respectful of all good shots played and even more respectful of a shot that was less than desirable. Every bad shot that I've ever hit in my life, I certainly didn't want to hit it, and I certainly didn't want anybody to exploit the fact that I hit it.

You know, this is a gentleman's game, and I hope that this is where this goes September 17-19. I'm sure that's where it will go.

I'm sorry that Bernhard suggested that there was going to be a hostile crowd, or if he insinuated that, because I think the in the world we are living in right now, we need to be anything but hostile.

Q. Do you have any plans to take the team to Oakland Hills on Monday for a practice round or at any point before the tournament?

HAL SUTTON: I do not have any plans to do that. Some guys have already been in there. I didn't feel the need for that. These guys have played Oakland Hills quite a few times. We will have ample time to prepare for that event. At the Country Club, when we went to play in Boston up there, we did go up there the one time, but the Country Club, I think there have been less guys that have ever played the Country Club.

Oakland Hills, it's kind of been on everybody's radar screen for a long time. Once you became a professional and you got in the Detroit area, you wanted to play Oakland Hills. You know, we've seen it on TV many times; it's been the site of many major championships.

We have not talked about that today. The venue at Oakland Hills is going to be spectacular. I mean, the 18th hole, the 9th hole, the backdrop of the clubhouse there, I don't know if it gets any better than Oakland Hills, really.

JULIUS MASON: Hal Sutton, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much.

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