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An Interview With: Scott Verplank

JULIUS MASON: Scott Verplank, ladies and gentlemen, joining us in moonlight at 5-under in the clubhouse.

Scott, some comments on your round today, we'll go through your card and we'll go to Q&A.

SCOTT VERPLANK: I'm very pleased starting off with a nice, solid round. I made some good putts. I just had a couple of mistakes where I made bogeys where I probably shouldn't have. You know, that happens on a golf course that you don't -- you're not totally familiar with, and the wind direction has been kind of changing course every day since I've been here. You're always having to adjust your lines a little bit.

That's kind of what happened on 9. I thought I hit a pretty nice tee shot, in the fairway, and I was actually in the right rough. I just misjudged how it was going to come out of the rough and made bogey.

JULIUS MASON: Let's talk about your birdies and bogeys.

SCOTT VERPLANK: I started on No. 10 and I hit a nice pitching wedge about ten feet, made it.

11, I hit a pitching wedge probably close to 15 feet.

Then I hit it in a fairway bunker on 14 and really could hardly -- just was trying to get it to the front of the green and I got it up near the front and didn't get up-and-down. Not a very good bogey, really.

The next hole, I hit it up by the green in two and chipped it about six, seven feet and made it.

No. 2, I was pin-high in two and chipped it up about five feet.

No. 3, I hit it about five feet.

No. 5, I hit it about, oh, an inch with an L-wedge. I had laid it up perfect 60 yards from the hole. So that was a good length.

No. 8, I hit a nice 5-iron about three feet right behind the hole and made it.

And then No. 9, I just misjudged how to play the hole.

Q. Were there any surprises out there today? The players that have come in, and the players coming in have said that they thought it was more than fair; the greens were soft and it was a little, I don't want to use the word easier, but set up a little fairer today.

SCOTT VERPLANK: Yeah, it was fair. I mean, I think any time you have guys shooting 7-under, they are going to say it's really fair (laughter).

You know, I was surprised in a good way that they actually paid attention to the wind and moved some of the tees up.

Now, the problem with, I guess, modern golf is from the very back tee to the next tee is 40 or 50 yards. It ought to be 15 or 20 yards, but everybody thinks you need -- to go from the regular men's tee, you have to go back another 50 or 60 yards for us to play. That was a good example of if there was a tee in between where we played, it would have been about right.

I'm not complaining. I hope we play up there all week. I don't think we will, though.

Q. With your round today, do you feel that this is really putting you in a good position to lock up your Ryder Cup spot? If not even through qualifying, at least through showing Hal that you're going to finish strong?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Maybe (laughing) -- no. My goal is to make it on points, and to play well here. My real goal is to give myself to a chance to win this golf tournament, and the Ryder Cup will take care of itself.

It's in the back of my mind. It's been in the back of my mind for two years, since the last one was over with. So, I'm not really thinking about it a whole lot more this week. I'd rather give myself every opportunity to play well and have a chance to win this golf tournament, and then we'll worry about the Ryder Cup in a few weeks.

Q. Congratulations on your rounds, first of all. We talked about your birdies, but one of your pars that almost went in was 17. Tell us about your mindset when you approached that hole and how you played it.

SCOTT VERPLANK: Well, unfortunately, today it was kind of downwind, that just makes it a lot shorter club, and I hit a beautiful shot there and aimed it right where I thought I needed to and it just released. The wind was blowing pretty hard on that tee. It's a hole where, at least with me, I think I've got to -- I want to play it pretty conservatively. I'm going to play it out to the right if I have to a little bit more.

You know, Pete Dye is somewhat of a genius, you know. He kind of puts that big bunker up there in that big thing and it's like all you can see, and there's actually -- it's actually almost the line you want to hit it on. Pete's really good at getting in your head before you hit the shot. I think he's pretty successful at that.

Q. Why is it that it seems the last several years of majors that we come to certain courses and there's gloom and doom Monday through Wednesday and over par might win the tournament, and we open up and there's 65s and 68s. Are we just underrating you guys?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Oh, definitely (laughter).

Q. Oh, or what?

SCOTT VERPLANK: You have no idea.

I think that the golf -- for one thing, the golf course is in such great shape, the conditions are perfect. Now, you know, you can have some real problems if you get it off line here. Kind of like the 17th hole, if you hit it down there to the left, you might need -- I don't even know what you might need. You might need a miner's hat and a pick and a shovel to get out of there. You have to play conservatively on some holes, and some holes you can go at it.

I think playing the golf course a little shorter today, and like I said, the greens are so good, that they are really good where you can get a nice feel for them and get it rolling.

Q. Having played the course on Monday and Tuesday, if somebody showed you a printout of the first page of the leaderboard Thursday, what would you have said?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Well if they showed me my score, I would have said, "Damn, I'm kicking their ass." (Laughter.) Excuse my language, sorry.

I came in here and played nine holes Sunday with the south wind. Played the back nine, like the 15th hole was unreachable. Me and Dudley Hart and Briny Baird played, and I'm not long and they are mediocre, we are all hitting 3-wood at the green and could not get there.

16 and 17 would have been a wood, but even in the practice round, I didn't have big enough guts to hit a wood; I just kind of hit it right on the front edge with a 3-iron. And then the other days, the wind has kind of been quartering around. It's done about a 270. It has not quite made the 360 yet.

Yeah, I'm a little surprised these scores are as good as they are. But like I said, if you keep the ball in front of you, keep it on the beautifully-manicured fairways and greens, then you can play out here. If you start getting into the stuff where you can twist your ankle, then you're going to have a real problem.

Q. Were you among the players who felt like this might be the toughest golf course that you had ever seen? Darren Clarke expressed that on Monday or Tuesday. Was that your sentiment, as well?

SCOTT VERPLANK: In the conditions we're playing in in the practice rounds, yes. You know, in a practice round, you come out here and nobody is playing the up tees. Everybody is playing the back of all back tees. When you play a hole like No. 18, you hit a really good drive and a really good 3-wood, you can trickle it on the front edge and you're still 70 yards from the hole. I'm thinking, that's pretty hard. It is pretty hard.

Fortunately, they have taken that into consideration. The 18th hole is a second shot and then whatever-happens-to-you-up-around-the-green kind of hole. I think that hopefully they will use their head on that hole because that could really be -- if you're hitting 3-wood in there, it's probably not a great finishing hole.

Q. Since you played in the Ryder Cup last time, how much of a motivation has that been for you this season and particularly down the stretch here trying to qualify?

SCOTT VERPLANK: Well, it's a motivation. Like I said, you get in the fire there and you either melt or you embrace it. To be honest with you, I loved it. As soon as that was over with, I said, well, I've got to do that again. So I'm doing everything I can do to get there. I haven't played as much as some of the other guys, but a good finish this week and I'll get there on points.

Q. When conditions get really extreme like they did on the weekend at Shinnecock, the players are very universal in their condemnation of it and of the setup of the golf course and the severity. If it swings the other direction, not to say that's the case, but if it swings in the other direction in a major, should they not be equally vocal in that circumstance?

SCOTT VERPLANK: What do you mean, too easy?

Q. Yeah.

SCOTT VERPLANK: Well, I guess. Do you want someone to come and beat you upside the head with a hammer if you did something good? Like I said, guys shoot 7-under, they are thinking, hell, this is really fair. You're using the final round at Shinnecock Hills, was the most extreme example of not knowing what you're doing.

So then the British Open, they did a tremendous job. The golf course played as easy as it could play, and 10-under won, but what's wrong with 10-under? It was a heck of a tournament. Not that many guys broke par.

So here, I think about the time this is over, I don't think the scores are going to be all that low is what I'm saying, but they are not going to have to do something completely idiotic like the USGA did.

You want to know how I really feel? (Laughter.)

JULIUS MASON: Thanks very much, Scott.

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