By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
The deepest field in professional golf will duke it out this week at the season's final major championship, the 88th PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club, just outside Chicago.
The last time Medinah played host to, "Glory's Last Shot," was 1999, when Tiger Woods claimed his second major title, edging out then 19-year-old Sergio Garcia. Since then, Woods has continued his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' major championship record total of 18. With his win at Royal Liverpool in the British Open just last month, Woods upped his major total to 11. Garcia, on the other hand, is still in search of that elusive first victory in one of golf's big four.
If you thought the Tiger v. Sergio showdown couldn't be outdone, look no further than the pairings for the first two rounds of this year's edition. The PGA Championship traditionally pairs the winners of the year's first three majors, which means U.S. Open champ Geoff Ogilvy will be joined by Woods and Masters champ/reigning PGA Champ Phil Mickelson.
Nothing like drama right from the word "go."
Before all eyes zoned in on beautiful, lush Medinah Country Club -- which, at 7,561 yards will play as the longest course in major championship history -- we had a chance to sit down for 18 holes of Q&A with PGA Head Professional Mike Scully. Scully, who was a lineman in the NFL for three seasons, explained his unlikely transition to one of the top job's in all of golf.
Scully also talked about following Tiger around for a practice round just two weeks ago and reports that he'll be shocked if Woods plays the way he did in the practice session and doesn't win quite handily.
No. 1 -- You come from a serious football background. You were an offensive lineman who played on the 1984 University of Illinois Rose Bowl team [which lost to UCLA] and you spent three seasons in the NFL with the Washington Redskins and the Kansas City Chiefs. How did you end up in golf?
Scully: I'm thankful to my father. He taught me the game at a young age. Aside from my dad, I'm extremely thankful for Jim Butler. I have a hospitality management background. Jim had an opening in his golf shop down at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla., and hired me. While I was there he talked me into going through the program and taking the player ability test. The rest, as they say, is history.
No. 2 -- Was it difficult to walk away from professional football?
Scully: It was very, very difficult. Football is still a major part of my life. It was very difficult. My lifelong ambition at that time was to play 15 years in the NFL and then retire to play a lot of golf. As it turns out 15 years later, I became a golf professional and I never get to play golf. Walking away was very tough. I went through a stretch from about 1991-1993 that was a hard time in my life.
No. 3 -- You started your career as a golf professional at Forest Country Club in Fort Myers, Fla. What was that experience like?
Scully: I can tell you, the funniest thing was that I was fairly newly married with my first child, Taylor. I went from making decent money playing football to making $18,000 a year as a fourth-assistant pro. I remember meeting with my accountant and he thought I had lost my mind.
But, I learned through Jim Butler and he's a first-class professional. I experienced everything out there and got all my experience to apply here. I worked inside and outside. Everyone tells me I should write a book, "From the Bag-Room to the Boardroom"
No. 4 -- How did the opportunity to become the head professional at Medinah come about?
Scully: There are a couple of things that went my way. Obviously, destiny came into play a little. I came up to Medinah in 2002 and got a chance to speak to the membership, trying to sell them on winter memberships down at Forest Country Club.
When I was at Forest, I had one clause in my contract that said I would only leave if the Medinah job ever became available. I was lucky to have had four past presidents at Medinah as members at the Forest.
Hopefully the hard work I did at Forest showed through to these gentlemen. One of them said he'd walk me to the door, but I had to sell myself once I got there. I told them if I was fortunate enough to be their candidate at Medinah, they wouldn't have to make a decision like this for another 25 years, because I want to get old and gray here.
No. 5 -- From what I understand, you were among 600 applicants for the position at Medinah. What do you think separated you from those hundreds of other applicants?
Scully: Obviously there were people that helped get me to the door. I have a passion for this facility and the job. At the time, Bill Kamm was the president of the club. Even now he teases me about something that was said at the interview. I told him that day that I would always work hard for him, while I shook his hand and looked him straight in the eyes. He jokes now that it was like that scene from the Tom Cruise movie Jerry Maguire, "You had me at hello," he jokes. But, he's become a very good friend and mentor.
No. 6 -- Having grown up in Illinois, what does it mean to you to be the head professional at arguably the state's premiere course?
Scully: It's ironic. I knew how big this facility is and the reputation it has, but I didn't realize the perception it has nationally. It's an honor when I go places throughout the country to be introduced as the head professional at Medinah Country Club. It's an honor and a privilege. I'm excited every morning for that quarter-mile drive from the entrance to the clubhouse. It's cool.
No. 7 -- What has been your most rewarding experience in sports, be it as a football player or a golf professional?
Scully: I was fortunate enough to make it and reach the pinnacle as a football player, which means a lot to me. With being a golf professional as a second career, I feel I reached the pinnacle here as well. I'm enjoying this one more, because that little, white ball doesn't hit back. I'm where I want to be now. It's just a matter of continuing to work hard and be consistent.
No. 8 -- You're new to this. Can you talk about what the experience of preparing for a major championship has been like?
Scully: It's been incredible. As the head professional at Medinah and the situation we're under here, I know it's been an inconvenience to the membership squeezing a five-month season into two months. The event has been something new. Hopefully I'll be here in 2012 for the Ryder Cup, because I'll be a little more prepared for all this.
I've enjoyed working with the PGA of America. It's been a true partnership. Before my eyes I've watched a little city built here for this tournament. I understated exactly what the give up for the membership was going to be. We have tents on every piece of the property. I think in 2012 I'll be much better prepared. The PGA has done first class job and the members have been wonderful and understanding.
No. 9 -- If your assistant professional, Brad Conklin, had a vote you'd probably be awarded, "Boss of the Year." A couple weeks back you called Brad and asked him if he'd like to caddy for a Tour pro, who would be playing a practice round at Medinah. Lo and behold, that pro happened to be Tiger Woods. What made you choose Brad and did you have any idea how excited that would make him?
Scully: I'm on the Nike staff, as is Brad. My daughter teases me that Brad is the son I never had. I've known him since he was a snot-nosed little kid at the Forest. His parents were members. He would walk into the shop and say, "Mr. Scully, can I use your driver?"
Then, he wanted to become a professional. I hired him down there as an assistant. Then I brought him here and he's become a great assistant. As far as caddying for Tiger goes, you have to realize that Brad is the biggest Tiger fan on the planet. He's practically a stalker.
When I got the call that Tiger was coming, but Stevie [Williams, his caddie] wouldn't be and heard he needed a caddie there was only one person on my mind -- Brad.
I've been teasing Brad that he'll be getting married soon and although I might not be the best man at his wedding, I'll be at the wedding. When he gets up to give his speech, I'll be sitting there as he tells his wife, "Honey, this is the second-best day of my life." Then he's going to point to my table and say, "Mike Scully knows what the first is."
When Tiger came for the practice round that was the first time I'd met him. He's the best player in the world and a first-class man. He's had such an impact on the game and I saw right in front of me the impact he had on a 25-year-old man. I could ask Brad to clean every toilet drain on the course for the next year with a toothbrush and he'd do it gladly.
No. 10 -- Medinah is going to play as the longest course in major championship history at a whopping 7,561 yards. At Royal Liverpool a few weeks back, Tiger hit irons off the tees pretty much all week. Is it safe to say that probably won't be the case this week?
Scully: Watching Tiger in the practice round, he took 2-iron out of bag. Out of 14 opportunities, he hit driver I think eight times. He hit a couple of three and five woods that were incredible. He's a tremendous thinker. Even though this is the longest course, I still think shotmaking and club choice will be critical. I saw Tiger do it and Phil Mickelson did it on the fourth of July in a practice round that I played with him.
No. 11 -- With the length, is it safe to say only the bombers really have a chance?
Scully: Length will be an advantage, but you saw Mike Weir up there in 1999. It's a championship where I think Jim Furyk will play well Chris DiMarco will play well. And the young man who has been here the most is Luke Donald. He had the course record. It meets his eye. Those are mid-range hitters. Rich Beem has been here a few times too, and he's not a noted long driver. Vijay will play well. But I'll tell you, after watching Tiger in that practice round, if he has his A-game, second place will be something for the rest of those guys to shoot for. He had it all.
No. 12 -- What is it that you enjoy most about working at Medinah?
Scully: I think the people we have come in the doors. We have a dynamic membership, it makes it truly unique. Our clubhouse is an awesome place.
No. 13 -- With all the preparation you and your staff have put in, are you itching to get this tournament started?
Scully: Absolutely. I joke with my kids -- that's what I call my assistants -- that the circus is in town and the animals are on the way. When I interviewed in late 2003 they said the PGA would be here in 2006. It's gone by so fast, but I'm glad it's here.
No. 14 -- What's your favorite hole out there and why?
Scully: My favorite hole is No. 16. That's the Sergio-tree hole. It makes you hit a good tee shot to a tight location. It's a challenging par 4 and will have an impact on who wins come Sunday.
No. 15 -- If you could predict one set of holes that will cause players the biggest problem, which would they be?
Scully: I think Nos. 12-16. You've got 12 and 16 being two par 4s that could be on any course in the world. No. 14 is a 605-yard par 5 and No. 13 is a 244-yard par 3. The championship will be won or lost on those holes. If someone can play through those holes under par, that would be pretty dynamic.
No. 16 -- By virtue of his fourth-place finish at the 39th PGA Professional National Championship in June, University of Illinois golf coach -- and 2005 National Champion -- Mike Small is in the field at Medinah. How special do you think it will be for Small to tee it up in a major championship on home soil? Do you talk to him much?
Scully: I have talked to him a bunch. I'm a University of Illinois guy and I think it's fantastic. He's excited. He came out about five weeks ago and loved it. I'm anxious to see how he plays. He's a great husband, a great father and a great guy. I'll be rooting for him. You root for good people and that's what he is
No. 17 -- In 1999, before you got there, Tiger had that epic showdown with Sergio Garcia. That was probably as exciting as golf gets. What would have to happen this week to top that?
Scully: Well, we're getting a great start. With the pairings at the PGA for the first two rounds, Tiger and Phil will be playing together.
No. 18 -- Finally, I'm sure it must be pretty special to be the head professional at the venue of your Association's No. 1 event. Can you talk about your feelings on that, since you're surely the envy of your fellow PGA Professionals around the country?
Scully: I think it's been an honor and a privilege to be the host professional for the premiere event of what I believe is the best association in the world. I've enjoyed meeting all the officers and I have a much stronger appreciation for what they do for us. We love the game of golf and put in ungodly hours to hopefully help grow the game.
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