By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
There’s a lot that goes into setting up a major championship. Perhaps no one knows that better than Whistling Straits PGA Head Professional Mike O’Reilly. O’Reilly was the first assistant when the 2004 PGA Championship was played at Whistling Straits. Before Glory’s Last Shot tees off on Thursday, PGA.com caught up with O’Reilly for a little Q&A.
PGA.com: Thanks for joining us, Mike. So much time goes into the planning and preparing to host a prestigious event like a PGA Championship. Now that it’s finally here, what is that feeling like?
O’Reilly: It’s amazing. I think back two years ago when the PGA staff started getting here and we started building the organizational charts to see who was going to be responsible for what and, a couple of more months go by and you meet, do this and do that, now it’s here. PGA Championship week is upon us. It’s going really well so far, so we’re very excited.
PGA.com: When Vijay Singh won here in 2004, you were the first assistant. Did that experience help you at all – at least as far as knowing what to expect – to host the world’s best players on the grandest stage in golf this time around as the Head Professional?
O’Reilly: It absolutely helped. I came in and started my position in April of 2004 as the first assistant, so a lot of the pre-work was already done. I got to see the execution of the event and I was very involved in some of the different volunteer committees and things like that, but I didn’t really get to see it from start to finish.
I got an idea of what to expect when we hosted the 2007 U.S. Senior Open. That was the first time I really saw a major event from start to finish. This time around is really special since I’m seeing one of the big four events – one of the majors on the PGA Tour – from start to finish. Of course 2004 was a good experience for me, but this time around I got the full flavor.PGA.com: For an event like this, what are your duties as the PGA Head Professional? Obviously you’re not out there on the driving range giving lessons.
I’m responsible for a lot of the volunteer committees – the ones related to player services and the administration of volunteers. As an example, for the players we provide transportation services, we provide locker room services, accommodations if they’re looking for private rental homes, things like that, to make the experience for the player the best that we can possibly make it.
Our staff, and my first assistant Michael Aschenbach, he oversees the locker room. So his staff is in the locker room right now taking care of the players with anything that they would need – shoes, things like that. Our staff is also on the driving range, also managing the cart barn, so kind of managing some of the operational aspects of the tournament as well.PGA.com: What’s your favorite aspect of your job? Is it hosting an event of this magnitude? Or is it the day-in and day-out tasks you perform during a normal week?
I’d say it’s a little of both. It’s exciting to be able to do a lot of different things. Throughout a year like this leading up to a major championship, 25 percent of my time is spent on the lesson tee, 25 percent of my time is spent working and preparing for a major championship like this and the other 50 percent is spent managing our daily operations. It’s a good mix of everything.
Obviously, in a week like this, we’re 100 percent focused on the PGA Championship. After this, it will obviously taper back to a little more instruction, a little more managing the operations. But, it’s a good mix. I think a lot of places you can get worn on doing one job with a few different tasks all year long. Here I’m pretty lucky to keep things fresh. PGA.com: Final question, Mike. For someone like you who gets to see Whistling Straits throughout the year – and someone who has played it countless times – you can appreciate how difficult the course is. With that said, what goes through your mind when you see the way the world’s best players get around the course?
It’s pretty amazing to watch these guys hit shots. I do play a lot of times throughout each year. To see the lines that they play – and I consider myself to be a pretty darn good golfer – the lines that I play are a lot different. They hit it so far and high, so it’s amazing to watch them play the golf course.
It’s still going to be very difficult for someone who doesn’t hit the fairway. I’ve said it many times myself and I’ve heard a lot of the broadcasters talk about it – if you don’t hit the fairway on this golf course, you’re not just looking at a bogey, you could be looking at a double or a triple bogey. A player who hits the fairway off the tee consistently this week is going to do pretty well. The greens are large, so they can hit the greens, but you’ve got to be able to hit some good lag putts as well. That’s important. But, the No. 1 thing is hitting the fairways.