ESPN golf analysts Andy North, Curtis Strange and Paul Azinger participated in a media conference call today to discuss next week’s 113th U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club near Philadelphia. ESPN’s multiplatform coverage begins with live SportsCenter reports from Merion on Tuesday, June 12, and will include eight hours per day of first and second-round play on ESPN, ESPN3 and WatchESPN on Thursday and Friday, June 13-14, extensive coverage on ESPN.com and a special U.S. Open tribute on ESPN Classic. Full coverage details HERE.
A transcript of the conference call follows:
Q. Talk about the USGA bringing the event to a smaller venue and what you think that means.
ANDY NORTH: Back in 1981 when we last played a U.S. Open there, I remember hitting an awful lot of irons, because the golf course has so many short holes. The key is to put the ball in the fairway. So there’s been some lengthening of the golf course but when you have a golf course with short holes, usually the reason they are short is there’s not much room.
So the short holes have stayed short and the long holes they have been able to lengthen and make longer. So you have a very unique set of par 4s at this golf course where most of them are under, they are pretty much either under 400 or they are close to 500.
So I think it ends up setting up into a situation where there’s six really long, difficult golf holes. And if a player can figure out how to play those holes well during the course of the week and then take advantage of a lot of scoring opportunities on some of the shorter holes, I think you can have a good week.
So in my opinion, weather will dictate dramatically what the scoring will be. If it’s firm, the scores will be good but not ridiculously low. If it gets wet and soft, I think you’re going to see a lot of really good scores.
CURTIS STRANGE: With that said, we have a tropical storm moving in through my area in North Carolina this weekend, so we certainly could get some rain in Philly next week.
I agree with Andy. I commend the USGA, I really do, for coming back to Merion. It was speculated for many years, could they do that, could they come to a golf course of this size under 7,000, not with the room and the infrastructure to handle a true, huge U.S. Open now.
And are they going out on a limb? Possibly. I think everything will run really well. I’m looking forward to it. I think the players will enjoy the golf course. As Andy said, it’s a unique kind of setup, but I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to be interesting.
We’re going to find out a lot this week what the USGA really can do in the future as far as venues and where they can go and where they cannot go.
PAUL AZINGER: I’ll just say that there’s been an argument that great golf courses have been made obsolete because of technology and the golf ball and the drivers and the fact that the ball goes so far, and we are going to find out here in a few days whether that’s the case; will Merion be able to defend itself against the power of this generation. That I think is as intriguing, and maybe the story line going in, almost more so than who is the favorite.
Q. Two questions, the first one for the ‘81 competitors, Andy and Curtis. Did you guys think when you left there in ’81 and then you went on to Pebble and Oakmont, etc., that you would ever go back to Merion, or that you would ever see another U.S. Open back at Merion?
CURTIS STRANGE: You don’t think about it like that. I was still so young, and just kind of went the nest year where they assigned to go play the U.S. Open. You don’t give it much thought, because back then it was a shorter U.S. Open venue, but it wasn’t that short. It was a good test.
What did David, shoot, 5‑ or 6‑under par?
CURTIS STRANGE: That was okay in the day. I don’t remember a lot being written about it. So I never gave it any thought at all one way or the other.
ANDY NORTH: We didn’t have any idea what was going to happen with the technology and the golf ball and everything else when we left there. You know, they played in ’71, we played in ’81, and you figured, well, you know, we might be back in ’91. We didn’t know the explosion of technology that was going to happen to make some of these wonderful old golf courses basically too short.
Q. When you talk about being a referendum, which Zinger brought up a little bit, as well, if kind of the perimeter holes, the start and the end, are so beefy, they would stack up with Congressional or Oakmont or some of the other monster holes, but in the middle part, everyone is still hitting the same club to the same spot off the tee, right?
PAUL AZINGER: You have to remember one thing, too. Guys start nervous and end relaxed, and then when it comes crunch time, they are ending nervous on Sunday.
So they are going to start nervous and end nervous, but in the middle on the scoring holes, they are going to be relaxed. And really, the key is going to be when they are feeling their best, are they going to crush those shorter holes.
ANDY NORTH: I think it really, really is going to make a huge difference in how the USGA sets this up. You know, are they going to set it up like they set up golf courses 20 years ago at The Open where you’ve got fairway and you’ve got six‑inch rough; or, we going to do some of the things we’ve seen over the last five or six years where it’s a little bit easier to get the ball out of the rough.
I think if we see some of that and it gets soft, you’ll see great scoring.
Q. And what kind of week is Sergio going to have?
PAUL AZINGER: A tough one. A very long, tough week. I think if he really tries to be smart about his approach to this, he talks to the media right at the very beginning; he regrets what, you know, he said, and he just moves on and focuses on golf and just doesn’t let it ‑‑ you’ve got to have the skill to not allow yourself to get crushed over it.
ANDY NORTH: Philly has got some amazing fans. It’s a great sports city. But you also have to remember, this is a city that booed Santa Claus, so it will be interesting.
Q. Your thoughts on what you’ve seen from Tiger this year, and even though he’s had the largest target on his back since 1997, do you think expectations from himself, from the fans, from his fellow players are as high as ever, especially because he has not won a major in five years?
CURTIS STRANGE: I don’t know if the expectations for the fans are as high as they used to be. I think the anticipation as he gets closer to the record increases.
It’s a tough call. I honestly don’t think he’s physically playing as well as he used to, but he’s winning tournaments. He’s thinking around the golf course well. And you know, that bodes well for him this week with the ability to lay back on a lot of these par 4s and put it in the fairway hopefully.
I think that the golf course will set up wonderful for him, I really do. But expectations, I don’t know. You still have to play ‑‑ you still have to hit the ball well to win the U.S. Open, I don’t care who you are. If he had to drive it on 12 or 14 holes, I would really question his chances to win, but I think he has a good chance at Merion. I hope that answers the question.
ANDY NORTH: As far as, one, he’s played exceptionally well all year long. He’s putted better than he has the last three or four years, and that’s really important. Obviously he had a blip on the radar last week at Memorial.
I agree with Curtis. I think this is a wonderful golf course for him. But I think as we talked a little about Augusta, he’s all put an awful lot of pressure on himself. I’m not quite sure that he might be putting more pressure on himself even now than he ever has, because he hasn’t won. I mean, he’s in a position right now very much like a good player is when he hasn’t won a major and he’s trying to win for the first time.
I think if he were to win here again pretty soon, I think that would kind of relax him and open up the floodgates and he might win another three or four. But I think right now, he’s got to be very careful not to get trying too hard to win the championship right away early in the week versus just going out and playing golf and letting it happen.
CURTIS STRANGE: I agree with that. If he wins one, it could open up some floodgates, but right now, I think down deep he’s not driving the ball nearly as well as he used to. And you know, his showing last week, Memorial, is a show of concern, I think; that he played so poorly on Saturday, and he used not to do that, ever.
I think he has a lot of pressure from within to know that he has to be very good to win now.
PAUL AZINGER: You’re right, he definitely was not capable of what we saw at Muirfield last week, in the past, but I believe what to look for out of Tiger Woods is how he is emotionally early on.
When he’s winning and hitting it poorly, you know, finishing last in fairways hit at Bay Hill, he has this air of confidence and this air of calm and patience; when he knows he doesn’t have it, he’s kicking clubs around and you can read his lips.
So I would look early on, and that comes from within, the pressure from within. So I would look early on to see if he’s frustrated early and he’s reacting, or he’s frustrated early and there’s no reaction.
Q. What is the one quality that Brandt Snedeker possesses that you most respect or admire?
PAUL AZINGER: His childlike enthusiasm for the game and his ability to make putts from all different distances.
ANDY NORTH: I agree. One, he’s a wonderful putter. But also, he has grown into a player who has an amazing amount of confidence in what he’s been able to do and where he is right now in his life; he’s very comfortable, he’s very happy and so much confidence, that I think that makes him a threat every time he tees it up.
CURTIS STRANGE: And even though he didn’t finish well on Sunday at the Masters, he started off well birdieing the first hole on Sunday, but didn’t finish well; you still learn from those experiences and especially the losses. I think it will bode well for him.
But I tell you, anybody that has a golf swing like that and awe putting stroke like that, I like, I don’t care who he is. He’s very good.
PAUL AZINGER: Failure can be a good thing. Thomas Edison, who knows how many lights bulbs he tried to make before he came out with one that’s still burning to this day.
Q. He said this week that he would describe himself as edgy but that a lot of people don’t see that because of maybe his Opie Taylor appearance. Do you guys see what he’s talking about; that he almost looks at himself as the American version of Ian Poulter?
CURTIS STRANGE: I don’t certainly look at him as the American version of Ian Poulter, but I do understand, he says he’s edgy. Everybody that goes to Merion next week is edgy. If you’re not edgy, you’re not human, especially for an American in your U.S. Open.
So you have to be edgy to play well. You have to be on edge. You have to be anxious, uptight, all of the above to do well. And that is nothing but a good thing.
Q. What about quirks of Merion, the church bells, the crowd is going to be tough and the air horn of the commuter train; is that going to matter come Thursday?
ANDY NORTH: I really don’t think so. I mean, guys are there to try to figure out how to play the golf course. The wicker baskets ‑‑ there’s a lot of neat things about Merion and the history, but none of these guys ‑‑ well not to say none, but the majority of this field has never played this golf course before. Some played it in the Amateur a few years back. There might be one or two guys that could possibly have played here in ’81 that are playing.
So you know, it’s going to be an interesting week. I think one of the coolest things about the golf course itself is the tee shot on the very first hole. I mean, literally, you can have lunch and the players are hitting the ball 20 feet from where you are sitting having lunch off the first tee, it’s so close. There’s a lot of really neat things about that.
But once you’re into the flow of a golf tournament, you’re just trying to figure out how to make pars or birdies and do the best you can.
Q. By the way, we are going to see Tom Meeks‑style rough at Merion. They are going to defend the golf course with the rough, there is not going to be any of the graduated stuff.
ANDY NORTH: That makes two angry old men happy that you’re talking to, so that’s good.
Q. I think Zinger mentioned frustration with Tiger; is that what happened last year in the third round when he uncharacteristically cough the up a two‑stroke lead and seemed not to adapt to the changing conditions on Saturday at Olympic?
PAUL AZINGER: I said that about him. I don’t know exactly ‑‑ sometimes physically you can’t overcome what’s happening to you out there. You’re just not able to put the ball where you’re hoping to put it or where you’re looking.
I just feel like emotionally, I would look early onto Tiger for the indicator, if is the frustration shows early if he’s not off to a good start. And traditionally he doesn’t get off to great starts ‑‑ I’m sorry, traditionally, when he doesn’t get off to great starts, he doesn’t win.
So I think that you’ll be able to see pretty early on if he’s patient with a slow start or if it’s getting to him. If it’s getting to him, I think he knows he’s not crushing the sweet spot.
ANDY NORTH: I think there’s a little bit of difference in Tiger’s game, though, this year than we saw last year. Last year he was kind of coming out of it and figuring out what he’s doing, and his short game wasn’t as good as it usually is. He was going through a stretch where he didn’t putt the ball very well.
This year, it’s been a little different story. Short game has been much sharper. He’s been able to compete and win with his short game and I think that’s one of the biggest things that happened to him last year on Saturday at the Open. He just putted awful. And when you know you’re not putting any good, it puts so much pressure on the rest of your game that eventually you’re going to have some issues.
CURTIS STRANGE: Let’s not forget, because of a terrible, terrible bad break on the 15th hole at Augusta, he looked like he was getting ready to kind of seize control of that week. Might not have won, might have won, who knows; but he didn’t win because of the bad break.
So this whole conversation could be completely turned around, if, in fact, he didn’t hit the flagstick and go in the water. So I think we always have to remind ourselves of that; that it could have been a whole different world out there for Tiger right now.
Q. Mike Davis is predicting a record number of birdies this week because of the middle holes and the short par 4s in there. Do you think that’s going to bring more people into the mix?
CURTIS STRANGE: I think it could. I think you could see ‑‑ although Brandt Snedeker is a wonderful player and talented young man, you could see a lot of different names in the mix come the weekend.
Now, when you come to the weekend, the U.S. Open pressure does take over, but I think you potentially could see a lot of different names in the mix, along with your star players and those favorites. But I really do think early on, you know, actually you might see medium‑length hitters, actually some short hitters; a Corey Pavin‑type player could do well here, if he had a good week on the greens, because ‑‑ I take that back.
Length is not going to be such a factor, but strength still will be. If the short hitter can put it in the fairway, he can do well here at Merion. But if he does put it in the rough, strength does show its face.
PAUL AZINGER: I think the bottom line is in the end, everybody’s got a chance this week because of the length, but, you’re going to find out in the end who has the intestinal fortitude, the moxie, the spit and vinegar, whatever cliché you want to use; the cream will always rise to the top in a tournament like this because of pressure and the you know what sinks to the bottom.
Q. I don’t know if you and Jim Simons had any overlap, but can you speak to what he did in 1971, almost winning there as an amateur?
CURTIS STRANGE: Incredible. Same type of story has Ken Venturi at the Masters, Billy Joe Patton; it hasn’t happened very often. I did have an overlap, but not as far as playing on the team and I knew Jim very well and obviously playing on TOUR for many years. He was a student of the game and he was a student in life, and very serious about everything he did, smart man.
And he came close to doing something truly special. Lost a playoff ‑‑ missed a playoff by two shots. I think he double‑bogeyed the last hole. Played good, played with the best in Nicklaus, and there you have a great example of a Jim Simons type of player at Merion almost winning and that’s exactly what we were just talking about a moment ago. That could happen here.
But in the end, the pressure did, you know, win out over Jim. But, he had troubles later in life, a sad story, but he did something truly special.
ANDY NORTH: Jim and I were very, very good friends. We played junior golf, amateur golf. We were the exact same age. We played hundreds of rounds of golf together over the years, and as Curtis is saying, Jim was a player that could put the ball in the fairway. He really, really worked hard to be accurate and precise because he was not going to be one of those longer, bomber type players, and he was a grinder.
And to me, that’s a characteristic that’s going to do very well at Merion this week: Put it in the fairway someplace and just keep grinding your guts out, you’ll be there at the end.
Q. That segues into my second question: Do you think that kind of mentality will suit Phil’s game, his mind‑set?
ANDY NORTH: Phil has the ability and talent to play Merion. It’s just, will he let himself do it. If he decides that he’s going to hit some 3‑irons and 4‑irons and 5‑woods and whatever off the tee and his game plan for the week is to put the ball in the fairway, I think he has a chance to compete there.
Because as deep as the rough is around the golf course, he has the strength to get it out of it, and he has unbelievable imagination around the greens to figure out shots and be able to get the ball up and in. It’s just, will he let himself play that way.
PAUL AZINGER: Mickelson is the combination of the ultimate tactician and the crazy‑ass gambler. I mean, this dude has so much gamble in him that it overrides his strategic approach to golf, but he’s a combination of both. And when the two converge properly or correctly, he wins 45 or 50 times, however many times he’s going to win in his career; he has all the potential in the world to pull this off if the convergence works out.
CURTIS STRANGE: Let me say one thing on that exact thing, is that these big hitters can win here. But do they have the patience to lay back on the holes they truly have to lay back and put it in the fairway. Their strength could be very advantageous when they do put it in the rough.
But do they have the patience ‑‑ it’s not in their DNA to lay up as often as they are going to have to lay up at Merion. Jack Nicklaus had the patience. Tiger Woods we’ve seen has the patience. But does Dustin Johnson; does Phil Mickelson; does McIlroy. These big hitters, we are going to have to wait and see. But I really think they have to fight their inner selves and lay back when they have to, but it’s tough for them to do.
PAUL AZINGER: I think Lee Westwood is going to be licking his chops here, because he hits it pretty far, but he is the kind of guy that comes up with a strategy and he takes a course apart, kind of like it’s a jigsaw puzzle or something. He tries to figure out how to play it. All players will do that. But it seems like Westwood is going to be a dark horse with the discipline to do it.
Q. Curtis, I guess you’re one of three guys that have won U.S. Opens at The Country Club up my way (Boston), and I guess this is the 100‑year anniversary of Francis Ouimet winning there. Curious if you think the significance of his victory still resonates today and what do you think a modern day equivalent might be?
CURTIS STRANGE: I really do think it still resonates, especially when you have books continue to come out on Mr. Ouimet’s victory and the victory at The Country Club. You just had a children’s book come out on that. So that helps everybody, even the young kids remember what a remarkable victory, and really the birth of golf in America, it was; so absolutely, it still resonates.
Who would be the modern day Francis Ouimet? Oh, my gosh. Well, you know, we saw Beau Hossler last year do so well for so long which was pretty incredible. I just don’t know if it can actually happen. We almost saw it with Jim Simons, we just talked about that. That would have been a modern day.
Can it happen? Certainly it can, but is it probable? Probably not.
Q. Just wanted to piggyback on something Curtis said earlier, that if Merion is successful, it could open up doors for venues that maybe had not been considered, had been considered but sort of fallen on the outside. If it does go according to plan, is there a place or a group of places that you guys could see being open now?
CURTIS STRANGE: You know, I don’t know what the USGA would ‑‑ what is a successful week for them. I don’t know what their definition is. I know they have taken a financial hit coming to Merion. I don’t know if they want do that a lot.
I have no doubt it’s going to be a good tournament but I don’t know if they want to take that financial hit; the restrictions of everything they do here; fans, corporate, just the infrastructure. But there are golf courses ‑‑ Andy and I were with Mike Davis last year, I believe it was, and he gave us this two or three dream courses. I only remember one. One was L.A. North and I don’t remember the others. But yeah, there’s golf courses they would love to go to but just haven’t been able to do it so far.
PAUL AZINGER: I think Mike Davis is one of the best things to happen for the USGA in a long, long time. He’s brought a lot of attention to the USGA. He’s changed golf course setup. I think a lot of it relates to a common sense approach to how the golf course will play length‑wise, but at the same time he’s got the guts to make a moving on anchored putting.
USGA is getting a lot of attention and even bad press is better than no press, is the old adage. And I think Mike Davis is great for the USGA. It’s a bold move to go back to Merion and there may be another bold move in the future if he continues to head up this organization.
Q. Given that it’s short and tight and not a lot of holes to use driver; is this the week of the 3‑wood at the U.S. Open?
PAUL AZINGER: It’s the week of the long iron.
ANDY NORTH: You’ll see a lot of irons from everybody. Even some of the players like a Zach Johnson or a McGinley, those type of players that I think could do very well there; they will be hitting irons on a bunch of holes, also.
PAUL AZINGER: The cool thing about this event I think leading into it is that there are a lot of experienced veteran players that have never have a chance really to win this tournament because of their lack of power and strength.
Everybody, you know, why didn’t Calvin Peete get into contention repeatedly at U.S. Opens? He hit every fairway; he led the TOUR in fairways hit every year. The problem was he just didn’t have the power and the strength. Merion I think affords anybody an opportunity here, and again, I’ll just reiterate; will this course be made obsolete by this generation’s power players, I don’t know. We’ll find out.
Q. One of the distinctive features of this course is it has three par three holes in excess of 235 yards, which I’m sure you know is very unusual, and one of those is 17. So I wanted to ask how you see these long par 3s impacting the scoring and how will the players with new technology, length, approaching these holes or attacking these holes?
ANDY NORTH: First of all, they are wonderful golf holes, besides being 235 or whatever they are going to play. But 235 in today’s world, is a 4‑iron for a lot of these guys. It may be a 3‑iron. Years ago, it would have been a 3‑wood. So the difference between going into one of these difficult par 3s with a 3‑wood or a 4‑iron, is a whole different world.
So that’s why I think it’s critical. There’s a half a dozen or so holes on this golf course that if you can figure out a way to navigate yourself around those holes, and a couple of them are the par 3s and a couple of them are holes like 18 and 16 and 6 and 7 or whatever the two long holes in the front nine are, if you can play those holes well, it really opens up an opportunity for some great scoring.
PAUL AZINGER: You have to realize, too, strategically, I guess you could say 8‑, 9‑irons and wedges. For some players it may only be 9 and wedges. If you’re not hot; if you’re not like really red hot, every other club in your bag iron‑wise is a par club, 7‑iron on down, sometimes 8‑iron on up, however you want to say it.
So when you look at par 3s that are 4‑irons or 5‑woods or 6‑irons, they are still par holes. Those are not the birdie opportunities. You can hit great shots and make birdies with long clubs, but I’m just saying, overall, they are par holes. So guys are going to be make pars on the par 3s whether they are 235 or 185.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s why the U.S. Open is such a different animal, too. Par is a good score on every hole. Now, that will change a little bit this week, but you have to go into the U.S. Open with a different mentality. You have to back off. You’re not going to make ten to 20 birdies this week. Par is a good score. You have to scramble for pars, hang in the game. It’s about survival out here. It not making a bogey and birdieing the next hole every time like you do on the regular tour.
Those who can adjust and those who have the inner strength to do that will do well or can do well.
ANDY NORTH: I think this is a little bit different Open, because you do have the opportunities to make some birdies. There’s been some golf courses that we played at that if you can make two birdies a day, you’ve played your tail off. This is a course, a player might be able to make four or five, six birdies in a round here.
Even going back to ’81, I think Crenshaw shot 64 one day, and there was a couple 65 and 66s, and David Graham’s great round on Sunday I believe was 67. So there’s going to be some scoring opportunities. Can you do it four days in a row? Will the conditions allow the players to be aggressive? Those are all things we are going to have to see.
PAUL AZINGER: Another thing to consider, too, is how many wedge opportunities will the players have at this U.S. Open versus U.S. Opens in the past where even par or 1‑under wins. At Olympic Club, there might have been a handful of wedge opportunities every day.
Here, there are going to be seven to ten wedge opportunities. You can hit a bad drive and have to hit a wedge, but if you’re red hot with your short clubs, you’re going to have a good chance here. The rest of the holes are par holes.
Q. George Burns is a West Palm resident, and your recollection of ’81, the two guys who played there, he GAVE it away, and everybody talked about David Graham have an impeccable round; how do you remember George coming down the stretch there?
CURTIS STRANGE: I was on the plane that night with George Burns and let’s just say he wasn’t a real happy camper. George, I think a little bit of both to be quite honest with you. It was George’s to win or lose, if I remember correctly now. Didn’t play great and David Graham did, but you know, George kind of was in control. And you know, he let one get away and I’m sure he would say that.
There was a lot of guys in the mix that last day but George was the one that seemed to be playing really well and George was the one at the time was one of the guys, Andy you can help me, was really one of the guys that was going to break through. Big guy, hits it a long ways, a lot of talent, great short game, different swing, and he never did.
That might have played a part in his career ‑‑ Andy, you can help me with this, but George was a talented man. My gosh, who knows if this had an effect on his career or not.
ANDY NORTH: This Open was five, six years into his career, and he has a lot of talent. He had a different golf swing but he could really pound it and as Curtis said, this started ‑‑ I don’t believe he was ever the player after that, or at least for a while after that, the player that we saw coming into that Open.
Q. Zinger, you said it’s the week of the long iron and there’s no more famous long iron than the 1‑iron that was hit at Merion. Wonder if each of you, maybe start with Zinger, can give your comments about the death of the 1‑iron in modern golf. We have seen a couple players, Jason Day had it in play earlier this year, and whether or not you think guys might put it in the bag next week, and if each of you had a little tail of the death of your own 1‑iron.
PAUL AZINGER: I was just going to say, that’s pretty profound was a 1‑iron really was usurped by the hybrid, and it’s just a different world now. There’s no need for it.
Guys make changes in lofts ‑‑ they always do at the U.S. Open, you get close to a 1‑iron loft, but there’s really no need for that club anymore.
ANDY NORTH: The lofts have changed over the years. If you get a real 2‑iron in a set of golf clubs today, it’s the same loft as a 1‑iron was 30 years ago. So that’s a little bit of difference. But you won’t have players putting a club like that in their bag this week because they don’t need to. They can hit 3‑iron off the tee on those holes and they can get 5‑woods or utility clubs.
It’s just having a golf club in your bag that you have confidence in that you can put it in the fairway and that’s going to be the real key; who can put it in the fairway, and then who can play some of the longer holes at even par. Because I loved the 1‑iron (laughing).
CURTIS STRANGE: We all carried it. I don’t think Zinger could get it off the ground but we all carried it back then –
PAUL AZINGER: Settle down –
CURTIS STRANGE: Real men ‑‑ real mean, carried 1‑irons, okay, that’s what it was like.
ANDY NORTH: I can’t stand all the scoopers and hybrids and stuff. I still carry a 2‑iron in my bag, and I actually had a 2‑iron in my bag that was the loft of a 1‑iron two years ago when I played the Legends at 60‑plus years old.
So you know, you get 14 choices. You can put in there whatever you want and hopefully you’ve got something that fits your game, your swing, and you can use it properly.
CURTIS STRANGE: That’s why you’re working TV with us, you still have the 2‑iron in your bag. (Laughter).
Q. Why would a 25‑year‑old kid like Jason Day have it in his bag earlier this year? He said he plans on using it at Muirfield and may put it in play at Merion; hasn’t decided yet.
ANDY NORTH: That club would work much better at Muirfield than it will at Merion, because you don’t need to hit the ball on the ground and let it run at Merion. You’re trying to ‑‑ the key in an Open is to hit it, not only softly enough off the tee that you can control it when it hits the fairway; where at Muirfield, you know, just to hit some bullet is what you want to do. So I would suspect you’ll see more of those type of clubs over there than at Merion.
PAUL AZINGER: It’s as simple as this: If you put a driver head on a 9‑iron shaft, you never miss a fairway. It wouldn’t go very far, but you would never miss a fairway. It’s just the shorter length of a long iron versus a fairway wood makes it easier to hit accurately, and if you make it 1‑iron loft, then more power to you.
Q. From ’81, just curious if given the size of the greens at Merion, which are relatively small, and the size of the club, these greens haven’t seen the amount of play ‑‑ it will take 600 rounds Monday through Friday, with metal strikes through 1981. Is there any concern how they will hold up?
ANDY NORTH: I don’t think so. I don’t think that will be a concern at all. If the weather conditions are favorable, I don’t think that will be a problem at all.
Agronomy has gotten so good. They can get these greens ‑‑ I mean, last week at Muirfield was a great example. They were able to get them so much faster than we ever dreamed you could have them 25 or 30 years ago.
We talk about the equipment and the golf ball, but we don’t talk much about the agronomy and the changes in the equipment and how they take care of the golf courses. I suspect the greens at Merion will be just fantastic all week long.
Q. The winner at the Memorial, Matt Kuchar, he came on the scene many years ago and had a great Masters and U.S. Open. With his game and the way he plays, does this course set up really well for Matt to possibly break through and have his first major?
CURTIS STRANGE: Matt is a talented young man and more important than anything else, he won last week. If he can keep from having any kind of letdown, which I don’t think he would, because he’s got a week in between, he’s certainly on the list of favorites. He does everything well. He’s got it figured out. He’s had a couple really good two, three, four years now, and once again, he’s playing well and he won last week on a good golf course.
PAUL AZINGER: He’s going to be the most confident guy in the field, as well and that confidence is an earned commodity. It’s the next step towards winning where he’s coming in having won and that level of confidence might be the next step for him towards winning this major championship.
He’s won a USGA event before. He’s comfortable with this setup, I feel; learned how to hold off the hook. Matt always hits a nice, high draw in there, his hands are under his armpits on both sides of the ball, and it’s his way of holding off the hook. And as much as every great player fights a hook, the best players learn how to hold it off, and Kuchar is in that groove right now, and the sky is the limit for him.
ANDY NORTH: He’s as consistent a player as we have in the game today. And if you look at Matt, he never gets excited. He’s very, very calm on the golf course, very even‑keeled, and that always bodes well at a Major Championship.
Q. It was you who mentioned that Lee Westwood ought to be licking his chops getting ready for the golf course; I don’t know if he was covered very early in the call, but Luke Donald sometimes is at a disadvantage because of length of golf courses and certainly won’t be here. Would Luke Donald be another one of those guys that might be licking his chops and is there anybody else in that category of Top‑20, Top‑20 players available, that maybe didn’t have a great chance at other venues because of distance where now they are definitely brought into the mix?
PAUL AZINGER: Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of guys, several handfuls, normally you deal with handfuls of guys you talk about coming a major championship. There’s several handfuls of players that could get in contention here and then you’ll see who has got the moxie or that intangible, whatever it takes to win.
Luke Donald is a great pick, as well. Great wedge player. I just like Westwood because he’s a little more powerful, he’s a little steeper there at the bottom and he flights the ball high and so soft like Andy alluded to as being a key in these tournaments, and I know he’s disciplined enough to do it and he’s got the heart to do it. He’s my favorite overall of what I would deem a slightly dark horse coming in.
CURTIS STRANGE: I agree with Zinger, especially there’s a number of handfuls that could do well here, and we talked about ‑‑ and the example that we all should remember is Jim Simons almost winning here.
But there’s a lot of players out there, you know, the Snedekers, the Luke Donalds, those type of players that haven’t done it yet that certainly are capable, and this could be ‑‑ you know, I’m not going to say it could be their best chance but it could be a chance for a lot of players.
But I still think, you’re going to have ‑‑ with all of the talk about the ability to hit the ball and do this, that and the other, you’re still going to have to chip‑and‑putt. And I don’t care how short the course is; I don’t care how long the course is: You still have to make those par putts. And in this case, you might have to make a few more birdie putts.
So, still, a priority, a huge priority, and especially on Sunday, on the weekend and on Sunday, as well. You’ve got to make that putt to separate yourself. You have to have the guts to make the putt and the ability to make the putt, and some can and some can’t.
But you know, there will be more guys in the mix without a doubt. But you know, can Westwood do it? That’s been his Achilles’ heel: Can he make the chip? Can he make the putt at the end? Not yet.
ANDY NORTH: I think first of all, this is going to be a great championship. It’s going to be an awful lot of fun to see how the golf course holds up; to see if the weather, if we can get lucky and have the weather halfway decent, because if it’s firm and fast, it is going to be really interesting, because the greens are so small, you’re going to have a lot of guys hit good shots that would bounce up into the fringe around the green, and then that changes things.
But if it stays soft, with the number of scoring holes in the middle of the golf course, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there’s a 63 out there, maybe a 62, during the course of the week. I couldn’t be a bit surprised if we have the lowest U.S. Open score shot in the history of the U.S. Open.
So weather is going to dictate the scoring, and will a player who has had a game plan to play the U.S. Open like he would normally play a U.S. Open to be very patient and put it in the fairway and put it on the green and make a lot of pars, make a birdie once in awhile; if it’s soft, will that player be able to change his game plan and be more aggressive and try to shoot at more pins and try to make more birdies. Because if it’s soft, you’re going to have to go low.
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