THE MODERATOR: Welcome to our NBC Sports Group media conference call to preview The Presidents Cup taking place at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia. NBC Sports Group is scheduled to televise more than 50 hours of coverage of the Presidents Cup next week. For the first time ever, all four rounds will be live on Golf Channel. A lot of that will be in primetime, which will be nice. Live coverage also will be replayed each day during the day, and NBC will have weekend coverage. 22 hours of news coverage will surround play, so our signature Live From the Presidents Cup, our Live From franchise, will be in full force with a team both in Melbourne and back in our Orlando studios, and there will also be generous coverage online at golfchannel.com. Tommy Roy will be leading our production team over in Melbourne. I wished he could be on the call, but he’s jamming away over there. As you can imagine, there’s a major challenge logistically due to the 16hour time difference. He’s got a lot of work to do.
But joining us today on our call is Johnny Miller, who is the lead analyst, lead golf analyst for Golf Channel on NBC, who will join Dan Hicks for coverage both on Golf Channel and NBC; Brandel Chamblee, who will serve as our main studio analyst during the week; Dan Hicks, great commentator for NBC Sports, who will join Johnny and handle playbyplay on NBC and Golf Channel; and Curt Byrum, who will be Golf Channel lead analyst in Melbourne for all of our coverage. He’ll be joining Terry Gannon in the booth.
I’d be probably remiss not to mention the absence of Frank Nobilo, another Golf Channel analyst, who is one of our lead analysts. He’ll be at the Presidents Cup but in a different capacity next week as assistant captain to international team captain Greg Norman. Frank will be, however, a little bit a part of our coverage next week, and he’ll offer some thoughts on a daily basis about the matches with diary updates on golfchannel.com.
So I’d like to invite our featured speakers to say a few words and then we’ll open it up for questions.
JOHNNY MILLER: Thank you very much. I’m very excited to be able to spend a little springtime in Melbourne. Sounds like the name of a song or something. But the weather will be great down there. The course is outstanding. I’ve been watching the Australian Open down there with the guys, quite a few of the guys are down there playing in it, in the nice warm weather.
Of course I played in the Australian PGA at Royal Melbourne when I was a player, and I love that golf course and know that it’s a perfect match play course. There’s a lot of shots that you sort of have to decide whether you should go for the flagstick or sort of challenge those falloffs that are on the shoulders of the greens. It’s probably firmer and faster as a course than any course that the pros ever play except for some years at the British Open when they don’t get much rain, so this will be sort of a change for the guys, the U.S. players, and maybe that’s one reason why the U.S. got trounced at Royal Melbourne way back when at one of the first Presidents Cups.
I think that the teams really match up well. I can tell you one thing: Nobody is afraid of anybody else. This is going to be a heck of a good, even, close competition, I think. But analyzing all the Ryder Cups I’ve covered and all these Presidents Cups, it seems like whoever is winning the first day wins the matches every single time except for a Brookline here or there. So that first day seems to be the key day, so we’ll see what happens.
But I know these other guys have got a lot of great coverage. I’m looking forward to working with Dan Hicks and guys with the Golf Channel, so it should be fun.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I just echo Johnny’s comments about both the venue and the competition. At least in terms of historically, the U.S. has had sort of the upper hand in the Presidents Cup for a lot of different and interesting reasons, I think, and on paper, as this one looks like a blowout, the U.S. is almost twice as good on paper, where average World Ranking of our players is 19th, their average rank is 34th. They’ve got six players ranked over 40th in the world, we only have one; that’s Tiger Woods.
But our guys don’t travel that well. Only twice has this competition left North America, and the U.S. hasn’t won either of those. ’98 was the one that Johnny Miller was alluding to in Australia where they got trounced, and then the 1717 tie in South Africa. But on the whole when you step back and look at this Presidents Cup, this one in particular, with the controversy surrounding Tiger’s pick, Norman’s comments about that pick, Freddie’s rebuttal to Norman’s comments, the fact that Tiger Woods has stolen Dustin Johnson’s caddie and fired his or he defected to Adam Scott and then terrible racist comments of Stevie Williams and the potential pairings and the site of the only U.S. loss, it’s almost like Don King has been hired to promote this thing, because when you look at it, I think the ratings of this event, as you alluded to, Dan a lot of it will be in prime time, it will go to 2:00 a.m., but I do think it’s got a chance to be one of the highest rated sports shows ever that finishes up at 2:00 in the morning. So I’m very excited for a lot of different reasons to watch this Presidents Cup.
DAN HICKS: Yeah, it’s good to be with everybody again, good to be going back down under for the first time and only other time that I’ve been down there at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, and I’m anxious to get to Melbourne, which I understand is an outstanding sports city, and heard a lot about Royal Melbourne, heard Johnny talk about it a lot through the years and what a fabulous place it is in that Sand Belt, so looking forward to that.
But just to reiterate Brandel’s comments, sometimes a little spice and a little controversy is good, not from the standpoint of how some of it occurred, but by getting people to watch. By far this is the most interest that I’ve seen in a Presidents Cup, I mean, by miles and miles, for the obvious reasons. One, anytime you’ve got Tiger Woods involved in a competition, it jacks it up a few notches just by his presence and how is he going to play and how is he going to do it and has he got it and is he ever going to be back again, so that saga continues. But all the other controversy, wherever you stand with it, creates interest in this event. Everywhere I go people are asking me about the Presidents Cup more than any other time than I’ve ever been involved with it through the years.
With that all there, I think it has a chance to obviously be the most watched Presidents Cup. Certainly everything that’s led up to it is going to tell us that. The only thing left is how are these guys going to play and what’s the real drama that’s going to unfold. But potentially it has a chance to be one of the more memorable sporting events of the entire year, and I don’t think you could have said that going into a Presidents Cup several years back. But that’s where we are, and with all that said, I’m more excited to get this thing going on down under than all the Presidents Cups before. So that’s my opening salvo.
CURT BYRUM: I’m really looking forward to being a part of the broadcast team down there. I think it’s for me personally, this is as good as it’s been for me as part of a broadcast team with the Golf Channel. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m fired up for it. You’ve heard a lot of good reasons why this could be maybe the best Presidents Cup ever.
I actually think for some of the reasons that have already been discussed that I think the internationals definitely have a good chance. In fact I think I would make them a slight favorite right now, even with the overwhelming power of that American team. I just think that playing in Australia at Royal Melbourne gives them at slight edge, especially when you consider that there are five Australians on the international team.
I think it’s really going to be a lot of fun, and when you add in the comments that both Norman and Ogilvy made about the Tiger pick, all the stuff that’s going on, I think a lot of people are going to be watching, and I really am looking forward to a great competitive situation down there.
Q. I guess I’ll throw out the obligatory Tiger Woods question. Obviously he’s in the hunt right now down at the Aussie Open, but if he does not win this week, he will have surpassed that two year mark for being winless or since his last win, and I wanted to ask Johnny and Brandel, if you go back in your memory 21, 22 months when Tiger was going through the rehab and all the things that were involved with the scandal, did it even cross your mind that he could go as long as two years without lifting a trophy somewhere?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, I don’t think anybody could have predicted. I wrote in my book, I called the shots about five years ago, I didn’t think he would break Nicklaus’ record, and people thought I was crazy. I did throw out some personal things, he could burn out, he could have family problems, whatever, and of course a lot of those things happened, not that I wanted them to happen. But he just ran into personally, off the course, about as many problems as any guy could have, and then I think he really lost the love of going out in the public and playing in front of the public a little bit because there was so much pressure on him.
And even now being a captain’s pick there’s pressure on him. So I think it’s really important what he does that first day. But to predict that he wouldn’t win the Chevron at Sherwood or something, I surely wouldn’t have picked that. But as far as not winning a major, maybe you could figure that one out. But he had the perfect storm of all the things that can go wrong and get you off your game, whether it be changeofswing technique, just everything you could have go wrong pretty much went wrong.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. My words, I would sum it up exactly the same. It’s the perfect storm of events to rob somebody of everything that made them great. Of course nobody in their right mind would have predicted Tiger Woods to go two years without a victory, but when you look at the injuries, the scandal, the swing change, and all of the other things that Tiger Woods has done PR wise that have not helped him, I just don’t see how he’s going to turn this thing around. Any one of those is enough to rob you of that little bitty edge, as if we needed another example of how fine a line it is between playing great golf and mediocre to, by their standards, terrible golf. This clearly does it.
It’s not that long ago when Johnny Miller was by far the best player on the planet, and he went home and chopped wood one winter and came back a different player, right, Johnny? What a fine line it is between being the greatest player on the planet and two months later you come back and it was just something as trivial as adding muscle weight that robbed Johnny of his game, and this is something far more substantial than that.
When you compare Tiger Woods 2009 to what’s going on now, obviously you can dismiss the differences tee to green, maybe you can explain it away with injuries and swing change, but just around the greens, the things that make a player go from good to great, he was first in scrambling in 2009; he’s 141st this year. Out of the bunkers, he’s he was third in 2009; he’s 175th. I mean, Tiger Woods has lost the ability to come up with magic.
Now, maybe some of that is attributable to the fact that mentally he’s not there. But the prescandal, preFoley and the postscandal, postFoley players are two entire different golfers. In 2009 when he showed up for a practice round, he had 15,000 fans following him. He had 250 fans following him on Wednesday. It’s another era, and the old Tiger I think is gone. What he creates from this point forward will be very interesting, but it won’t be anything like the old Tiger.
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, one thing, he will have a second career, just like I did. It will not be like the first. Like Nicklaus said to me and said to the press, you don’t have to worry about Johnny Miller. Talent always comes back. Maybe in an arguing point you look at a David Duval who was on the top of the world and he lost it and really didn’t come back, possibly even Ian BakerFinch for that matter. But I really believe Tiger will have a second career. He will win quite a few times.
And I see him on the verge, even his sand play. I was watching on TV, it looks much better, the action that he’s using. He’ll figure it out because the guy has just got so much talent, and I think enough of the amazement of his personal choices have sort of the pressure is coming off a little bit.
I think it’s important I know the Chevron at Sherwood last year, if he would have beaten McDowell, he should have with the big lead he had, if he would have won there, I think he would have done a lot better this year, but that really hurt him. I think he needs some good things to happen to him, and this could be the start maybe even this week, and then of course next week.
So I could see him getting his confidence back. He’s just got too much talent to just not be not the old Tiger but one of the best players in the world. That’s my that’s just a guess, and Brandel’s is a guess. We don’t really know, obviously.
Q. I think it’s one of the biggest questions in the world of sports.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: It’s the most baffling thing I have ever seen, not in golf but in any sport. All the things that have gone on, but also his decision to once again change his golf swing to me is the most baffling thing that I’ve ever seen in sports.
CURT BYRUM: I will say this, though, Brandel, if you watched the Australian Open, the first round last night, and I’m not defending the decision to change his swing, especially way back from the early 2000 swing that he had going, but he actually played really well with the wind blowing about 20 down there, very blustery. It changed directions a couple times. He actually hit quite a few fairways, didn’t have to hit driver a whole lot, so that’s a whole ‘nother story probably. But he made some great upanddowns. Like Johnny said, he hit a great long bunker shot upanddown for a birdie on one hole. It’s a lot better than it was back around the PGA and much better in fact, it’s a lot more solid and improved since he played at Fry’s back in October.
You can tell he’s made some improvements, and I’m not saying he’s going to be lightsout at the Presidents Cup, but I definitely saw some improvement last night.
Q. What’s the area that and Brandel, maybe you alluded to it, that seems to be kind of the crux of where his problems on the course lie?
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Everything. You know, I mentioned just the short game statistics, which are glaring. I mean, he was by far and away some years he would almost get the ball upanddown 70 percent of the time. That’s just an unheardof number, when you consider that mostly he’s going at the hardest greens at the hardest pins. But ballstriking wise, he’s basically last this year, 186th, when he was one of the best in the world. Everything he did in 2009, and yeah, I agree with Curt and Johnny and everybody else that his golf swing was better in ’99, 2000, 2001, but the Tiger Woods of 2007 and 2009 was almost step for step as good as the guy in 2000.
You know, why I say it’s the most baffling thing I’ve ever seen in sport, because the period where Tiger Woods won 7 of 11 major championships and then I believe 6 of 14, those two periods both with different swing philosophies were separated by periods where he went ten majors without winning. Now, he justifies the prolific victories by saying I changed my swing, but at the cost of going ten majors without winning. I mean, that’s a puric victory. Yes, he wins, but at the cost of ten majors. If he hadn’t decided to change his swing either in ’98 or in 2003, he would have already broke Jack’s record. And once again, he’s trying to do it again, but this time with a battered body and a battered head. It is by far the most baffling thing I’ve ever seen in sports. To watch all that happen and then watch him compete, it is very compelling, and yet another reason why we’re all going to be on the edge of our seat at the Presidents Cup.
Q. Also wondering, the Keegan Bradley, Steve Stricker situation, first of all, what have you guys heard regarding Steve, and if you were in Fred’s shoes, what would you have done in regards to Keegan Bradley?
CURT BYRUM: Wow, you know, this is just one of those years where somebody who deserves to be on the team is not. It happens. That’s why it’s great and it’s tough to be the captain. There’s no way Tiger Woods isn’t on that team. I mean, we’ve got what do we have, Dan Higgins, you said 74 hours of live and wraparound coverage? I’m sure the reason we’re all here is because of Tiger Woods and all of the stories that keep us on the edge of our seat are around Tiger Woods. Bill Haas perhaps maybe has more pressure on him this week than any other player on the team to sort of validate being picked and all the controversies around it.
But it was a tough choice. You know, I sympathize with Fred having to make that call. But I certainly understand it.
DAN HICKS: If you’re the captain, Brandel, do you pick Tiger?
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Absolutely.
DAN HICKS: Johnny, are you in that camp, too? Do you pick Tiger if you’re the captain?
JOHNNY MILLER: For the good of the game and the good of the telecast, I’ve got to go with it because he’s a lot more compelling. Every time you’re a captain you’re going to have a controversial pick almost every time. The only guy that really never made it controversial was Nicklaus; he’d just go down the list.
DAN HICKS: Curt, what about you?
CURT BYRUM: Yeah, I would have picked Tiger for sure. I don’t think you can leave him off the team. But I’d also chime in about Fred. We covered the Schwab Cup Championship out in San Francisco last week, and Fred obviously played pretty well and had a chance to talk to him a little bit about the Presidents Cup. I can tell you, he’s ready for this thing to get started and put all the talking behind right now. He’s a guy who likes to hang out, lay on the couch
JOHNNY MILLER: You know when Fred Couples does a little trashtalking out there it gets a little bit amped.
CURT BYRUM: And that was one of the things after Norman and Ogilvy basically said they would not have picked Tiger Woods, he chimed back in, and he said, well, if Robert Allenby is one of your picks, the last time I checked he hasn’t won a golf tournament in ten years on the PGA Tour. So you’re right, Fred kind of shot back at them, which was really weird hearing him say something like that.
As far as the Keegan Bradley and the Steve Stricker thing, Keegan felt like maybe Fred should have been in touch with him and all that, and Fred heard that, and he said, look, he said, he’s been texting Steve Stricker back and forth. Stricker assured him that he was starting to feel a lot better. Stricker is basically where he was when he played at East Lake at the TOUR Championship. He can swing the golf club. He has a little bit of tingling in his hand, I think it’s his right hand, but he feels pretty good.
And Tiger said, look, I’ve just got to go with what Steve Stricker is telling me. If he’s ready to play and he’s fired up and he’s bent on going down to Australia and being on our team, then that’s really all I can go with is what Steve Stricker is telling me. If Stricker had said, I’m doubtful, then I would have made the call to Keegan Bradley and I would have said, hey, Keegan, get your clubs ready and make your way to Australia. But he said until Steve Stricker tells me otherwise, Fred just didn’t feel like there was any reason to make that call to Keegan Bradley.
JOHNNY MILLER: Fair enough. I know Tiger Woods likes to have Stricker putting for him, I know that. That’s the partnership, isn’t it?
CURT BYRUM: Yeah, that’s it.
JOHNNY MILLER: So I think for Tiger that’s pretty important that Stricker is around there.
Q. How much did you watch Tiger last night, and what did you see from him?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, I’ll answer that. I’ve been sort of reluctant today a little bit. I watched quite a bit of it and definitely liked the sand shots we talked about and the technique that he was using on the sand shots. I thought it was good tempo and a nice technique and a lot better than he was doing. He’s been struggling with that. The driving off the tee was okay. I wouldn’t put it he was never really great in that area hardly.
But the one thing I noticed with the driving is his tempo; he wouldn’t always finish his backswing, and it was a little bit it wasn’t really rhythmic as it used to be, and that’s probably one reason why he hit a couple pulls. That’s the one thing I saw. I thought the technique as far as the actual swing plane and the hand action was good, it’s just like the top of the backswing, a lot of times it wasn’t a smooth transition.
Besides that, it looked like he was enjoying the gallery and his attitude is better, and I think he seemed to be happy to be there, and I think he’s looking forward to the Presidents Cup.
Just little things now, but little things can be big things, but I don’t really dislike what he’s doing with his golf swing at the moment, and I think he’s on the right path and on the road back to where he’ll believe in his action now.
CURT BYRUM: I’d chime in on that. I watched pretty much the whole broadcast last night. I agree with Johnny. I think the swing plane is better. I like the improvements that he’s made. There are some things in there, he still gets a little quick and he squats a little bit too much, and it looked a little steery. I think at times, even there was a shot on a par3, he was trying to hit a little cut in there and he pulled it and hit it way over the back of the green.
At times I still think there’s some mechanics, too much thought about the mechanics part of it, but I also think that that’s why this Australian Open for him is a big deal. I think it’s a week where he can sort a lot of this stuff out before the Presidents Cup and hopefully be able to play more golf and less mechanics once he tees it up on Thursday next week.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: It’s interesting, Johnny alluded to and Curt alluded to the tempo. The tempo to me is obviously sort of the final element when you know a guy is really comfortable with what he’s doing. It’s been missing for a long time with Tiger Woods, and the fact that he, in addition to having problems completing his backswing and maintaining his levels, I still think he’s bound up in mechanics, and you see him now struggling with a twoway miss. He’s missing far more shots to the left than he ever has in his entire career, but he’s also missing to the right.
The last time we saw Tiger Woods play the kind of golf that we all have grown accustomed to watching Tiger Woods play in 2009, there were only five guys on Tour that missed left less frequently than he did. He missed one direction. He missed to the right, and that was it. So he could play golf with a oneway miss, and he could essentially take the left side of the golf course out.
Well, all the golf course is in play for Tiger now, so he plays with a lot more angst than he used to. He doesn’t have near as much snap through the ball. It’s really it is in a lot of ways sad to sort of watch him get through the ball with his lower body now compared to the way he used to. It’s quite a bit less turn and a lot less snap.
JOHNNY MILLER: He’s swinging only about, what, 60, 70 percent. It’s really not much like you say, he’s not getting an explosion that we saw when he was a teenager and in his early years, probably because of the knees.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: I mean, exactly. When you take a snapshot of Tiger Woods when he’s about three quarters of the way past impact to his finish, if you look at where his hips are, they’re about a quarter less turn than they used to be. That part of it is really sad, to watch him try and put all the pieces together. He’s got a long way to go in my opinion.
CURT BYRUM: Have you ever wondered why he hasn’t gone back to a shorter, maybe maxout 44inch length driver with even a steel shaft like he did in ’99, 2000, when he hit 70 percent of the fairways, and even with that old equipment he was driving it well over 300 yards? I always wondered why he doesn’t experiment. Maybe he has, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to dig up that old driver and go give it a rip.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: But if he swung like he does now with that old equipment, he’d hit some nasty looking shots. It wouldn’t go very far, I’ll tell you that. You put his hands above his shoulder high like they were in 2000, though, it would be bombs away again.
CURT BYRUM: But with modern equipment, steel shaft, and instead of being right at 45 inches, if you cut it down an inch, put a steel shaft in whatever driver head he wants to use now, it would be interesting to see how he’d hit it.
JOHNNY MILLER: It’s fun to watch it all.
DAN HICKS: Yeah, I have this to say: We’ve been on this phone I don’t know how many minutes, but there’s 24 of the best players in the world, two of the biggest icons in the game and popular players in Greg Norman and Fred Couples, and 99.9 percent of this talk is centered on Tiger Woods, and I think that’s about all you need to know to gauge the interest in what an incredible figure this guy is in the sport and what an incredible mystery is still to be unraveled as to how he writes the final chapter. It’s incredible, absolutely incredible.
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