THE MODERATOR: Joining me on the call today is NBC lead analyst Johnny Miller, who will anchor NBC’s coverage with Dan Hicks this week. As many of you know, Johnny is no stranger to the Olympic Club and probably knows it better than anybody. He’s a San Francisco native and started playing the course at 12 years of age and played U.S. Opens here in 1966 and 1987.
Golf Channel analysts Brandel Chamblee and Frank Nobilo are also on the call. They will be logging a lot of hours on the air this week for the network’s Live from the U.S. Open coverage, both Brandel and Frank played in U.S. Opens here at Olympic; Brandel in 1987 and 1998, and Frank in 1998.
Frank also scouted this entire golf course recently and will be hosting 15 what we will call ‘Key to the Green’ features on Golf Channel will that will provide viewers with a detailed look at the course and the changes since the last time the U.S. Open was played here.
Also on the call is NBC producer Tommy Roy. Tommy will be producing this week’s tournament action for both NBC and early rounds on ESPN. Tommy will able to answer any questions about what viewers can expect to see on the air, and what the Olympic Club will bring to TV coverage, as well.
Without further ado, Tommy, I’ll let you get started and then we’ll open up for Q&A afterwards.
TOMMY ROY: Thank you. This is our 18th consecutive year televising the U.S. Open, and I can tell you I’m as excited as I was that first time out in Shinnecock in 1995, so much fun to televise and event that has so much meaning on the sports landscape.
This course is stunningly beautiful. Compared to ’98, we now have far fewer trees, so there’s pretty incredible vistas where we can see the iconic city from the course, and the old, ugly broccoli‑top poa annua greens have been replaced by emerald green bentgrass carpets. Our cameras are accordingly placed to show off all this beauty and also give the viewers at home a sense of what each one of these holes not only looks like but how they play for these golfers.
Obviously, there’s story lines here: Guys like Tiger, coming off his win at Memorial; and Phil, will he finally win here after all of the runner‑ups; Bubba coming off the Masters win and the USGA’s grouping those three together in a super‑group. You’ve got Rory who is playing better again, defending champ; Westwood coming off his win last week in Europe; Luke Donald with his recent win over in Europe; so just tons of story lines from the professional ranks.
Then with the Golf Channel’s terrific coverage of the sectional qualifying a week ago Monday, which they lovingly called ‘Golf’s Longest Day,’ the story lines for all of the qualifiers are front and center much more than they have been in the past, and that’s going to be a focus for us on Thursday and Friday as well.
With the history here at Olympic, it doesn’t get much better than this, and one of the guys that obviously is a key part of the history here at Olympic is Johnny Miller, and I’ll turn it over to him.
JOHNNY MILLER: That was dang good, Tommy. Bottom line is I’m pretty excited to be at my home course, Beacon ‑‑ got sort of two home courses between Pebble and Olympic, but those are the ones I grew up on and really honed my game to be Open Champion to be honest with you.
So I’m excited all of these changes came to the Olympic Club for the better. The course is also in great condition, the best it’s ever been. And I love the trees now that they don’t have the bushiness; the sort of lower limbs are trimmed that let more wind in, and the wind, I guess which forecast‑wise, can be a factor, ten to 20 miles an hour maybe, so that’s going to be a good test.
The rough is good and thick; a lot thicker than it was last year at Congressional. We have got a great field. And you know, the finish is going to be ‑‑ the start is going to be awesome, awesomely tough, the first six holes, and the finish is going to be excited. 15 is a definite birdie hole.
16, I wouldn’t really call a birdie. I watched some pros yesterday hit driver, 3‑wood and 7‑, 8‑iron to No. 16, that’s unheard of; it’s going to be the longest playing par 5 in the history of championship golf with the heavy air.
And then 17 is a definite eagle/bogey hole, and 18 is a definite birdie hole if you get it in the fairway.
So it’s going to be an exciting start, for one reason, tough; and excited finish, for a reason that you might catch up a little bit. So I’ll turn it over to your questions.
THE MODERATOR: We’re going to Frank.
JOHNNY MILLER: Oh, okay, Frank.
FRANK NOBILO: Yeah, I think one of the beauties of Olympic is the unbalanced nature that it refers to. It’s such an unusual start, just changing the first hole to a par 4.
So the start of the golf course, it almost has the effect that it takes the life out of you for six holes. You play a couple of the par 4s early on; 4 is going to be play as one of the most difficult holes on the golf course. 5 goes in reverse direction.
So when you stand on the 7th tee, which is a drivable par 4, it’s going to be very interesting to see the players, how they adjust to the change in the golf course in the middle of the round. And as Johnny alluded to when they finished, all of a sudden it let’s you in with a chance. At least you get three scoring clubs in your hand, even if you don’t go for 17 in two, to create that sort of weird finish and give you a little bit of hope. I’ve never seen a U.S. Open course like that, that nature, and I think the psychology for the players is different than most U.S. Open venues.
Plus the fact that the rough around the greens this year is certainly different than what it was in ’98. I think chipping has been very underestimated this week. You’re going to see a lot of shots with the handle, once it comes off the club like a stop‑chip, where you’re going to be able to fly the ball a couple of feet; that’s going to be a real skill that’s going to have to be perfected this week.
I’ll pass over to Brandel.
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: From an historical point of view, this golf course has obviously only hosted four U.S. Opens, and yet it’s given us some of the most dramatic moments in the history of the game. You can look at ’55 and wonder what would have happened in Hogan would have won that. You can look at ’66 and wonder what would have happened if Arnold Palmer would have won that; Hogan would of course have won ten majors. And Palmer, he lost the U.S. Open in ’62 and ’63 in playoffs, and losing in a playoff in ’66, just amazing history has transpired here.
So you get the sense that there’s something about this golf course that brings the best out of the best players and that there’s something about this golf course that for all of the reasons that Johnny has alluded to and Frank has just pointed out that allows the very best to separate themselves from the field.
Each of the four U.S. Opens that have been contested here, at the end of the week, there were two players by a wide margin in every single case that had separated themselves from the rest of the field. So you have the sense, well, which of the players is it going to be? And if it continues this legacy again, will it be a giant killer and who is the giant in this game? Tiger Woods. Can he break the jinx?
And to Tommy Roy’s point, there are so many players coming in here on form: Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Luke Donald, Justin Rose. There are question marks that when you put all of those story lines involved; and then what you have to do to play well on this golf course, work it left‑to‑right, right‑to‑left, all of these awkward lies from the fairway, downhill, uphill, sidehill, which we go on and on about at Augusta National but it’s true here as well; you put all of that together along with the views that Tommy Roy was talking about, I’m chomping at the bit just to watch.
Tommy Roy asked me yesterday, would you rather play in it or watch it? I know what’s going into playing. There’s the excitement, but there’s also the dread that you can embarrass yourself any moment.
I’m really looking forward to watching this golf tournament. And I think with Johnny Miller calling it; again, nobody knows this golf course like Johnny. Great history here. We have the right people covering it and the right people talking about it. So it’s going to be really cool to listen to.
Q. Regarding the Mickelson/Woods/Watson pairing, we probably talked about this before, but how much do they consult ‑‑ do they tell you ahead of time that they are doing these pairings? What kind of feedback or interaction do you have with the USGA when they are doing these pairings, especially a pairing like that?
TOMMY ROY: We talk about it, more about the timing that they go off so that it fits within certain windows. But the fact of the matter is that the pairings are up to them. But they have a good sense of what makes for good television, as well. They play consult a little but it’s their pairings.
Q. If you’re Bubba Watson, you haven’t played, you missed a cut, and the U.S. Open is hard enough to be in that circus, hat pairing, having to play in that hoopla and how would you feel about something like that? Johnny or anyone else who wants to answer that.
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, I’ve played in similar type of threesomes with Trevino and Nicklaus, and not so much in the U.S. Open, because they would never do that in the mid 70s, have the three biggest draws together.
But golf is a new world. It’s a big sport now. It will be very interesting to see how that pairing pans out or whether they all play poorly or they all play well or just one plays well. With that many people and that much pressure, to be honest with you, at the Open, knowing this pairing is historical, the three biggest draws in the tournament being together, it will be fun to watch. I can’t wait to watch it. I hope they do great.
It’s just sort of unique. So, is this a precursor of something of the future we are going to see a lot more of, where you put the best players together, or if it’s just a one‑time thing.
You have the three best Europeans together, which is again unusual, Lee Westwood, Rory and Luke Donald.
Q. Just wondering, does it add just another obstacle? This tournament is hard enough and the course is hard enough; and that has to kind of ‑‑ is it fair to those guys to do a pairing like that.
JOHNNY MILLER: Let’s put it this way: I would much rather play with two guys that are shooting 67, than two guys that are shooting 79 going to every toilet, you know.
FRANK NOBILO: I think you do Bubba Watson a disservice, because he’s a star now, too, and his stated goal, he stated recently, is to be the best player in the world. So I think he would embrace that opportunity to take them on. You have got to beat them, whether it Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday; but for him, it’s something I think he would relish.
And just to add, you have three different types of fans that are going to come out, which I don’t think golf has really had. Phil and Tiger ‑‑ but Bubba brings a different element to golf which we haven’t seen in many a year and that’s something that has to be said, as well.
Q. If you can give us your memories of tying for 8th as an amateur in 1966, and if you think that’s something that could happen these days?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, going the second part of your question, definitely could happen. We’ve had some great amateurs that ‑‑ you just have a good week. And the fact that I knew the course so well, I actually was not impressed with my 8th place finish when I got done with the championship, until I realized later, that was pretty good.
But as a kid, you think, who the heck is going to beat you on your home course. That’s the way I felt. Not that I really expected to win, but for some reason I wasn’t afraid of anybody at the time. I had a good, solid game.
But it’s just ‑‑ what was the first part of the question again?
JOHNNY MILLER: The one memory was that I remember my mother having to wake me up at 9:00 in the morning on Thursday because my tee time was 11:00. Shows how much nerves I had. I never used to get nervous playing golf, ever.
The fact that I played with Trevino the first two rounds, his first big pro tournament; and his wife signed him up for the Open and he qualified, and being able to sort of have a friendship from both of us starting, even though I was an amateur, sort of starting off there, we have a good friendship. And then playing with Nicklaus on Saturday, when we were both at 142 after 70‑72. And being able to play with Jack, I played a practice round with him earlier in the week, and that started a lifelong relationship and a mutual respect.
So when I look back at the Open, it’s really about playing with those two guys and doing it in front of my home crowd. You know, Olympic Club was proud of the fact that I did well. And of course the U.S. Open, can’t forget Billy Casper, my other closest friend on TOUR, making that great comeback, seven shot down with nine to go and winning in the playoff.
So those are my recollections from the Open. It was sort of a life‑changing week for me, and gave me confidence to know I could play against the pros.
TOMMY ROY: When you played with Trevino, did you think he would be as good as he turned out to be, and what do you remember about Arnold Palmer’s collapse, what did you think about that.
JOHNNY MILLER: What I remembered about Trevino, he didn’t say about five words in two days. That’s changed a little bit. But you could see how good he was. He hit that little low fade, and you could see it was a homemade swing and just went about his business and made the cut.
Of course, the Palmer collapse, he was the king of golf, and for him to, he was setting the U.S. Open all‑time scoring record, he was going to break the Open scoring record and just waltzed through 63 holes, and Billy just started doing his thing; and Arnie, I don’t know if he got a head of himself, but I learned a pretty good lesson that you don’t count your money until the dealing is done. I think maybe he got distracted for some reason or maybe Billy just started chipping away.
It was a great lesson to be learned there, it was very dramatic, the whole scene was so dramatic, to see going for a low U.S. Open scoring record, to looking like he was going to lose on the 72nd hole and got it up and in from the left gun‑shlep (ph) rough for an amazing par to tie Billy. It was a great week, no doubt about it.
Q. How much has the course changed since then?
JOHNNY MILLER: Well, the clubs into the greens, you know, the course was playing I think around 6,700 yards back then, and in reality, 6,700 yards compared to what, what, Brandel, 7,100 and change right now?
BRANDEL CHAMBLEE: Yeah.
JOHNNY MILLER: It probably plays slightly shorter for these guys than it did for us. It was a great test for us. The trees were much tighter off the trees, hitting through these little chutes; in fact, Bubba Watson I don’t know could have played in that U.S. Open with his big slices and hooks.
If you hit the ball dead straight ‑‑ that’s why you had two winners at Olympic Club ‑‑ we talk about having to cut off hook lies and hooking it off cut lies; that back then, the two winners, you look at Janzen and Scott Simpson two, guys that hit very little spin on the ball, dead straight with sort of a knuckleball, and they played those shots into those greens just hitting that sort of a dead‑handed, Curtis Strange type of straight ball with not much spin on it. That worked for those two guys.
So you don’t necessarily have to curve it, but Bubba, now with the trees trimmed back, only a couple tee shots, don’t have to worry about hitting one of those big hooks or big fades. Used to be that hole after hole you were coming out of these tight chutes, and of course they lost a lot of trees and a lot of the Monterey pines with that pitch bark needle or whatever it is.
It’s a little different course that’s still a pretty amazing test, pretty similar test. I still think that some guys shoots on best case scenario, shoots four 69s, that will most likely win it easily. There won’t be any 16‑under pars this week, I can tell you that.
Q. On the production side, I know Action Cam is back, but what is your total camera complement going to be this year, and can you go over a few of the other specialty cameras besides the Action Cam you’ll have out?
TOMMY ROY: Well, our camera complement is fluid still, although probably locked in by now, but since I got here Saturday, I’ve actually added two more cameras. So we are up to 53 I guess is the number now.
Other specialty cameras that we have here, we have a couple of our cue ball cameras that are in places that we can’t get our regular studio‑size cameras in. But this is mostly about not so much, you know, fancy camera angles as it is the correct camera angles to show these holes.
Again, we have got a couple reverse follows, like at the par 3 third, which is way up on the hill so you can see the Golden Gate Bridge, actually, in the background on that shot up there. But the majority of our stuff is pretty standard, you know, not high‑tech cameras but just the regular Hi‑Def cameras.
One thing we do have is because of the slopes of this hill here, there’s grade that goes from the clubhouse all the way down to the 13th, 14th, 15th, so our use of our animated holes is not just holes, but the entire hillside, we are going to show the grade and elevation changes, etc.
Q. Okay, cool. And also with Golf Channel having an even bigger role this year and the evolution of NBC Sports group coming into its own at this point, do they have a bigger presence in the production compound this year, and how are you going to sort of look to, I guess, really make this work flow the best that it can possibly be this year, as opposed to last year when you first worked together?
TOMMY ROY: Same as what we talked about at THE PLAYERS, where we are all interconnected now. We are right next to each other here in the compound. Not only are there live runs on the Golf Channel, but two one‑hour shows airing on NBC that the Golf Channel guys are actually producing. That airs from noon to one both days here, Pacific time, on Saturday and Sunday.
Again, Bob Costas will be a part of that show; Dan and Johnny will be a part of that show, but it’s actually being produced by Matt Hegarty from the Golf Channel.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll wrap it.
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