Thursday, June 29, 2023
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everybody. Thanks for joining our NBC Sports U.S. Women’s Open media conference call. In a moment, we’ll be joined by members of our Open broadcast team, play-by-play announcer Grant Boone, lead analyst Morgan Pressel, holes announcer Tom Abbott, on-course reporter Kay Cockerill, and John Wood.
NBC Sports will be making history with this year’s U.S. Women’s Open coverage from Pebble Beach. A record 12 hours of network coverage on NBC through the weekend from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday, and also the first time the Championship will air in primetime on NBC. Overall, more than 25 hours of championship coverage over NBC, Peacock, and USA Network.
Next week’s coverage begins on the Fourth of July with Live From the U.S. Women’s Open kicking off more than 25 hours of live studio coverage from Pebble Beach. And before we get to the weekend, Pebble Beach will get the primetime treatment on NBC as part of the coverage of the 47th annual Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks. The broadcast will feature flyover along the coastline at Pebble Beach by an all-female U.S. Navy flight crew to celebrate the 50th anniversary of women flying in the Navy.
So before we even get to the weekend coverage, you’ll see Pebble Beach in primetime next week.
All that is to say we are truly excited and geared up for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open. We’ll get into the call now.
We’ll start with some brief opening comments from each of our speakers, and then we’ll open it up to the media for questions. We’ll start with our play-by-play commentator, Grant Boone. Go ahead, Grant.
GRANT BOONE: Hi, everyone. Obviously like everyone, I’m fired up to get out to Pebble. I really hope that the narrative flips from saying ‘isn’t it great that these women get to play these great courses?’, and instead we’ve come around to saying these courses are worthy of the best players in women’s golf.
Pebble is long overdue as a host of the U.S. Women’s Open, and I’m grateful for Heidi Ueberroth for her commitment, and the entire Pebble Beach company’s commitment to bringing not just this U.S. Women’s Open, but the next few over the next many years.
Hopefully we can all be a part of the next one, if not all of them, moving forward.
In addition to the venue being so great, I’m really excited about the depth of field. You just don’t see this in women’s golf as often as you see it on the men’s tour because of the strength of some of the other worldwide tours like the KLPGA, the JLPGA.
As of now, we have the top 38 in the Rolex Rankings, which may be a record. You just don’t see that very often. I think we’re going to have something like 49 of the top 50, 50 of the top 51.
So there’s a great history of players from other Tours coming over and playing very well in major championships. Just to bring together the very, very best in the world at a place like Pebble Beach has all of us chomping at the bit to get out there.
MORGAN PRESSEL: Good afternoon, everyone. Certainly agree with everything that Grant said. It’s really exciting. I feel like there’s been a buzz in the air on Tour this year with players waiting.
We’ve just come off a fabulous week at Baltusrol, and now heading to Pebble. I remember when it was announced in a player meeting that this was going to happen. Everyone was just so excited to finally play a U.S. Women’s Open at Pebble Beach, a venue that has so much rich history in this game of golf.
I say to just about anybody who will listen how important venues are to women’s golf. We’ve seen it really escalating in the past five, ten years. The USGA is committed to it, as well as the PGA of America and the R&A, really elevating their championship by taking them to premier venues that are household names to our viewing audience.
That really brings more eyeballs to watch the very best women in the world. Pebble Beach, I was there for maybe a day about two months ago, and it’s just spectacular. You can just get lost in the views, and everything around that property is going to look so incredible on TV.
I really can’t wait to be part of it, especially coming off of such an awesome week last week at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and really riding that momentum into what I have no doubt will be an epic U.S. Women’s Open.
TOM ABBOTT: Yeah, echoing the sentiments there of Grant and Morgan, I think the venue is obviously a big part of this story, going to Pebble Beach and creating history there, which will be continued in the commitment that Pebble Beach has made to the Championship.
I think when it comes to players and you look at what’s happening in the women’s game, some of the biggest stars are wilting and we have Rose blooming. Sorry, that was a terrible line, but it came into my head.
Yeah, I think there’s been sort of a changing of the guard this year with Lilia Vu winning the first major of the year and Ruoning Yin winning the second major of the year last week, and some of the biggest players in the game struggling, Nelly, Lydia, Lexi, really not playing their best golf.
I think we’ve seen players come in and steal the limelight, and I’m very excited to see what Rose Zhang can do on a golf course where she has the women’s course record. I think that could be a boost for the LPGA Tour and women’s sports and golf in general.
I think she’s created a lot of interest and intrigue. I think if she continues to play well, she’ll be a favorite this week and maybe the rest of the year.
I think there’s a lot of anticipation to see what the American players can do at Pebble Beach because they have a Solheim Cup coming up and they’ve been struggling for the most part. But the Solheim is still a few months away. If it were right now you’d probably say the Europeans have the edge, but things can change pretty quickly.
I think there are a lot of things sort of bubbling away under the surface, but I really hope that we just have a great, great week. The weather looks very good, and it could be a game changer for the LPGA and for women’s sports being in primetime on a golf course that many people will know around the world and will resonate with them.
KAY COCKERILL: Yes. As a Northern Californian born and raised, I am super excited for this U.S. Women’s Open to be played at Pebble. I wish it happened 30 years ago when I could have been in the field to play. I’m really jealous of all the women that get to walk my favorite golf course in the entire world and play the National Championship.
I’m probably equally or even more excited this is at Pebble than I was when the U.S. Women’s Open was played at the Olympic Club for the first time, which is my home course. To have two U.S. Women’s Opens in Northern California is to me a dream come true.
As a young girl, a product of public golf, I dreamed of playing Pebble Beach, and I think it’s an internationally known golf course that people, when they watch tournament play out there and they watched the men for years and years, they had aspirations of making their way to Pebble Beach. It’s a course that is open to anybody to play if you can fork over the money.
So I think a lot of people are going to be very excited to see how the women play it. And as they watch the women playing it and they see this gorgeous golf course that just epitomizes everything to me that’s wonderful in the game — the layout, the ocean views, the wind coming off the Pacific — I just think every moment is going to be so exciting out there.
I think we all are going to be very proud to walk the fairways or be in the booth calling this historic golf. I was fortunate to play the course quite a bit in my formative years learning the game and developing into a good amateur and college player, and I’m really excited to see what the women are going to do this next week.
Question for Morgan or Kay. We talk about what a big week this is going to be next week for women’s golf. To which would you assign more weight, being at Pebble or being in primetime?
MORGAN PRESSEL: I’m trying to think here. What would actually be — I would say maybe Pebble just by the slightest margin, but being in primetime, I mean, already our GOLF Channel broadcast from our West Coast events are some of our most highly viewed events, and then to have that on NBC Network television in primetime for the first time ever, it’s really, really special.
Then you put the two of them together, people are going to tune in because they’ve heard of Pebble Beach. They might have never watched an LPGA event in their life, but they’ve heard of Pebble Beach, and here it is on Sunday evening and they’re flipping through channels and they’re like, wow, this is really amazing. This is some incredible golf. What an exciting event.
So I think it’s a combination of the two. I don’t know that there’s really — I mean, maybe in the greater Women’s Open across the world, Pebble Beach — U.S. Women’s Open, Pebble Beach would have that — people who are not necessarily watching it in the United States or on the East Coast, but just the two of them together is just like a match made in heaven.
KAY COCKERILL: I think Pebble in itself is the impetus to even having it in primetime because it’s such a coveted venue. So I think the venue almost precedes and has initiated the primetime coverage.
They first announced — the USGA first announced Pebble for 2014. They announced that in 2007, that it would be held in the summer of ’14. What do you think took so long? And then from your own personal side of things, was any part of you jealous that you’re missing out?
MORGAN PRESSEL: First, I’m not jealous in the sense that I’m really excited to be part of it in a different capacity. I’m not going to lie, the thought crossed my mind between Baltusrol and Pebble, do I play a couple more years? That didn’t happen, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
Regarding 2014 to 2023, I’m not privy to those conversations, so I don’t really understand why it happened. I’m not privy in those conversations.
I think this question, I’d like to hear from Morgan and Kay, what they think of Rose Zhang’s impact on this tournament and what they think of her chances. And then what other golfers might fit Pebble well with I guess maybe their accuracy to the greens and driving it on the fairways with the rough?
KAY COCKERILL: Well, I’m glad to hear from you. My father was a wire editor at Mercury News for nearly 40 years, so Mercury News is near and dear to my heart.
Obviously, she has a good track record there, having established a course record, albeit at a different yardage. She has that innate sense of just learning and knowing how to play any golf course well, and she seems impervious to the highest of pressures that allow her to execute shots when needed.
She’s a delight to watch. I think the world’s going to fall in love with her. Many already have.
A name that popped into my head before we went on here was Megan Khang. She has played very well this year. She’s trending well. She’s had two top tens in both the first two majors with a tie for third recently, and I think she’s one of those hungry players that just has all the talent and just hasn’t quite put it all together to win yet. Maybe her first win will be a major.
Mina Harigae who’s local and has played the golf course hundreds of times. She’s so excited to play. I think she may shine if the pressure of being in a hometown crowd doesn’t — sometimes that can inhibit you, and if she can relish that and use that to her credit, she may do really well.
MORGAN PRESSEL: I can jump in there as well. I think the world certainly has fallen in love very, very quickly, and what she’s been able to accomplish in just a short period of professional golf window is just astounding.
Going back to her history at Pebble Beach and her success there, the guy who caddied for me when we played out at media day caddied for Rose in that — I believe it’s the Carmel Cup, and he was just like, she is something special. Like really, really cool to watch her up close from that caddying perspective.
I think we’ve all gotten to see that pretty quickly on the LPGA Tour already, and there’s certainly a lot of expectations on her, but she seems to handle it all incredibly well.
Related to other players, I’m going to go way out on a limb here. Jin-Young Ko. How do you not pick Jin-Young Ko for a golf course where you have to hit it straight and have fabulous iron play and putt well?
The greens are very, very small. You have to be very precise with your iron play, have a creative short game.
I had kind of from the very beginning — from maybe six months ago or so Lydia Ko was really in front in my mind for this golf course. It suits her game absolutely perfectly. She has had a lot of success on similar golf courses, especially in the Northern California area, so the greens and kind of the cooler weather conditions.
She hasn’t played her best stuff as of late, but I would not be surprised if Lydia finds her form next week as well.
If John’s back, it would be good to hear from him on this too. Kay, as well as you know Pebble, are there going to be challenges for the women that are going to be different than we’ve seen from the men?
KAY COCKERILL: I don’t think so. I think once you’ve played it a couple times, you know what to do. Very old school, like Morgan said, in the fact the greens are small, they’re tilted.
It’s going to be irregular chipping around the green, especially if the rough is really thick. I’m sure the USGA is going to have it in prime condition. This time of year you don’t get rain. You can get wind. You can get some overcast conditions, fog.
I think relatively speaking, the women are going to do as well as the men do, and a lot of that depends on the wind. They can control their golf ball much better. I don’t see any differences.
JOHN WOOD: I would echo what Kay said. The only thing I would say is the learning curve. Pebble Beach is a course that the men, they can play every year if they want to, if they play the AT&T, and they’ve played multiple U.S. Opens there.
So I would think Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday may be a little bit bigger than a normal week this week just because there is such a learning curve there.
For Morgan and Tom, we’ve talked a lot about the opportunity this week presents for the LPGA to grow its exposure, between the primetime, between the venue. What do you think needs to happen for us to say that the Tour took advantage of the opportunity this week?
TOM ABBOTT: Well, I don’t think there’s anything specific that needs to happen. I think having a great championship on a golf course like Pebble Beach speaks for itself. I think obviously in terms of fan excitement and engagement, having two stars battling it out all the way to the end along those closing holes would obviously be the benefit.
But I also think that, with the LPGA Tour, it’s such a global tour, and it’s the most global tour of any in golf, in my opinion, and maybe — as opposed to tennis. It would be very close. But there’s stars from all over the world.
You look at the leaderboard the last couple of weeks, it’s different flags throughout the leaderboard. So Doug asked the question about primetime or Pebble Beach. For an American market, primetime is very, very important; but for a global market, Pebble Beach is very important. People know that golf course all over the world.
So I think ideally in the U.S., it would be great to have two American stars battling all the way to the end of Pebble, which would be a great success for the LPGA Tour in the U.S.
But equally, if it’s two players from two different countries, that will be great for the LPGA too because it’s such a global tour.
So I think just the fact that the LPGA is playing on this venue is very significant, but it’s also a trend that’s moving forward with the LPGA Tour in that they’re going to venues all around the world that they deserve to be playing. And I think we’re going to really see that this week.
I think from my experience of working at GOLF Channel for almost 20 years, venues matter. Venues matter. People, viewers associate with the venue, and we’ve seen that time and time again, especially when we go to Europe.
It makes a difference for the viewer when they know the golf course, they’re familiar with it.
I think it’s a big step to play on these golf courses, and this is going to continue with the U.S. Women’s Open as we move forward.
You’re all clearly very excited about Pebble and the USGA is making a big commitment to not just returning to Pebble, but really opening up the golf courses it’s going to be bringing the U.S. Women’s Open to, moving forward, a lot of big venues that will host more U.S. Opens as well. Morgan, I’d love to know from your perspective, are these courses and tournaments going to make wins for these players more important being at a course like this than maybe they were previously?
MORGAN PRESSEL: Yes. I would say yes. I would say that where you win definitely matters, and I think that that’s any championship. I would equate it to St. Andrews. And I think about Lorena (Ochoa) and Stacy (Lewis) who both won at St. Andrews. Yes, I do think there’s a difference.
They’re all wonderful venues, but some are more famous and more spectacular than others, and that’s for a reason. It’s because of the epic championships that have been staged there for many, many years.
Yes, I do think that it makes a difference. Not just obviously winning. If you would have told 10-year-old me I would have won a Women’s Open anywhere I would have taken it. It would have been just fine. But certainly winning at a golf course like Pebble Beach would have a little bit more — even more than every other Women’s Open victory.
To kind of follow up on the previous question about Rose (Zhang), what in your mind sort of separates her? What has allowed her to have this kind of immediate impact? Secondly, Nelly Korda, I’m curious on your thoughts on where her game is. I know she missed the cut at the Women’s PGA, and what she needs to do to get back in the winners circle.
MORGAN PRESSEL: I just love everything about Rose’s game. It’s not flashy by any means, but she just has this grittiness to really get the job done when it’s needed, and I’ve seen her a couple times really up close now. Once at ANWA where she had a five-shot lead and lost that and still had the mental toughness to persevere through the playoffs even after falling apart on the final round.
Similar at Mizuho. She had a two-shot lead. She didn’t play her best. She really struggled on Sunday. Certainly there was a lot of pressure, but she mentally persevered and got the job done in a playoff.
I talked at length to her coaches, George Pinnell and Anne Walker at Stanford, and they both praise her mental toughness and her ability to play golf without expectations. Every day you wake up is a new day. You have no idea what you’re going to shoot that day. Go out there with no expectations and just do the very best that you can on every shot.
She has, from what I’ve seen so far, seems to have a very, very short memory, which is one of the best things that you can have as a golfer, the ability to put tough shots and holes and predicaments behind you and just really move forward and then to refocus. Those are some of the things that I’ve been really most impressed with just watching Rose from up close starting this spring.
Thank you. My other question, Morgan, was your thoughts on Nelly Korda, where her game is, what she needs to do to get back to her winning ways.
MORGAN PRESSEL: Yeah, Nelly has been struggling with injury this season. She went through something last season as well with the blood clot. Amazingly came back after, what, about three or four months off and finished top ten at the U.S. Women’s Open, which, I mean, that was just incredible.
Coming back after some time off, I think it was about two months, last week I saw some rough, which I think would be normal for just about anybody who hasn’t been able to play or practice to the level they would like.
She said in her press conference that she was a hundred percent ready and she may have been, but still when you get under the gun, to expect another top-10 finish in a major right after a long break is maybe asking a bit too much.
But she’ll find her way. The U.S. Women’s Open in general is a place where she is looking to win. She’s going to go there with hopes of winning next week, and she’s doing everything she can this week, I’m sure, to prepare to figure out what went wrong last week, what does she need to tighten up.
Golf is such a weird game. Sometimes it’s just the smallest little thing that makes the biggest difference. But I think for Nelly specifically, it’s just been her lack of competition and her lack of playing is the reason why she didn’t play quite as well last week, and she’ll be looking to really tighten all that up for next week.
I would start with Morgan. How much as a player do you think players are aware of the stage they’re on? Not just the major championship, but we’ve talked on this call so much about the big audience, about primetime, about Pebble. How much does that play into someone’s head, or are they just seeing fairways and greens?
MORGAN PRESSEL: I would think leading up to it everybody’s been focused on Pebble. I know multiple players have gone for advance practice, going to take a peek at what’s coming up.
And players know the history. They’ve watched Pebble growing up, I’m sure their whole lives, for so many other championships.
So players know the importance of Pebble and the stage that it’s on, just as they understand some of the really big venues that we have played in the last handful of years. But when it comes down to, once they’re standing on the tee, they’re probably not thinking about it being primetime East Coast.
As a player, that’s not something I ever really thought about. I had no idea when the TV windows were other than when you’re playing late on Sunday, it’s probably a good thing.
That’s kind of what I focused on as a player, and I’m sure — you know, once you get to that U.S. Women’s Open and you get inside those ropes Thursday morning, it’s game on. Just like you said, fairways, greens, U.S. Open test.
The test in a U.S. Open is both physically and mentally exhausting, and any extra moments that you spend thinking on anything else will only sap that energy. So it’s a lot about energy conservation.
Then Tom, since you kind of brought it up but not really, speaking to an American market, I think you were asked the best thing that could happen, two stars battling it out to the end type of thing. What’s the worst thing that could happen next week? Anyone else can weigh in if they want.
TOM ABBOTT: A fog delay and a Monday finish wouldn’t be great.
Obviously as a fan you want it close, a close race. I think, if it was a runaway — but if it was Rose Zhang running away, I don’t know, I think that would be a pretty great story, to be honest.
I think it really depends on who you’re rooting for and what you’re looking for.
On a commercial level there’s one thing, but then there’s also a fan level. If Jin-young Ko runs away with it, it’s going to be great in Korea. She’s a very popular player.
I think with the LPGA there’s so many different factors because it really is a global tour. My answer to your question would be a Monday finish because of fog.
Kay, as a player, you’ve been out there for so long. I feel like it’s so easy to kind of be sucked into the famous holes like No. 6 or No. 7, but what would you be really focusing on next week?
KAY COCKERILL: I’d say everyone kind of immediately thinks about 6, 7, and 8 because 8 is so tough with the drive and the daunting second over the bunker, and you’ve got to have a lot of confidence to just trust your number to step up and hit to that little green. Everyone bails left because at least you can — if you go short left, at least you can get up and down there.
That stretch of like 9, 10, and 11, I think those will be tough holes. If you don’t hit the fairway, trying to make par on those holes is really hard.
14, we always see when they have — especially when they have the hole tucked over the bunker up on that ridge and players sucking it back off or overshooting their shot because you’re hitting uphill your third shot to kind of a blind third.
It’s going to be interesting. Again, this is all the things we’ve seen the guys have to deal with in the U.S. Open there and the AT&T, and now the women are going to be facing these same predicaments, and it’s all relative, right?
17, is it going to be back into the wind and playing two clubs more? 18, how much are they going to cut off of trying to take it a little bit further over the ocean or down the ocean line? It will be dependent on the conditions and how the USGA sets it up.
Yeah, I think there’s going to be just a lot to talk about for us, whether you’re in the booth or out on course. It’s going to be no loss of analogies or looking back in time for situations that have happened in the past and seeing how the women — I kind of said the same thing when we were leading into the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club. It’s like we have all this history and all these stories of what has happened, good and bad.
Who’s going to be the first player to have a hole-in-one? Who’s going to be the first to make an eagle? How is the 18th going to play weeklong? Those are all things we’re curious about, and those are going to be things that these women are going to be the first to do X, Y, and Z, and we’re going to be there documenting it.
Sorry, rambled a little bit, but that’s my answer.
I have a question I’d love to get Morgan’s thoughts but welcome thoughts from anyone who’d like to chime in as well. Golf coverage gets plenty of criticism throughout the season from week to week on the men’s and women’s side. I’m thinking most recently of the Women’s PGA and some concerns about platforms it was on or availability. I know you are all in awkward position of working for a company that might be getting criticized but not being able to make necessarily any decisions. So I’m just wondering from any of your perspectives, if you hear those criticisms about the coverage, do you find that any of it is warranted, or do you feel that critics are missing the point?
MORGAN PRESSEL: I’ll go ahead. I think we’re always looking to be shown more on network, to make it as easy as possible for our viewers to find us and to be exposed to even more viewers. Any time we feel like that doesn’t happen, it can be frustrating for us as well.
In a sense, we want people to be able to watch us and as many people as possible. Every time we get a weekend on network, a lot of that comes from all of our collective passion on the women’s game and wanting to truly showcase these tremendous athletes to a broader scale.
Yes, we’d love more hours, more network coverage. We’d love all of that. There’s just a lot of different things that go into that, whether that be from the LPGA Tour, the sponsors, the network. There’s so many different layers of complexity to those decisions.
GRANT BOONE: I would say the only thing more annoying than the criticism is when there’s no criticism because, when there’s no criticism, it usually means people aren’t paying attention as much.
So I’m always one who says, you know, you keep voicing your interest and your questions and your concerns. Just ask the questions. Oftentimes there is a reason why certain things were done a certain way. And it may not be intuitive to everyone, and I know Jamie gets these questions all the time. Why was it done this exact way?
Sometimes depending on the network, there may not be a great answer. It was just done that way for no intentional reason. But other times there’s a very good reason why things were done a certain way.
I know with the KPMG last week, there were more hours than there have ever been at that event. A lot of them were on Peacock, which is a pay streaming service, but GOLF Channel is also a pay service. I think it’s great that people want more. So I’m always welcoming those who are critical. I tend to reframe it as that meaning that more people want to watch. So I actually appreciate it.
I can promise you it does get heard, the concerns and the questions. They do get heard. I welcome it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. I would say to that last question and to Grant’s point too in terms of coverage, I know we’re certainly proud to be showing more live women’s golf than ever before this year on all of our NBC Sports platforms, as well as more women’s golf coverage on NBC than ever before. I know that’s something that our entire team is proud of.