Tiger’s PGA Championship press conference: Tuesday
JOHN DEVER: Again, good morning everybody, and welcome back to the 97th PGA Championship here at Whistling Straits. I’d like to thank four-time PGA champion Tiger Woods for spending a few moments with us.
Tiger, this is your 18th PGA Championship, and as you look back in the scope of your career, how does the PGA Championship stand out for you within that career?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, for me this was my second major I ever won. So coming after the ’97 Masters, and to win at Medinah, that’s the reason why I changed my game and tried to become better, because I wanted to be able to win on all different types of venues, especially in major championships. Because Augusta is the only one that’s at the same golf course each and every year. The other three rotate. So I needed to have my game a little more diverse and versatile.
Hence, I changed, and it worked out pretty good. To be able to make that putt at 17 at Medinah, and to go on and beat Sergio really propelled me into the 2000s and the early part of my career.
JOHN DEVER: Obviously you were here in ’04 and 2010, but how does this course, Whistling Straits set up for you in 2015?
TIGER WOODS: The golf course is setting up great. It’s a little soft with the rain we had yesterday. Obviously, there’s a lot of mosquitos out there. But it’s — I think it’s playing great. The greens are absolutely perfect. They’re such a great speed and so smooth. I know they’ll probably get a little bit quicker come Thursday, but overall, this golf course is in perfect shape right now.
Q: You dominated the game to an extent that we never saw before. Winning majors at clips sometimes over 25 percent. But now it’s been seven years, and there have been a lot of struggles and you’re getting a lot older. Is it fair to say that you may have at least lost a step or possibly a half a step?
TIGER WOODS: No, I don’t think — I can still walk the same pace on the golf course (laughter).
Seriously, I can’t hit the ball as far as I used to, relatively speaking. I’m longer now in yardage than I was earlier in my career, but as compared to other players, no, I’m not.
But my understanding of how to play the game has gotten much better. How to play all different types of venues, all different types of grasses. I played all around the world. There’s a lot of people that have stuck to the United States and just played here, instead of playing at a global level. I think playing globally helped me in my career, and that’s one of the reasons I had as much success, not just in the United States, but around the world, because I got a chance to experience a lot of things early on.
And I rely on that knowledge a lot when I’m playing, especially as I’m getting older now, to get me around the golf courses and to get me around different types of venues, and to understand how to play them.
Q: On that topic of distance, when you look at the leaderboard here last time, does that confirm that this is a power-friendly golf course or do you think that maybe is a little bit of a misperception about this, because it is a Pete Dye course, and he tends to take the driver away from you.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I believe that — wasn’t DiMarco in the playoff here? Yeah. He wasn’t long. So Pete’s the kind of guy, where, yeah, the long holes are going to play long, that’s just the way it is. But the short holes — the short holes will play really, really tricky. And you have to understand how to play them.
And I think that if you’re driving the golf ball well on any Pete Dye golf course, you’re going to have short irons in and you’re going to have a lot of looks, because you’ll be able to feed the golf ball into these little kind of areas that he has. But if you’re not, if you’re missing those areas, then you’re in for it.
You look at this golf course, there’s plenty of room off the tee. There’s plenty of room on the greens. It’s just that you have to hit both of them. If you don’t, then you’re going to have something that’s pretty ugly.
Pete rewards good shots, but he really penalizes bad ones.
Q: You’ve won this event several times. You’ve held this trophy aloft several times, it’s the biggest and heaviest of the major trophies. Can you recall your memories of holding it for the first time and perhaps any stories about being with the trophy?
TIGER WOODS: First off, back when I first won it, we didn’t get it. We didn’t get to take it home. I think that now you’re able to take it home for a year. But when I first won, no. So they give you a smaller replica one.
But, yeah, that one was used quite a bit by my friends. We’ve had some good times with that thing.
But, overall, I just remember when I won that PGA in ’99 the sense of relief because of how hard I had worked to get to that point all over again. I went through all of ’97, ’98, most of ’99 and to cap off that year, I won eight times that year, and to cap it off with a major championship was huge.
Q: How heavy is it?
TIGER WOODS: It’s pretty heavy, especially when you’re tired. And from playing some of the tournaments here I was pretty dehydrated, Valhalla and Tulsa. But overall we never — I’ve never seen anybody have to do what Jack did, I think at Firestone, he had to hold on both sides with a towel. I think they put it away and don’t leave it in the sun all day. So I think obviously that helps.
Q: The passion of the fans for Wisconsin, second to none, obviously the weekend sold out, limited tickets. But I want you to recall what you encountered in the practice round at 6:00 in the morning in 2004 and the guy with the Tiger hat, on hole 2. And your first recollection of how passionate the fans are with that experience.
TIGER WOODS: They’re definitely into it. This is a pretty sports mad state. We’ve seen people show up very early times, because I kind of like to play early. On top of that, I’ve never seen mosquitos like this, like they’ve had here. I live in Florida and we go out in the evenings and you may get beaten, but here you get eaten alive.
So it’s just — and then, everywhere you walk, especially the gallery, we’re talking down the fairways it’s not so bad, the galleries are kicking up the long stuff where all the mosquitos are. They’re tough. You guys are pretty hearty up here, which is good.
As I said, it’s a great sporting state. And they’ve shown up for the last two PGA championships that we’ve had here and now a third.
Q: Are you surprised by the speed with which Rory McIlroy is returning to play? What challenges will he have this week trying to compete after an injury break?
TIGER WOODS: Am I surprised he’s made the recovery? No, not really. He has good physios, he’s worked hard. It’s a matter of how long is he going to have to go with it like this or is he going to have to get it surgically repaired.
And then, obviously, this is going to be tough. This is going to be a tough golf course, if you miss the golf ball a little bit. And even the walks, from tee box to fairway, they’re not straight. They’ve got a little angulation. And it’s just a matter of how can he hold that up.
As far as his talent and to be able to play golf, that’s not going to be a problem. He understands how to play. It’s a matter of physically can he do it.
I’ve had injuries where I’ve — I blew out my knee and played for a good nine months before I had it fixed. So it can be done. Is he probably going to be in pain? Probably, yeah. Swelling is going to probably occur, but that’s why the physios are there, and I’m sure they’ll get him organized.
Q: I’m curious, how well do you play when you’re playing by yourself, with a small group, when you’re playing with fewer people around you. If you could play in less obscurity, would that have any effect, because you’re always going to have a big gallery, always going to have media obligations?
TIGER WOODS: Put it this way, I like playing with the passionate fans, it’s fun. The atmosphere is really cool. Especially coming down the stretch of a championship, it is really neat.
I haven’t played too many rounds where there have been not a lot of people on the golf course. We had, at Quicken Loans one year, because of the director that came through there, and it was just my foundation staff, Brendon de Jonge, me, his caddie, my caddie and that was it. It was nice and quiet, but very odd, because I’m so used to playing with a lot of people around.
But it’s different. But, again, the atmosphere coming down the stretch of a tournament, especially a Major Championship where you’ve got a chance to win, it’s really cool.
Q: You had a big role to play in the global growth of this game. Talk to me about your relationship with Hero India and if you have any plans to come back again to where we are.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, obviously Pawan and I are fantastic friends, he supports our foundation at the World Challenge, the Hero World Challenge. Is there a time I’ll get back to India? Absolutely. We’re looking at dates for something like that. We’re looking at — my staff is looking at designing a golf course there, as well, in India. There’s a lot of different things that is going on for me positively in India. Certainly, that’s one of the countries that has really supported me over the years. And it’s nice to be able to go back there and say thank you.
Q: You had a long relationship Arjun Atwal, have you also had time to catch up with Anirban Lahiri a little bit?
TIGER WOODS: No, I haven’t. But Arj and I hung out last week, actually two weeks ago, at Quicken Loans. And just trying to catch up. He’s been such a great friend of mine over the years. Unfortunately, he’s been hurt and hasn’t played at the level he’d like to play well. When he’s feeling good, he’s playing well, just got to get him feeling well more often and then hopefully he can get back out on this Tour where he belongs.
Q: Your restaurant opened last night officially in Jupiter. Talk about how involved will you be with that restaurant and what it’s like to you to do something away from the golf course like that.
TIGER WOODS: I’ve been involved in every little step. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point. I’ve had a great staff, but also I have to be in those meetings as well.
It’s something to be able to do something in the Jupiter area is — I’m going to be living there. I built my dream home there. And so this is where I’m going to put my hat. So I want to be able to do something that’s different, something unique, something also that people are going to enjoy.
And to me there’s nothing better than sports. We all go to sports bars, and kick back a few and watch the games. That to me is fun. Hence, I wanted to create an atmosphere like that. And do something that’s also different than what we have in that area. And I think we’ve accomplished that.
Q: This is a game which, when you have a tough time, it’s startling in terms of rankings and so on. Do you pay much attention to where you are in the rankings these days or is that something you view as a byproduct of where you are with your game?
TIGER WOODS: I don’t know my exact ranking right now. I know I’m in the 200s somewhere. But as far as paying attention to it, no. I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to get up there where I can win tournaments, get my game organized so I can be consistent on a tournament basis where I’m going to give myself a chance to win each and every event I play in. That’s what I have done over most of my career. And I’d like to get to that point again where I could do that.
Q: Last week I guess you were asked a question at the Deutsche Bank thing about all the advice that you get. I guess that ratchets up when things haven’t been going as well. And most of it you laugh at or some of it’s probably way out there. But is there anything that you’ve ever, over the years, where somebody from afar has given you some advice that was unsolicited and you thought to yourself, I’m going to think about that. It might not be with your swing, but just approach, anything like that, anything you can recall?
TIGER WOODS: You know, Bob, there’s not one. I swear. Not one. I’ve relied on friends and family and people that I trust and are close to me.
As far as anything outside of that, they speak from a perspective that may not be mine, what I’m going through. They can only describe from their own experiences. And not everyone has gone through what I’ve had to go through.
It really is hard, unless — I have some people that are very close to me that have really helped me over the years and that I trust. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is the trust factor.
Q: Would it be detrimental for you, to take too much of that stuff in, anyway, to even start listening to that?
TIGER WOODS: I haven’t done it in the past, and I think I’ve had a pretty good career so far. I’m just trying to get better. And that’s all I’m trying to do. And enjoying doing other things off the golf course, like the restaurant, with my foundation, growing my golf course design business, doing other things.
But when I’m on the golf course, time practicing, training, I’m trying to get to a level where I can be consistent on a tournament by tournament basis, where I give myself a chance to win each and every time I tee it up.
That’s what I’ve done most of my career, and that’s what I’m used to. And I’d like to get back to that point again.
Q: This might be one of the most important PGA Championship you’ve ever played in, in terms of what it’s going to mean for the rest of the season, qualifying for the FedExCup playoffs. How are you looking at it from that perspective, and do you have a backup plan if you don’t qualify?
TIGER WOODS: I’m not looking at it like that at all, actually. I’m just trying to get my game better for years to come.
If you would have asked me right after I had my back surgery last year, what does your career looked like, I didn’t really have much of an answer. I was hoping to get back out here. But now I’m back out here at a level I can practice and play again. But also I have a totally different new swing.
As I said a couple of weeks ago, it was like the perfect storm of a surgery, rehabbing and then trying to learn a whole new pattern, it couldn’t have been more complicated.
But I’m here now in this position, and as far as my tournament future, if I play well, I play well and I’ll play in more events. If I don’t, then I have more time to practice and get ready for the following events, for, obviously, the next season and obviously some of the things I do on a global level.
Q: A lot of golf fans in Wisconsin remember you starting your pro career at Milwaukee. Do you look back on that as a lifetime ago or does it feel like yesterday?
TIGER WOODS: No, it feels like forever ago, it really does. My buddies always kid me, I live in dog years. It just seems like it’s forever.
But I do remember a couple of things from that event. I remember putting that — the tee in the ground, teeing my ball, I was fine. I took my first practice swing, totally fine. I walked to the golf ball, I put the club behind the golf ball, I looked down the fairway, by the time I looked back and did another waggle, I could barely lift the club.
I was like, oh, God, I’m so nervous, I could feel my heart pound. I’m like, okay, just hit it as hard as you can, wherever it goes, just pound it. And I ripped it 300 right down the middle of the fairway. That was interesting.
And then I believe on Saturday, Saturday or Sunday, I was playing with Bruce Lietzke, and I’ve never seen a ball curve that much that was in control. The guy right to you slices it just as bad, but he’s out of control. That’s Steiny.
Q: Two questions for you, with where you are right now, what’s holding you back? What’s the one thing you think could be holding you back right now?
TIGER WOODS: Probably consistency. Just being consistent on a daily level. I just need to be a little bit better from shot to shot.
Q: Secondly, a different topic. I’m curious about players going back to a course where they could have won or should have won, and kind of screwed up at the end. For you I always think back to Dubai in ’01 with Thomas. When you go back to a course like that, Dubai in this case, are you thinking about what you did wrong or the fact that you had put yourself in position? How does a golfer think there?
TIGER WOODS: I’ve never looked at the things I did wrong that cost me a tournament, when I’ve come back to the event. It’s more like — it’s more of a feeling in which, hey, I know how to play this golf course and I know what works on this golf course to get me into a position to win the event. There are certain courses where I’ve struggled over the years of trying to put myself up there and I just haven’t quite figured it out. But other venues, it doesn’t really matter. I just feel very comfortable on it. My game could be all over the place, but I go to a certain golf course, it just feels really good.
Q: I just wanted to know why you love this game so much.
TIGER WOODS: Why I love this game? I just love to — one, I love to compete. But more importantly, I think if I look back on my childhood, my dad kept the game fun. We had so much fun practicing and competing against one another. I drove him to become a better player. He got — he was struggling there for probably about 10 years or so with a 3 handicap. Then I got good enough where I was about a 1 or 2. Then he got his game better, I pushed him to get better, he got down to a 1 for the very first time. Then we had some really good matches after that.
That’s what I remember of my childhood, it was just so much fun to go out with my dad and play the game of golf. From there, it transitioned into tournament golf. And it allowed me to express myself at a competitive level. From then on I’ve been doing it — well, I’ve been doing it for a very long time.
Q: I saw a report that Hideki Matsuyama got to say hi to you yesterday, and he really looks up to you and he’s stoked about it. Actually he ranks high on a prediction to win at the PGA TOUR Championship website. I was wondering, in your opinion, what makes him rank so high in top picks, and also what does he need to improve to win a major?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I played with him for the first time I believe at Firestone a couple of years ago. I saw him play at the British Open. I think I played one Presidents Cup match against him.
He won Memorial. He’s had a lot of success already. He’s a very strong guy. He’s really strong. And he can drive the ball really well. A very consistent putter day in and day out.
It’s just a matter — he’s so young, just give him time. I think he’s going to improve. He works very hard. You can see he keeps himself in very good shape. I’ve seen him out there on the range and practice areas for hours. He puts in the time. It’s just a matter of time before he puts himself in a position to win a major championship.
And it could happen this week. It could happen next year. But I foresee him doing that consistently. He has the game, the mentality and the body to do it. And hopefully he matures into a position where he can do that consistently.
Q: Five years ago, the bunkers obviously became a very big story at this golf course. How difficult is it to grasp what is and what isn’t a bunker here?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I believe that this year everything is a bunker. Some areas aren’t raked and you could be in a pretty bad lie in a pretty bad spot.
Every single bunker here on this property, the sand doesn’t allow you to spin the golf ball. We were all laughing at each other playing the practice rounds and we’re all talking about it. You can’t spin the ball.
And on top of that you’re going to get some really, really bad lies. I don’t know how they rake it, but they must use a leaf rake with some tines or something like that, where it creates a lot of air within the sand. So when you hit shots, it’s not compact. There’s a lot of it coming through.
And the club wants to dig. No matter what bounce you have, whatever configuration you have on your wedge, a lot of guys are talking about the fact that it’s digging a lot, because it’s getting like so air heavy.
But this golf course is what it is. We’ve got to put the ball in play. If you stay away from the areas you’ll be fine.
Q: You talked about how much fun you had as a child playing this game with your father. And I imagine it was a lot of fun when you were getting better and improving as a young pro and starting to win and changing your swing. How much fun is it still to chase the elusive, to chase the consistency, to chase the swing that you want?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it’s fun just to compete. And every day is an opportunity to get better. That to me is fun. I look at the fact that it’s just another opportunity to get better and try and take myself to the next level and whatever that is, it is.
But I enjoy working. I enjoy practicing. There’s certain players that don’t really like practice, they’d rather go out and play with their buddies and play a lot. I always used those rounds for me in the past as getting ready for tournaments. But that’s how I’ve always looked at it. But I really enjoy practicing and trying to get myself better for the next event.
Q: Steve Stricker is a Wisconsin guy. Can you talk a little bit about your friendship and how much you’d like him to do well this weekend at the PGA Championship?
TIGER WOODS: I always want Strick to do well, no matter what tournament it is. He’s one of my best friends and one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s just so nice.
The times that we’ve gotten to play together in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches together, it is just a blast. And I don’t think people really truly realize he’s such a nice guy, but how competitive he is. His chilli can run a little hot at times. And I love that. I love that about him.
And when we were playing at the Greenbrier this year, he’s been struggling a little bit with his back surgery and everything. And we were talking about it. And he had an opportunity to borderline making the cut and missing the cut, and you could see him get pretty hot. He really was trying to grind and get it done.
That’s what I love about him. He’s always fighting, he’s always trying to get every last stroke out of it. To me, as a player and as a competitor, you have to respect that.
JOHN DEVER: Tiger, many thanks. Best of luck this week.