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Interview No. 5: U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton

The EDS Byron Nelson Championship
Irving, Texas
May 12, 2004

August 21, 2004

Joel Schuchmann: U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Hal Sutton, thank you for joining us for a couple minutes this afternoon. If we could just start out with some comments on the preparations. It's getting closer each time we speak, and a lot of the American players are playing well, which is good news for you.

Hal Sutton: It is. Just last week Tiger, Phil right up at the top, and each week it's getting better and closer and I'm getting more excited. I hope everybody else is. I'm trying to keep the guys energized about what it is we're going to be doing in September.

Joel Schuchmann: You've had six top-10s here, including a tie for second last year. You put together three really good rounds in New Orleans. Talk about the state of your game.

Hal Sutton: It's getting better. The last couple of weeks I've seen a lot of progress and I'm feeling good about the way I'm playing and I feel good about coming to Dallas and playing here. This has been a good golf course for me.

Q.: Does being the Ryder Cup captain distract from your game do you think. Crenshaw and some of those guys, do you think it has distracted from your game very much?

Hal Sutton: When you say distract, I mean, I'm thinking about it all the time. You know, I want to do a good job. I think y'all are going to hold me accountable the last time I checked, so I want to try to make the right moves.

That will maybe play a small part in making us a victorious team, you know, so when you take pride in what you're doing, well, then it can affect what you're doing, but that's all right. I said a few weeks ago, somebody asked me the state of my game, and I said, "Does it matter?" That's kind of how I feel.

It matters to me. I like to play well, but this is the Ryder Cup year, and I'm excited about it and I think we've got the prospects of a great team right here, a lot of youth and a lot of experience, and some have both.

Q.: As far as the guys, throughout the course of any Ryder Cup your name has popped up, fallen back, whatever. Any names that have captured your fancy in recent weeks that maybe weren't on your radar screen at the start of the year or not as prominent on your radar screen?

Hal Sutton: I've tried to keep an open mind. I tried to not turn my radar off, if you will.

Q.: Too early for that?

Hal Sutton: Too early for that. There's a lot of guys, you know, Jay Haas is 11, Scott Verplank, 12, Chris DiMarco, 13, Fred Funk, 14, Scott Hoch, 15. Scott has played great through the years in the Ryder Cup. Jumped on there, John Daly, 19.

Q.: Kind of intriguing.

Hal Sutton: That's intriguing. You know, we're just -- I'm watching just like y'all are.

Q.: You played in a Ryder Cup a long time back when it was not as big, whereas now it's either the first or second biggest event in golf.

Hal Sutton: What's the other event?

Q.: Well, the majors, the Ryder Cup. Do you enjoy it now that it's jumped up or do you wish you'd go back to a little simpler time? It seems to be such a be-all, end-all every two years, especially for the captain. Which way do you like it better?

Hal Sutton: Well, I was only a player when it was what you referred to as smaller or littler or something, I don't know how you referred to it there, but anyway, I'm excited about the prospects of the bigness of this. I think the world, certainly the golfing world, looks at the Ryder Cup as their event, the deciding event, and I'm excited about playing the role that I'm playing in the Ryder Cup this year. It's going to be a great venue.

The city of Detroit has totally embraced the Ryder Cup. Oakland Hills, what a great, great venue for a championship like this. I think our guys are real energized about the team. I've been talking to them about it. Every time I see one of the guys in the locker room that has a chance to make the team, I'm cheering them on telling them, come on, let's get some points this week. I just ran into Chris Riley as I was walking up here, "Come on, Chris, score some points this week."

It's going to be a fun year. I think even the players are excited about it. It's going to be -- I don't think we're going to be caught off guard this year in say the week before the Ryder Cup, oh, yeah, that's right, we're playing in a Ryder Cup this week. They're aware of it right now.

Q.: Given the ending of The Presidents Cup the way it ended, in a tie, unfinished business, with the Ryder Cup, there's no tie, they retain the Cup. If you were Captain Jack Nicklaus, would you have been happy with the ending of the Presidents Cup? Do you think that will affect it becoming as big as the Ryder Cup due to the fact the format changed now?

Hal Sutton: I couldn't speculate on that (laughter). I'm worried about the Ryder Cup right now, not The Presidents Cup. I'm sure they had to negotiate their deal right there. That would have been the only thing I might not have been too excited about was negotiating at the end. We're going to decide that in September right up there at Oakland Hills. We're going to decide where that trophy is going to spend the next two years.

My job as Ryder Cup captain is to make sure that the 12 guys that represent the United States are prepared to do their part to make sure that that cup stays on this soil.

Q.: You just mentioned the 12 guys on your side being ready. Have you talked to Bernhard at all about he may not, because of playing requirements, a minimum number of events, have his best possible team there?

Hal Sutton: Yes. Actually Bernhard and his wife, Vickie, and Ashley and I went to dinner at TPC and we talked about a lot of different things that night, but he mentioned to me about that, and I really-- my concern is the American team, and really the only thing that I can say about that is is that every time the Ryder Cup comes along, on this sheet of paper right now, everybody seems to think that the American team is the best. There's only one thing I can guarantee you is the Europeans always seemed to pose a very worthy test because they've won six out of the last nine Ryder Cups. Whoever is on their team, I'm sure it will be testy for the United States to win it, and they're a formidable opponent, always.

Q.: You don't feel bad for him if he doesn't have his best players?

Hal Sutton: Well, yeah, I guess I feel bad-- I mean, how does anybody decide what's their best players? I mean, I'm looking down this list right here and I get to pick two guys, and I can pick any one of the next 15 names, and everybody in here will probably disagree with me, and y'all will even print it, and you'll even talk about it on camera. So I don't know how we're going to decide who the best team is. All I do know is that the 12 players from each side that show up, we will decide who the best team of those 24 guys are. That will be decided.

Q.: Do you talk to people outside of the golf world at all about building a team, motivation? Have you done anything like that yet? Do you plan on doing it?

Hal Sutton: Planning on doing it, yes, I am.

Q.: Anybody in particular? Tony Robbins? Who have you got?

Hal Sutton: I've got an appointment with Jeff Rude at 3:00 o'clock if we make it (laughter).

Q.: To follow up on that, being from Louisiana, LSU winning the co-national championship, hearing you talk today, you almost sound like a football coach.

Hal Sutton: Golf and football are very different, but one thing that I am certain of, and I do know that coaches have to do this at all levels, and the more talented and the more mature the player, regardless of the sport, the harder it is to do this, but to remind them when game day starts and to make sure that, hey, we have to be ready, no excuses. More than anything else, that will be my job.

Q.: I remember in an earlier press conference, it might have been when you were named captain, I don't remember, somebody asked you about Tiger's record in the Ryder Cup, and I think your response, and I'm paraphrasing here, if Tiger wants to be like Jack, he needs to look at Jack's record. Do you feel like that's one of your roles is to work with the individual and fire them up different ways, whether it's through the media, whether it's one-on-one? Is this part of your captain's role?

Hal Sutton: I think a lot of what I have to say in this meeting today, if you print it just right, might have a chance to make an effect on one of the players. There's your answer. So yes. That was very much my intent. I mean, Tiger has modeled his career after Jack Nicklaus. He compares his records -- he doesn't, y'all do, but the world has set that as the -- what he aspires to do. To me, if you look at Jack Nicklaus' record in the Ryder Cup, let's compare everything, you know. Tiger is a smart guy. He's aware of that. He wants -- he does not want to fall short on any of these goals, I'm sure.

Q.: Speaking of him, a lot has been made -- his swing is a little out of kilter, he's fighting a little bit. What do you see there?

Hal Sutton: I see this as part of a maturing process. I've always said publicly that I'm a big Tiger Woods fan. I mean, I'm always appreciative of the discipline that he shows to be as good as he can be at all times, and as you mature, you understand that there's more to life than just chasing that white ball around, and he's running a little balancing act right now with everything that's going on in his life, and I'm sure he'll handle that just as well as he handles everything else. It's just a maturing process.

Q.: Outside the Top 10, using some of your own words, do you see any players that have more of the burn to win than anybody else? Is there one that sticks out in your mind?

Hal Sutton: Man, I'll tell you what, yeah. There's not a guy in the top 25 right there that I don't like and that I don't think wouldn't have burning desire if they made the Ryder Cup team because I think they're aware of the opportunity of it. I'm not going to single anybody out yet, and the reason why I'm not going to do that is because it's too early to do it. It puts too much pressure on that person if they think I'm already just madly in love with them. But I will tell you that the 15 names right below the Top 10, I like them all, and I love the Top 10.

Q.: Have you done the math on Furyk? Is he likely to hold his spot?

Hal Sutton: We think so. It's close. I mean, the best we can tell is close, but we think -- I talked to Fluff this week, and he says that Jim is trying for the U.S. Open. He's for sure positive he thinks he's going to make the Western Open.

Q.: How will that be for you and him, as far as weighing what Jim does when he gets back and how well he matches up and what he's capable of? Do you think he'll have enough of a window there to judge whether he's fully healthy to be able to decide how much to use him, how little to use him, assuming he is on this team?

Hal Sutton: Jim is a professional in all senses of the word. He's a perfectionist, he works hard. I have complete confidence that Jim will tell me how ready he is, and with what he tells me, I'll make decisions from there that will determine how much he's playing or whatever, and if he's himself, look for him to be out there a lot.

Q.: I talked to Ben Crenshaw one time, and he said when he was captain, every former Ryder Cup captain called him and gave him advice of some sort of another. What's been the best bit of advice that you've gotten from a former Ryder Cup captain or former player or something?

Hal Sutton: I get all the calls or I see them, too, and everybody is telling me things that they think. You know, I don't know what the best piece of advice I've gotten is. Everybody tells me something. I guess what ends up happening is you want to earmark your deal so you're trying to use what you think is best.

You know, there's no real ingredient. This is not like cooking or anything. There's no set recipe that's going to cause us to leave there victorious. I mean, we're seasoning along the way if you will.

Q.: Did anything resonate with you a little bit more than anything else do you think?

Hal Sutton: Jackie Burke, one reason why he's on this as assistant captain, he always seems to impress upon me to tell it like it is, you know, and the one reason -- one of the biggest reasons why I think he's going to be a big advantage is the few times I may be afraid to say it like it is, he won't be (laughter).

You know, we're going to run this a little bit more like a team. We're going to be -- I'm going to be more of like a jockey. I'm going to call on them. If they're running fast, I'm going to let them run. If they need a little whip, I'm going to give them a little whip.

Q.: Was the momentum of the last two Ryder Cups not lost on you? The last were '99 and then at the Belfry. You know how the teams were -- the frontloaded is what I'm talking about.

Hal Sutton: Does that weigh heavy, because that's what won?

Q.: That happened to win the last two.

Hal Sutton: That happened to win the last two times, but that could actually burn you, too. They could cut this into 12 different pieces of paper -- 24 pieces, throw 12 up in the air, and that might come out victorious there. I don't know the ingredient for winning on Sunday.

What I do know would help that situation is for us to do some awesome playing on Friday and Saturday. That would make those decisions much easier, and that's my whole thing is to be ready to go Friday morning at 8:00 o'clock if that's the first tee time, which I think that's very close. 8:00 o'clock, whoever hits the first shot for the United States, he has to be ready.

Q.: You were asked about advice a minute ago. What's the best or most interesting advice Jackie has given you other than don't spend too much time on the uniforms?

Hal Sutton: I met with Jackie, I spent three hours with Jackie in Houston and he had lunch set up for us in a private room, and he had a stack of papers about this thick, and he says, "Do you make notes, Hal?" I said, "Referring to something besides a mental note, Jackie? I guess that stack of papers there says that." "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about." He said, "I'm going to have my secretary put these in order of importance." I mean, you can differentiate which one is more important than the other on a stack this big? I don't even know where to go when you ask me what he said to me, what's more important than everything else. Everything he says, to Jackie Burke, is important.

I'm not trying to downplay anybody or anything, but Jackie is going to be such a breath of fresh air being around this team the whole time. I was overwhelmed with joy when he said yes to helping out. Likewise, I was with Steve Jones, too, because I think Steve is going to add a dimension that's going to be great, too.

Q.: A motivational dimension because of what he did there?

Hal Sutton: I think that, and also, Steve is a fun-loving guy. Steve likes to have fun. There's one thing about -- I'll tell you a little bit of something about mine and Ashley's philosophy about this. The Ryder Cup is pressure-ridden, and if you can laugh, you rid yourself of a lot of pressure, so we're going to have comedians and things like that around. We're going to laugh together. We may even cry a little bit together while we're there. Those are the sort of things that end up when you leave, you feel like a brother and a sister.

If nothing else, if I sit in this chair and promise you nothing else, we will be a team. We will be totally unified.

Q.: Who are your comedians, Crystal, Murray? Who do you got?

Hal Sutton: We'll let you know.

Q.: How would you model yourself -- we've had captains that are more cerebral, Jack, not real rah-rah, but do it; then you've got guys who are highly emotional like Ben. How would you say you'd fall in line with something like that?

Hal Sutton: I don't know, I guess we'll be able to write about it afterwards. I'm still kind of learning myself here. You know, I've never been in this role before, and I'm winging it, if you will.

Q.: Do you consider yourself an emotional guy, though?

Hal Sutton: I'm pretty emotional. I'm pretty passionate about what I think. There's a darn good chance I might pump my fist even if I don't hit the first drive or the last putt. I'll still be excited about it.

Q.: How important is it to have Jay Haas on the team when it may be his last shot, maybe his attempt to make up for '95 where he may feel a lot of pressure of the team losing the Cup that year compared to somebody like Charles Howell III who may have several more opportunities throughout his career to play in the Ryder Cup?

Hal Sutton: Well, I can't speculate against Charles Howell. I think both of them would be great additions to the team. But Jay Haas making the team would be a tremendous asset, not only for himself, not only for the team, but for the game of golf. How many 50-year-olds are going to actually make the Ryder Cup team? He's played tremendous golf and would be a great asset to the team.

Q.: In general what are your thoughts about what a first-timer brings to the team in terms of wanting to prove himself versus weighing that against someone with years of experience?

Hal Sutton: Well, OK. Have you ever feared anything in your life?

Q.: Try not to, but on occasion.

Hal Sutton: If you're human you fear something, you know, and the best way for you to feel it is kind of like sticking your hand in the fire. You know it's hot. If you've been to the Ryder Cup and you've experienced the pressure before, then you know what to be afraid of. The thing that youth brings to the team is he's not real sure how afraid he's supposed to be, so that can work to your advantage. So that's why I said early on that we have youth and we have experience and some of them have both, so that's a good thing. That's not a bad mix.

Q.: I want to ask you a personal question if I could about your putting this year. It's kind of been the culprit.

Hal Sutton: My putting has been the culprit? Gee whiz, you were able to single it out? I can't single it out. I'm working on all aspects because it's all felt weak to me.

Q.: The last two tournaments you have been --

Hal Sutton: I putted much better. Well, I didn't putt good in Houston but I putted real good in New Orleans.

Q.: Anything different, concentration?

Hal Sutton: I can actually see a hole down there instead of a thimble. Sometimes when you're putting good it's just that simple, or putting bad, it's also that simple. It looks like a thimble when it's bad and it looks like a washtub when it's good.

Joel Schuchmann: Hal Sutton, thank you very much.

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