An Interview with Hal Sutton
September 14, 2004
JULIUS MASON: United States Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton joining us today at Oakland Hills. Hal, some opening comments and we'll go to Q&A, please.
HAL SUTTON: The golf course is in perfect shape. We've got great weather and a lot of excited fans out there. So I think the American players are having a good time going around the golf course and seeing what's in front of them.
Q. Bernhard was just in here talking about a gift he bought for his players, a Rolex watch, did the Americans get any gifts today?
HAL SUTTON: He put a lot of pressure right off the bat, didn't he.
Yes, we bought gifts, but I'm not going to give it to the players until a little later on in the week. I want it to be a surprise, so I'd better not tell you what it is. I didn't leave them out I promise.
Q. What kind of car did you get them?
HAL SUTTON: Lamborghini. (Laughter.)
Q. You obviously know the European Team has had a stronger performance in the team matches over the last several years, and I wonder, any logic for that? And secondly, when do you think the players will have an idea whom they are playing with?
HAL SUTTON: The American players? I don't have any idea why their team performance has been better. I always thought it was because they bonded but Langer said yesterday at the news conference that they just started their bonding process. So we are ahead of them on the bonding process. We started it much sooner than yesterday.
And I don't think our players will know before Thursday probably at noon or one o'clock of who they are going to play with.
Q. Apparently you don't subscribe to the theory of letting your guys get an early idea of who they might be playing with so they can get comfortable going into Friday?
HAL SUTTON: No. These guys prepare every week of their life on their own. I told them last night that I wasn't going to set the pairings for the practice rounds. Don't read anything into anybody you're playing with. Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself and if I give you a little help, then that's a bonus. So they have no clue as to who they are going to play with.
If they know who it is, they start worrying about their partner's game instead of worrying about their own game. So we are worrying about our own game this week.
Q. So much has been made about Tiger Woods this year, whether or not he's in a slump. He says the last two tournaments he's hitting the ball as well as he has all year. Have you noticed that and is this whole slump talk much adieu about nothing in your mind?
HAL SUTTON: Oh, man I was out there watching him play. I don't know if you've been out there but I've been licking my chops over it. I don't think he's in any sort of slump right now. I mean, I aspire to be in his slumps. (Laughter.)
So, no, no, don't be worried about Tiger Woods. If that's your only worry, you have no worries.
Q. Is there any hole out there that you look at as possibly being a momentum changer?
HAL SUTTON: You know, there's 18 great holes here. You know we were commenting earlier if we built greens like this today, you might be chastised just a little bit; but how refreshing they are.
This is going to be challenging. It's going to take imagination. It's going to take patience. It's going to take a lot of things this week in order to perform well.
You know, if 6 were later in the tournament I might say that's a momentum hole because it may be a drivable hole. Birdies, doesn't matter where they come, gain momentum. So I'd say any hole that we can make a birdie on, that's a momentum hole.
Q. Have you guys done anything special as a team like last night getting together, doing any type of thing like that?
HAL SUTTON: We did. We had a nice dinner, thanks to my wife, Ashley. She picked the spot. It was great. I invited a special guest to come last night, one of Americas greatest athletes if not the greatest athlete, Michael Jordan joined us for dinner last night. Got up and spoke a few words. He's passionate about golf, as most of y'all know, but he's also passionate about the Ryder Cup Team. He talked about how special he felt it was and I couldn't help but think how every guy in that room had to feel special that he thought they were special. So it was a really nice evening.
Q. You've had a chance to play Bernhard twice in singles play in the Ryder Cup, once in '85 and once in 2002. What are your memories of those matches, and have the two of you had a chance to revisit them over the last year or so?
HAL SUTTON: I don't recall those memories too much. They weren't as pleasant as I'd like for them to be.
I did beat him in a team competition one time. We don't ever talk about that one, though.
I visited with him a lot. We visited at TPC this year. Ashley and I went to dinner with Vickie and he, talking about the Ryder Cup. They are great people. He's a great champion. He's going to be a great captain. Certainly we'll have to work very hard to come out on top of the Europeans. He's a calculated guy. I expect him to be very calculated this week. I wish him the best of luck.
Q. Tiger has not been as dominant in this form of competition as he has been in other formats. Do you have any thoughts on why that is?
HAL SUTTON: Well, you know, I don't know. Tiger is a busy man. He's run all around the world. He's trying to be the best he can be while he's living in the fish bowl that he lives in, you know. Sometimes I think he's very much into the one-shot-at-a-time, and one-day-at-a-time in his life, and maybe he doesn't look ahead as much.
I started trying to make him look ahead at the beginning of this year, or actually two years ago when they announced me as captain. I started talking about the Ryder Cup and his involvement in the Ryder Cup and how important it is for him to be at his best in order for the U.S. Team to win the Ryder Cup.
I think evidence of that was when he finished the Deutsche Bank Championship, Billy Ray Brown asked him about the Ryder Cup and a big grin came across his face. He smiled, talked about how much he was looking forward to it and he even grinned at me and said, "Hal, if you're up there watching, you know, you might even put me in there in alternate-shot. I'm actually driving the ball pretty straight."
I spent a lot of time talking to Tiger last night. He's very interested in the outcome of this.
Q. Phil Mickelson made a change in his golf clubs about two weeks ago. Were you surprised by that, and/or upset about it?
HAL SUTTON: Surprised, yes. Not upset about it.
You know, any time a great player like that makes a shift in equipment, I think everybody is surprised by it. You know, you can't be upset about things like that because he's got a life that he's got to live. He's got things he's got to answer to.
You know, I wish him luck with his new equipment. I see no reason why he can't play well with that new equipment. If he can't, well I've chosen the wrong equipment company, too. (Laughter.)
Q. How is he hitting it?
HAL SUTTON: It looked like to me he was hitting it good out there. I followed him for three or four holes. He's his usual chipper self. He doesn't look worried about anything. He's a little concerned about who I'm going to pair him with. He's asked me two or three times. I told him, "Phil, look, do what you do every day of your life. Worry about Phil Mickelson. I think you're good enough to beat two people by yourself, so if I give you a little help, there's a bonus, right, Phil?"
So I'm keeping him at bay like that. He'll be all right.
Q. Even though the U.S. Team has more players ranked in the Top 15 in the world, they have won more majors, some of the guys from Team Europe say they relish the fact they are underdogs, does that make it tougher because there is an expectation that you guys should be winning this cup every time?
HAL SUTTON: You know, being an underdog offers you an opportunity to have the attitude that if I fail, everybody thought I was going to fail. So that's a position that you find solace in.
Personally, if you're the favorite, and you figure out a way to corral the talent and put it into the right motion, that's a better position to be in. Now, the U.S., that's what we are taxed with this time is to try to put everybody's talent, corral it and channel it into the right spot to come out with the outcome that we want.
I've been working on this for two years, so we're going to find out if I figured out the right mix.
Q. I was just wondering if you could describe the pressure that a player feels or the feelings that he has on the first tee Friday and what it's like building through the week and what you learned about how to cope with that, because everybody always talks about it's different than anything you ever experience, even at a major?
HAL SUTTON: Well, I think everybody will be nervous on Friday. I think there's 24 players there. There's two captains and two assistant captains on our side and maybe three on their side. I haven't quite figured out how they did that yet. But anyway, everybody, that whole number of people will be nervous on Friday. I think the Americans will especially be nervous because it's in America. Everybody wants to do good. Everybody wants to make everybody proud.
But, nerves are good. There's nothing wrong with being nervous. That means you care about something. So to me I think facing your fears, being comfortable with that is a good thing. If you can corral that and channel that into the right spot, that's good.
Q. One of the things that interests me about your team is there are two players, the world is calling rookies who are pretty much almost the same age as the captain. Now, what are you talking to them about this event; they have had long careers yet this is their first experience of it?
HAL SUTTON: Well, I was ten minutes late, or I was a few minutes late, or Julius thought I might be a little late, because I ran out there just to talk to Fred Funk. I just wanted to tell him that he should be proud of himself at his age making this team. He earned every right to be here. As far as I could tell, the best I could tell, nobody else earned any of his points. He earned all of them here and there were a lot of people that didn't earn enough points to be here and I wanted him to feel proud in the fact that he was here.
And then the same is true of Kenny Perry, also. When you have a long career and you've never taken part in a Ryder Cup and you've worked your rear end off for a lot of years and you finally earn enough points to be here, enjoy the moment, because it's a job well done.
I think both of those guys are very excited to be here.
Q. Could you address the history of the sport; specifically, Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan have had monumental success at the Ryder Cup and at this golf course, please?
HAL SUTTON: And at this golf course?
HAL SUTTON: Walter Hagen and Ben Hogan are two of the greatest names you can bring up in golf, and Oakland Hills is one of the greatest major championship venues that you can also bring up.
So I would have to say that two greats met there, basically when Oakland Hills and those two great names met and good things happen when those things come together.
You have some other part you're wanting to get in there? I brought a really good friend of mine here, Jackie Burke, who knew both of those guys very well. We've had a lot of that kind of conversation going on about what the old guys thought and what they did and how they dealt with different things. That part of this week is going to be magical for the U.S. Team.
Q. Going back to the conversations you had with Tiger, just curious, how do you go about giving Tiger Woods a pep talk? What are the kind of things you're telling him?
HAL SUTTON: Nobody needs to give Tiger Woods a pep talk. He holds himself to the highest standard. All we have to do is just say, "Hey, Tiger, it's time you felt this is important. I want you to realize that this is going to be an area that guys are going to judge you by down the road, whether you like it or dislike it. You're the one that chose to be as great as you are. (Laughing) They are going to judge you by this. This is going to be another barometer of success for you. Let's give it all you've got and lead this team."
Q. Does his record affect how you would or wouldn't use him this week?
HAL SUTTON: First of all, rest assured, there is no wouldn't in the equation.
And secondly, his record, he's been moved around with a lot of different players. He's played with a lot of people. You know one of the things the U.S. Team hasn't done a lot has paired guys continuously together so that they can develop some sort of continuity. So you may see me do that some this week. That's the only thing I'm going to tip you on.
Q. You gave us a great story about when you told Chris Riley about making the team. Since you've been here and yesterday and last night, what's Riley's demeanor been with you, and also, how concerned are you that he has not played since the PGA and are you going to be able to see enough of him in the next couple of days to figure out how to use him?
HAL SUTTON: Yes, I am going to see enough of him to figure out how to use him. I'm not concerned he hasn't played. You know, when he first met his daughter, I've got to believe that's way better than winning the Canadian Open. So he's had a big month in September. He will continue to have a big month in September. He is extremely fired up about what he's doing.
Actually, keeping him toned down is more of the challenge rather than worrying about getting him lifted up to the occasion.
I said last night, I mean, I told everybody, I'm not going to tip my hand on anything we're doing. I told them, "Hey, y'all make your own games up. I just want to know who is playing with who and what time you're playing."
Last thing I said, "Only one thing I can guarantee you is that everybody will play on Friday." And he goes, "Really?" (Laughter.) I said, "Really, Chris Riley, get ready."
So we're ready, Chris included.
Q. Bernhard said earlier today that he was just going to let his team get familiar with the course today, he wasn't concerned about pairings or anything like that. Given that the U.S. has less of a learning curve that way in terms of understanding the course, what are your objectives that you want your guys to do the next three days?
HAL SUTTON: Get to know the golf course. Exact same thing. Be prepared just like they would in any other event that they are playing.
I haven't told any of them how to prepare. They know how to do it. They earned all these points, not me. They are qualified to be here. They have proven over this time, a three-year period of time in earning points that they are qualified to be here. So go out there and do what you do best. I'm going to be watching. I'm going to see, I mean, I'm smart enough, I'm astute enough in this game to know who is hitting it good and who is not, and I'm going to lean on the guys that are.
Q. Apparently Captain Langer wanted to bring his team in very loose by giving them a massage, bringing in masseuses on the plane flying over here, don't know if you've tried anything like that for your team, but with the pressure you were talking about earlier, how do you try to keep your team loose with all of the expectations on the Americans?
HAL SUTTON: Not through masseuses. (Laughter.)
You know, if you can't be loose listening to Jackie Burke, Steve Jones, one of the funniest people I know, too, we are going to rely on a little comedy to do that. I think we have got a comedian coming in a little bit later or a trickster or something like that.
My theory is if you can laugh together and cry together, we can win together. That's what we are going to do some of this week.
Q. You mention trying to develop some continuity with their partners, Tiger did play with the same partner every team match in the Presidents Cup last time. Does that affect your decision there? He did have a three and two record.
HAL SUTTON: No, I didn't even -- I didn't even actually look at Presidents Cup to see what anybody's record was in it. That may surprise you, but I didn't.
I've just leaned on my knowledge. I know who has performed well in these competitions and who hasn't.
I just think the continuity is a good thing in anything we do. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it. You know, if I throw a curve ball and put somebody out there different with somebody every time, well then there's a new learning curve. We are going to do as little of that as we have to do. You can't do that completely, though. I want you to know, there will be some switching up.
Q. The home-course advantage, how much advantage is it in terms of course setup to suit your players and what kind of things could you do to take advantage of it?
HAL SUTTON: Home course in this case is most likely just the fact that we're playing in America and the fans that are here.
You know, these guys, all 24 of these guys are qualified to prepare for any golf tournament anywhere in the world. So some of their guys, if we don't work really hard, could be more prepared and feel like this is more of a home golf course to them than maybe us if we don't get prepared. So I think that after they play today, I think they will all find the golf course to their liking. I don't think that they will feel like it was set up for any one somebody. I think Kerry Haigh of the PGA has done a tremendous job of setting it up. The rough is not severe. The greens are not severe-quick. I can't help but think at the end of the day they are going to say, "Man, this is pretty neat. Man, this golf course is nice."
Q. Along those same lines with the home course, in past events that you've played in, have you seen instances where there was tweaking done by the captain to kind of make it better for his team and have you had any input in that regard in this setup?
HAL SUTTON: No. Kerry asked me what I thought. I played the golf course Sunday morning. I played the back nine. I said I think it's right on schedule and he had just cut the rough on Saturday. He said maybe just let the rough grow now. It's consistent. I think it was at four inches at that point. I said, you know, just stay out of the rough, let it grow now and I think everybody will be happy with it. The weather is going to dictate the firmness of the greens. They are soft enough right now that if we get some wind and dry weather which is what we've got right now, they won't get out of hand. I think it's perfect.
Q. Your attitude to the captaincy I gather is to spend more time on it, talk to the players a bit more, coming into this thing having created more of a sense of identity than previous, have you seen any evidence of how that's worked so far? Does it seem a different team to be around than previously?
HAL SUTTON: Well, I'm probably a little biased in that probably. I think I have a different feel. I think the team has a different feel for what's going on right now. I think they have enough to worry about with their own game rather than somebody else's right now. And by the way I am not going to tell them who they are playing with until Thursday.
You know, who is to say right now as to whether we have reached anybody yet. I could talk all day long and we would still never know whether we've reached them or not. Their clubs will tell us this weekend whether we have reached them or not.
Q. Darren Clarke said that he expects some of these rookies to go in the bathroom and puke before they tee off. As a guy who has played before and you know the feelings, what are some of the thoughts, emotions, and feelings before you actually go out and tee off?
HAL SUTTON: I don't know. I had not seen any evidence that the Americans were going to go in the bathroom and puke before they go out and play, but, you know, Chris Riley may bounce off of a few trees out there or something. He's pretty excited, so we may have to be helping him tone down just a little bit. But it's an exciting event. When you get here and you see the world stage that the Ryder Cup has, you see the elevated enthusiasm from the crowds. You see all of the tented areas. You see corporate America or corporate world, how they have embraced the event. These guys go to tournaments every week. They know the difference between big and small. You can't fool these guys. They know this is a big event. So, they get a little more nervous.
Q. You mentioned Michael Jordan speaking to the team last night and maybe firing them up a little bit. The perception that this has always mattered more to the Europeans, are you summoning things like that, nationalism or patriotism to convince your team that it has to care as much?
HAL SUTTON: Do you see what's on my back? (Turning around). Y'all see that flag? Anything I can summon up, that's what we're going to do. I called on Steve Jones, he had quite a karma working here in 1996. Jackie Burke, he's been talking to the golfing gods for a long time. He told me this morning, he said, "The tux looks so good, I told Robin they are going to bury me in it with a blade putter, I might find slick greens up there." Just to give you a hint of the comedy that we get to listen to from Jackie Burke.
Q. Do you think there are stylistic differences between the way Europeans play golf and the way Americans play golf; specifically, the 12 Europeans and the 12 Americans, and if not or if so, have you seen it change since you played early Ryder Cups in the 80s to now? Has technology leveled the playing field, or are there stylistic differences?
HAL SUTTON: You know, there's always that perception that the Americans play the ball in the air and the Europeans play it on the ground. They don't play links-style golf courses every week. The world of golf has moved in a certain direction where it is played more in the air. So the Europeans are also playing the ball in the air. I think, as a matter of fact, if you go out there, they don't have any trouble getting it in the air. They are getting it to go where they want it to go. I don't think there's a lot of style differences between the two teams. You know, there's some that are better drivers and some that are better iron players and some that are better short-game artists. There's individual differences of players, but overall styles are very similar.
Q. David Toms is an unassuming gentleman and he led the team in 2002. A lot of people are picking him to be quietly productive again. You know him as well as any guy on the team; what do you expect?
HAL SUTTON: David seems very excited about being here. Looks like he's playing really good out there. And I know inwardly how much the Ryder Cup means to David and because I know that, I'm sure he'll be ready. He personally assumes a large role, and I'm sure he will this week, also.
Q. I'm sure you had an idea of what kind of captain you wanted to be when you set out on this a couple of years ago. Have you lived up to your own expectations for what you want to do and how you want to handle this up to this point?
HAL SUTTON: Well, so far I've done everything that I wanted to do. You know, I've tried to make sure that I'm assertive and that I'm decisive. I've done that so far. You know, it's young, we'll see. I think I'm going to stick with the same thing that I've been doing. I'm going to stay decisive about what I'm doing.
It's funny because Jackie and Steve and I have been talking about different pairings that we can do and I'm pretty hell bent and determined on a couple of things I want to do. And they say, maybe we should do this. And I say, no, that's not negotiable. Probably y'all are not going to write one article at the end of this week that said Jackie Burke made some decision that cost the American team from winning, or you're not going to say that same thing about Steve Jones, but that is a possibility where Hal Sutton is concerned.
So I will be decisive and I will be assertive with what I think is in the best interests of the team. That doesn't mean I'm going to be a dictator and not listen to reason. The reason I got those two guys is because they are very astute and they do know what's going on. So we talk it over, but it will be my final call.
Q. I've done the math, when you said that everyone was going to play on Friday, that means there's going on to be four guys that will play in the afternoon and the morning. Any chance you will share who those four will be that are double-dipping on Friday?
HAL SUTTON: Boy, that Shreveport education system is awesome, isn't it? (Laughter.) Y'all could have done that math, couldn't you. No, there's no chance that I'm going to share that with you. (Laughter.)
Q. You characterize your conversation with Tiger about his Ryder Cup record and how it's been less than stellar, using pretty blunt terms talking to us. Were you quite that blunt with him when you dangled that carrot out there? And if so, how did he respond to that type of tone?
HAL SUTTON: It's not blunt. It's just talking about facts. You know, you may have read into that something that's not necessarily there.
It's not always Tiger's fault that his record is not as good. I mean, this guy has been the best player in the world for, you know, he just got knocked off a couple of weeks ago, for 256 weeks or whatever it was. Everybody in the world, they rise to the occasion. They want to say they beat Tiger Woods. I mean, they take their game to a level sometimes that they didn't even know they had. So it's not -- I mean, I've seen Tiger Woods shoot 64 and lose. I mean, he didn't play badly sometimes when he got beat.
But, you know, we are not going to dwell on all that. We are just going to get ready to play this week. I think Tiger is -- I feel strongly that Tiger Woods is ready. I think y'all might see some of Tiger's greatest golf this week, so buckle your chin straps.
Q. You said that you're committing yourself and your teammates to a Victory. And you'd use anything legitimately within your powers. In the past this ambition on both sides of the Atlantic has produced emotions that some have felt were not in the spirit of golf. Are you concerned that the need to win might produce some side effects like that? I'm thinking of the Brookline situation, particularly.
HAL SUTTON: Look, y'all have been kind of like a bad marriage partner. We've apologized for five years for what happened in 1999. So y'all need to forget about that. The American players, if we had it to do over again, would not have run out on the green. But the truth of the matter is, we're going to be ourselves. I've told all of our players, just go be yourself. Be a gentleman and be yourself. I can't be concerned or try to control everybody else in the world. I have some control, some, let me say some, emphasize some, please, over these 12 guys. I don't have any control over anybody else in the world.
So, we are going out there and we're going to be ourselves. No more apologies or anything else.
JULIUS MASON: Ladies and gentlemen, just a couple of minutes we're going to invite the president of the PGA of America Mr. M.G. Orender to join us. Thank you.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports ...
- Team U.S.A. (9/19/04)
- Team Europe (9/19/04)
- McGinley & Harrington (9/18/04)
- Clarke, Garcia, Westwood, & Donald (9/18/04)
- Bernhard Langer - Afternoon (9/18/04)
- Hal Sutton - Afternoon (9/18/04)
- Toms & Mickelson (9/18/04)
- Chris DiMarco (9/18/04)
- Bernhard Langer (9/18/04)
- Hal Sutton (9/18/04)
- Casey & Howell (9/18/04)
- Stewart Cink (9/18/04)
- Garcia & Westwood (9/18/04)
- Haas & DiMarco (9/18/04)
- Chad Campbell (9/18/04)
- Colin Montgomerie (9/17/04)
- Chris Riley (9/18/04)
- Woods & Riley (9/18/04)
- Clarke & Poulter (9/18/04)
- Europe Secure Ryder Cup After Singles Success
- EUROPE WIN THE RYDER CUP
- All the Drama from the Final Afternoon
- Europe Take Record Lead into Singles
- Langer's men set for singles showdown
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