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An Interview with Hal Sutton

September 15, 2004

JULIUS MASON: Captain Sutton on a Wednesday afternoon.

Captain, what's happening?

HAL SUTTON: Greens are a little bit faster, tiny bit firmer. The wind is up. Americans look good. They are dressed good. They are hitting it good. What else can I say?

Q. Have you given any general bits of advice to your rookies, and can you recall a little bit how you felt in this event as a rookie?

HAL SUTTON: Oh, yeah, I recall, and I think they are a tiny bit nervous about it, too, you know. As I explained yesterday, nerves are good. Being a bit apprehensive about what you're about to do means you care. You know, I think Chris is a little nervous about what he's going to do. Fred's been nervous about it. Kenny Perry is, it's kind of hard to tell with him, he has not said much. Chad Campbell, he's smooth as silk. May be boiling inside, but I can't tell it. And Chris DiMarco, he's just anxious and ready to go.

Q. Hal, Chris Riley, Phil was in here earlier and talked about how good of a putter Chris was. Has that played into your thoughts as far as alternate-shot and the B part to that, he said he would feel pretty comfortable playing with either Tiger or Chad Campbell. Have those thoughts gone through your mind?

HAL SUTTON: Who said they would be comfortable with Tiger? Chris?

Q. Chris Riley.

HAL SUTTON: My God, I would hope anybody would feel comfortable with Tiger Woods. I mean, I'm ready to go play and I haven't hit a ball this week if Tiger is my partner, you know.

You know what, there's been a lot of people talking about who they are comfortable with and who they are not comfortable with. I am going to tell them tomorrow who they are going to be comfortable with playing. (Laughter.)

And maybe let me explain that a little bit further to you and I'm going to use myself as an example. In 2002 I was not playing well. So if you'd have told somebody they were playing with me early on they would have thought, "Oh, my God, I'd better really be playing good because I might have to carry Hal. He may not help me earn the point that I want to earn." So they had two things on their mind during that process, not only their own game but me, too. Well I've taken half of that out of the equation. They only have one thing on their mind and that's themselves. So that's my whole purpose for doing this.

Q. Two questions. Do you think now, though, seeing a guy hit is sideways, they are thinking, "God, I hope I don't get paired with him."?

HAL SUTTON: I hope not. I hope they are not worried about that. I can't do anything more than I've done. Worry about your own game and don't worry about the other guy.

But you must be watching somebody else's team besides mine if you're seeing them go sideways.

Q. They are going to find out, when? Right before you go to make your big speech tomorrow?

HAL SUTTON: I'm going to let them know some time tomorrow morning.

Q. Even though they won't find out till the end, do you know right now who the teams are? Is it still a work-in-progress?

HAL SUTTON: I know right this second who the teams are, yes, I do. And it's going to stay that way, Doug, I'm not going to let you know who they are. (Laughing).

Q. Forgive me, we just arrived, I didn't see Phil Mickelson's name on the board out on the course. Did he play?

HAL SUTTON: He did not play today. He told me this morning that he didn't play on Wednesdays of majors and he thought this was a major and he wasn't going to change his routine and I said, "Absolutely, don't change your routine. You do what you have to do."

So I told these guys at the beginning of the week, I'll tell y'all right now, they have earned every point that they earned on their own. Nobody else did it. They knew how they did it and I expect them to go about their business the same way this week. And that's exactly what we've done so far.

Q. It's well documented that you played the course a number of times during the year. What do you know about Oakland Hills right now after watching your 12 members of the team play that maybe you didn't know until the last two days?

HAL SUTTON: That's a good question. I don't know that I know anything any differently than I did before. One of the things that -- you know, I'm curious as to where the tee is going to be on No. 6, also. That's the one thing. I thought it needed to be on the front because a lot of guys can drive it. If it stays downwind there's going to be a lot of guys hitting it with a 3-wood. I don't know that that's necessarily in the best interests of the game.

So, you know, outside of that, it's still the same thing. I can say this in the press: The par 5s are the even numbered holes and the par 3s are the odd numbered holes and basically we can dictate who hits 12 birdie putts if everybody hits the greens in regulation. Bernhard is smart enough to figure that out. I can go ahead and say that. That's unique to Oakland Hills. We can incorporate that into our pairing on alternate shots.

Q. Have the players said to you that they have learned or discovered something about Oakland Hills in the two days of practice that maybe they didn't know? Has any of them said to you, "Geez, this is different" or, "This is a surprise" or not?

HAL SUTTON: Nobody has said anything. The only thing they have said about Oakland Hills is they have been extremely complimentary. They Love the golf course. They love the beauty of it. They love the way it's designed. I think they are looking forward to this great championship on this great course.

Q. Tiger again is the youngest guy on your team at 28 and the Europeans have three guys younger than him. Were you surprised when you were going through the selection process that there wasn't a bigger and better pool of players in that mid-20 to late-20 range, and if so, why do you think that is?

HAL SUTTON: You know, that thought didn't even occur to me whenever I was going through that process. I was trying to look at the guys that I felt like were in the pool.

It's a long journey on the Tour. Trying to figure out how to get to the end of the line, and you know, basically people that are making the Ryder Cup teams, they have reached the end of the line in terms of success.

Very few people are as talented as the Tiger Woods and the Phil Mickelsons and people like that, that they get there at an early age. I thought we had a good pool of guys to choose from. I still feel like we've chose the best two guys for the job. I'm excited about the 12 members of the U.S. Team that are here.

Q. In the alternate-shot you have to use the same ball for two players and different players use different balls, how much does that factor in when you make the pairing, the equipment?

HAL SUTTON: I made an announcement last night that I was not going to complicate the equation by adding the ball to it. With four or five different manufacturers making balls out there and they are all making four or five different balls, it's a convoluted mess, basically.

So I said I'm going to pair everybody that I think personality and game-wise match up. You work it out between you on the ball. They are a little bit apprehensive about that because I'm giving them the last minute here to get ready for it. But I still think this is the best way to do it and we'll all find out Sunday if it's the best way to do it.

Q. With putting being such a premium here at Oakland Hills, it's been discussed, Chris Riley is a very good putter, who else do you think of as the best putters on your team and in practice rounds is anybody rolling it especially well?

HAL SUTTON: All 12 of them are great putters. They would not be here if they weren't great putters. I mean, if you're talking about the greatest of the greats, Stewart Cink and Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, they would come to mind immediately. Jay Haas stands up there right at the top. Chris DiMarco, David Toms can run the tables at any moment. You want me to keep going? Davis Love has made his share over a lifetime or a career. I think we just about covered all 12 of them there.

Q. Are you beginning to get a sense of when to say what and when not to say things, and is that different than you expected as far as sort of overloading your team with information?

HAL SUTTON: If you talk to them I don't think they think I have overloaded them with information. They act to me like they are starving for more information and that's good. There's been a few guys that have been uneasy about what's going to happen and what they are going to do. Chris Riley is a little bit uneasy about it. I walked over to him today and said, "Look man, you're a star running back and I'm the best pulling guard you've ever seen. I'm going to run interference for you and I'm going to take care of you. Don't you worry about one thing."

Q. Was it a conscious thing to hold back and not say a lot?

HAL SUTTON: Yeah, I don't want to confuse this operation. They know how to prepare. They don't have a lot of people in their business at every other tournament that they go to. These are independent contractors. They know how to prepare for what they are doing. They don't need me, another opinion, another second-guesser stepping in their way saying, "Well, I think you ought to do it this way." I'm proud of the way they have got it done so far. We're going to go with that. We're not going to go with how I think it ought to be done.

Q. Do you worry at all about the fine line between fans being completely into the competition, loud and fans going over the line, is that a concern at all? Do you address that at all?

HAL SUTTON: I'm trying to work with the things that I do have some control over and that does not happen to be one of those things that I have any control over.

You know, I hope everybody enjoys the competition this week. I know that the U.S. Team is going to put everything they have got forward. I hope everybody is respectful of everybody's game. But, you know, this is one of the biggest sporting events in the world. I mean, I've never been to a sporting event where everybody sat there like this and didn't say a word. Everybody roots for their team.

Q. I want to ask you about a statement you made about the wives; that they were worth half a point. Can you elaborate on that?

HAL SUTTON: I think they are a partner in life. They have the easiest access to make a statement to these guys. And probably, if it's anything like my relationship, I listen to her. And if I don't, she says it again. (Laughter.)

Occasionally, I'm like any other man, I'm glued to TV and I don't quite hear and she calls it selective hearing. But anyway.

They have an opportunity to make a difference, and I want the wives to not be afraid to make a difference.

Q. You mentioned that this is one of the great sporting events in the world. If you can remove yourself from golf just for a minute, where would it rank as far as Super Bowl, World Series, etc., to a sports fan, to the sports fan in you?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I think it's one of the most exciting competitions because it's prolonged. Super Bowl is over with in three hours or whatever. They are trying to prolong it as long as they can. We have three days of it here. And if you just look at this media center right here, I've never been to the Super Bowl media center but I can't believe that it's like this right here. I think they have elevated it here.

Q. There's a perception that the Europeans are more proficient at match-play, especially with partners, do you agree with that and do you have any theories on that?

HAL SUTTON: Perception may change this week. We are going to do something about that this week.

Americans are ready. I mean, if we get beat this week, which is a possibility, this is sports, it can happen. But it won't be because these guys don't care and aren't playing their heart out. They are ready to play.

Q. We're coming up on five years losing Payne Stewart, certainly a guy who may have been up for captain of a Ryder Cup, a practical joker, yet as competitive as anybody. Do you ever think about him recently as far as the Ryder Cup is concerned? Is there anybody on the team that maybe has the same type of personality?

HAL SUTTON: Well, Chris DiMarco has a little bit of that sort of personality. You're right, I was walking, I have a hall in my home that I've got a bunch of pictures that are dear to me on the wall. And as I walked through the hall last week I looked up on the wall and there was a picture of Payne, myself, and David Duval leaning off of the balcony at The Country Club, spraying a little champagne on everybody.

But anyway, I thought that was very fitting, the picture is about like this and I pulled it off the wall and brought it and set it up in the team room this week, just because I felt like everybody needed to remember Payne. He has a prominent spot in our team room this week.

Q. Even though Phil is treating this as a major and you want him to stick to his routine, does it take away from the team concept, him not being here and do you worry about any resentment from the players?

HAL SUTTON: No, I don't. Everybody is content out there. Everybody is laughing and joking and content with their game. You know, it goes along really with the concept that I've told everybody. Worry about yourself. Don't worry about everybody else. I mean, if I get you to worry about you and I get the best out of you, then it will come together as a team effort that could be brilliant. But if you spend much time worrying about what he's doing, you're spending less time worrying about what you're doing and I've delivered that message as many times as I have to, not only to them, but to you right now.

I've been harping on that this whole time.

Q. We all know this is a huge event and you have a job to do and everything but you're from Louisiana and there's a killer hurricane looming and bearing down on it right now. Is this in the back of your mind, or is this any effect on you right now?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I mean, every time a hurricane comes to the United States like that, we all hope for the best, pray for the best. Certainly with New Orleans there, that's a bad thing because New Orleans is six feet below sea level.

All I can do is hope and pray for the best there, just like everybody else in the world.

Q. A number of past Ryder Cups have been decided by what we might call unheralded players, players not at the top of the World Rankings, is there anything about this competition that allows that to happen or makes it more prevalent?

HAL SUTTON: Well, there are quiet leaders, guys you didn't assume was a leader because maybe they had not shown it or maybe they didn't even know it themselves. Playing for your country, the patriotism behind this, the excitement of being here and being part of this, you may rise to the occasion. It's hard to see inside of a person. We see the physical talent but it's hard to see what's really inside of somebody. That tends to come out in this competition.

Q. You talked about some of the difficulties of maybe making an individual sport into a team sport and you talked about you want the team to have a good three days of practice, I'm wondering, as a captain, what do you do to judge the kind of quality practices you're having for your team these three days?

HAL SUTTON: I'm not really standing in judgment. It's up to them to decide if they have had a quality practice. If they haven't then they have got to go do something about that.

You know, I think y'all are assuming because there's not any money involved here that maybe there's no real energy to go back out there and hit the additional balls. I can tell you that there's pride here, and these guys want to win. So if they don't feel like they are getting it done, you can go over there and find them on the practice tee. If you don't find them, that means they are comfortable with their game.

Q. You've spent a lot of time talking about Jackie Burke this week. Can you talk about the reasons why you chose him to be your assistant captain?

HAL SUTTON: You mean Socrates? He's full of life lessons. That's the one thing that I've heard consistently from all of the guys that he is incredible. Chad Campbell walked up to me on the first tee out there and he said, "Hal, you seated me last night" -- no, I'm sorry. He said, "I spent some time this morning with Jack and he's incredible."

I said, "Chad, do yourself and your career a favor, get to know him better." Win or lose this week, I promise you, I've already -- that's one thing I did do right was bring Jackie along. He's an icon in golf. The Europeans, they bring Bob Torrance with him everywhere because he's an icon to them. Jackie Burke is our icon. I'm happy to say that he is part of this 2004 Ryder Cup Team.

I will also add that he's very proud that he's part of this 2004 Ryder Cup Team. Butch Harmon said to me yesterday, he said, "Man, I gave you an A plus for getting him out of State of Texas. He can't hardly stand to leave the State of Texas." Am I right Melanie? He and Robin are having a good time. He and Robin celebrated her birthday last night in the team room, we had her a cake, it was her birthday yesterday. It's been a real eventful week having him around.

Q. Two questions if you don't mind. Real quickly an update on the status of team bonding? How is that coming along?

HAL SUTTON: Perfect. Everybody's doing great.

Q. The second question is, does that matter? I've heard you say, okay, only worry about individual, but then, you've also talked about some of the things you guys have done together to have that camaraderie, curious, where do you really stand on that? Is there a correlation between stuff that happens in the team room or the putt on 13 or something like that?

HAL SUTTON: Man, we have all been friends since before we got here. I was happy to hear Bernhard say when he got off the airplane, "We've started the bonding process." Y'all have made us believe they have been bonding for 20 years. I thought we were ahead of the game. We bonded nicely.

Q. Does it matter?

HAL SUTTON: Does it matter? According to y'all it matters. I think we're all good friends. We pull for one another. Sure, when we're out there each week, we're competitive. We want to beat the other guy. We want him to play well and we just want to play a little bit better. But is that any different than what we are doing right now? I know that Bernhard wants to win this thing. I know every European guy wants to win this thing. That same thing is true of the Americans. Now, I don't want to do it because of default, they play poorly. I want them to play well, just like I think they want us to play well. I think the fans would like to see it that way, too.

Q. I think I'm probably going to get a one-word answer to that but I'll ask it anyway. Two years ago at The Belfry you were sort of up close and personal with Captain Curtis Strange and you saw how the pressure bore down on him from practice days to the singles. My question to you is, as the team captain, do you countenance to the idea of losing?

HAL SUTTON: Do I what now? (Laughter.)

Q. Countenance?

HAL SUTTON: Losing hasn't even crossed my mind. What I'm really trying to do, this game, we preach this all the time, I hope every junior golfer out there is listening to me. It's one step at a time. It's putting your right front in front of your left foot and then doing the opposite. It's thinking about the present and staying in the present. It's doing your job correctly one step at a time.

Winning is not part of the equation right now, nor is losing. You know, I can't think of anybody in the world that's ever done it any better than Tiger. Tiger does it as well as anybody in the world. So I think if this team can follow that -- and, you know it's not magical, he didn't corner the market on that. That same saying -- I'm a lot older than Tiger and I was preached that whenever I was 15 years old. You know, that's been around for a while.

Q. With Phil taking a pass today on the practice round, does that mean that the players are free to take a pass on the practice rounds tomorrow if they want to?

HAL SUTTON: Yeah, if they feel like they need to do that. I mean, I'm not making a decision. He's no different than anybody else. He doesn't have, you know, just because he's Phil Mickelson and ranked 2 or 3 in the world or whatever he's ranked, 4 or whatever, that he can do something that the other guys can't do. We are all one team. We do it the same way. If they need a pass tomorrow, they get a pass.

Q. Would that concern you at all if everybody decided to take the day off?

HAL SUTTON: No. It wouldn't concern me. But I'll assure you, everybody will not take the day off tomorrow. (Laughter.)

You're reading way too much into this. I mean, Phil just doesn't play on Wednesdays of major championships. Now, why don't you see the positive side of that; that he thinks the Ryder Cup is a major championship. See, that's the way I read that. So if I were going to write this article, that's the way I'd write this. (Laughter.)

Q. Just one related question there. Is it fair to the fans who come out and expect to see some of the players and they are not here?

HAL SUTTON: Listen, you know, we try to do the best we can for the fans. I mean, all of these guys, I signed all sorts of autographs out there today. But we are here to try to win this thing. I can't make these guys stay concerned about everybody. We can't do everything in our life to please everybody. First of all, that's impossible. So make sure you get your job done, everybody else will live with it.

Q. I've never been around athletes who don't go into an event thinking they are going to win the event. What is the No. 1 reason that you think the U.S. is going to win this week?

HAL SUTTON: The No. 1 reason why I think we're going to win this week? I think we have got a tremendous team. I think we have got the greatest putting team that the United States has ever assembled. I think every tournament that's ever been won is won on the greens.

So that's probably the major reason why, I think.

Q. Can you discuss your concerns and the risks of switching equipment as Phil did right before a major championship and have any of your players expressed concern over the equipment switch, because sometimes it takes awhile to get used to new equipment.

HAL SUTTON: Well, it does take a while to get used to new equipment. But nobody has expressed any concern, and I can't imagine that Phil Mickelson picked up this stuff two weeks ago and decided he was going to change. It would be beyond my ability to think that. I bet he's had this equipment for quite a while. What do you think, Jeff?

Q. I don't know.

HAL SUTTON: I bet he has. That would be a major move for a guy of his stature to just switch. I bet he's had it for a while.

Q. I was going to ask one question but maybe I'll ask a second one, given the facts -- first off the bat, Fridays, the Europeans always seem to do well on a Friday in Ryder Cup play. Are you keyed up for Friday being one of the major days because it is the first day of competition and how important is it to get off to a great start versus what's happened in the past?

HAL SUTTON: Extremely important to get off to a great start. My pairings will be -- that's weighed heavily on my mind in my pairings. I think when we announce our pairings you'll see that that's weighed heavily on my mind. I'll put out the guys that I think can get it done.

I've expressed and it goes back to being patient and staying in the present, one step at a time, we've got to get the first morning matches behind us in a successful way in order to move to the afternoon matches.

I do not want to be put behind the 8-ball.

Q. And the second question is, how do you rank this European Team -- you've probably been asked this before. How do you rank this European Team versus teams in the past and where do you think it's going to be won and lost; on the greens?

HAL SUTTON: Absolutely. Every tournament is won and lost on the greens. Jackie Burke when we were talking a month ago, he said, "Hey, Hal, don't forget that every trophy is given away on the greens, it's never given away on the fairway or the tee."

As far as ranking the European Team, I wouldn't even know where to begin on that. They have had incredible players before and they have got incredible players now. You know, I wouldn't even know where to start there. They are a formidable opponent, that's what I'll say.

Q. You have touched on this quite a bit already but it has been written perhaps more this time that recent European success is down to superior team spirit. I don't know if you would agree with that, but what have you done differently from past U.S. captains to boost team spirit?

HAL SUTTON: I've tried to remind them for a year that the Ryder Cup is coming. I've put letters in their locker. I've talked to them repeatedly about it. I think coming into this, the guys were excited about being here, excited about proving the point that the American players are good. They have bonded, if you will, if that's what it takes to win this thing.

Their spirit is good. They are excited about being here. They want to win this thing. I thought Padraig Harrington did a great job of explaining what we've tried to say for five years. I think the fact that he said it might put an end to what's going on. I mean, the fact that we were so excited that what happened -- that we got too excited. That's how meaningful the Ryder Cup is to the American players. I actually thanked Padraig this morning for saying that. I said, it's nothing different than we've tried to say for five years, but because you said it, maybe it will resonate.

Q. Back to the greens. If it's going to be such a crucial matter to decide this tournament, how do you want the greens to be? Can you or will you manipulate them to have them the way you want them?

HAL SUTTON: No, I won't have anything to do with it. Kerry Haigh, he's very capable, he's set up many major championships. He asked me at the beginning of the week, I said, "They need to be a little bit firmer and just a little bit quicker, but if you firm them up just a little bit, they will get quicker."

I did that to him just like I did that to you and I don't know whether he's going to do it or not, we'll see.

Q. You've referred to Socrates, Jackie Burke and his life lessons. Another addition you've made is that the caddies are very much part of the U.S. Team room. Any particular examples that you might have shared with us that have delighted you about how well that's working?

HAL SUTTON: I had a 15-minute meeting with the caddies yesterday, told them how important they were to this equation. I said, "Y'all might have felt a little bit on the outside looking in in the past, but you're very much on the inside. Do what you do best. Advise your player. Don't be afraid to step up and tell him what you think. It might be the difference."

And one other thing that I told them, "I'm sure that each and every one of you guys have said something to your player at some time that made a big difference in a tournament or an outcome of a tournament. You're going to do it again this week, just don't be afraid to do it."

Q. The disposition of the guys out on the course today, Chris and Tiger together in two, you had a fivesome and then a foursome, just wondering why not a four-four-three in light of the foursomes you're going to play on Friday and Saturday?

HAL SUTTON: It's right in keeping with what we've done. I don't think y'all could tell anything about what we're doing with the way they went out today.

The truth of the matter is, Tiger wanted to go early, Chris was ready to go so they went. The last guys got out and said, "Hey we want to play a fivesome." I said, "That won't be any problem, we play fast enough, they will never know we played a fivesome, so go ahead."

Q. Does the personal chemistry between players mean more when you make the alternate-shot pairings than in best ball, and if so, what are some of the other things you look at when you do the alternate-shot pairings?

HAL SUTTON: I think complimenting games mean more in alternate-shot than anything else. The next thing is, is attitude going into it. No apologies. Everybody hits a bad shot, just accept that guys are going to hit a bad shot. You yourself might have hit that same bad shot so go hit the next shot. So that's really what I think about alternate-shot.

JULIUS MASON: Captain Hal Sutton.

HAL SUTTON: Thank you.

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