Shell Houston Open interview: Mark O'Meara

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March 27, 2013

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PHIL STAMBAUGH: We welcome two-time Major champion, Mark O'Meara into the interview room for the Shell Houston Open.

Mark, your 663 career start on the PGA TOUR, first start since the 2011 open Championship. You've made eight appearances in this event, best finish a tie for 6th in 1984. First time playing since 2004. You're coming off a tie for 6th finish at the Champions Tours, Mississippi Golf Resort Classic. A few opening comments about playing this year at the Shell Houston Open.

MARK O'MEARA: Well, you know, obviously I'm very excited. Now that Houston is my home, and I've been in Houston for a little over four years, I came up a little bit with the idea when I was in Dubai earlier in the year, playing in the Dubai Desert Classic. I spoke to Peter, because I have a relationship with Steve Timms, and being a Houstonian kind of now, I just threw it out to him. Said, if it makes sense and happens, it would be great, no pressure, no need, but I certainly realize what Shell has done in the Houston area. I've watch the tournament on TV. I've played Redstone really only one other time, even though I'm down in Houston, because I just don't really get up on this side of town. When I'm home I really don't want to have take play a lot of golf. I practice but don't necessarily played a lot.

I've been involved with a guy name Norm Burkeman, who is my doctor here in town, who is the grandfather of my stepson, and he's involved in The First Tee, the one down closer to the Hobby Airport. I went out last summer while I was out of the game for four months with my injury to help him and visit that facility down there and do a clinic for the kids down there, and I was extremely impressed.

I just felt like, hey, if I could come and play in the Houston Open one more time, and if it made sense, I told Mr. Steve Timms and to the sponsor, I'd love to play.

So I got the call about a week ago saying, hey, we got a spot that opened up, do you still want to play? And I said, sure, I'd love to play. Come out and play with the young kids is always fun. To see some new players on the Tour, see some of the older guys I played with a along time ago. Hopefully I can get out there and play well.

Most golfers no matter what, they play for their pride. I understand that I'm not a young guy anymore, but I still think at 56, when I played in Dubai, I played well, made the cut. I beat about 12, 13 guys, I think I finished 50th, or whatever I finished.

When I'm playing with 22 and 24-years-olds, I remember playing with Oliver Fisher on Sunday. I asked Oliver, just out of curiosity, how old are you?

I'm 24, Mark, or 22.

I can't remember. Oh, my God. Got you by 34 years. Playing the playing the Tour before were you born. Reality starts to set in. As time goes on, I realize how fortunate I've been to play an amazing game. I'm really excited about the opportunity to come and play here in Houston, play at the Shell Houston Open. Like I said, I plan on trying to play well. No matter what happens, I'll give it my best out there.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: We'll go for questions.

Q. Mark, if it was jarring to be playing along side a 24-year-old, what do you think of a 14-year-old at Augusta?

MARK O'MEARA: I saw that when he won the Asian amateur over there when I was on the range Monday, the Pro Augusta, JJ, said to me, he says, how about that, we're going to have a 14-year-old play in the Masters this year. He's already been out and played a couple times at Augusta.

You know, you see the youth of today and you see how golf has grown. Lot of it is not -- certainly Tiger had a huge impact. The media has had a huge impact. The fact that the media has spent more time around the game of golf, has written and talked about the game of golf, and you have these young players starting at such an amazing age and playing at such a high level.

You know, three years ago, like I said, I played in the first two rounds in Dubai with Rory McIlroy. He was 19 years old. He hadn't won yet on the European Tour. I told the media after Friday, hey, this kid is 19, he is special, and sure enough, he's kind of lived up to that.

I know he hasn't played as well lately. He's a young man, got plenty of time. This young 14-year-old, it will be an unbelievable dream. When I played at the Masters at 22, 23 as the U.S. Amateur Champion, I was way out of my element. I wasn't that good of a player even though I won the U.S. Amateur. I remember driving out, down Magnolia Lane on Friday and my father was in the car. He said, are you okay?

Yeah, I'm all right.

I know you're disappointed.

I said, Dad, you have to understand something. I'm an amateur. I know my part in the game. And no matter what happens, I got to play in the Masters one time. Whether I become a professional golfer or not, I got to play at Augusta one time, and 18 years later, what happened happened.

Q. Mark, can you talk a little bit about the reputation this particular tournament has grown into over last several years really with the international field as the strength of it?

MARK O'MEARA: I think it bodes well for certainly the Houston area. Certainly Shell's had a big impact, like we talked about, being an incredible sponsor, but also the players. We have such a global tour on the U.S. Tour. The fact that Redstone, as it's been talked about, has been set up pretty much to get the guys ready for Augusta, firm, fast, rolling.

You know, it's not Augusta, I realize that. I think they do, too. That's been the thing that's been talked about the most. The hospitality. I believe the Texas people show the players that. I know just living here, it's pretty amazing. Houston is a great city and the golf aspect of it, these people love to follow the game and support the game, and that's why I think you got the field that you have here.

Q. Jordan Spieth was in here a couple hours ago. He's 19.

MARK O'MEARA: I haven't met Jordan yet. I've seen what he's accomplished. He's been born and raised and bred here. I've kind of been scattered all over the country. Very impressive. I've just seen him on TV. I've seen some swings he's made. I know a little bit -- I don't know much about Jordan, but I know about his record, I've seen what he's done. At 19, yeah, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with.

Q. Hunter was saying that there was a time when there was a pecking order. You first had to think about being a Top-10 player, then you won a tournament. These kids today maybe started with Tiger.

MARK O'MEARA: There's not a lot of fear, I don't think. They come out and they have -- I think a lot of it boils down to that, like I try to tell college players or whatever, I believe that there is a little bit of a stage you go through, but Jordan obviously was a really good junior player. He was a very good amateur player, very good college player. He's excelled at every single level. So now he's ready to take the next step. It is a bigger step. It is a little bit intimidating.

Certainly it was for me when I came out and played with the pros. It seems in today's era, the young players are not necessarily afraid. They're ready to go. That's what we're seeing is happening.

Q. Where did they learn that?

MARK O'MEARA: I think from Tiger. I think Tiger coming out and doing what he's done, you know, has motivated some of these young players to be physically fit, to get strong. Certainly the equipment is better, but the instruction aspect ever it.

The players technically with their instructors, whoever it may be, they know more about the swing and the technique and just being exposed to the game once again by the amount of time that it's on TV and talked about, all these things. So I think the players have just developed faster.

Q. If you were to away from equipment advances and a couple of areas that don't get enough attention, which is the Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer, the build of the athlete today, where would you stack them in ranks of importance in items of the athletic shape of these guys, the instruction at an early age you alluded to or the kind of secondary level of equipment, which is the range monitors, the things can just get you dialed in?

MARK O'MEARA: That's a great question. I really put the athletic aspect of it at the top of the chart. Who would have ever deemed -- back in my day, Tom Weiskopf, 6-1, 6-2, Byron Nelson was a very large man, Sam Snead, the game of golf especially back then, the powerful players had an advantage, size, strength. Jack Nicklaus was one of the most powerful players that played the game. Not only the best record and mind, he was a strong and a powerful man. That was a huge advantage.

I do believe that to be somewhat of a dominate player out here, just in my opinion about what I've been over the years over all the years I've been a professional golfer, that a player who has strength and has power definitely has more of an advantage, because the endurance aspect of it, you know, you see a player like Tiger, okay, the day -- you just don't see many players winning five, six, seven tournaments a year, but Tiger Woods can do that. I understand he's the best player, but I'm just saying that he has those attributes. He's got strength, he's got athleticism.

And then you're right, I peck it at that. I put the athletic aspect of it at the top. I put the instruction aspect of it next by knowledge of the golf swing, good and bad of your areas of your swing, all areas, short game, putting, and then I put equipment down there. Everybody wants to say the equipment has been the biggest impact. The only thing the equipment has done is I think made the overall package closer to everybody. It made everybody a little bit closer from the standpoint of challenging to win. Because the ball and the equipment -- the -- it's hard to curve the ball a lot now. If you hit a draw with a shot with a club now with the ball, it starts to draw and when it reaches the pinnacle, it kind of falls straight.

You know, years ago you could draw it and it would just hold its curve, keep hooking, work it a lot. You don't see many players besides Bubba, you don't see a lot of guys hitting these big shaped shots. That aspect of it, yeah, that has an impact.

So you put all those things together and certainly the prize money, you know, is big, it's huge out here. I look at the players and I know when I played, I came in right at the beginning of the era, I think I played 27 years on the PGA Tour, the 16 wins, lot of Top-10 finishes, and my career earnings are just under 14 million. There's guys have would you know three, four, tournaments, maybe won 17, 18 million in a short period of time, too.

Prize money and the fact that you have one of the most famous guys playing your sport, parents are more apt to put their children into the golf program. With The First Tee coming onboard over the last, I don't know how many years The First Tee, ten years, eight years?

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Ten.

MARK O'MEARA: Exposing young people to the game, the fact that it's an individual game, I think also plays a big part. All those things together.

Q. At one point you knew Tiger as well as anyone. What do you make of him getting back to No. 1 and just where he appears to be in his game and life right now in?

MARK O'MEARA: That's funny, I saw Emmitt Smith. I sat at his table last night. In every sport every so often, an unbelievable champion comes around. I certainly haven't been around Tiger very much the last five, six years. I don't live in Florida anymore, certainly my life playing on the Champions Tour. It doesn't surprise me. He loves challenges. I know he's been through a lot, but I'm a big Tiger woods fan. I always have been, always will be.

It's not like I'm a huge historian in the game. But I was able to witness something very special for about 10, 11 years. I don't think there were many people that were more closely knit or closely tied to Tiger than myself. I consider him my younger, brother and he's an amazing, gifted athlete and sooner or later, you know, he'd figure it out.

It's difficult when -- certainly Rory can attest to this after being No. 1. It's very difficult -- forget about what Tiger accomplished in his professional career, 14 Major championships, 77 wins, and everything else that's happened to him personally on and off the golf course, no one has lived under the microscope pretty much in any sport than he has. There's good and bad about that. Certainly he's become a wealthy man because of that and all these things and the privacy aspect changed.

I'm not shocked to see what's happening right now. Do I think he's where he was at one time? No. When I saw him display what he displayed at Hoylake and a couple other times, the way he was swinging and never could miss a shot, pretty much, that was the best I've ever seen.

Now, I haven't been able to watch a lot of golf, but obviously his short game has been phenomenal that he's won at Doral. He's hit the ball well. As well as he used to? I don't know. He can answer that, not me. He's back. I think the confidence, you know, the mini swagger, whatever, his desire to be the best player, be No. 1. He's not afraid to be No. 1. Not that any other player is afraid. But he's accustomed to be No. 1. He's accustomed to being in the final group of the Major championship. No more than any other player that's probably played the game besides Jack. That's why Jack won 18 Major championships.

Do I think Tiger will win every Major this year or win the Masters? I'd be hard-pressed to bet against him. Do I think he's coming in with great form? Absolutely. He's got three wins out of five tournaments that he's played.

The guys out here now all play so well that most of the guys that play now out here, they know him, they're kind of somewhat accustomed to being around him and playing with him. So the intimidation factor is not what it once was. It was good to have him back on top and playing well.

Q. Mark, you've been amongst his staunchest supporters over last few years. Is there any sense of satisfaction now that everyone is kind of saying he's back that you've been saying he was going to be back or was back the entire time?

MARK O'MEARA: I think it comes down to a simple thing, Jason. In any person's life, desire is a key thing and pride. Like I said, he's obviously got a lot of pride and his desire seems to be back. Winning breeds winning. He's accustomed to winning. When he wasn't winning, I don't think he probably enjoyed that too much. He's paid a heavy price from the standpoint when you live under that kind of intense expectations not only what he places on himself but what everybody places on him, me, all of you everyone. We expect him to be up there. When he's not, you know, we're like, what's wrong?

You wonder how long an individual, any individual, can live under that kind of pressure, whether it's the president of the United States or anybody else. You see when people are under immense expectations and pressure, it starts to take a toll on someone mentally, physically, all these things. He seemed to stay in shape and he seems to be gung-ho and wouldn't surprise me to see him go play well there just because of his vast knowledge of Augusta and his familiarity with the golf course and winning. Now he's winning again, so, you know, he'll be nervous but I wouldn't be surprised to see him do extremely well.

Q. I don't know how much you know about Steve Stricker's schedule this year, eight to 10 tournaments.

MARK O'MEARA: Phenomenal.

Q. Can that at some point be the blueprint for guys who are in their mid to late 40s?

MARK O'MEARA: It's an amazing feat what he's doing right now, 46 almost 47. To play ten tournaments, and when he comes out he plays really well. It's a credit to him. He's got a very simple swing. Not a lot of moving parts in there. He's a phenomenal putter. I don't care what anybody says. To win, especially in a Major Championship, you got to putt well and Steve is a phenomenal putter.

That's something that he's got a lot of confidence in. I think that keeps him, you know, going like he is. Tiger wants to win the Majors, wants to try to win records. That's in his DNA. Him and I were talking about that. Tiger just is the ultimate champion. That's what he does, win golf tournaments. He doesn't like 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th. Good for him. I don't mind 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. I like to win, too. I realize what I'm about, and he definitely takes it to another level than pretty much every other player.

Q. What's the most pressure you've ever been under?

MARK O'MEARA: Ryder Cups. Couple of my first Ryder Cup teams. The fact that I was playing on a team, the fact that I didn't want to let my teammates down or embarrass myself. Probably mostly there and early in my career at the Major Championships because of more attention.

Q. What about Sahalee when you won two Majors that year, everyone is talking about the 3rd.

MARK O'MEARA: I was floating on cloud 9. 41 years old. I still remember I was just at Augusta the last two days. I remember '98, how I felt going in there, not hitting it good, not confident, not putting good, scrapping around on the practice rounds thinking I just want to make the cut, 41, I just want to make the cut. Make the cut.

Now I just want to make the top 24. Maybe I can come back next year. Boom, I'm in the last group. Boom, I got to come in and talk to the media. You're on the list, next best players to have never won a Major. Boom, there I was Sunday afternoon final group with Fred Couples, make two putts on the last two holes and I get the green jacket put on me buy Tiger woods.

It was kind of a fairly tale, icing on the cake. Then to win, to be honest, Birkdale later in the year after having chances to win The Open. I only felt if I had one Major to win, that would have been it, an Open Championship. Coming close a couple different times, playing with Finchie in '91 at Birkdale in the final group and then to win again, yeah.

So, I mean, I know I finished, I think, 3rd or 4th behind Vijay there at Sahalee. I was nervous, but I was -- I had nothing to lose, you know. Nothing to lose. Very lucky guy.

Q. Wasn't going to remain on you that week?

MARK O'MEARA: No, no matter what happened.

Q. What's worse odds, 19-year-old winning the tournament this week or a 56-year-old?

MARK O'MEARA: I don't know. Who was the couple shots off the lead at The Players Championships a couple years ago after the first round?

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Would have been you, right?

MARK O'MEARA: Right. Took Tiger down. Although he didn't play the rest of the Tour. And I finished last after I made cut. Forget about all that. You know, listen, I'd bet more than him than probably me, but no matter what happens, I got to sleep in my own bed. It's not a bad deal.

Q. You live --

MARK O'MEARA: I live in Memorial right close to Bunker Hill.

Q. Four years ago?

MARK O'MEARA: I've been remarried for four years in June.

Q. Obviously when you're here, as you said earlier, you practice a little bit. You're here to play golf.

MARK O'MEARA: Yeah, it's hard sometimes to make a tee time, make a tee time and to play golf, when you've been playing golf since you were 13. When I come home, I enjoy not having to make a whole lot of commitments. I work with Bruce Davidson. He's been teaching me. Bruce is an amazing guy, one of my closest friends. I'll go to the back range and hit balls.

I'm a member of Lakeside. I play at Lochinvar once in a while. I came up here to Redstone last fall when I was hurt, actually when I had my rib injury, and played with Russ Paine, the physical therapist here in town. You can play through this.

I played Redstone for the first time and I thought it was a nice golf course. Long, which really doesn't fit into my bag, but I'm still hitting the ball about as far and sometimes I hit it as good now as I ever hit it. Why I don't win more, it's a great credit on the Champions Tour how good the guys play out there, to be honest.

Q. You said you texted Tiger after he won Bay Hill?

MARK O'MEARA: I was on the 12th green at Augusta National on Monday. You got to be very careful, as we all know, at Augusta. I don't want Mr. Payne to be upset at me. I was back on the back of the green and pulled out my phone to see that he had won by 2. I fired him a text. I said, awesome, great No. 8 and No. 1. That's all I said.

Q. Any reply?

MARK O'MEARA: Unfortunately I have to have a little discussion with my friend because I didn't get a reply. So I'm not really real pleased with my buddy right now. I felt like sending a text, hey, no love, what's the deal? He's an interesting guy from the standpoint I was getting off the elevator in Mississippi on Saturday after first round, I shot 70 and I was two, three shots off the lead. I played with Langer and Fred the first day.

I clipped the two guys. I get a text on my phone saying, hey, nice playing, dude. Wow. This is really nice. Dude, are you turning over a new leaf, my man. We kid back and forth. We stay in touch, but not like it once was.

Q. Mark, you talked about all the things about Tiger. But the fact is that he hasn't won there since '05. Lot of the stuff that's happened was after '05. Can you tell us why you think that's the case?

MARK O'MEARA: I think the other players have gotten that much better Alex, to be honest with you. You know, Augusta, it's funny, relative to other Majors it is interesting to see kind of what's happening in the last 6, 7, 8 years from the standpoint Augusta has always been a tournament where a lot of Europeans and foreign players have played well, and we've seen that. Probably moreso than most of the other Majors, to be honest with you. Why that is, I don't know.

But I do believe it has a lot to do with the fact that to win Augusta, you have to have a wonderful short game. You look at Phil, look at Tiger, look at guys that have won there, Jose, Seve, even Langer and any of us. Even when I won the year I won, even though I didn't feel good with my putter, I had 97 putts. I. I had the fewest amount of puts in the Masters when I won.

Tiger, yeah, he hasn't driven it as good, he's not -- he hasn't played as well, going through the swing changes, but he hasn't putted well enough to win the Masters, in my opinion. Even when he was working with Hank and still hitting the ball relatively well, I think his putting is what's held him back to win the Masters.

But now when we saw the display at Doral, and whether it's Steve Stricker's gotten him straight now or whoever, you watch the way he putted there at Doral, you saw the way he putted at Bay Hill, now he's got a couple weeks off, you know he's going to be up there playing.

The course was in good shape. I was just there, like I said, the last two days, and the greens were extremely fast. They wouldn't be much faster than what I played on yesterday in the tournament, because it was blowing and any faster, they would have been unplayable. They're up to speed and the course is in good shape.

If Tiger Woods putts well, he'll be certainly in the mix moreso now and with everything that's subsided. Like I said, you're right, he was winning but he wasn't winning some of the Majors like we were accustomed to see him win in the Major. He would be close and not putt good. He would finish 2nd, 3rd, 4th, I don't know what his record has been, but close. He putts -- anywhere like we've always known the way he putts, let's face it, when Jack was dominating, he was the best putter in the game. It comes down to that. If he putts good, he's going to be certainly in the mix this year.

Q. Were you and he next-door neighbors or neighborhood neighbors?

MARK O'MEARA: One, two, three -- four houses down from me.

Q. Proximity living to him where you got close to him?

MARK O'MEARA: Well, it all started back when I met him when he was an amateur and then when he turned pro. Norton was his manager at the time.

Q. You kind of keep an eye on him.

MARK O'MEARA: There wasn't many 19-year-old kids coming out.

Q. Buying homes in gated communities.

MARK O'MEARA: Listen, it's definitely a nice area. No question about it. Didn't look so fun on TV for the boys yesterday. I felt fortunate to live there and my kids to grow up. I wish I would have grown up in that neighborhood but I didn't. When you have that opportunity to do that for your kids, that's what you do.

PHIL STAMBAUGH: Mark, good luck this week.

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