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O'Meara Talks about Good Friend Tiger
In a teleconference to discuss the Toshiba Classic, a Champions Tour event set to start with a pro-am on March 3rd at Newport Beach Country Club in California, two-time major winner Mark O'Meara discussed a range of topics, including the travails of his good buddy, Tiger Woods.
Like other tour pros, O'Meara generally demurred when asked about what he felt about Tiger's situation. But unlike his compatriots, the 53-year-old was a bit more specific. "I guess he has all these advisors," O'Meara said. "I'm not his advisor. I would have handled it differently, myself, personally, but that's who I am."
He added: "I think Tiger, this is my personal opinion, he's brought a lot to the table - we all know that - in the game of golf. This is a difficult issue he's dealing with, obviously, and with Elin and the kids. I know he wants it to be private, but it's difficult to be private when he's a public figure. That's part of what's happened in our lives. Media is such a big influence. That helps make Tiger a lot of what he is. Until I actually speak to Tiger, it's difficult to say or speak to where he's at.
"I wish him the best. I realize what happened is not a good scenario. That's disappointing, what's happened, and as his friend, I would tell him that personally. But that doesn't take away from the fact that I wouldn't try to help my friend any way I could. Until I get asked, it's difficult to give advice. I've tried to contact him a few times, let him know I've been thinking about him and his family. My phone is always on.
"Whether he's handled it right or wrong, only time can decide that. Tiger is being Tiger. You guys have spent a lot of time with him and seen how he is. I don't know how else to answer that. A lot of times why I don't say anything is it wouldn't do me any good to make a comment. I certainly don't want to offend my friend, but if he asked me my personal opinion about something, I'm going to give it to him. That would obviously be between he and I, but I would have handled it differently. But he's a different guy than Mark O'Meara."
Here's what else O'Meara - along with two tournament dignitaries - had to say during the Toshiba Classic Media Day.
JEFF PURSER (Tournament Executive Director): The field is unbelievable. Maybe the best we ever had. Tough to say best ever when we had Jack Nicklaus out one year and Arnold Palmer out one year. But when you look at the guys coming out, that's what I love about the Champions Tour - that it reinvents itself every year with guys like Freddie (Couples), Corey (Pavin), (Paul) Azinger, Bob Tway, Phil Blackmar, David Frost. Just an incredible list of players coming out on this Tour. It's a virtual Hall-of-Fame coming-out party every year and I don't think there's anything better for the true golf fan than the Champions Tour and the players we have now.
I've told this story a couple of times. Back in 1996, when I started working on the Champions Tour after an LPGA six-year run. I looked at the landscape and Jack (Nicklaus) was still competitive. Lee (Trevino) was still winning and competitive. Gary Player was still competitive. Even Chi Chi (Rodriguez) was competitive. All eyes were on the Champions Tour and not so much the PGA Tour. Those were the legends that people followed. Then, Tiger (Woods) came out and stole quite a bit of thunder. Everyone stopped eyeballing the Champions Tour as much and went over and watched Tiger.
And we all know what's transpired in golf over the last 10-12 years with him. What I really feel like over the last couple years and now is with the players we have out - Freddie Couples, the Pavins, the Azingers and, before that, with the O'Mearas and guys like that - is that when you look at the depths of our fields, when you look at the names in our fields, when you look at the PGA Tour, they have two marquee guys - (Phil) Mickelson and Woods. Those are the players people want to watch. This is by no means disparaging great players like Sergio Garcia or Adam Scott or the other great players out there. But they haven't carved the kind of history and they haven't established the kind of records that we're chock full of with guys (who have that on the Champions Tour). I think it's a pretty compelling story and pretty exciting to have the Champions Tour field we have nowadays. It's as good as it gets.
But you're right. With Fred Couples coming on board, Paul Azinger getting ready to make his debut, Corey Pavin, it's only going to continue to grow. What's nice about the Champions Tour and the Toshiba Classic is the fact we have pretty good branding. We have nice players the fans can identify with who have had nice careers. That just makes it a plus. For me, I had this when I won on the Tour. It took me a while finishing second, trying to get a first victory and finally I broke through. It's nice to get a victory, but then, you want to keep on winning. Winning is something that we play for at this stage. Hopefully, that will come soon to me.
Q: You came close a few times last year. Were you pleased with how the year went and did you do anything in the off-season to get ready for 2010?
MARK O'MEARA: I was pleased. I think I had a relatively good year. Played 19 events and I think I'll play 20 this year on the Champions Tour. I'd give my game a B-plus/A-minus. Even though I didn't win, I didn't think it was a poor year. I thought I played pretty consistent. I had some opportunities, knocked on the door a few times and, unfortunately, it didn't open. But that just gives me more fuel for the fire. This winter, I moved into my new house in Houston. Been practicing with a guy named Rick Davidson and working on my swing for the last year. He helped me a lot. Head pro at River Oaks CC. It's fun. I'm rejuvenated, a little more motivated even after playing 30 years of competitive golf. (I have) the desire to try to win and get back to an area where I think I should be in the game of golf. People see a guy like Tom do what he did at Turnberry and he played good in Dubai last week where he tied for eighth. When I miss the cut and don't play well, it frustrates me. It gives me motivation to go out there and try to figure it out.
Q: Is there anything particular in your game that you're working on this year?
MARK O'MEARA: I've been working on my full swing a little bit, trying to simplify that to where it will hold up a little better under pressure, get my technique a little better. I think it has improved. I've seen signs of it. When I look and watch it on video, when I hit balls, I feel like I've become a better player. I had a setback last week in Dubai; I didn't play very well. Even at 53, I'm still trying to get better and figure it out.
Q: Growing up in Mission Viejo, how often did you play NBCC and was it a contributing factor to your run here last year?
MARK O'MEARA: I think it had a big factor. I played it quite a few times in high school matches when I was at Mission Viejo High. I probably played it 30-40-50 times, but then I hadn't been back for many, many years. It's kind of a great golf course. You've got a lot of character to it. It's obviously not Riviera, or LA North or Pebble Beach but, yet, in it's own right, it kept a great feel about it that does require shotmaking around there and certainly a good amount of scoring, since you know the players are going to go low. The weather, more times than not, is usually good in Southern California. The guys are going to light it up. Three rounds, it's basically a shootout. I think that's good for the fans, good for TV to see guys scoring and making birdies and the possibility for making eagles coming down the stretch. I think that's what people want to see; not guys struggling.
Q: Mark, you said your permanent home is Houston. Is that where you are right now?
MARK O'MEARA: Yes. I got re-married last June 27th to Meredith and I have an eight-year-old stepson. My son, Shaun, is still going to UCI (UC Irvine). I keep tabs on him. I have a home in the desert. Obviously, my main priority is working on my game, playing the Tour and when I'm not playing the Tour, I'm basically a Texas resident.
Q: Golf fans know that it's a difficult game to play when you have things going on off the golf course. Is this the first year since you've been on the Champions Tour that you've played with a clear head, a clean slate and a clear conscience?
MARK O'MEARA: Absolutely. No question about it. I feel like my second or third year when I got on the regular tour - 1983 or '84 - when I had the consistency in my personal life. I think that's important. Some people seem to play well when they have difficulties in their off-course issues. For me, I'm a guy who likes to have consistency in my relationships and know where I'm at, know I have a good support team behind me. I seem to play better with that. I feel like I play for someone else besides just me.
Q: Do you have any insights to the reports yesterday that Tiger Woods may be coming back in the Tavistock Cup? Have you spoken to him?
MARK O'MEARA: To be honest, I haven't spoken to Tiger. The last time I physically saw Tiger or had a physical conversation with him was at the British Open at Turnberry. We played a practice round together. I haven't been very public with this whole issue on what's happened. I can't completely talk about something that I don't know, really, a lot about what's going on. I felt I had to let things play out.
I care very deeply about Tiger. I think everyone knows how very, very close our relationship has been. I care about Elin and their children and their family. I think Tiger, this is my personal opinion, he's brought a lot to the table - we all know that - in the game of golf. This is a difficult issue he's dealing with, obviously, and with Elin and the kids. I know he wants it to be private, but it's difficult to be private when he's a public figure. That's part of what's happened in our lives. Media is such a big influence. That helps make Tiger a lot of what he is. Until I actually speak to Tiger, it's difficult to say or speak to where he's at.
I wish him the best. I realize what happened is not a good scenario. That's disappointing, what's happened, and as his friend, I would tell him that personally. But that doesn't take away from the fact that I wouldn't try to help my friend any way I could. Until I get asked, it's difficult to give advice. I've tried to contact him a few times, let him know I've been thinking about him and his family. My phone is always on.
Q: Are you surprised at all that he's not come out and made a statement and do you think that would help his image for the long haul?
MARK O'MEARA: I guess he has all these advisors. I'm not his advisor. I would have handled it differently, myself, personally, but that's who I am. Whether he's handled it right or wrong, only time can decide that. Tiger is being Tiger. You guys have spent a lot of time with him and seen how he is. I don't know how else to answer that. A lot of times why I don't say anything is it wouldn't do me any good to make a comment. I certainly don't want to offend my friend, but if he asked me my personal opinion about something, I'm going to give it to him. That would obviously be between he and I, but I would have handled it differently. But he's a different guy than Mark O'Meara.
Q: Mark, you mentioned all the big names coming out in 2010 - Couples, Pavin. Is there any one guy you're looking forward to seeing out there that you were friendly toward on the PGA Tour?
MARK O'MEARA: I think Freddie and, certainly, Corey and Paul will be big assets to the Champions Tour. They are guys who have won major championships. They have some visibility. People recognize them and identify with them, and Corey being the Ryder Cup captain. I know they're going to flip-flop between the Tours. I guess that's fine; they have to do what they feel is right. But on the Champions Tour, Jeff (Purser) will admit, the sponsors that I talked to over the last 2-3 years making sure they're happy with their product, every one of them loves it. And they love it because the Pro-Ams and the corporate involvement and spending time with the customer is very important. That's what drives the whole situation. The fact of the matter is the Champions Tour seems to do that. The players get it. They realize that we're lucky to be doing what we're doing, the fact that professional golf is in a situation with the economy and the recession that these are difficult times. The more that guys can put back and are willing to continually try to help the sponsor any way they can, it's a win-win situation.
So to have recognized players come out here that people know about, as opposed to the regular Tour or the European Tour that people can't identify with or that they don't really know because the competition has changed so much, I think that's a plus for our Tour. I really do.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of the Toshiba Classic.