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Wilson Out to Defend at Humana Challenge
Though he missed the cut in last week's Sony Open by four shots after posting rounds of 74 and 68, Mark Wilson believes he's up to the challenge of repeating as the winner in this week's Humana Challenge. The $5.6 million event starts Thursday in La Quinta, Calif.
The same scenario happened last year when Wilson didn't make it past two rounds in Honolulu. But the Wisconsin native rallied the following week, going 24-under 264 on the three courses used for the Humana tournament to win by two over Robert Garrigus, John Mallinger and Johnson Wagner.
The victory was the fifth in the career of the diminutive, 38-year-old Wilson. He hopes the same results come this year, but as he told reporters that wasn't the plan before he teed it up a week ago at Waialea Country Club. "My caddie, we were walking the last hole at Sony and going to miss the cut he said, 'Hey, it's okay, we missed the cut last year and got to the desert early and things worked out okay,' " Wilson said Tuesday.
"Not that I did that on purpose. Golfers are superstitious, but I'm not going to miss a cut on purpose just because I did the year before so that I could play well here," he noted. "So I feel rested and, with the new format that they brought in play last year, now that we don't start until Thursday, I think all the guys have plenty of time to get ready and get rested in time for the tournament to start."
Here's what else Wilson said during his session with reporters prior to the pro-celebrity Humana Challenge, the former Bob Hope Classic that's now contested over 72 holes at La Quinta Country and the Nicklaus Private and Palmer courses at PGA West.
MODERATOR: Like to welcome our defending champion, Mark Wilson. Mark, if you want to start off talking about your thoughts coming in this year and defending and then we'll take a few questions.
MARK WILSON: Yeah, just excited to be back. It's been the year's gone by quickly - excited to be back in the desert. We feel settled. Hawaii, the last two weeks, was not exactly the trip we had planned, with a lot of - you probably saw what happened in Maui and the wind and we didn't know if we were going to play golf. And then got to Sony kind of late. So it's nice to be settled here at my in laws over there at Ironwood and I feel like I'm back home again. So it's nice to be here. Played about six holes this morning, the golf course is in great shape as we kind of expected.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Questions?
Q. Obviously the Hawaiian trip was a little weird. Two tournaments in one week, basically for you.
MARK WILSON: Right.
Q. How did that impact you and obviously when did you get into the desert as well?
MARK WILSON: I missed the cut at Sony, so we took a flight over. We enjoyed a day at the beach on Saturday there in Honolulu and got a flight over all day Sunday and drove from L.A. to get here. So kind of an all day adventure. But we are here and, yeah, I was just glad we got golf in. If we had a full field there in Maui, we couldn't have done it. So thankfully we just had 30 guys and played like 54 holes in 30 hours or something. We were all there, all ready to go, and went a long way, and was happy to get some golf in and get some FedEx points to show for our trip.
Q. Did it impact the way that you would prepare, let's say for this week? Because the schedules had gotten so screwed up over there.
MARK WILSON: No, I don't think so. My caddie, we were walking the last hole at Sony and going to miss the cut he said, "Hey, it's okay, we missed the cut last year and got to the desert early and things worked out okay." Not that I did that on purpose. Golfers are superstitious, but I'm not going to miss a cut on purpose just because I did the year before so that I could play well here. So I feel rested and with the new format that they brought in play last year, now that we don't start until Thursday, I think all the guys have plenty of time to get ready and get rested in time for the tournament to start.
Q. What does defending champion mean to you of the Humana Challenge? When you think of Humana now, you think of what?
MARK WILSON: What's that?
Q. What does it mean to you to be the defending champion of this tournament? When you think of this tournament and you think of everything.
MARK WILSON: The first thing I think of really is the Clinton Foundation and Humana, the partnership that they have put together; and really I think of health and well being. That's the first thing that pops out, that they're really pushing that on anybody that's watching the tournament, anyone who attends the tournament, that it's important to keep ourselves healthy. And that's the first thing I think of. And so I'm honored that I'm the first champion of that, because I take my fitness very seriously and kind of how I eat and all that kind of stuff. So it's been getting to know the Clinton Foundation in the last 12 months since I won, it's, they have, they're just very serious about what they're doing and how they want to impact the world. And one way is for people being a little more aware of their health. And it's cool to see what they're doing.
Q. Has it made you more aware of obviously, you're a professional athlete and you watch your diet and working out, but have you done anything different in the last year or has this made you aware of anything else that maybe you didn't pay attention to before?
MARK WILSON: No, not personally, but I'm always just like my golf game, it's always kind of evolving, you're always working on something different it seems like from year to year. And so I can't think of anything specifically, like a new food I've added or anything like that. But my trainer that I work with at home, we have expanded my workouts to three workouts a week, with a little bit shorter duration. And I used to be doing two workouts a week. I think that that way I'll probably be less sore during tournament play.
That was one thing I noticed during last year that as the year progressed that I was maybe going at it a little too hard, because I wanted to try to keep up what we were doing when we were home. But then I would find myself doing squats, for instance, or something and then the next day it was hard to pick the golf ball out of the hole because my quads were hurting. And that's not right. We don't want that. So we're going at it a little bit, maybe more a 45 minute workout instead of, say, an hour, 15 minutes that I did last year, but doing it three times a week. So that's one adjustment that we have made. So we're always aware of what might help me perform better and always I'm not scared to try something new.
Q. Media day you talked about the emotion of living, seeing 18 again and winning there. And now that you're here and you practiced there today and you saw the thing set up, can you describe the emotion now of actually being here tournament week again and seeing it all again?
MARK WILSON: Yeah, I guess I'm preparing now, I'm getting ready, because I know the bell's going to go off here in a couple of days. So it's maybe a little bit different, I'm looking more forward than back in December, when I was looking at the green, I was looking backwards and remembering the moment. But I saw some pictures; my in laws have some pictures still on the bulletin board at home and me giving my son a hug and everything when we won. That was something I'll never forget. And I hope to see if we can do that one more time. We got another son, so maybe I'll do it for him, that will be my motivation.
Q. I write for a New England audience and I always like to ask the players, what's your favorite course in New England? Do you like the seafood? Billy Casper said he always liked the Hartford Open. Of course, he won there four times. Tony Jacklin said, "I love the Country Club at Brookline, except in 1999." What are your feeling about New England golf, New England itself?
MARK WILSON: Probably one of my best golfing stories came there at Wollaston Country Club, just outside of Boston, where I had an opportunity to take down Tiger Woods in the U.S. Junior. Final match, I was 2 up with five to go, and like many have said, "I should have had him." And I should have had him. But he made a good comeback and I made a couple mistakes, so I always remember that. And oddly as it seems, TPC Boston has been good to me. I really enjoy that golf course, even though people think of it as a bomber's paradise and obviously I'm one of the shorter hitters on the Tour, but I really like the way that golf course sets up for me, for some reason. I had some good finishes there. And so those are the things - Boston stands out. If I think of New England, I think that's the first thing I think of.
Q. Interestingly enough, Faxon, when he redesigned the course, said that the shorter hitters, the accurate hitters they're going to be able to take advantage of this course, just like the bombers.
MARK WILSON: Yeah, he did make some good changes there from 2003. A drivable par 4 and bringing some of the bunkers out even further, so that there wasn't that - I think when we first played it was like a lot of the bunkers were 275 to carry and then you got a double wide fairway. So, yeah, it's a little more fair now. So when I think of New England golf I think of Boston first.
Q. You mentioned the change in the format. You're the first person to win under the new format. The only person to have won in 72 holes here. Obviously they changed a lot about it. The length, the number of courses, the number of amateurs. Was one of those things more important to you than the other one or did they all kind of play in concert together?
MARK WILSON: I think they all played together, but I think that first and foremost is the one less day. I think that especially guys coming over from Hawaii and trying to get going and starting a competitive round on Wednesday a lot of guys took the red eye getting here Monday morning. I think the extra day that we have to prepare and to rest up for a four day tournament is the biggest difference. One of the things that was fun, I had a chance to meet with Bill Clinton in December and he talked about that was one of the big changes that he wanted to do when Tim Finchem called him and said, do you want to do something with this tournament and continue Bob Hope's legacy. And he said, yeah, but we have to look out for the pros here. We can't be asking them to play five days, we can't be asking them to play with three amateurs. And I was really impressed that he understood things that go on with our livelihood that we usually think people overlook. And so the PGA Tour, Humana, the Clinton Foundation really thought it through and I think it's a lot better product.
Q. What was your reaction to the official news about Rory McIlroy's contract that came out yesterday with Nike and the big number that he got and what's your reaction to that as a player out here?
MARK WILSON: You'll have to - I don't know. What was the number?
MARK WILSON: Okay. Over a course of?
Q. I don't remember the years. 10 years.
MARK WILSON: 10 years? He's the No. 1 golfer in the world and I'm sure we have seen from the past what Nike's willing to do with other athletes, including Tiger Woods. And I think they probably have a dream that, hey, we can have the No. 1 player in the world, plus Tiger Woods. And someone even told me there's a neat commercial already out, someone already saw it on YouTube that kind of puts the two together. What a marketing dream. So you know, I think when Tiger Woods signed for, what was it? 43 million dollars? Everyone was like, wow, that was amazing, whatever that number was. But what a deal, right? What a deal in the long run. So I think they know what they're doing.
Q. With David Duval's win in 1999, of the unbelievable 59 at the end, are you shocked that he didn't get the exemption this year?
MARK WILSON: I didn't know that he didn't get one. I know this once again, I'm not up to speed on all that kind of stuff. I know this is a short season, so did this tournament lose some spots because of that? Some sponsor exemptions because of the shorter season? Does anybody know?
Q. I think they had four this year.
MARK WILSON: Versus eight normally or? Who knows. I don't know. I don't know.
Q. I think that was part of it.
MARK WILSON: Yeah, David Duval's a great player and I know he's working on his game, just like the rest of us, and I think that one of the things about the PGA Tour that I understand, too, is that, I'm on a high right now, I've got three more years exemption, but if that runs out and I haven't proven that I'm still capable of competing with these players, I got to earn my way in. So there must have been another reason why there's other players that were chosen. So I don't know, it's nothing against David. I'm sure he's working hard. I've been in that boat. You write letters, you have your agent write letters, you do the best you can, but you're probably not going to get yeses from everybody.
Q. Sort of a funny one. Any pitfalls of staying at the in laws?
MARK WILSON: Any pitfalls? Well, I will say the home cooked meal that, when we first got there from LAX, was so great. After being in Hawaii for two weeks and eating at the hotel and restaurants. Any pitfalls? I guess the only thing, it's 25 minutes away from here. That's probably about the only bad thing about it. If they could have just maybe resided at PGA West that might have been better. But, no, it's actually nice to get away and I get to make a few phone calls as I go or whatever and I'm there before I know it.
Q. Why is it so important for you and the rest of this field to do well so early in the season and get off on the right foot?
MARK WILSON: It takes pressure off, I think. And then you can kind of free wheel it more, if you have a good finish early in the year. I played with a couple rookies today just for a few holes and it's fun to think back what I was thinking 11 years ago when I was a rookie, and, yeah, you're just anxious and you just want to get that one, you think if you get that one good finish you have a, just a load off your shoulders, and then you can play more freely. And that's really kind of the feeling you get.
Q. You had tweeted awhile back, I don't know if this coincided with the birth of the baby, but that Jack Nicklaus spoke for you and your wife at Indiana University. Can you explain what that was about?
MARK WILSON: My wife and I started the, like a lectureship series, there at Indiana University. My wife went there and she remembers being able to attend some free lectures while she was in school there that sororities would sponsor. And so she was in Delta Gamma Sorority and she decided that we could maybe start that up. So we started it up and then we had a golf tournament last year that I had 12 of my fellow PGA Tour players come up to and we raised another hundred thousand dollars and were able to endow the lectureship series. Basically what we're trying to do is bring in a speaker or two every year that will be free for the university. And so Jack Nicklaus was gracious enough to just donate his time to us and said, sure, we'll fly over from Columbus and be there for you. And he just asked, hey, if we can try to make some money for charity, that would make it even sweeter.
And so we partnered with the First Tee of Indiana and I think it was First Tee of Central Indiana, and we did like a dinner beforehand, before the actual speaking thing, and got enough donors to raise $75,000 for the First Tee there in Indiana. And he was thrilled about that. And then he talked with Inga Hammond, who was also an Indiana University graduate, and so she was kind of the, she was the interviewer, so to speak, and we had about I think 1,800 people show up at the auditorium in Indiana and they chatted for about an hour, just asking questions about golf and life.
And Jack was gracious, Barbara came long with him, and we had just a really fun evening. He was there with us for probably five hours. And I kept saying over and over, "Thank you. Thank you so much. I know these are so tough to do and we really appreciate it." And he says and he find finally looked at me and said, "It's okay. It's okay, Mark. I enjoy doing this for you guys."
I think at the stage of his career he's, what, 73 years old now? He probably enjoys reminiscing, because they're going to ask him about his accomplishments and he can candidly talk about them instead of - personally I know I have to go tee it up in a couple days, so I'm not going to share everything with you guys that I'm working on. Whereas, he's done with his career basically, in terms of competitive golf, so now he can just kind of relive all the fun moments. And I think that's what I saw in him that day. He soaked it up and he loved talking about golf and trying to pass along some advice to the young people at Indiana University. So that's the first one, so we might be, it's going to be tough to get a speaker like that every year, but we thought it would be fitting, since I'm a golfer, that we get a golfer to start it.
Q. Do you have someone lined up for next year?
MARK WILSON: We don't. No. Still working on it. Yeah, I know, the year, it's already about three months ago, but we got to get going.
Q. How about talking to Bill Clinton this week?
MARK WILSON: Yeah, there you go. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: Well, thank you for your time, Mark, and good luck this week.
MARK WILSON: All right. Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.