Tiger Woods, who appeared to be in quite a chipper mood, met with the media on Tuesday morning in his regularly-scheduled pre-tournament press conference, and I have to say it was the most bizarre one I’ve ever attended. He was asked about a slew of topics — kind of like the way people treat the legends of the game, like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, when they meet with the media. It was as if Woods isn’t truly a competitor this week and no one really has any expectations for him as he fielded softballs, ranging from Wisconsin fandom to players of Indian descent.
Let’s have a gander at what Woods had to say.
*On this PGA Championship being his 18th and how this major stands out for him within his career: Yeah, for me this was my second major I ever won. So coming after the ’97 Masters, and to win at Medinah, that’s the reason why I changed my game and tried to become better, because I wanted to be able to win on all different types of venues, especially in major championships. Because Augusta is the only one that’s at the same golf course each and every year. The other three rotate. So I needed to have my game a little more diverse and versatile.
Hence, I changed and it worked ought pretty good. To be able to make that putt at 17 at Medinah, and to go on and beat Sergio (Garcia) really propelled me into the 2000s and my early part of my career.”
[Ed. note: Do I sense a little dig at Sergio? It obviously did the opposite for the Spaniard’s career.]
*On how the course sets up for him in 2015 compared to 2004 and 2010 when the championship was also held at Whistling Straits: “The golf course is setting up great. It’s a little soft with the rain we had yesterday. Obviously there’s a lot of mosquitos out there. But it’s — I think it’s playing great. The greens are absolutely perfect. They’re such a great speed and so smooth. I know they’ll probably get a little bit quicker come Thursday, but overall this golf course is in perfect shape right now.”
*On his struggles as he’s gotten older and whether or not he’s lost “a step”: “No, I don’t think — I can still walk the same pace on the golf course (laughter). Seriously, I can’t hit the ball as far as I used to, relatively speaking. I’m longer now in yardage than I was earlier in my career, but as compared to other players, no, I’m not.
“But my understanding of how to play the game has gotten much better. How to play all different types of venues, all different types of grasses. I played all around the world. There’s a lot of people that have stuck to the United States and just played here, instead of playing at a global level. I think playing globally helped me in my career, and that’s one of the reasons I had as much success, not just in the United States, but around the world, because I got a chance to experience a lot of things early on.
“And I rely on that knowledge a lot when I’m playing, especially as I’m getting older now, to get me around the golf courses and to get me around different types of venues, and to understand how to play them.”
*On whether Whistling Straits is a power-friendly golf course and Pete Dye, the course architect: “Well, I believe that — wasn’t DiMarco in the playoff here? Yeah. He wasn’t long. So Pete’s the kind of guy, where, yeah, the long holes are going to play long, that’s just the way it is. But the short holes — the short holes will play really, really tricky. And you have to understand how to play them.
“And I think that if you’re driving the golf ball well on any Pete Dye golf course, you’re going to have short irons in and you’re going to have a lot of looks, because you’ll be able to feed the golf ball into these little kind of areas that he has. But if you’re not, if you’re missing those areas, then you’re in for it.
“You look at this golf course, there’s plenty of room off the tee. There’s plenty of room on the greens. It’s just that you have to hit both of them. If you don’t, then you’re going to have something that’s pretty ugly.
“Pete rewards good shots, but he really penalizes bad ones.”
*On winning his first PGA Championship: “First off, back when I first won it, we didn’t get it. We didn’t get to take it home. I think that now you’re able to take it home for a year. But when I first won, no. So they give you a smaller replica one.
“But, yeah, that one was used quite a bit by my friends. We’ve had some good times with that thing.
“But, overall, I just remember when I won that PGA in ’99 the sense of relief because of how hard I had worked to get to that point all over again. I went through all of ’97, ’98, most of ’99 and to cap off that year, I won eight times that year, and to cap it off with a major championship was huge.”
*On how heavy the trophy was (yes, really): “It’s pretty heavy, especially when you’re tired. And from playing some of the tournaments here I was pretty dehydrated, Valhalla and Tulsa. But overall we never — I’ve never seen anybody have to do what Jack did, I think at Firestone, he had to hold on both sides with a towel. I think they put it away and don’t leave it in the sun all day. So I think obviously that helps.”
*On the passion of fans from Wisconsin: “They’re definitely into it. This is a pretty sports mad state. We’ve seen people show up very early times, because I kind of like to play early. On top of that, I’ve never seen mosquitos like this, like they’ve had here. I live in Florida and we go out in the evenings and you may get beaten, but here you get eaten alive.
“So it’s just — and then, everywhere you walk, especially the gallery, we’re talking down the fairways it’s not so bad, the galleries are kicking up the long stuff where all the mosquitos are. They’re tough. You guys are pretty hearty up here, which is good.
“As I said, it’s a great sporting state. And they’ve shown up for the last two PGA championships that we’ve had here and now a third.”
*On whether he’s surprised Rory McIlroy is playing and what challenges he’ll face: “Am I surprised he’s made the recovery? No, not really. He has good physios, he’s worked hard. It’s a matter of how long is he going to have to go with it like this or is he going to have to get it surgically repaired.
“And then, obviously, this is going to be tough. This is going to be a tough golf course, if you miss the golf ball a little bit. And even the walks, from tee box to fairway, they’re not straight. They’ve got a little angulation. And it’s just a matter of how can he hold that up.
“As far as his talent and to be able to play golf, that’s not going to be a problem. He understands how to play. It’s a matter of physically can he do it.
“I’ve had injuries where I’ve — I blew out my knee and played for a good nine months before I had it fixed. So it can be done. Is he probably going to be in pain? Probably, yeah. Swelling is going to probably occur, but that’s why the physios are there, and I’m sure they’ll get him organized.”
*On whether he would play better in a less hectic atmosphere: “Put it this way, I like playing with the passionate fans, it’s fun. The atmosphere is really cool. Especially coming down the stretch of a championship, it is really neat.
“I haven’t played too many rounds where there have been not a lot of people on the golf course. We had, at Quicken Loans one year, because of the director that came through there, and it was just my foundation staff, Brendon de Jonge, me, his caddie, my caddie and that was it. It was nice and quiet, but very odd, because I’m so used to playing with a lot of people around.
“But it’s different. But, again, the atmosphere coming down the stretch of a tournament, especially a Major Championship where you’ve got a chance to win, it’s really cool.”
*On his relationship with Hero India: “Yeah, obviously Pawan and I are fantastic friends, he supports our foundation at the World Challenge, the Hero World Challenge. Is there a time I’ll get back to India, absolutely. We’re looking at dates for something like that. We’re looking at — my staff is looking at designing a golf course there, as well, in India. There’s a lot of different things that is going on for me positively in India. Certainly that’s one of the countries that has really supported me over the years. And it’s nice to be able to go back there and say thank you.”
*On how he’s friends with Arjun Atwal and whether he’s gotten to know Anirban Lahiri at all (again, yes, seriously): “No, I haven’t. But Arj and I hung out last week, actually two weeks ago, at Quicken Loans. And just trying to catch up. He’s been such a great friend of mine over the years. Unfortunately, he’s been hurt and hasn’t played at the level he’d like to play well. When he’s feeling good, he’s playing well, just got to get him feeling well more often and then hopefully he can get back out on this Tour where he belongs.”
*On his restaurant opening in Jupiter on Monday: “I’ve been involved in every little step. It’s been a lot of work to get to this point. I’ve had a great staff, but also I have to be in those meetings, as well.
“It’s something to be able to do something in the Jupiter area is — I’m going to be living there. I built my dream home there. And so this is where I’m going to put my hat. So I want to be able to do something that’s different, something unique, something also that people are going to enjoy.
“And to me there’s nothing better than sports. We all go to sports bars, and kick back a few and watch the games. That to me is fun. Hence, I wanted to create an atmosphere like that. And do something that’s also different than what we have in that area. And I think we’ve accomplished that.”
*On whether he pays attention to his world ranking: “I don’t know my exact ranking right now. I know I’m in the 200’s somewhere. But as far as paying attention to it, no. I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to get up there where I can win tournaments, get my game organized so I can be consistent on a tournament basis where I’m going to give myself a chance to win each and every event I play in. That’s what I have done over most of my career. And I’d like to get to that point again where I could do that.”
*On whether he’s ever received good unsolicited advice from a random person: “There’s not one. I swear. Not one. I’ve relied on friends and family and people that I trust and are close to me.
“As far as anything outside of that, they speak from a perspective that may not be mine, what I’m going through. They can only describe from their own experiences. And not everyone has gone through what I’ve had to go through.
“It really is hard, unless — I have some people that are very close to me that have really helped me over the years and that I trust. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is the trust factor.”
*On whether it’s detrimental to him to listen to too much outside noise: “I haven’t done it in the past, and I think I’ve had a pretty good career so far. I’m just trying to get better. And that’s all I’m trying to do. And enjoying doing other things off the golf course, like the restaurant, with my foundation, growing my golf course design business, doing other things.
“But when I’m on the golf course, time practicing, training, I’m trying to get to a level where I can be consistent on a tournament by tournament basis, where I give myself a chance to win each and every time I tee it up.
“That’s what I’ve done most of my career, and that’s what I’m used to. And I’d like to get back to that point again.”
*On how important this PGA Championship is for him because he needs a good finish to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs: “I’m not looking at it like that at all, actually. I’m just trying to get my game better for years to come.
“If you would have asked me right after I had my back surgery last year, what does your career looked like, I didn’t really have much of an answer. I was hoping to get back out here. But now I’m back out here at a level I can practice and play again. But also I have a totally different new swing.
“As I said a couple of weeks ago, it was like the perfect storm of a surgery, rehabbing and then trying to learn a whole new pattern, it couldn’t have been more complicated.
“But I’m here now in this position, and as far as my tournament future, if I play well, I play well and I’ll play in more events. If I don’t, then I have more time to practice and get ready for the following events, for, obviously, the next season and obviously some of the things I do on a global level.”
*On starting his pro career in Milwaukee: “No, it feels like forever ago, it really does. My buddies always kid me, I live in dog years. It just seems like it’s forever.
“But I do remember a couple of things from that event. I remember putting that — the tee in the ground, teeing my ball, I was fine. I took my first practice swing, totally fine. I walked to the golf ball, I put the club behind the golf ball, I looked down the fairway, by the time I looked back and did another waggle, I could barely lift the club.
“I was like, oh, God, I’m so nervous, I could feel my heart pound. I’m like, okay, just hit it as hard as you can, wherever it goes, just pound it. And I ripped it 300 right down the middle of the fairway. That was interesting.
“And then I believe on Saturday, Saturday or Sunday, I was playing with Bruce Lietzke, and I’ve never seen a ball curve that much that was in control. The guy right to you slices it just as bad, but he’s out of control. That’s Steiny.”
*On what’s holding him back right now: “Probably consistency. Just being consistent on a daily level. I just need to be a little bit better from shot to shot.”
*On Hideki Matsuyama: “Well, I played with him for the first time I believe at Firestone a couple of years ago. I saw him play at the British Open. I think I played one Presidents Cup match against him.
“He won Memorial. He’s had a lot of success already. He’s a very strong guy. He’s really strong. And he can drive the ball really well. A very consistent putter day in and day out.
“It’s just a matter — he’s so young, just give him time. I think he’s going to improve. He works very hard. You can see he keeps himself in very good shape. I’ve seen him out there on the range and practice areas for hours. He puts in the time. It’s just a matter of time before he puts himself in a position to win a major championship.
“And it could happen this week. It could happen next year. But I foresee him doing that consistently. He has the game, the mentality, and the body to do it. And hopefully he matures into a position where he can do that consistently.”
*On bunkers being a big story five years ago: “Well, I believe that this year everything is a bunker. Some areas aren’t raked and you could be in a pretty bad lie in a pretty bad spot.
“Every single bunker here on this property, the sand doesn’t allow you to spin the golf ball. We were all laughing at each other playing the practice rounds and we’re all talking about it. You can’t spin the ball.
“And on top of that you’re going to get some really, really bad lies. I don’t know how they rake it, but they must use a leaf rake with some tines or something like that, where it creates a lot of air within the sand. So when you hit shots, it’s not compact. There’s a lot of it coming through.
“And the club wants to dig. No matter what bounce you have, whatever configuration you have on your wedge, a lot of guys are talking about the fact that it’s digging a lot, because it’s getting like so air heavy.
“But this golf course is what it is. We’ve got to put the ball in play. If you stay away from the areas you’ll be fine.”
*On how much fun it is to chase the swing that he wants to nail: “Well, I think it’s fun just to compete. And every day is an opportunity to get better. That to me is fun. I look at the fact that it’s just another opportunity to get better and try and take myself to the next level and whatever that is, it is.
“But I enjoy working. I enjoy practicing. There’s certain players that don’t really like practice, they’d rather go out and play with their buddies and play a lot. I always used those rounds for me in the past as getting ready for tournaments. But that’s how I’ve always looked at it. But I really enjoy practicing and trying to get myself better for the next event.”
*On his pal Steve Stricker, a native of Wisconsin: “I always want Strick to do well, no matter what tournament it is. He’s one of my best friends and one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s just so nice.
“The times that we’ve gotten to play together in Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches together, it is just a blast. And I don’t think people really truly realize he’s such a nice guy, but how competitive he is. His chilli can run a little hot at times. And I love that. I love that about him.
“And when we were playing at the Greenbrier this year, he’s been struggling a little bit with his back surgery and everything. And we were talking about it. And he had an opportunity to borderline making the cut and missing the cut, and you could see him get pretty hot. He really was trying to grind and get it done.
“That’s what I love about him. He’s always fighting, he’s always trying to get every last stroke out of it. To me, as a player and as a competitor, you have to respect that.”
I guess at some point it becomes pretty old asking him the same questions over again about his swing changes and “release patterns” or what have you. He’s not even telling us he’s trying to win this week; rather that he just wants to get into contention. So, now, people are now simply interrogating him on random topics. Yep, that’s what things have come to in this new post-Tiger era of golf.