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Interview with 2011 Champion Nick Price
INTERVIEW OF NICK PRICE
DAVE SENKO: Well, Nick, congratulations. You win your fourth Champions Tour title with a 17‑under par, 196. Maybe just share your thoughts on your day, a one-shot win.
NICK PRICE: Well, you guys could probably tell yesterday when I came in here, it's quite stressful when you shoot 60 on the opening day and everyone you see, they tell you, 'Oh, you are going to win. You're going to win.' You're only a third of the way through the tournament. But I think I played, you know ‑‑ I said to you yesterday, I only want to win by one. And I was probably lying. I wanted to win by about six. I played so well, the front nine this morning, from tee to green. I was rock solid. I hit every fairway. I hit every green, and I probably had six or seven putts inside of 12 feet. I made two of them. In fact, the hardest putt I had the whole front nine was on No. 7. I poured that one in. That made me feel really confident.
I had a lot of putts and they just didn't go in. It's just one of those days they didn't go in. I had a day on Friday where they all went in. I was getting a little frustrated. I made such a good birdie on 10. I hit a beautiful tee shot and the pitching wedge to two-and-a-half, three feet, made that. I hit probably my worst shot of the day on No. 12 and ended up with a really bad bogey for me. I knew Mark (Wiebe) was playing well. He is such a straight hitter of the golf ball. He grew up out here on the West Coast. He putts poa annua greens really well.
I just said I've got to let him come to me. I mustn't make a mistake. So that mistake on 12 that I made brought him back into it. But I really felt, you know, that my putting was just not quite on today. I gave everyone a chance because my putting wasn't good, wasn't strong. But I two‑putted all of the ones that I needed to and I holed the good putts.
But I really felt like I hit the ball today, except for maybe two shots, you know, the one on my tee shot on No. 15. And then that wedge on No. 12. But I played just as well today as I did when I shot 60. But I didn't make the putts. That's how it works.
And I was a little apprehensive. I don't want to say nervous. I was a little skittish on the greens. But they were hard. It was hard to make putts today. The pins were in some really tough places and there was a lot of break on them. I actually expected Mark to make that one on 18 because he hit so many good putts, and he hit another good putt, and I was getting ready to go down to the extra playoff hole. But, I guess, he just misread it or whatever. But I'm very happy.
DAVE SENKO: Birdies, No. 4, par‑3.
NICK PRICE: No. 4, I hit an 8‑iron. I had 143 yards into the wind. I hit it 12 feet behind the hole. I knocked that one in.
No. 7, I hit a 3‑iron off the tee and a pitching wedge to probably eight feet behind the hole.
10, I hit a pitching wedge for my second shot to about three feet.
12, I was ‑‑ that tree, I pushed my tee shot just a little bit and that tree was enough in the way to bother me, and I was trying to cut a pitching wedge, which is a hard shot to play, and I hit it dead straight from where I was aiming it. It wasn't really a pull. It was dead-straight. Instead of cutting it, it went over the back. I had a horrible lie, kind of fluffed a chip and I was a little bit defensive on that hole.
I came back, and I had beautiful yardage for me on No. 13. 174 into the wind, and I just hit probably the best shot I hit all day under the circumstances with a 6‑iron. And I left it about probably six feet short of the hole.
I didn't birdie 15 or 18. 18 was a little frustrating because I had a perfect yardage in for my 2‑iron and I just pulled it. I pulled it about 6 yards from where I was aiming it. It went in the bunker.
It was the only bunker I hit it in all week. I'm walking up there saying to my caddy, Matt, 'This is the only bunker I hit it in all week.' I don't even know what the sand is like. Kind of flubbed it a little bit. You never really know how much sand is under the ball, so if you are going to err anyway, you are going to hit it a little heavier than skinnier.
I hit a good putt on 16, 17 and 18. I don't know, I didn't have a very good putting day on my stats but I felt like I putted solidly, obviously, to win.
Q. You had such good looks on 1, 2, 3, was it hard to remain patient?
NICK PRICE: I hit a really good putt on 1. It broke a little more than I thought. 2, I hit a beautiful putt, and it broke a little harder. 3, Joe Ozaki made it from about 15 feet outside of me, and I watched his ball and it didn't move, and I hit mine dead straight and it went right. Making the one on 4 was really a big thing. Then I missed a very makeable one on 5. Another one on 6; that was an easy putt.
DAVE SENKO: How far were they?
NICK PRICE: 5 was maybe 10 feet, tops. 6 was probably about 16, 18 feet. And then 9, I hit such a great putt there. I hit the ball exactly where you wanted to hit it today on the front nine, just giving myself the best opportunities. It was a little frustrating because I felt like I should have shot 4- or 5‑under the front 9, or certainly the first 10 holes.
I was in a situation when you are in the driver's seat, and when you are in the lead, it's all about not making mistakes. Apart from No. 12, I didn't make a mistake today. I didn't really give him an opening. He had to produce. And he hit some really good shots and made some good putts. He shot a really good round. I think he shot 4‑under today, which under the circumstances he could have shot six or seven, but so could have I. It's sort of like you are playing almost a match play situation and you are just trying to do enough to win. And I did.
Q. It seemed like the shot in the bunker on 18, Joe's came out funny, too?
NICK PRICE: It was a little fluffier than he and I both thought it was. I think some times the sand was just a little deeper than we thought. Like I said, you are going to err on hitting it fat, chunk and roll as opposed to hitting it a little skinny. I don't know. You can pick at all of the things that happened today. If I putted well, the front nine, it would have been a one-horse race.
Q. What would you say was tougher to deal with, playing on this course or playing with that big lead you were talking about?
NICK PRICE: Yes, shooting 60 Friday. I've never shot that low a round in an opening round. It's normally like a second or third or maybe the last round. Everyone just expects you, 'Oh, this guy is going to shoot 25‑under this week.' That was probably the hardest thing because once you shoot a number like that, you got everything to lose and hardly anything to gain.
But I did the right thing. I'm really happy shooting 6‑under the last two rounds. I don't think I could have shot any worse to be honest with you. I really don't feel like I could have. I just need to free myself up a little bit more when I get in that situation.
I had that really bad spell of about three-and-a-half years of golf, I still got gremlins in my head. I'm working them out, bit by bit. My ball striking this week was about as well ‑‑ it's as well as I have played for a long, long time. I just felt in control. That's the great thing in this game, it doesn't happen too often, but when you are feeling in control of your long game, you can almost picture where you want to hit your iron shots. And if you are in between clubs, you take the club that you know there is very low risk and that's what I did all of the last two days.
Q. You mentioned this earlier, do you think, in retrospect, playing Honda, tough conditions, helped you this week?
NICK PRICE: It's a different week. I finished 50th in Honda. There is no pressure on you to perform there. Whatever I did at Honda was going to be a bonus.
If I missed the cut, people will say he's on the Champions Tour, you are not supposed to. I played such a good first round there. The fact that I played, last week, four rounds really helped me, I think, over most of the other guys who may not have played.
I know Calc played, Fred Funk played. They missed the cut. Playing four rounds and being sharp.
There is no practice like tournament playing. Now I got to take two weeks off. I wish I could play one of the next two weeks, but I wouldn't be able to play this week because I'm too tired. And then next week is Bay Hill, and we don't have a tournament for two weeks. Just go back home and enjoy and savor this victory.
Q. You talked Friday about you weren't sure what your schedule will be between Champions Tour and PGA TOUR. Now with this win, does it push you one direction or the other?
NICK PRICE: This helps a lot. I still think my priority will be this Tour. I don't think I'm going to give up any events on our Tour that are opposite the regular TOUR events. I might pick a couple of weeks there and see. But I'm so encouraged by the way I'm playing. And I said to my caddy about a month ago, when I made the switch to these irons, and I started fiddling with this putter that I'm using now, and we played really well the last six or seven holes in Naples.
And generally speaking, I sort of haven't finished strong over the last two years going into the final round, and I just finished so strongly that day. I hit beautiful iron shots, nice drives. I holed a couple of putts. I said to him, this is the first time I feel like I could go out on the right course on the regular TOUR and have a chance to do really well. Maybe not win. But to do a third or fourth, or something like that.
I've been sort of eyeing the British Open, going back to the British Open this year, and also the PGA Championship, which I may play in. I'm really thinking hard if I continue to play the way I have the last month-and-a-half, I think I might go to the British Open and the PGA Championship.
Q. A follow up on that, what do you think of Sandwich?
NICK PRICE: 1981 I finished in the Top‑20 to qualify me to get into without qualifying for the 1982 British Open, which is the one I played really well in and actually dogged the last five holes. I played very poorly. And Tom Watson won. So Sandwich is a special place to me where there is a lot of great memories. I think I played three Opens there. It's not that long, which is good.
Q. Have you seen it since some of the changes they made to it?
NICK PRICE: No, but I kind of heard what they've done. They can't really do what they did at Augusta. They can't make it that long that someone who hits it my length can't play it.
Q. Can you talk about your first year on the Champions Tour. What was that like?
NICK PRICE: I had such a bad '05 and '06, around the tail end or middle to the tail end of '04, I started feeling my game slide. There was a lot of changes going on in the game at that stage. The ball is obviously going further. The drivers were making a huge impact. And I felt, at 47, I was being left behind. And I started trying to hit the ball further and harder and trying to compete.
And the worse thing about those two or three years, when you are 47, eight and nine, before you get out here, you feel like you are treading water. You are not making any headway, you're just sort of keeping your head above water and trying not to drown.
It was very hard. I didn't feel like my game was strong enough to win. I was just trying every week to make the cut. And, you know, when you go from being a player of strength, it's not much fun.
And all of a sudden I got out in '07, and it was a carry on. It was just the same sort of golf. Of course, there was a lot of pressure because everyone is saying you are on the Champions Tour. You are going to clean up. You're going to dominate. It doesn't work that way. Your game has got to be in shape. And my game wasn't in shape. So I started off rebuilding and I realized with the courses not being as long as the ones we were playing on the regular TOUR, that I could compete out here. I didn't have to go out and slug it.
It's been strange, because now what's happened, now I got more power in my golf swing ‑‑ if I could take what I have now and put it back in '04 or '05, I would have been able to compete.
But for some reason, there is sort of, like ‑‑ you have this change in your psyche, in your mental approach, 'Well, just get better.' You don't have to ‑‑ the peak is not so high, if you understand what I'm trying to say. It's not like you are trying to climb Everest. And that changed my whole mental outlook, and slowly and surely started getting better. My game got better, and I started working on a lot of things that I worked on and getting back to what Nick Price did well when I played in the late '80's and 90's.
And then golf suddenly started becoming fun again, which it hadn't been for a long time. My wife says to me, 'You look happy on the golf course. I haven't seen you look happy on the golf course for a long time.' When your wife says that, you know something is going on. You don't feel that.
And in the Outback tournament, when I won that in '08, is probably the most nervous I have ever been as a professional golfer. I wasn't playing that just nearly as well as I am now. I just felt like I had to win. Somehow I managed to eke out that win. It was pretty ugly. I had three doubles bogeys. I made the ugliest putt you've ever seen on 18 and I ended up winning by two and that took a lot of weight off my shoulders.
'09, I played really well. I had a couple of good chances to win in '08. But '09, I played so much better. And last year, tee to green, I played very, very solidly. You know, I won the stats of driving, total driving, which is accuracy and distance combined, and I got greens in regulation, and I won ball-striking. So that's a hard thing to do out here. I don't care which TOUR you are playing on. That's a hard thing to do. When I won that, I knew it was a question of working on my putting and getting it better and better. That's one thing that I will say, since I went to the belly up, I putted more consistently. Still not effectively as I would like to. It's enough to make me win. Since I had the belly up I've won three tournaments in 14 months. As I progressed with it, I'm getting more and more comfortable with it. I want to have a banner year this year.
I'm 54 years old. I don't know how many more years I've got left. I want to win four or five times out here. I want to win a major or two. It's not a question of coming out here. I want to have fun, sure. But I still have a competitive instinct and drive in me that I want to win. That's what gets me to the practice tee every day when I got to practice. When I get on the airplane, and have to leave my family, the only thing that is the light at the end of the tunnel is that I got a chance to win. I'm not coming here just to make a check. That ain't going to work.
Q. Any tournaments on the Champions Tour you have on your calendar, any majors?
NICK PRICE: I'm playing all of the majors. The only ones is British Open and British Open Senior Open. The problem is it goes British Open, British Open Senior Open, and then U.S. Senior Open, and I won't be able to play all three. I won't be able to make all three. I have to make a decision. I either play the British Open, or British Open Senior Open and skip the British Open and play the British Senior and U.S. Senior. It's just the scheduling of it. That's a bridge I will cross when it's closer to the time.
Q. You started off by saying by winning today you eliminate some of the gremlins you have. What gremlins are remaining? You've now won four times. Your game is in good shape?
NICK PRICE: Putting. Just having visions of failing on the greens, more than anything else. It was almost like a little déjà vu today because last year I probably could have won four or five times if I putted solidly all year and my putter let me down on two or three occasions where I felt like my ball-striking was strong enough to win. I was just watching guys kind of like today, holing them from all over the place and here is me getting no jelly beans out of the thing. I was denied the candy.
Last year was frustrating. Sometimes that frustration is good because it builds up in you. It makes you a little more resilient, a little more stronger. I think especially what happened to me in the 90's, that spurt I went on for about four years was a result of the late 80's, where I was playing as well as I was but I wasn't making the putts. And then all of a sudden I learned how to putt.
And in that period of those three-and-a-half, four years, I won 28 times around the world. I just want another spell like that. I remember what that tasted like. I just want another taste of that, just before I hang up my clubs and go fishing the rest of my life.
Q. Kind of a peer of yours, Ian Baker-Finch, he said he's got advice from everybody. Everyone is texting him, reporters bugging him every five minutes. Have you talked to Ian?
NICK PRICE: Yes. All I said to him was to have fun. He didn't have a very good end to his career on the regular TOUR, and if he could come out here and, instead of thinking about what happened back then, look and see what he's got now and just enjoy it.
Even if he shoots 74, go out and enjoy it. You know what happens, the scores start coming down because the pressure, and that little bit of white-knuckling trying to steer the ball in the fairway, that will go if you are having fun out here.
And it certainly happened to me. I just want him to have fun. He will be a great asset to this Tour. I think he is going to play, needs to just go and enjoy it and not worry about performance. Don't worry about score, worry about playing the game. Hard to do. Very hard to do because I had all of that advice, too, and I was playing crap.