#MMO preview What They Said

Wed 04 Feb 2015

#MMO preview What They Said

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Lee Westwood
Q: Lee, it must be nice to be back a reliving some of the great memories of your runaway victory last year?
A: It is, yeah. It was lovely winning last year. I played really well the first two days and got quite a big lead. I struggled a bit with the heat in the third round, but on the Sunday I played very solidly and don’t think I made a bogey to end up winning by seven. It was nice to finish just before the storm. So yeah it’s nice to be back. I was only here just before Christmas for the PGA Tour event, so I feel like I’m really getting to know the golf course very well. I feel like a member.
Q: When you come back to a place where you’ve won before, does it give you an extra confidence boost?
A: Sure. You get familiar with a place and know you can wing it a bit and relax. You can maybe even be a bit more aggressive when you know a course really well.
Lee Westwood of England Lee Westwood of England
Q: And how are you feeling about your game after starting the season in Dubai last week?
A: It’s good. Last week was very good considering it was my first event of the year. I got off to a good start with a 65 in the first round. I was a bit unlucky on the greens over the next three days, but Sunday I made a good start – I was three under through five – but let it slip a little bit and had a double bogey on the ninth. That wasn’t great. Top ten in the first tournament of the year is pretty good though.
Q: How do you find the course this year?
A: It’s in good condition again. The greens are very true. I like the course and it sets up well for me. There are some tight drives out there if you want to take it on with the driver to gain an advantage. I see the lines on the greens very well, so I’m impressed with it again.
Q: What do you attribute you win last year to, such a large margin of victory?
A: I think it just happens like that sometimes. I played well – the first two rounds were very good – I think I was 13 under par. So I built a big lead and was always going to take some catching. I’m a pretty good frontrunner and nobody came out of the pack at me. It was nice to play the last few holes with a big lead.
Q: Which of the victories you’ve had here were the most satisfying?
A: I’d say this one last year. I also won by a lot in Thailand a couple of years ago. I was 20 under for the first two rounds. That was great golf. That was probably the most satisfying scoring-wise, because I shot 60 on the first day, which was just a great round of golf. The way I played here last year and to win by seven was very gratifying.
Q: It’s been several years since you were the touring pro at Sayjana, how has golf in Malaysia changed since then?
A: Golf in Asia in general has grown massively in that time. The standard of golf on the Asian Tour has improved a lot. Asian players are happier going and playing on other Tours now and are more successful. So obviously having better players coming over here and playing, the kids have picked up on that and learned things and improved their technique, so now it’s not just on the Asian Tour they play well, they can do that further afield now which is great to see.
Q: What do you think about The Open moving from the BBC to Sky?
A: I respect that Sky put a lot of money into golf. They show all the other events on The European Tour and PGA Tour throughout the year, but I’ve always looked at The Open Championship and thought it should be on the BBC. The viewing figures are very big because it’s terrestrial TV. It’s disappointing there couldn’t have been a package put together where the BBC show the weekend rounds and Sky have the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday. You have to pay to watch Sky TV so viewing figures are going to drop and we might miss out on the next up and coming star, the next Rory McIlroy, who isn’t watching The Open because it’s not on the BBC.
Q: How can we increase viewing numbers?
A: It’s very difficult. There are a few things going against golf. It’s very expensive to play, but the main problem is that it takes too long. For someone who works 9-5 five days a week, to say to his wife on a Saturday morning that he’s going to play golf and will be out of the house for the next six to eight hours – maybe his wife won’t like that. It just takes too long to get round a golf course. Slow play is driving people away from the game.
Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand
Thongchai Jaidee (Tha)
Welcome back Thongchai. How is your game feeling as this is your third event of the year after playing two in the Middle East?
I started the last two weeks. Had a good break, took five weeks off after last year and then I started again in the Middle East. The first week was a bit tricky as I had changed a few things with my coach as we wanted to improve my swing. I want to improve for the future and aim to play better in the Majors, which is the key goal, to be better than last year. Golf is not easy but I’ll always try to make it fun. This week is an important week as it’s co-sanctioned and if you win this, you’ll jump up in the world ranking and also have a chance to become the Asian Tour number one.
How is the West course looking?
They’ve changed a couple of holes. 12 will be tough this year as it’s longer. The course is also softer and I think it’ll be very difficult this year. The greens are also firmer. It’s going to be one or two shots harder this year. The rough is fine and the course condition will depend on the weather.
Great year last year, winning in Sweden and getting into the world’s top-50. Any new goals in 2015?
The key goal is to try to play better than last year. Top-40 in the world last year, 37 I think, and I’ll try to be better by the end of the year. I’ll try to get better. My confidence is good right now and I want to get better and better. Last year, I was solid. I was top-25 and top-35 in the first two weeks, but this week, I’m looking forward to challenging. Week by week, I want to improve.
You’re five wins back of Thaworn Wiratchant for most wins on the Asian Tour. Is this something you’re looking at?
Thaworn plays a lot on the Asian Tour while I’m playing on the European Tour and also in some PGA Tour events. I played a few on the Asian Tour last year as the schedule is tight. Thaworn is very good on the Asian Tour while I’m trying to get better in Europe. I hope to also play more on the PGA Tour this year. I will still play the Asian Tour co-sanctioned events with Europe, and also a few in Thailand. My schedule is becoming very tight.
Any reason why you’re changing your game?
The club equipment, I’ve changed to Titleist ball and I’m using Titleist equipment now as well. It’s more consistent with the ball and it gives me more confident playing in tournaments. If you have confidence with the equipment, you can play better. I’m feeling confident. I’m also working with my coach, changing my swing a bit and also working on my putting. Sometimes, my swing becomes too high and I am trying to get it on plane and the attack angle has to be square. We’ve been working on that which is important in the golf swing.
Are you looking forward to making the Presidents Cup team in Korea later this year?
I’ve looked forward to it a few years ago but I didn’t get in. This year, I think it’s not very serious. Play or not, it doesn’t mind. I’m looking forward to the Olympics next year. Olympics is very important. Presidents Cup is very tricky, you have to play well and sometimes you need the luck to get a captain’s pick. It’s going to be the first time in a long while that golf is going back into the Olympics. It’s a great chance to play in the Olympics and everyone is very excited. I’ve also been invited to join the Olympic committee, representing Asia, and I’ve been asked to help on the Olympics preparation. We had a conference in Dubai last week and I think it’s good for me to be in the committee to help with the preparation.
Are you chasing for anything in your career, now that you’re 45?
No. I’m looking forward to the future. Age is important and if you play well, you never know. I’m always aiming to be consistence. Get my body stronger. Every year, I play about 30 tournaments and you have to be strong. If you have injuries, it’s difficult to be a good golfer. Look at Tiger now. It’s very difficult. For me, I’m trying to be ready every week. You have to be careful with the body, then you can play better.
What about your Major ambition? Do you still feel you should try to win one in your career?
Why not? We’re trying every year. If I have a good chance, I will try to go for it. In the Majors, it’s very difficult. You need to perform that week. If you can have your best week, you might have a chance. I like my chances in the British Open. I had a good chance a few years ago (2009). I’ve played a lot in Europe and on links courses and it’s given me a chance.
Graeme McDowell
Graeme McDowell Graeme McDowell
Q: Thanks for joining us Graeme and welcome to Malaysia. Just give us your thoughts on being back at this event for the first time since 2008.
A: I’m really excited to be back. It’s been a while since I was here, I think I’ve played four times in Malaysia in my career and it’s always a fun place to come. KL is a great city, very multicultural and diverse. We cruised around yesterday afternoon and scoped out a few good restaurants that I’ll hope to visit this week. I was pleased with how I played in Dubai so I’m hoping to kick on and have a good week here.
Q: Last week must’ve been pleasing – a top ten in your first tournament of the year?
A: Yes it was. You’re never quite sure how you’re going to play in the first tournament back after a good break, how you’ll do when you’ve got the card back in your pocket. But I was very happy. I didn’t really contend at the weekend which was a little disappointing, but overall I was pleased. Now I’m looking forward to checking out the course here and continuing that progress. You have to drive the ball well here, as Lee Westwood showed and Ryan Moore, who’s won here in the PGA Tour event.
Q: And Malaysia and KL in general, what do you enjoy about coming here?
A: The people are great here, so friendly, and KL is so diverse. There’s so much culture here. It’s an exciting city and a great place to visit. This afternoon I’m playing with the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Chairman of Maybank in the pro-am, so I’m looking forward to their company and it should be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to checking out the golf course too. I hear the Prime Minister has been practising a bit so I’d better watch myself.
Q: What do you think your score will be?
A: I think it’s normally 15 to 20 under that wins round here, so I’ll take that. That’s the aim. I heard they’ve lengthened a couple of the holes after Lee Westwood won by seven shots last year, but I don’t know much about the course and if you ask me later on this afternoon I’ll be able to give you a better answer.
Q: From your experiences playing in Malaysia, what do you think about the opportunities given to young Malaysian players?
A: That’s one of the great things about coming to culturally diverse places, as we do on The European Tour. We’re taking golf to areas where it’s not so much of a high profile sport and where kids maybe don’t have to same opportunities we have in Europe and the States. Getting some young Malaysian players in the field is great – as Nicholas Fung showed in the EurAsia Cup last year – puts the spotlight on Malaysia golf. This week, when you’ve got a phenomenal sponsor like Maybank, gives kids the chance to get a taste for big-golf and the media exposure globally. With the Olympics next year that’s only going to increase. It’ll raise the profile of the sport and take it to people who really haven’t had a flavour of it. It’s fun to be part of that growth.
Q: You have a Malaysian doctor, is that right?
A: Yeah, absolutely. Ara Suppiah. He looks after me and my family in Orlando in Florida, as he does with a number of the golfers. He’s a personal physician and has that Malaysian background. He’s whipped us up the odd Malaysian curry.
Q: How has golf in Asia changed since you’ve been on The European Tour?
A: I’m coming into my 13th season – which makes me feel old – and there’s no doubt we’ve seen golf develop out here in Asia. People’s education level of the game and excitement level – when we first came out here you could sense the crowds and spectators didn’t know much about golf, but now we’ve really seen it develop as young players start to make an impact on the world stage. It’s great to part of that growth and to come and experience places like Malaysia and get to meet the young players here. The European Tour has been playing in Asia for many years now and the potential and opportunity for growing the game out here is huge and definitely a big part of the future of the game.
Q: You’ve played less in Asia in recent years – what’s the reason for that?
A: Having both a European Tour card and a PGA Tour card, it becomes a very difficult balancing act to play the right number of tournaments. I end up playing 16 or 17 times both sides of the Atlantic with seven or eight cross-over events – the Majors and WGCs. I can’t play fewer than 26 or 27 times and when you look at the World Ranking, it’s nice to keep the divisor around 50-52 if possible. You don’t want to over-travel and play too much because you end up getting tired and playing events that you don’t feel 100 percent ready for. But you also don’t want to play too little because you’re not competitively sharp. The balancing act for me is playing enough golf on both sides of the Atlantic to be able to make an impact on The Race to Dubai and FedEx Cup and still be able to get myself on Ryder Cup teams. I’ve got a young family now so there are demands and there’s been a re-prioritisation in my world and I’m trying to remain as competitive as I can be and be the best player I can be.
Q: Do you set goals at the start of the season?
A: Very much so. I haven’t written them down or anything but I think my focus is better than it’s been in a long time. I’ve got a young family and my personal life is in a really nice place and I’m really enjoying that. The balance of that is giving me the mental space to re-focus on my game again, and I certainly have things I want to achieve. Performances in the Major Championships are one of my key things this year. I’ve been working on my game from a physical point of view in the off-season to help me be better. Trying to make an impact on money lists both sides of the Atlantic – I sort of need to take my focus off that and put my focus on the World Rankings. I’d like to get into the top ten in the world this year, that’s one of the goals. By committing to my processes and trying my best every week, I know that’s something I can achieve.
Paul McGinley
Q: Welcome back, Paul, it’s been quite a while since we saw you in European Tour action.
A: I had an operation on my knee in December – the seventh operation I’ve had on my left knee – so I couldn’t play any of the Desert Swing events as a result. I only started hitting balls again ten days ago, and today’s pro-am was my third round since the BMW Masters in Shanghai at the beginning of November last year. So there’s not been much golf and therefore my expectations are pretty low. But I’m very happy to be here and I’m looking forward to the week.
Q: And how’s the knee feeling now?
A: It’s just okay. I wish the golf course here was a bit flatter! There are a few undulations out there which aren’t great for it, but it’s a good test on me and good for my fitness. I can’t do it any harm, I just have to get it stronger.
Q: Was it actually quite welcome to have a long break after such a crazy year?
A: Yes, it was nice to have a good break. We had Christmas at home. The weather is lousy though so I’ve been looking forward to getting away again. I was disappointed not to play the events in the Middle East, but my knee wasn’t ready for that.
Q: You’re back playing in Malaysia for the first time in a while; what do you enjoy about coming here?
A: The first time I came here was in 1993 and we played at Royal Salangor. I played it for a number of years after that, but I haven’t done recently because of scheduling reasons. It’s nice to be back. I’m playing Pebble Beach next week, so I’m stopping off here on the way round to Pebble Beach. Going right the way round the world in three weeks.
Q: How do you keep motivated in your 40s?
A: I’m 48 years old and I believe I’m the second oldest with a European Tour category. Miguel (Angel Jiménez) is the oldest. It’s nice that I’m still playing at 48 and still pretty competitive. I still enjoy it – I enjoy the playing and I enjoy the people. I don’t hit the ball far enough for the modern game, but this golf course is not really about distance; it’s about keeping it straight. What I’m trying to do this year is play courses which suit my game rather than the big wide open courses where the big-hitters have a huge advantage. I’ve got a lot of things going on in my life now as I approach the twilight years of my European Tour career. In a couple of years I’ll turn 50 and will probably play some Senior Tour golf then. In the meantime I’ll probably play 15 events this year and I’ve got a lot of business going on off the golf course now, so this is going to be a very busy year.
Q: Does it surprise you that Malaysia was recently voted Asia’s best golf destination?
A: No it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve played a number of courses out here and it’s always a pleasure. It’s hot, that’s for sure, but it’s not just the golf that makes it so great. It’s the quality of the hotels and restaurants and friendliness of the people, plus a wide variety of golf courses. In KL alone there are 42 and I’ve played maybe seven or eight of those. It’s very unusual for a capital city, one of the biggest cities in the world, to have that many golf courses.
Q: Have you seen the growth of Malaysian golf in that time?
A: I’m looking forward to seeing more Malaysians breaking through at professional level. I don’t know what’s done here, but people ask me about what we do in Ireland to produce so many top players. The answer is that we have great structures at junior level. We invest a lot of money at junior level so that when a kid of 13 or 14 shows a bit of talent, they get fed into a system that looks after them, trains them, pays their expenses and kind of nurtures them through to senior level and on to being a professional. It’s no coincidence that Rory, Graeme, Darren and Padraig have all won Majors. All the Irish guys have come through that system. It’s interesting now that France are doing something very similar, and the French have invested heavily for the last five, six, seven years and are reaping the rewards. The same for the English Golf Union. That’s the way forward and that would be my advice to Malaysians. It needs investments and structures and good coaches behind the scenes.
Q: Did you learn anything from the EurAsia Cup for The Ryder Cup?
A: I did. I learned about the Graeme and Victor partnership. That solidified itself there. That was a very important partnership. There were a number of other guys there who looked like they would make the team. Miguel looked likely – I would say if the team was picked around the time of the EurAsia Cup, he would’ve been one of the picks. He played incredibly well there as captain and he’d recently done well in the Masters, too, but he didn’t keep it up over the summer. Joost Luiten was another one. Even though they didn’t make the team, I learned a lot and I was well prepared if any of them made the team. It was a big learning curve and I hope the next captain will get the same out of it next time. The EurAsia Cup is very important from a European perspective for the captain in preparation for a Ryder Cup. It was a great success and an important ingredient in our success at Gleneagles.
Q: Did it have the same following in Europe as it did here?
A: Probably not really, to be honest, but it will grow. I don’t know what the viewing figures were like back home, but certainly everyone on Tour followed it. It’s never going to get to the level of The Ryder Cup straight away. Even when The Ryder Cup started, even 20 years ago, it was quite small to where it is now. We definitely need another outlet from The Ryder Cup. The Americans have the Presidents Cup and learn a lot from it in terms of preparing for a Ryder Cup. We need an outlet and Asia is the obvious place for it. It’s very important for whoever the next captain may be to have an opportunity to oversee the EurAsia Cup.
Anirban Lahiri of India Anirban Lahiri of India
Anirban Lahiri
Q. Carrying some good memories into this week?
It was a breakthrough for me in a way because up until last year, I didn’t really play well here. We’ve played here quite a bit so I’m familiar with the golf course. It is nice to go out there and know what you need to do.
Sometimes you come across courses in your career where you are naturally comfortable on and there are those where you need to adapt to. This for me was in the latter category. Over the years I understood how to strategize on the golf course. It has been a slow and gradual process and not an overnight awakening.
Q. How’s the game?
The game is good. I played in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago and that was my first event of the year. After that I was hoping to get into the last two events last week. I’ve been working hard on my game to make sure I don’t get into this type of situations next year.
Q. Where do you feel more relaxed?
I feel most comfortable playing in India because of everything. At the end of the day, if you are playing well, you will be comfortable regardless of where you are playing. If you are in control of your golf game and emotions - that I think is the most singular factor that will make you feel comfortable.
Q. Does playing against a more elite field make a difference?
Not really. If anything it spurs me on to do better. It inspires me to push myself a little harder. Having said that I’ve played consistently in top notch field. It is not a new experience anymore. It is easy to say that the first time I played in the Maybank Malaysian Open, I was a little bit scared and unsure of myself. That’s now in the past. Not only have I matured but I’ve improved mentally and I’m able to focus on what I need to do instead of what’s going on around me. It has been a slow process though.
Q. 2014 was your best season. Where do you see yourself heading to now?
It is a clean slate. You got to start from scratch. My goals are the same. Top-50, playing in Europe and America, these are all the goals that I will always have in mind right through my careers. I have to build this season, primarily playing in the European Tour but I’ll play my minimum in Asia. I do enjoy being in Asia so I’ll still play here.
Q. Was it frustrating not playing in the last two events?
You have to understand the process of how players get into tournaments. Sometimes it is tough to get into event early in the year. It is frustrating especially when you want to be out there competing. I’m at a stage where the more I play in better fields, the better I will be. If I do well this week, then it will have a positive impact. That’s the best way to move forward.
Q. How did you feel when you earned your European Tour card?
I felt relief! I had this feeling that was building up inside of me where I needed to be out in Europe and the United States to simply challenge myself. It was frustrating for me in the last 24 months. When you are playing well, you want to play against the best players. I was quite determined on earning my European Tour card.
Q. What do you think about the EurAsia Cup?
I think it was huge. I can talk about the response and buzz it generated in India. Anyone who plays golf in India and followed the EurAsia Cup was excited. It has been a big success in India. To be able to create an event where you can get that many people in India and Asia to get behind the sport that large can only be fantastic for the game. You see kids who play a lot of team sports and they say ‘hey when I grow up I want to be on that team’. That’s what’s inspiring about the EurAsia Cup.
Arjun Atwal
Arjun Atwal of India Arjun Atwal of India
Q. Must be happy to be back?
I won in 2003 and 2008 on two different venues but it is always fun coming back to Kuala Lumpur. People in Malaysia are always very hospitable.
Q. Talk a bit about the golf course?
The golf course is playing soft. The fairways are soft and the greens are firm. It is a funny combination so I think it will be an interesting week.
Q. How’s your game?
I don’t know how’s my game at the moment. I just had a one month break after my win in Dubai. I took two weeks without touching my clubs. I had a seven-week row run last year and that’s a lot for my age!
Q. Does it feel different returning to the winner’s category as compared to the last few years?
It is definitely a relief where I don’t have to ask for a sponsors invite. It is better for me in terms of scheduling. It is a good way to make my schedule.
Q. Has your routine changes after your injuries?
I don’t hit too many balls. I used to like practising! I wasn’t the type who would play a lot of rounds. I would get my work done on the range and I loved it. It was okay in my 20s and 30s but when I was 37 or 37 the body starts to break down a little bit more because you do the same move. This is my 20th year as a professional. You keep doing the same repetitive move and something is going to happen. My routine now is more playing than practising.
Q. Which Malaysian Open wins give you more satisfaction?
The 2003 win was really important because I ended up winning the Order of Merit. I beat a really good field that week because Padraig (Harrington) was on form and Retief (Goosen) was in contention. That was one of my best ball striking weeks ever. I think I only had one double bogey that week.
Q. How important was your Dubai Open win?
In my winner’s press conference I told the guys there that I was at a point where I didn’t think I would play golf again because of my injuries. It was tough for me to walk at a certain point. To get back from that stage to win a tournament, is probably the biggest in my life. I give it more importance to my PGA Tour win.
Q. It sounds strange saying that?
It does! I thought I was just being excited when I said it in Dubai but I do believe that it is. When I won in 2010, I was feeling good about my game and health. Even though I was a Monday qualifier, I told my caddy that I’m feeling great and we are going to win. In Dubai, I was still thinking if I could ever win again!
Q. Tiger mentioned that one of his highlights was seeing you win in Dubai.
I was shocked when I saw that Tiger shot an 82. We texted before he went to Phoenix and he said he was feeling good and his game was feeling great. Maybe it was one of those freak days because you don’t expect from him! I think he will be fine.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat
Q. Good to be back to a tournament you won in 2013?
It feels great to come back to Malaysia. It feels like home here and I have a lot of fans here.
Q. How’s the game feeling?
My game is on fire at the moment. I’m striking the ball much better than last year. I struggled last year because I had a new coach and new equipment. I got more comfortable to it and now I’m feeling very confident with my game.
Q. Any reason why you are feeling confident?
I started to play good golf towards the end of last year and that’s exactly what I want to do this week. I look forward to playing well here again.
Q. What do you need to do to establish yourself in Europe?
The Asian and European players are almost equal in standard but the Asians struggle with the weather in Europe. It is difficult to play in windy situations and adapt to the courses there. If we can feel comfortable with the weather in Europe, I’m sure more Asian players can fight with the top players in the world.
Q. Are you feeling more comfortable playing Europe?
Yes, I’m feeling more comfortable now playing there. Previously, I struggled to control my well. If I can find my swing then I think I can win in Europe.
Q. How’s the golf course?
 The course is in perfect condition. The greens are smooth. The golf course is fantastic. The layout is still the same. They just made it longer and tougher on the 12th hole. In my opinion this is still one of the best courses in Asia.
Q. Can you tell you what your best memories are from your 2013 win?
I played in the pro-am and I was thinking about it! I made birdie on the 16th hole and I remember telling my caddy that we have one hand on the trophy. I made a 10-feet par putt on the 17th hole after some poor shots so I can tell you that was the winning putt for me.
Q. You said last year was a struggle, do you feel more comfortable now?
My coach died last year and it was a difficult year for me. I worked with Pro Jew for almost 13 years. It was tough to believe in another coach. But after five or six months, I started to feel comfortable with my equipment and new coach. I’m happy I’ve overcame the first few frustrating months and now I’m ready to start playing good golf.