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Q & A: Woody Austin

After his first round 67, Woody Austin tied the lead with Payne Stewart in the U.S. Open. The following are edited excerpts of his lengthy post-round interview with the gathered national golf press corps.

Q: You broke through last year by winning the Buick Open in a playoff. Now you are amongst the leader board at your first U.S. Open. Obviously, Michigan agrees with you, at least with 5 rounds of golf?

WA: That is true. I don't really know why or the correlation except the fact that the Buick was pretty rainy and wet the first couple of days as well, and when you are playing as well as I have been playing as far as hitting the ball and it becomes target golf_well, I am going to land it in the fairway and I am going to land it on the green.

Q: Do you feel like you have paid a lot of dues to be in the position you are sitting in right now?

WA: I'd say so. I know if I would have given up a long time ago, I wouldn't be here. I have felt as though back in college I was just as good as a Lee Janzen or a Davis Love, and I proved it in my college record. If they're being called the next great players and I know that I could compete with them in college, then I felt as though I can compete with them out here. I just needed to be given my chance, and I just had to work a little bit harder to get here.

Q: You mentioned previously if you had given up a long time ago you wouldn't be here. What, if any, were the circumstances?

WA: Well, it's kind of discouraging to come out of school and think that you are good enough to play, you take a shot at it and you don't make it. And all of a sudden you get hurt and you can't even play. And so you work a normal job like everybody, 8 to 5, and everyone asks you what are you doing here? And you say "well, I am a professional golfer, but I am hurt." They say "oh, yeah, sure you are. I am a professional football player, but I just work just because I want to."

You get snide remarks and you get people that don't believe you, so it is kind of a motivating factor as well. Also, you go out and play with your friends and you play pretty well and they say "why aren't you out there?" It is not that easy. You only get one shot a year to get your Tour card. People don't realize how hard it is to get here. If you have a stellar college career like a Phil Mickelson or like a Tiger Woods has the opportunity or a Justin Leonard where you can play so many tournaments after winning a U.S. Amateur, you might earn your way like Phil did with a victory or like Justin did playing so good in his seven or eight events.

Until the Nike Tour came along_and I graduated before Nike Tour even came out_you only had one shot and that's it. That is a lot of pressure.

Q: Talk about the pressure of going through Q school compared to playing in a U.S. Open. Also, you mentioned an injury. What type of injury was that?

WA: I tore the ligaments and cartilage in my left knee for the second time. I didn't realize I did it when I was a little kid, they didn't tell me the extent of the damage, so my left knee never developed. It never grew. So instead of having reconstructive surgery, I had to rehabilitate my whole leg. I had to build the strength in my knee up so that it could take playing golf or running around or doing anything. I could have scoped it and gone out and played golf in six weeks and done it again because the knee wasn't strong enough to take the punishment.

As far as Q school being harder than a U.S. Open, it is a lot harder to a point because for Q school there are no guarantees. If you go in Q school and you don't make it, you don't have anything else to do except play the mini-tours or if you are lucky enough to play the Nike Tour. So I'd say it's a lot harder. I'd say it is probably the hardest tournament there is.

Q: When you were hurt and unable to play, what was your 9-to-5 job?

WA: I worked for GTE Federal Credit Union in Tampa, Florida. I worked as a bank teller _off and on for seven years from '87 to the week before the finals of Q school in 1994.

Q: By the fifth, sixth, seventh year that you were working at the bank, were people seriously getting to doubt your stories about being a professional golfer?

WA: Absolutely. If you were really that good, what are you still doing here? The best thing about that was towards the end, I started to leave a lot. I became only a part-time teller. When I'd come back, they would say "where have you been?" I'd say "I went to the Dakotas and played for the last two months up there." Some of the events I did play in were picked up by my local newspaper. I won the Waterloo Open. I won the second event on the Dakota Tour.

Q: When you were a bank teller, what was the nature of your job?

WA: It was just your basic banking job. I was there for so long, I could have moved up through the system and could have been a manager. I always felt as though if I stayed at the level I was at, I could come and go as I pleased. I could make my own hours and it wouldn't be hard to go out and play golf tournaments.

Q: For how long were you injured?

WA: As far as the actual injury, I rehabbed for about 18 months where I didn't touch a golf club at all. Then at the beginning of '89 I started back chipping and putting, and I really wanted to get back in the game, but I had no money. I had no sponsors. I had nothing. You have to have sponsors and money in this game to even get started because the mini-tours are expensive.

So the fact that I won the United States Japan matches in college, I had a name in Japan, and people asked if I wanted to go back over there.

I went over there for a year and I never got to play. I won their National Long Drive Contest which should have gotten me into 10 events, and I never got to play in any so that was kind of like a wasted year. I went back to the credit union, working part-time and I started playing officially after saving enough money in 1992.

Q: Do you feel that you are really symbolic of what the PGA Tour is all about? Anybody sees the big names and the highlights but are there a lot of Woody Austins on the Tour?

WA: I'd like to think there are a lot of hard workers out here. Unfortunately, not all of us are gifted with Greg Norman's ability or Nick Faldo's mental ability to stay so focused. I am very active, and it is hard for me to calm down in situations like him; but if I work really hard, then I feel as though on any given day I can compete with him. I may not have the track record. I may not have the ability on a long-term basis, but I know deep in my heart that I can play with anyone on any given day.

Q: A little bit earlier when you were working for the credit union and playing mini-tours you obviously didn't have full-time devotion to golf. How did you work out a practice regime working in the bank and working on Tour?

WA: That was the hard part. You played Monday, Tuesday; worked through Friday. What I didn't tell anyone, it sounds like I am grandstanding, but I also worked as a bartender at night. I worked at Eckerd Drugs, midnight to 7:00 a.m. shift. I did everything I could to save money, and whenever I had a chance to practice, I practiced.

I put up a net in my backyard. I hit balls at night. I found a lighted driving range after work. I wouldn't get home 'till 9 o'clock. And then I started to travel and try and find the certain little small tours that I could play, just to build my confidence.

Q: All this time you were banking, was there anybody working with you on your game?

WA: No. I am self-taught. I have a good friend of mine, Neil Postlethwait, who I have known for the last 20 years and he is a teaching professional.

If I get out of whack or whatever, I will call him and we will talk, but I don't really have anyone that I ever worked with.

Q: Is he Cathy's brother?

WA: No, he isn't. No relation.

Q: When you came out on Tour last year, and winning the Buick Open beginning of August, before that were you feeling pretty comfortable out here or did that victory kind of make you feel like, yeah, I belong here?

WA: I would have to say the victory was a lot more than the beginning_sure, you feel like you belong, but until you win, you don't feel as though you fit in yet. It was such a neat deal the next week to be playing at the PGA and to have some big names come up and say, "hey, congratulations," whereas earlier in the year, you walked by them and they are like "who was that again?" So, when you win, you kind of raise your spirit, so to speak.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you watched a lot of Jack Nicklaus growing up. I saw you playing with him the other day, was that your idea of_

WA: Actually, I played with him for the first time last year at Memorial. I ran into him at Memorial this year and I asked him if he was playing a practice round at the Open and if I could play. He said, " I am only playing one official practice round, I am playing with Tom Watson."

I have never played with Tom Watson before and I knew he was in the clubhouse. I said, "Well, do you know if you have four? He said, "I don't think so."

I went into the clubhouse. I talked to Tom. I just moved to his neck of the woods, so I have gotten to talk to him a little bit as of late because I only live about 40 minutes from him. I asked him if I could play. He said, "How bad do you want to play?"

I got down on my knees and begged to play and he said I could play.

Q: From the looks of this, you are still doing a lot of banking. I am curious as to whether you put any of it back in the place where you used to work?

WA: Every bit of it.

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