Evian Championship: Interview with Franck Riboud, Jacques Bungert and Mike Whan

Photo Credit: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

An Interview With:

FRANCK RIBOUD, JACQUES BUNGERT AND MIKE WHAN

THE MODERATOR:
Hello, everyone. Thank you for being here. I know you have been busy in the last couple of hours, so we have this new press conference, as always. We're going to maybe say a few words but mainly to answer your questions. And we'll let leave it to Franck to say a few words.

FRANCK RIBOUD: First of all, we want to thank the LPGA to finally accept us as a major. We did our best during this winter, but I think you saw the moving we did during this winter. I used to say that was the during the year you don't have to do golf, not to transform the golf.

But I think the result is quite correct, and obviously everything be improving next year.

I discuss with some players and they told us that it's perfect. It's exactly what they are waiting for with a major, with a major course.

I have to say that all the teams and the walkers were here this winter. First of all, we invite them so they can see the result of their work. They are very proud of what we report to them from the media and from the player.

Having said that, don't ask me a questions about who can win or the score or the spectator. We don't know. We know nothing. For Jacques and myself, it's like if we restart or we set the technology, we set the tournament, so we start again. So we are making mistake, we have discussion. But obviously we are very happy because a lot of people are really motivated.

I think it's the best news for us because I'm not saying we were starting to sleep, but it's a good challenge for us. So we are very happy with this new challenge.

MIKE WHAN: I think two things. I think between last night and today, I heard Jacques and Franck talk a lot about the weather and the golf course. That reenforces what a great partner we have here. Because their expectations are so high that despite resigning a golf course in 12 months, which I think we all new was a challenge, nine months, and most of that with some snow on the ground. I think it's unbelievable that they both have said a couple of times, Hey, I'm sorry if it's not perfect.

I said from the minute we started this in 2010 until the minute I stop in this position, we didn't agree to partner up with the LET and with Evian for 2013. We agreed to partner up for the next 30 years. I have zero doubt in my mind, that five, ten, 15, 20 years from now young women all around the world will have a dream to make it to this mountain and be treated as special as this course treats them back.

I love the fact that I'm hearing different members of the staff saying, This isn't perfect, next year this will be better. That is why we're partnered with them. Their standard of excellence is so high.

That's why I've said from the beginning in women's golf there's a few special moments. There's the walk across the bridge, seeing Dinah Shore's statue, and jump into Poppie's Pond. Even the British and the U.S. Open are unique tournaments, but there is going to be nothing like making it to the Evian Mountain. We have known that because for 17 years they have proven that. For 11 years they have proven that with us.

I think the upside for this event just continues to grow because we're partnered with people that have huge visions. So to me this event I've had a lot of people ask me, How do you feel about 2013 and this being a major? I said, I feel the same way I felt in 2011 when we shook hands and said let's go. It will get better every year. It'll become more and more tradition. I've had a lot of people ask me, Fifth major, what do you think? I said, Well, it didn't set well with me the first time I heard it. It sit a lot better after I heard the people that I was going to do it with.

I have no doubt in my mind that long after I'm commissioner, young women around the world will say, My real goal is to make it to Evian Mountain, play in the Evian, and to raise that trophy with parachuters coming out of the sky.

I saw a Tweet earlier this week from a player and it was from a media person sending a Tweet out that said, Fifth major just doesn't sound right. Really, France? The player send a note back saying, If you don't get it, that's because you've never been here. I that was the greatest response I've ever seen. If you don't get it, you've never been here. Those of you who have been here or are here for the first time, trust me, by Sunday you will get it as I did.

This is going to be an exciting opportunity, not because of 2013 but because 40 years from now when they say how and when did this all start, we'll talk about 2013. None of us joined this to make this about 2013. We joined this to make this about the next few generations of women's golfers. I think we're lucky in women's professional golf to have partners like these guys. I'm hoping we were just smart enough that when you find partners like this as I said to Franck, my father used to say to me, Surround yourself with people that dream big. These guys dream big and because of that women's professional golf will be bigger because of them. I think it's agreement that they have taken it to the next level.

The second thing is I hope that media around the world who haven't come yet will get a chance to come here. It's great for me when I get emails from media saying help me with my editor, help me with my editor in chief, get me approved to come to Evian. I never get that email about any other tournament on Tour, but I get that about Evian. I think that tells you that it's about more than just a golf course, more than just the field strength. It is about more than TV hours. It's about what makes this place special and truly unique in the game of golf.

There's been a lot of things we've disagreed with right up until the day we start and we'll be disagreeing with the rest of our lives. Because we do, I think the tournament is better. I've said many times we held hands and jumped off a mountain together. I feel comfortable that what's going to result from this in the next years is going to be something special for women's golf. Not that it wasn't special before, but the rest of the world gets let in on our secret for the next couple of decades.

SPEAKER: Thank you, Mike. Actually talking about it, I would like to thank as well, I see her over there. We have been doing a (indiscernible) job. Aside from learning French, she has been also I can tell because we have been experiencing it for 11 years, the relationship with the LPGA and with the LET, and it's really been a teamwork. It's been really teamwork. We have been working together closely trying to find the solution when we have a problem. And as well as any could testify on the golf course work, it was really the same spirit.

Maybe you don't realize, but this was pretty unique to have teams from Europe, teams from the U.S. working together to make it work. It's quite a surprise to be here talking to you with the course behind us.

MIKE WHAN: I'm the only one who wanted to call it The Evian and just leave it like that. Franck said, That sounds too much like us. I said, It is you.

In time feel free in your articles to write The Evian. I like that better.

SPEAKER: We have nothing against the fact that you call it The Evian. Don't ask me why, but I'm happy.

Q. What does it change for you for it to be a major this season?
SPEAKER:
Well, first of all, for it to be a major is a reward. It's a reward for Jacques and I, but not only for us, it's reward for the resort. It's a reward for the team, for the people at the restaurant, for everyone here in the region.

Of course, the tournament, as I said yesterday, is about sports, performance, players, but not only, it's about management as well. For us, management has been a key word during the nine past months in the winter when we were able to join forces and skills and to have people from different cultures, different nations and different skills working together to achieve and to try to reach perfection. I think we've achieved something, of course, and that's very important.

Now, obviously this week's mission for us is very important. I can't really go into details because, for instance, to see a lot of journalists who couldn't come, as Mike said before, now can come because it's a major. It may be a detail, but that's important to. The recognition, we share it with everyone, the players and media, because we are here thanks to you as well.
Now, for us it's not only the end of something, it's the beginning of something. It's the reset, as I said. It's the start of a new cycle. We have a lot of things to accomplish. It gives us new objectives. For instance, next year we're going to probably have a qualifier. We are doing it with (indiscernible) because we believe that our exemptions need to be by the way, everybody knows Evan, the commissioner of the LET, was joining us as well on this moment.

Actually, yes, the qualifier is going to also allow us to really base our exemptions on real sports performance. Probably have two rounds for European plays to come in here to play the qualifier in June.

In the same spirit, as you know, there is a system. Next week will be the Junior Cup, the (indiscernible) Cup with the young kids. Next year we will have an under 15 and under 17 competition. I will deal with Mike to make sure that among our exemption we have maybe a qualifier for the winner of this under 17 girls, because it can be boys and girls.

That is exactly the spirit of it and this is why we do it. We try to adjust, we try to do the things our own way and to give the game of golf a spot in the center of our attention. For instance, the grandstands, Mike at first was kind of reluctant or doubtful about it but now everybody likes it because this is when we came back from Augusta, we thought it was very interesting to have the game of golf so close for the attendants and the players. That is why we did this. We are fed up with the skyscrapers you see on the 18th hole now all over the world which are not giving the golf course its interest.

Typically that's the type of thing we trying to do and that the major allows us to do.

MIKE WHAN: I think the simple answer is they've always been a part of women's golf, but now they are going to be part of history. At the end of the day, when you think about assessing players' careers, you talk about how they did at majors and Evian is going to be a major part of women's golf history going forward. It was already a historic experience here, but I think this puts the Evian in the elite.

When you are writing historic discussions about golfers from this era, you won't be able to do that without the Evian.

Q. Since there is not a representative from the LET here on this stand, is it only a major from the LPGA?
SPEAKER:
First of all, Evan just started so we wanted to give him some time to get into it with us.
More seriously, we have been a major with the LET. The newness for this year is that we are also a major with the LPGA. So we wanted Mike to be there. I can tell you Mike won't be here next year.

MIKE WHAN:
That's what happens with commissioners.

Q. So you are a major. You will bring the best there is around the world. I just want to get an understanding why No. 87 on the LPGA can't be here tomorrow morning? Why not? You have a field of 102.
SPEAKER:
Well, the things is there are criteria. The criteria we decided altogether were the criteria that would show the best player. The idea is to use the Rolex Ranking first, then the winners of the tournaments. Through that we gave the winners of the tournament, be it from the LET or be it from the LPGA, a very important level.

So obviously there are some mismatch in that type of stuff because we couldn't fit we could have said only the Rolex Ranking. We didn't say so. We wanted to have really winners part of the criteria. So that explains why.

Q. (Inaudible)?
SPEAKER:
At the end of the day, it's a matter of are you calculating the right ranking. That is another point.

MIKE WHAN: I'm not understanding your question. What is your question?

Q. No. 87 on your ranking, she didn't get invited or qualify to be here.
MIKE WHAN:
I mean, 87 players of the top 90 players from the LPGA are in the field. If 87 of the top 90 players weren't in the field, I think you would have much more strategic question which is how could you have a major without 87 of the top 90 in the field.

I mean, look at the U.S. Open, look at the British, look at the Kraft, same thing. You are going to see of the top 80 to 90 players in the LPGA, all but two or three would be there. Same is true with the Evian.

SPEAKER: And by the way, (indiscernible) she brings some life to the tournament.

Q. How many qualifiers are you expecting to have next year from the LET to qualify for the tournament?
SPEAKER:
You mean qualify through the two days of qualifying? Because of the quality we want to have, we prefer to have a two round qualification station than a one. Everybody can come from every country, every age.

SPEAKER: The question is are we going to forget everything from the past because it's a reset or restart, and the answer is no. It's exactly the reverse.

To achieve what we were able to do this year, I'm not talking about the course, I'm talking about the VIP players, why do we put this grandstand here, why do we build the road you don't know, but we just built the road just below the VIP tent over there. It's because we are how do you say that, lacking in the industry or plan. We know exactly what we want to build. We learn from the past.

For example, how to create all this organization, not being in the business (indiscernible). So we did it because we learned from the past year, which is true for the organization, but that is true also for the sport organization.

At the same time, there is something that we don't want to lose. We don't want to lose, which is the spirit of the tournament. Being a major, we can say, okay, we are a major. No, no. We want to keep the balance. We build the last 18 years between the sport, the way we take care of the ladies, of the player, and the ambiance of the tournament. We continue to build it as a family event. We don't want to lose all the spirit we have. Obviously we learn so many things.

At the same time, we are not saying we know everything. We are not specialists. We learn. We benchmark.

Everybody is laughing when we are comparing to Augusta. But when I went there with Jacques, for example, the chair, everybody told us, Oh, the client is too strong. So we go to the Amen Corner and we check. We even measure how many chairs they put on the square meter, four. I measure the distance in between the chair. Everything. Why do we have to win them? They are the best.

SPEAKER: This is a very important point. We notice that because of the water, sometimes in Augusta the chairs were empty or full of water. We did a little hole in our chair.

SPEAKER: Our chairs are much more better. As usual, everybody is laughing when we are doing things but after you ask question, why didn't you do that? Where do you get the inspiration? Why have you done this and this? Because of that kind of stupid story.

I can't tell you, we were sitting close to the green No. 9 with (indiscernible), and he was curious because his trousers were wet. Not because of him, because of the rain. There was no hole in the seats. I can tell you the hole we change next year because of the one we put a little (indiscernible).

Next year we will have a better one. We will improve the chair.

Q. (Inaudible)?
SPEAKER:
No. The day Augusta will copy anything from us, we will be very proud. Until now we can be. We adjust.

Q. What do you learn from Evian Championship to improve your tournaments in the U.S.A.?
MIKE WHAN:
There's a couple of things. When you talk about different tournaments, some people have you can't replace Lake Geneva. You can't replace the Alps. You can't replace Jacques and Franck. I should have said that first.

What you probably don't see in the media center, we probably have six different tournaments here this week. We probably had ten last year. So tournaments travel to Evian to do exactly what Franck was talking about doing with Augusta National. They want to learn, they want to steal some ideas.

They hear players talk about the caddies' lounge. It's funny when they say it, but this tournament is made up a million little things that are done right. A lot of people want to learn from the million little things that are done right.

It's almost impossible to replicate this transportation plan because it's run so well. People come here and try to learn it. So I'm not sure I don't go out with a book and say here is what Evian I wouldn't bring Evian about Kraft Nabisco or Kraft Nabisco a book at the U.S. Open. If you look at the tournaments on our schedule that other tournaments travel to, you know who's trying to learn from who. This is a highly traveled tournament year after year. In fact, a lot of people use this tournament to announce news about their tournament, which is another great example of how they view Evian as truly special.

SPEAKER: It's very clear for us that we are totally transparent. We are totally open. Anyone who wants to discuss with us to improve quality of golf, we are excited.

That is the reason why if you look at the flags we put behind the 18, we put the flags of the four other majors because we know by traveling what we learn from them. They are much important as this. We went to each of them. That is why, just to say thank you to the others, we put the four flags behind the 18. Nobody asked us to do that, nobody.

And Jacques put the flags on the top above the 16. I said, No, no, no, put it around the 18 at the right point.

Q. I was talking with some players and they all said this course is quite new, I just wanted to know how many bunkers have you added to make it a new golf course? I just want to know the budget to renovate this golf course.
SPEAKER:
82 new bunkers. That means all the bunkers have been changed, even the old ones. Of course all the greens have been changed, reshaping, new things on the greens.

As you can see now, the puzzle, as we call it, the pieces 15, 16, 17, 18 is totally new. We did change the last par 3, which is the 17th hole. It used to be just a short par 3 with just a wedge for the players. Now the new par 3 at the end is the 16.

So remember the discussion we had with Mike and his team and Heather and we want to have a drummer finishing holes and

MIKE WHAN:
It's special. One of the things we said is walking onto the 18th green at the Evian Masters was always an unbelievable experience, so how can we expand that to the final four or five holes be what we've called the fantastic for a long time. It's all going to happen a hundred yards from us here. So on Sunday, it's all going to play out within a hundred yards of each other. That is going to make for a pretty special fan experience, a great player experience and a really special viewer experience.

When you walk into the puzzle and you have got four to play and it's all going to happen amongst the same crowd. That is what we were talking before. I love the big grandstands around 18, but the big grandstands might have stopped the viewership opportunity for the puzzle.

Q. I have a question for Franck. I'm just wondering, (indiscernible) and what you achieve in this creation for golfers, sports, and France as well?
SPEAKER:
I can't answer because I don't know. But you know, many of them are doing things also. It could be music, it could be I don't know.

Here it's a special story because everybody thinks that we have a golf course because we love golf. Even some of them because of (indiscernible) or whatever.

(Indiscernible) it is very different. To get the right of the Evian brand, we have an agreement with the City of Evian. The agreement is we have to bring the nation to the city. In the past I can tell you this because I was a general manager of the Evian company before becoming the CEO of the group. We used to do a lot of things, but even the firework of the 14 of July is because of us. It's part of our duty to the city.

Many of the goals, we used to have a huge music festival here with the (indiscernible), the violinist, very close with my father. And after a few years and especially after my father passed away, but we decide before, he decide to switch from music to golf. And he asked me at the beginning to do this tournament. I started with (indiscernible) and I negotiate with the city that we can (indiscernible) we spread all over the year, all over the different nation and to focus on the very important one called the Evian Masters, which was at this time a very small one. The mayor of Evian shared with us same vision about the potential that we have here with such tournament.

The good news next year we organize a music festival. If you are there on Saturday, we are going to make a party or whatever in what we call the (indiscernible) which is a music (indiscernible). It's in between the (indiscernible). Totally in wood built 20 years ago, and the quality of the sum is good because that done to be sure Mr. (Indiscernible) can be called the music with the spectator. Because we are going to do this music festival next year, we will start the party with 20 minutes of classic music.

So we change also a little bit the way we are doing things this year. It's on Saturday night. Everybody is going to be impressed by this musical.

Q. Can we have an idea of the revenue that you represent for Evian?
SPEAKER:
I don't have the exact figures, but I think if you look at the budget of Evian, on this project there is a tax (indiscernible). I think this tax represents something like 50 or 60 percent of the revenue of the city. On top you can have the revenue from all the taxes because they factor in there and so on and so on. But we have very good relation with the city.

Q. (Inaudible)?
SPEAKER:
I don't know. The only thing I know is they are very happy we are in September. Here the season is closed, declining 15 of August and closed around 20. But the snow is not there, so a lot of people, they don't have anything to do before the snow and the skiing resorts re open. So for them it's very good news because it's like an (indiscernible). They can work until the end of September. All the hotel, as I said, from (indiscernible).

On top of that, we don't know about the number. I was listening (indiscernible). Jacques told me we pay somebody to come. But we don't know.

The good news is all the French part of (indiscernible), in September they are there. In July (indiscernible). (Indiscernible) was last week, but we will go to the Evian Championship next week. So we will see.

Even if we have to rebuild this, we are not under pressure anyway. I don't think this golf course has to run under the recourse of dictators.

Q. You were talking before about the spirit of Evian. Part of the spirit was the fact that you invited players from Third World countries as far as golf is concerned like Russia, India or Switzerland to have a chance to come to play here. That's not the case anymore. Was it a condition put from the LPGA or is it
SPEAKER:
It happened to be this year. To be honest, the exemptions we've got, the way the exemption committee thinks to whom they are going to allow the exemption is very simple. It's sports and being a No. 1 in one's country that is not represented. We thought about India as we (indiscernible). But to be honest, at this moment and the same for Russia is represented because before you had (indiscernible) and now you have got the No. 1 Russian here playing.

The thing is at a certain point they were too far away as far as the Rolex Ranking, and it's difficult at a point to be unfair to some players who ask for an exemption and with also good reason. We have only six. So it depends on the year. We definitely have to keep in mind the fact that we can have good exemptions provided the player has some recognition in the Rolex Ranking and to have the No. 1 of the country, a non golfing country or an emerging golfing country like Russia was when we invited (indiscernible). And you can think, look at what we did with China. We gave an exemption to a Chinese player, exactly two last year and one this year exactly for the same reason. China is obviously emerging strongly as a

SPEAKER:
Don't worry about China. They will not ask exemptions soon. The Olympic games are there now, so don't worry.

Everybody was talking about the Koreans. Wait. You will see the wave of Chinese player without any exemption.

MIKE WHAN: I also think that's a question that could probably only get asked at a woman's event. If you think about the 30 countries represented in the event, I mean, that's almost unheard of by almost any other sport. Certainly unheard of by male sports. I think at the end of the day, you have got countries from around the world represented, 160 plus countries showcasing it on TV. You are trying to create the strongest possible field.

Q. In case next Sunday Inbee Park wins, we will call that a grand slam or not?

MIKE WHAN:
For the women's game, I think it's fun that we're talking about it. I think it's almost a shame if we call it anything other than historic and spectacular. I've heard people call it Inbee Slams an Inbeelievable. All good not matter what you call it there.

My answer to that would be very similar to how I answered a fifth major. When we started talking about this in 2010, I think I drove these guys crazy. I spent a lot of time talking to other people. I wanted to make sure that when we're messing with history, we've got a lot of voices. I did the same thing as it relates to grand slams and other slams.

And what I have said is I think the player who wins four times in a row in one year, she is a grand slam winner. I think if she wins five times in a row in one year, she is a super slam winner. I think if I were to call it or the LPGA were to call her a grand slam winner winning three minus one and then plus one, we might be the only one in the room saying grand slam.

And I certainly don't want to take anything away from Inbee who is doing something that quite frankly may never get done again. As I said to my children when I was at the British, you need to watch Sundays because she might do something that even your kids won't get a chance to see. It could be another 100 years.

The overwhelming majority of individuals that I think respect the game, myself included, we have been consistent on four in a row as a grand slam, five in a row is a super slam. Four in one year that isn't four in a row is unbelievable, probably Inbeelievable.

I think at the end of the day people will write what they want to write on that and I hope they do.

SPEAKER:
Actually, what draws our attention is that Inbee started a fantastic journey towards the major in Evian, so we feel a little responsible to give it back to her this week as well.

MIKE WHAN:
I stood on the 18th green at the Wegmans LPGA Championship and she had just won her second major. Nobody knew what was coming. I stood on the 18th green and I said to 25,000 people, I feel like I need to introduce you to this young woman, which today is so strange to say. That was six or seven months ago. But six or seven months ago she today on that green as a two time, you know.

I remember saying at the time last summer in early July she was 26th in the world, in the World Rankings. She was a quality people, but a lot of people didn't know her. Standing there on that green she was the No. 1 player in the world. In the period from Evian Masters last year to the LPGA Championship, I think she won six times. She became No. 1 player in the world. She won $3 million earnings. Fifty percent of her career earnings was in that 11 month span. So what's happening to her is spectacular.

As most people have written and known, like a lot of agreement golfers she went through some tough times where she questioned whether she was going to win again and what level. So I think her telling that to a lot of people and being honest about the tough times she went through, there is at least a 119 other golfers that heard that that are standing on the range today. This is a tough game. But when it's good, it can be Inbee good.

SPEAKER:
When she gave the trophy back yesterday night, she told me just before, I hope I will keep it.


Q. If I understand things well, it looks like the Evian 2014 championship will be the first to count towards the Solheim Cup qualification, is that right?
MIKE WHAN: Heather says that that's correct.

Topics: Notes and Interviews, The Evian Championship

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