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Ran Morrissett

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My money's on Oakmont
« on: August 11, 2003, 11:00:37 PM »
With the Amateur approaching, I have seen a couple of articles that imply that Oakmont might be vulnerable based on how far some of the players now hit it.

As Oakmont is one of those classic courses that gets harder and harder (!) as one nears the green, monster drives simply don't render the course helpless. Far from it.

Typically, these monster 350 yard driver guys aren't able to hit in 'dead' approach shots that won't spin wildly away on these sloped greens. In general, the bigger the driver, the more spin they put on the ball with their irons as well. Guys like Tiger don't develop the knuckleball approach until later into their professional career, if ever. Thus, who cares how far someone might drive it on the downhill 1st? Good luck getting the approach close.

Still, a lot has changed in the past 25 years including how many great golf courses people get to play. Not to long ago, a contestant in the Am might never have played on greens faster than 11 on the stimp for instance. These days, it takes a lot to freak out the best Am players as they have had the opportunity to see lake-lined holes, ultra fast greens, etc.

However, I contend that Oakmont is that extra notch (or two) above what 99% of them will have ever experienced (like its front to back greens). Just imagine a contestant's first encounter with the 1st green at Oakmont?!  :o

Once the greens get these guys thinking (be it during the practice rounds, stroke play, or well into the match play rounds), and once they understand the immense pressure to be in the fairway, advantage will shift irrevocably to Fownes's great design.

Oakmont will make for fascinating TV viewing, especially with J. Miller in the booth calling it as he sees it.

Cheers,

Joel_Stewart

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2003, 11:23:10 PM »
Ran:
I agree with everything you say but you never know?  I felt the same way last year at Oakland Hills but Ricky Barnes and other just tore it up.

If they rip up Oakmont, look for an emergency meeting of the USGA balls and equipment committee.

Kevin_Reilly

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2003, 11:50:07 PM »
I assume you both read the articles linked on Geoff's site.  I would hope that Oakmont would hold up, but this is a bet I wouldn't put a cent on.  Just as I believe Olympic is now far too short for a top-level event (a half dozen years after hosting an Open) I fear that Oakmont might get ravaged the way Oakland Hills did last year.  The USGA will be monitoring landing areas, and hopefully they won't conclude that the course is inadequate for the Open...rather they would look at the ball.
"GOLF COURSES SHOULD BE ENJOYED RATHER THAN RATED" - Tom Watson

Tim_Weiman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2003, 06:14:41 AM »
There is one perspective to keep in mind when viewing the Amateur at Oakmont this year. The changes made to the course - specifically the lengthening - were not just made for the Amateur or even the US Open in a few years. It is my understanding that the changes were made with the idea of holding up for another Open ten more yers down the road (circa 2017).

Frankly, it shouldn't take another Ricky Barnes like showing to illustrate how much the USGA is failing in its responsibility to the game. Just seeing those new tees that Oakmont felt were necessary to build should be enough evidence. They are a classic example of the golf technology arms race being out of control.
Tim Weiman

TEPaul

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2003, 06:15:03 AM »
Basically Oakmont will hold up to the best amateurs there are if the golf course remains firm, inluding the greens. If the course takes on a lot of rain they can score on it no matter how fast the greens are. Last years Pa Amateur saw a lot of rain just before the tournament and the winner had three good rounds. But if the course avoids rain just before and into tournament week the course will be tough. Mark Studer is on here sometimes and he knows what's going on there as well as anyone--he can give us an update.

JohnV

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2003, 08:14:54 AM »
Oakmont's head professional, Bob Ford, recently said that the course will not be as firm and fast as they or the USGA would like it next week because of all the rain that has fallen this summer.  It does appear that we are in a drying pattern finally and it might get better over the next 6 days.  I know that other courses in the area are still very soft compared to where they would normally be at this time of year.

Geoff_Shackelford

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2003, 11:30:21 AM »
Ran,

Of course Oakmont will hold up just as you point out. But do you really think the issue is how it holds up, or how it's perceived to have held up?

I suspect the course is in for change based on Fazio's track record, which appears to be driven by an unquenchable thirst for publicity and a perverse desire to be linked with classics even though his disdain for their popularity comes through loud and clear in his book.  

Will the members resist when he wants to pick up the church pews, widen them and move them forward? I hope so.

But they are forging ahead at Riviera with more "restoration" despite lousy reviews for the previous work and no apparent plans to fix the obvious mistakes (I don't think they understand why the changes didn't work). But architecture that functions well is not the issue here. Publicity is the goal, and it seems to be working as people are captivated by the shallow pronouncements of "strengthening" these courses and putting on a "new frame." And of course, the USGA loves it because they think it allows them to go another year without actually doing something.
Geoff

Tim_Weiman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2003, 12:24:52 PM »
Geoff,

From my limited knowledge of the Oakmont situation, I would not overemphasize input from Fazio. True, people like superintendent John Zimmers do have a close relationship with the Fazio organization. But, I don't think that means Oakmont will adopt every suggestion Fazio or Tom Marzolf might come up with.

But obviously, I am worried about the USGA. Unfortunately, USGA doesn't seem to appreciate the importance of maintaining a balance between player ability, technology and the playing field in the most cost effective, sensible manner.

Their solution is to fuel the golf techology arms race by telling clubs like Oakmont that they have to keep lengthening their course to keep up with "technology improvements".

We need an more enlightened USGA, people who understand the golfing public wants to play more, not pay more.
Tim Weiman

Ran Morrissett

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2003, 01:50:06 PM »
Geoff,

My understanding is that an aerial from 1950 is without doubt the principal guiding source for change at Oakmont.

Time and time again over the past decade, the question has been asked: what would/did Fownes do? If he didn't plant the trees, they came down.  RTJ's bunker front left on the 1st and front right on the 16th have come out because they weren't part of the son's design vision.

I have no idea what Fazio's input is there but the end results speak volumes. Yes, I wish the extended 4th tee wasn't raised quite so high but conversely, the work to the 17th has yielded a superlative short two shotter and the green recapturing has yielded some excellent new hole locations (ala the back of the 3rd green).

As you know, one of the reasons that Oakmont is so GREAT is because of the unparalleled continuum of leadership that the Fownes family provided the club during the first half of the last century. During that time, William was forever refining the course and moving bunkers as such things as the steel shaft was introduced.

Clearly, the club board will oversee such decisions in the future and to date, the work done was reversed decades whereby Fownes's intent was ignored. From going down the slippery slope of inadvertently becoming a parkland course (see Paul Turner's pictures of Wentworth East  :'( ), Oakmont has returned as one of golf's most unique courses/designs.

As Tom Paul says, let's hope that the rain stays away so that we can see the course in its full glory.

Cheers,

PS If William C. Fownes was around today, I wonder if the whole tech mess would exist, so powerful and well respected by all was he.

Tim_Weiman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2003, 01:57:48 PM »
Geoff,

I share Ran's impression of #17. It is a million times better than before the changes. Whether the credit belongs to Zimmers, Marzolf, Mark Studer or Fazio, this hole looks fabulous.
Tim Weiman

Geoff_Shackelford

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #10 on: August 12, 2003, 02:26:12 PM »
Gentlemen,
I have no doubt that the course looks and plays far better minus the trees and that the recent work upholds the traditions of Oakmont. Bob Ford's description of 17 looking like a basketball hoop minus the backboard sounds like an outstanding bit of restoration and I'm sure it makes a great hole even better.

I'm simply pointing out that drives are being charted at the Amateur, and Tom Fazio will be analyzing the data. And when that has happened, the next stage of work involves shifting bunkers, recontouring fairways, and all the other shallow rigging that's taken place at Augusta and Riviera. It's the prevent defense stage of modern golf design: prevent long drives. And we all know how well the prevent defense works in football...the results are just as sketchy in golf architecture.

Riviera is currently working off of aerials too and yet somehow witnessing the creation of a new fairway bunker on the 17th hole and the extension of the fairway bunker into the 15th fairway. The 15th is said to be a of "restoration" of the bunker's "original size," a devious bit of Clintonian spin to disguise changing a great hole in the name of well, I don't know how anyone could conceive of thinking they could make that hole better.  

Oakmont (with a looming Open date) is going to be put in a tough position, because the USGA is holding firm that these issues can be solved by simply a nip and tuck here and there. Once that starts, look out. For Oakmont's sake I hope I'm dead wrong.
Geoff

Patrick_Mucci

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #11 on: August 12, 2003, 05:22:46 PM »
Ran,

I'm going to take a contrarian view.

If green speeds aren't goofy, the better players will triumph over the golf course.

Noone doubts that Oakmont is a sensational and difficult golf course, but the modern young player today possesses power, finesse and touch.  If the greens aren't concrete, and/or ridiculously fast, talent will out.

DJames

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #12 on: August 12, 2003, 05:48:05 PM »

Without question, I'll place my money on Oakmont.  I've played Oakmont several times over the years, and even though I'm not in the same league of the young amateurs, the course will have to be very soft for it to be a piece of cake for the young power hitters.

I have relatives who are members and I doubt that the membership will allow themselves to be duped by Fazio or the USGA.  The membership realizes that they have a jewel.

Patrick_Mucci

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #13 on: August 12, 2003, 06:03:23 PM »
DJames,

If that's the case, why allow the course to be tampered with ?

Especially by someone who has stated, in written form, diminished admiration for the classic courses ????

DJames

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #14 on: August 12, 2003, 07:34:54 PM »

Pat:

I can't say that they won't make changes, but I can't see them easily duped into making changes just for the sake of changes, the way some clubs have been duped.

I don't know the politics behind a Fazio choice.  He wouldn't be my choice.  I guess only time will tell.

TEPaul

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #15 on: August 12, 2003, 09:50:47 PM »
I don't believe you'll see Oakmont get duped into anything. From the sound of this thread it seems as if a bunch of negative changes might be in the offing for Oakmont inspired by Fazio. I don't think so. First of all the club sort of knows what they're doing, and what they're basically doing--or have done is to go a long way to restoring the course to much the way it was when William Fownes died in 1949-50.

That plan has been ongoing for some time now and what it was basically was removing many architectural changes to the course by a few architects after Fownes died. The tree situation and the way it was under Fownes is also well known and basically the course looks like it did when Fownes died because frankly that was the purpose of the massive tree removal--to go back to the look of the course as Fownes left it when he died.

I could be wrong about this and if so I know just were to find out---not that the info would go on here--but my feeling is basically Oakmont is about where it wants to be architecturally for the US Open. They might do a few maintenance things but I think the architecture is set. The biggest chance was probably some tee addition most notably on #4 & #7, #18 and some changes to #17 green-end which was in play for last year's Pa Amateur although the new tee on #4 wasn't used.

Some bunkering may be restored but I don't think it will be wholesale moved. Macdonald is doing and apparently has done their bunker work recently but in my opinion the Oakmont style bunkering is the type that Macdonald & Co could do quite well--it sort of fits into their own machined style better. On the other hand, as I've said numerous times, I just don't think Macdonald & Co is very good at Flynn style bunkering--it just doesn't fit well into their mostly machined style of bunker creation or restoration--or whatever anyone calls those things that various clubs do.

As for Fazio automatically getting hired to do what he's doing at Oakmont or has done--I don't think anyone should just jump to conclusions about that. I'll probably get crucified for saying this by someone but it's pretty clear to me that if Coore & Crenshaw wanted to work on Merion in 1999 they could've had that job. And if Tom Doak wanted to do whatever architectural work Oakmont has done and has been doing he could've had that job. One thing is certain--one was approached by one club and the other was approached by the other club.
« Last Edit: August 12, 2003, 09:54:41 PM by TEPaul »

Mike_Cirba

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #16 on: August 12, 2003, 10:46:45 PM »
As far as the emphasis on aerial photography creating a solid game plan for a "restoration", let's not so quickly forget the lesson of Merion.

For a number of reasons, however, I believe that situation is unlikely to happen at Oakmont.  Simply put, I believe from what I've been hearing that the club is well-educated on the lessons learned at other clubs, and seem very selective in the type of changes they will permit.  Fellows like Mark Studer seem to be running the process, instead of the process running them, or putting too much faith in just hiring a professional architect and taking their recommendations verbatim.

I haven't been to Oakmont since 1983, yet I strongly suspect that with the tree removal, it's likely now the best course in Pennsylvania.  

With others here, I bemoan the need for new tees, and I understand that a few of them are a bit incongruously conceived, yet it's become a sad fact of the modern game due to USGA & R&A's neglect of the the equipment situation.  I mean, even the Old Course has gone this route to the point of absurdity.

 

Patrick_Mucci

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #17 on: August 12, 2003, 10:50:37 PM »
DJames & TEPaul,

I guess my question is: with what purpose in mind was Fazio retained by Oakmont ?

TEPaul

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #18 on: August 13, 2003, 06:08:17 AM »
Pat:

You might say Oakmont has been going through a restoration in the last few years. They've also been going into preparing for a US Amateur and a US Open. They appear to me to have been gearing the course up for that by restoration, maintenance and some architectural add-ons like the tee lengthening that's been menitoned. Some have been critical of the tee lengthening on #4 and #7 simply because to put tees back there on those holes the ground had to be build way up as it fell off back there. As such it looks odd right now. But at least Oakmont hasn't gotten into screwing up holes or other holes with tee lengthening.

This thread sounds like Oakmont is about to launch into something negative with Fazio and Macdonald. I don't think so. I think most of what they planned to do has already been done--it's been ongoing for some time now. I think architecturally the course is about ready right now.

Why did they hire Fazio? I don't know but why did they call on Tom Doak first may be another interesting question. Why didn't Tom Doak get involved when they called him? I don't know that either--one would probably have to ask TomD. But if he'd taken their call and gotten the restoration job would this website be so nervous? I don't know that either.

Mark Studer is not the green chairman now but in my opinon he did a terrific job in the last number of years of bringing that course back from about five decades of wandering around with some piece-meal non-Fownes alterations! What he did as green chairman took a lot of foresight, guts and perseverence!

I don't think Mark wants to comment on here about all that's gone on at Oakmont which I can personally tell you is very positive and based on some really detailed and careful historic research because I went down to the maintenance building about a year ago and looked over some of the plan and the historic material they were working on with him, plus spending a lot of time out there (days) with him while officiating last year's Pa Amateur.

Why doesn't he or Oakmont want to comment on here? Does that really need to be answered? If someone thinks so just pull up some of the old Merion threads and you'll probably get the answer. It's probably better not to jump to conclusions and start slamming people just because Fazio and Macdonald and Co are somewhere on site.

Oakmont knows exactly what they're doing, in my opinion, and nobody is going to dupe them or push them around.

Frankly, my feeling is that despite the usual US Open set-up two old American classic golf courses, Oakmont and Shinnecock are going to come out of their next US Opens really shining the way they were intended to. And because of it their stocks will rise even higher!

TEPaul

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #19 on: August 13, 2003, 06:25:48 AM »
I think ultimately when a great old classic golf course goes into something like Merion did, Oakmont did, Shinnecock sort of has or Riviera has the club and course has just got to have at least someone from that club that can really help the effort by supplying and monitoring what a hired architect and contractor will do--and mostly that involves a really good research process from the club's perspective.

Meron has been discussed endlessly on that on here; Shinnecock's effort much less so but that course has done a terrific job recently on their own, bringing that course back from sort of tree neglect and such. Those from that club have said; "We don't need or want any US Open doctor!". Oakmont has had good people from the club working for years on the plan to bring back the look and the architecture of what Oakmont was decades ago--mostly Mark Studer. Riviera is probably the single one that went about this in the wrong way when you look at what they did and are doing from a club or member's perspective. Why? If you ask me because they failed to use, for whatever reason, the one person who could have helped them the most with an architectural or a restoration plan or even the need for one. The person who clearly knows more about the history and evolution of Riviera, and all things about their architect--George Thomas. That would be Geoff Shackelford.

When a golf course has people like those ones in a process like these--they've got to use them!

Tim_Weiman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #20 on: August 13, 2003, 11:23:31 AM »
Tom Paul:

As we have discussed off line, I share your view that Oakmont is blessed with some very good people leading efforts to prepare the course for upcoming USGA events and everyday member play.

Like you, I've had the experience of spending a day on site with Mark Studer and came away convinced he took his responsibility both to Oakmont and the world of golf architecture quite seriously. Mark and the entire Oakmont team take the Fownes legacy very seriously and have no interest in any name architect coming in and damaging that legacy.

While I appreciate Geoff Shackelford's concerns, I think it is only fair to point out that the folks at Oakmont not only took the Fownes legacy to heart, they also took note of what went right and wrong at other high profile projects such as Riviera and Merion.

Tom, you and I share in interest in seeing that folks like Mark Studer might someday feel more comfortable coming on GCA and expressing their thoughts behind work done to their golf course. I truly hope we we get there someday. My only caution is that maybe we put too much emphasis on the Merion story. It is not uncommon in any industry for people to want to privately formulate their business plans and not get into too much public discussion. So, no matter how much effort we make to encourage people with direct involvement in important projects to come on here, we may never get to the level you and I would like.

This means that we face limits in discussing the "project management" aspect of golf architecture, even when we have cases like Oakmont where a very positive story could be told by those involved.

In the meantime, we are left with private discussions that really can't be shared here on GCA, but would certainly be of interest to students of golf course architecture. In such cases it may not be unusual to want to share a general positive message without giving up details that would violate reasonable requests for confidentiality. This is especially true when the discussion here (e.g., Fazio and/or McDonald supposedly coming in and undermining the architecture of Oakmont) seems to be at odds with what an "inside view" would suggest.

Finally, Tom, I do want to offer some caution on discussing the point about Tom Doak and Oakmont. It seems like Oakmont's choice of consulting architect and the communications it may have had with various candidates is really  a private matter between the club and each architect. Sure, I discussed this matter with Mark Studer and my friend John Zimmers during my visit. I also discussed the subject with Tom. Would I have enjoyed seeing Tom get the assignment? Yes, I would. But, I just don't feel it is really fair to either side to discuss their communications. It just seems like that is going down a road that would make it even less comfortable for people in the industry to share "inside" information with people who have a genuine love for golf architecture as I know you do.
Tim Weiman

Jeff Goldman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #21 on: August 13, 2003, 11:41:28 AM »
I'm with Mr. Mucci on this one.  Many people have said on this site that scoring in an Open (and by analogy a US Am) depends really on 2 things:  the rough and the speed of the greens.  Can't any "championship" course can be made hard by narrow fairways, high rough and fast greens, and that without this manipulation any course can be torched?  Wasn't the lack of these things the reason Olympia Fields got pilloried?  In fact, the course may have actually played quite difficult despite not being tricked up - there were a lot more drivers hit off the tees, the rough was not impossible, the greens soft, and still only 4 broke par.

Given this, wouldn't it be preferable to have a "tricked up" Oakmont or Shinnecock rather than having the course really modified by moving bunkers, etc. to satisfy the bluecoats?  

Jeff Goldman
That was one hellacious beaver.

Tim_Weiman

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #22 on: August 13, 2003, 12:26:14 PM »
Jeff Goldman:

I share your view that it would be much better to "trick up" a golf course than get in the business of moving bunkers or modifying fairway contour.

At most a club is only going to host the Open every ten years or so. I'm quite comfortable with the USGA narrowing the fairways and growing very penal rough, but otherwise leaving the course alone.

The Open is intended to be a unique, very difficult test for an elite class of golfers with a disproportionate emphasis on accuracy compared to the other majors. I'd much rather see the USGA encourage an ever more penal set up than encourage clubs to spend money modifying their course for an occasional championship.

At clubs like Oakmont, the course presents plenty of challenge everyday for most members. No money should be be spent - wasted - making the course "better" for them.

Frankly, if the USGA doesn't want to address the technology issue, they should just commit themselves long term to very penal course set ups but never encourage or require fine clubs like Oakmont to waste money in the golf technology arms race.
Tim Weiman

Forrest Richardson

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Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #23 on: August 13, 2003, 09:13:30 PM »
I agree with Ran. I believe Oakmont will hold up. This is because the course offers the ability to do so much more than merely play with hole lengths. The greens are the key, and they do not even need to be made quicker...just place the pins in some interesting places and you can easily add 4-5 strokes to the field.

Jeff S. commented: "Will the members resist when he [Fazio] wants to pick up the church pews, widen them and move them forward? I hope so." Jeff, this sounds like something you've either written or plan to in your Golfdom column. Note: Mr. Fazio's office has already extended the Church Pews and they look excellent. I don't think it was ever proposed to widen or move them, but there certainly is ample room and flat-ish ground with which to do this. Why not? It would be completely in the spirit of the Fownes and completely in the spirit of Oakmont. Your bias against Fazio should not extend to the talented people who carry out the work under his name. I feel that a strong majority of the work at Oakmont was done very thoughtfully. It would be nice to see you express a positive and I'd encourage this...but only when you're ready.

To the question of why Fazio? The best scenario to deal with a complicated issue such as changes at a course such as Oakmont is to engage someone who has the contacts and resources to work with the various stakeholders; members, USGA, pros, etc. Fazio's office fits this bill nicely.

To the overall topic: I think it's important to understand that Oakmont is truly unlike any other American course. Why? It was never intended to be finished. And never was. It never will be, either. I do not consider much of the work there recently to be "restoration". Rather, it has been a "continuation" on themes laid down in the early years, mixed with realities of the time: both members, USGA and expert opinions. It also has involved some repairs: fixing overgrowth and fixing drainage.

I am not aware of any work done to fairway grades, nor any planned. I think the focus is and will be on tees, greens and hazards.

Regarding the 17th My Monday-morning quarterbacking was that they lost a great opportunity to set the tees lower, immediately left of the new tee. I am guessing this has to do with televsion. A low tee might look weird on TV and I can imagine lots of disgruntled players having to negotiate a more severe uphill hole. In fact, that's what I like about the low tee idea and the fact that it would have been much more natural and pleasing. The back part of the new tee expansion is no place to make a wrong step! Must be 50-feet downhill to an asphalt road!

And one more item: The tree removal has been very well done. But...there are lots of trees left and we can all be thankful for them as they hide the Pennsylvania Turnpike and separate holes very appropriately. The notion that ridding Oakmont of all its trees planted during the last 5-75 years is a good idea is not a good notion at all. Trees work at Oakmont and they always will have a place there.

Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
    www.golfgroupltd.com
    www.golframes.com

TEPaul

Re:My money's on Oakmont
« Reply #24 on: August 13, 2003, 09:18:08 PM »
TimW:

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything--it's hard to know what to say and not to say on here sometimes. I'd delete it but I don't think the delete button works anymore or at least I don't seem to be able to make it work. But I think it's important to know some of these things because some label architects like Rees Jones and Tom Fazio as two who come in and take any high profile job but if others were approached first that is of some interest, don't you think?  

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