Local golf notebook: Local academy founder Leonard recognized by US Kids Golf – Montgomery Advertiser


Quincy Leonard, Leo Golf Academy founder at Gateway Golf Course, has received honorable mention recognition from U.S. Kids Golf for its annual Top 50 Kids Teacher Award.

The Award recognizes the world?s most outstanding youth golf instructors, and Leonard is part of a select group that earned honorable mention accolades among more than 500 applicants.

Since 2004, U.S. Kids Golf has honored the best youth golf teachers with the Top 50 Kids Teacher Award. Applicants complete an online survey and winners are chosen based on their contributions to youth golf.

The Top 50 Kids Teachers of 2017 includes golf professionals from 22 states, Canada and Costa Rica. Each year, award recipients include teachers who work at public, private, resort and municipal courses.

The Top 50 Kids Teacher Award is administered by the U.S. Kids Golf Coaches Institute, a division of the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation.

Speaking of U.S. Kids Golf, the Montgomery Local Tour?s spring season is set to tee off Feb. 24 at Aroostook.

Registration for all events is underway. Tournament dates and deadlines are:

? Feb. 24 at Aroostook; last day to register: Feb. 19

? March 3 at Lakewood (Phenix City); last day to register: Feb. 26

? March 10 at Arrowhead; last day to register: March 5

? March 17 at Wynlakes; last day to register: March 12

? April 21 at Cottonwood; last day to register: April 16

? April 28 at Quail Walk; last day to register: April 23

? May 5 at Lagoon (Tour Championship); last day to register: April 30

For more information or to register for an event, contact Quincy Leonard at 334-721-4536; or email him at quincyleonard@leogolfacademy.com.

NOTEBOOK

? Online registration for Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying is underway.

Alabama golfers can qualify at sites outside the state, but there are four local qualifiers in Alabama: June 2 at Silver Lakes (Glencoe); June 5 at Bent Brook (Bessemer); June 10 at Hampton Cove (Owens Cross Roads); and June 16 at Magnolia Grove (Mobile).

Those in Alabama who advance through local qualifiers will compete in a subregional at Capitol Hill in Prattville on Aug. 5

Drive, Chip and Putt is a free youth golf development initiative open to boys and girls ages 7-15. Local qualifying will take place throughout all 50 states during the months of May, June, July and August.

Top performers at the local level will advance through subregional and regional qualifiers in July/August and September, respectively. The top 80 performers ? 40 boys and 40 girls ? will earn an invitation to the National Finals at Augusta National on Sunday, April 7, the eve of the 2019 Masters.

DOGFIGHTS

? Orelia Turner, at plus-7, won the Montgomery Women?s Golf Association dogfight at The Pines in Millbrook on Thursday. Sandi Parrish and Phyllis Akers were next at plus-6, followed by Sharon Mills and Margaret Weldon at plus-5.

Play this Thursday will be at Quail Walk in Wetumpka.

? The team of Frank Guidas, Carl Stevenson, George Walker and James Massey combined for a minus-7 to win the Montgomery Golf Association?s dogfight at Prattville Country Club on Jan. 29; 25 played.

Massey was most over at plus-4. Second place, at minus-12, went to the team of David Vogelgesang, Ed Collier, Don Hatcher and Ernest Pattillo.

On Feb. 1 at Quail Walk, the team of Stevenson, Wayne Baggett, Del Goebel and James Bruner combined for a plus-25 to take first place; 22 played.

Massey, Pattillo, Hugh Garrett and Randy Smith combined for a plus-23 to take second place. Goebel and Ken Love were most over at plus-11 each.

The MGA also played Monday at Cambrian Ridge. MGA next plays Thursday, Feb. 15, at The Pines; Monday, Feb. 19, at Timberline; Monday, Feb. 26, at Troy Country Club; and Monday, March 1, at Grand National.

? The Central Alabama Golf Association had a disappointing turnout Jan. 29 at RTJ Grand National in Opelika, due in large part to the three-plus inches of rain the previous day. First place at plus-12 went Ben Woods and JD Davis, with second place, at plus-7, going to Howard Green and Mike Hudson. There was a two-way tie for third place at minus-1 between the teams of Perry Williams/Robert Griffith and John Robinson/Eric Kost.

CAGA played again on Thursday at Arrowhead with much better attendance, but not without incident. A major 18-wheeler accident on I-85 southbound prevented many players from the Auburn and Tallassee areas from getting to the course.

There was a two-way tie for first place at plus-15 between the teams of Johnny Hassett, Perry Williams, Tom Watson and Mike Powers, and Ken Nelson, Bob Rocheleau, Melvin Leonard and Roy Collins. Third place, one point back at plus-14, went to the team of Ricky Brooks, Bobby Pruit, Turner Clem and John Bricken.

CAGA plays this Thursday at Indian Pines in Auburn.?The 2018 schedule is available at?www.CAGAGolf.com.?Players interested in joining CAGA can contact the CAGA administrator at caga.dogfight@gmail.com for additional information.

? To submit items for this golf notes column, email the information to tank4265@yahoo.com or to sports@montgomeryadvertiser.com.



'It's heart-wrenching': How development is changing Charlotte's golf scene – Charlotte Observer


When Barron Connell hopped onto his Ford tractor and carved his family?s eastern Mecklenburg County dairy farm into a golf course 60 years ago, the nine-hole Larkhaven Golf Club was one of the few daily fee courses Charlotteans could play.

Since then, the course has grown to 18 holes, founded a four-ball tournament that?s run since 1972, served countless hot dogs from the clubhouse grill and endeared itself to golfers with a family feel that?s the opposite of country club stuffiness. Larkhaven is the oldest public, 18-hole course operating in Charlotte. But this is almost certain to be Larkhaven?s final year: The club has agreed to sell itself to Meritage Homes, which plans to build 350 houses on the 140-acre property tucked away off Camp Stewart Road.

Larkhaven isn?t the only daily fee course in Charlotte deciding that its land can be used more profitably for something besides golf. Charlotte Golf Links, on Providence Road, closed in 2014, and developer Lincoln Harris is in the midst of transforming the 187-acre site into a massive, mixed-use development with shops, hundreds of apartments and homes, 500,000 square feet of office space, a new school and a gym.

And the owners of Ballantyne Corporate Park are weighing how and whether to someday redevelop their golf club, which totals almost 200 acres of valuable land in the middle of a development that sold for $1.2 billion last year. Ballantyne?s proposal to Amazon for the company?s second headquarters showed the internet company?s buildings replacing the 18-hole course.

Courses are feeling the pressure for two big reasons: There are a lot more golf options in Charlotte than when they opened, and golf has continued to struggle with a shrinking number of players. When you look at a map of golf courses in Charlotte now, Larkhaven president Ken Jamison quipped, ?It looks like someone?s got the measles, there?s so many red dots.?

?Thirty years ago, all you had to do was open the gates, and you had players,? said Jamison. ?It?s a lot more competitive now than it used to be. All the courses are in better shape.?

GolfsDecline_03

A photo of the original Larkhaven clubhouse taken in the early 1970s, where players used to warm up by a wood-burning stove.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Like many longtime players, Jamison?s roots at Larkhaven go deep. His father took him to play Larkhaven as a 12-year-old when the course opened in 1958. Fees to play started at $2.50. (They start at $20 now.) Jamison worked the course in the summers and played there with the East Mecklenburg High School golf team during the school year.

Now, the signs of encroaching development are all around, and Larkhaven golfers have been girding themselves for the club?s expected closure. Cresswind, an age-restricted development for senior citizens, is under construction on the adjoining property ? 850 new houses on land that was recently a forest. Novant Health is building a medical center next door. Charlotte Water crews are installing a sewer pipe through the golf course that could open up even more of the surrounding land to new development.

?It?s heart-wrenching. It broke our hearts,? said Perry Stokes, talking with his longtime friend John Carriker on Friday. They stood in the Larkhaven clubhouse, facing the no-frills grill pumping out sandwiches and fries. Carriker, 65, said he started golfing at Larkhaven more than 50 years ago. The two reminisced about warming their feet on the old clubhouse?s wood-burning stove and playing into the night by the light of golf cart headlights, once the club got carts.

?Part of us will go with this,? Stokes said, looking out over the rolling course.

A golf crisis?

Golf?s struggles have been well-documented over the past decade. According to the National Golf Foundation, 23.8 million people played on a golf course in the U.S. during 2016, the most recent year available, down from 25.7 million the year before. That?s about a 21 percent drop from the peak of 30 million players in 2005.

Changing cultural expectations have played a role, Jamison said. He recalled decades ago when it was common for wives to be homemakers and men to golf during the workday, or take a weekend day for golf. Now, more families have two parents working full-time, and the expectation that they?ll split parenting duties more equally. The culture of many workplaces has changed too, with cell phones tying workers to the office at all times and making it harder to slip away for a round.

Other Charlotte golf courses have met the same fate. In 2007, a homebuilder bought the 164-acre Pawtuckett Golf Club at Interstates 85 and 485 for $2.1 million, and is now building hundreds of houses on the land. Some back-of-the-envelope math shows how much money such deals can make a homebuilder: If the 350 houses Meritage wants to build at Larkhaven sell for an average of $300,000, that?s $105 million of potential value to be extracted from land that?s now selling $20 rounds of golf.

More than a dozen country clubs remain nestled in Charlotte?s wealthier enclaves, many of them built during the 1990s to anchor upscale neighborhoods such as Ballantyne Country Club and The Peninsula Club at Lake Norman. Some of them have had their share of troubles as well. In 2015, Firethorne Country Club in Union County was sold to ClubCorp, a Dallas-based company that also owns TPC Piper Glen, after falling into bankruptcy in 2010.

The closures and potential redevelopments have hit daily fee courses the hardest. But despite sporadic course closures, golf in Charlotte isn?t approaching a crisis, analysts say.

The redevelopment of golf courses is largely a response to a wave of overbuilding that happened in the 1990s and early 2000s, as the number of golf courses nationwide shot up more than 40 percent. Gregory Nathan, chief business officer at the National Golf Foundation, said the Charlotte region saw a major surge that mirrored the nationwide trend.

In 1987, the Charlotte region had 50 golf courses, as measured in 18-hole equivalents. Now, there are 70, a 40 percent jump.

?(Larkhaven) has been operating in an increasingly competitive golf environment,? said Nathan. ?Larkhaven?s closure is a continuation of that natural correction toward equilibrium.?

GolfsDecline_06

The practice green at Larkhaven Golf Club.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

And while young people might not be as inclined to spend three or four hours at a traditional golf course, they?ve flocked to a new concept: Topgolf. The driving range-like game, where a tracking system scores players on their aim as they hit balls toward glowing, multicolored targets, has drawn big crowds and long waits at Steele Creek, where it opened last year. Topgolf is gearing up to open its second Charlotte location in University City.

Topgolf promotes its food, music and drinks almost as much as the golf-like game, drawing millennials willing to wait hours to play. Counting Topgolf and other similar establishments, the NGF says an additional 8.2 million people played golf last year outside of traditional courses.

Also last year, Charlotte shot to the top of the golf world with the PGA Championship hosted at Quail Hollow Club, an event that drew a national TV audience and tens of thousands of spectators.

And not all daily fee courses are struggling. Ned Curran, president of Ballantyne owner Northwood Office, said golfers played more than 34,000 rounds on the office park-ensconced course last year, the most ever. That course dates to 1996, when Ballantyne was still fields and forests past the fringes of Charlotte.

?It continues to be part of a successful model,? Curran said of the Golf Club at Ballantyne, where fees start at $62. But Northwood is developing a new master plan for Ballantyne, and Curran acknowledged the course could someday change to accommodate more development ? perhaps shortened to nine holes, or replaced by new buildings altogether, as in the hypothetical plan they pitched to Amazon.

?It?s something we?ll grow into,? said Curran. ?We?re honest with people from a leasing perspective, saying it may not always be golf, but it will always have a lot of green space.?

Celebrating 60 years, waiting for change

Larkhaven is in its third generation of family ownership. The club?s history covers the walls near the entrance, where a players are greeted by a picture of Barron Connell, a Linotype operator who wrote to the U.S. Golf Association for instructional books on how to design a course when he was figuring out what to build in the 1950s.

GolfsDecline_05

Portrait of original course owner and builder Barron Connell.

Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

His son, Butch Connell, who helped build the course, is also commemorated on a plaque. The winners of the annual four-ball tournament are listed, back to first in 1972, on a board that sits under a framed ?championship belt? that the pros and some regulars used to pass around for laughs.

?In a city that loves its own sparkle, Larkhaven is a grassroots reminder of how Charlotte used to be and how golf, for most of us, will always be,? former Observer columnist Ron Green Jr. wrote in a 2008 story on the course?s 50th anniversary. ?It is not a country club and has never tried to be one.?

Charlotte City Council will consider Meritage Homes? application to rezone the golf course for residential development in the coming months. Assuming the plans are approved, the sale to Meritage would close after that, possibly late this year or in early 2019.

Jamison, the club president, said Larkhaven is still planning commemorative events to mark its 60th anniversary this year. And he?s optimistic about the future of golf, pointing to the younger generation of stars on the PGA Tour.

But he knows change is coming to Larkhaven, and soon.

?Change happens,? said Jamison. ?There?s a time for everything.?



Women's Golf Day leader Elisa Gaudet uses personal story to raise breast cancer awareness – Golfweek


There was silence on the other end of the phone. Elisa Gaudet had been pouring her heart out about the double mastectomy, the painful divorce, the sleepless nights. How could a woman who drove her family nuts with her super-organic, farm-raised, preservative-free refrigerator and a perfectly clear mammogram be diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer?

She?d been trying to answer the unanswerable ? Why? ? when we lost cell service.

?I just want it to be over,? Gaudet finally said through thick sobs. The connection was, it turns out, strong. Gaudet, a passionate, big-picture, go-getter of a woman, had become too overwhelmed to speak.

The only thing that makes sense to Gaudet about the ?why? part so far is that because she?s the leader of a promising global initiative ? Women?s Golf Day ? perhaps her story will resonate and prevent someone else with dense breast tissue from taking a clean mammogram as gospel.

Thirty-nine days after Gaudet got an all-clear mammogram for a breast augmentation, a freak accident eventually led to an ultrasound in Geneva, Switzerland, that revealed one tumor in her left breast and four small ones in her right.

?They say I could?ve been dead by now,? she said.

The birth of a movement

Gaudet, who now is living with one breast and scars she says look like railroad tracks, started out as a model, working months-long stints in Toyko and Cape Town. Gaudet likes to say she was less Cindy Crawford and more girl-next-door who could sell you a Camry.

After a decade of modeling, Gaudet suited up in the navy and khaki golf industry by chance. She worked first for the Tour de las Americas in marketing and sponsorship before helping execute the 2002 EMC World Cup in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the PGA Tour. She now has her own consulting firm, Executive Golf International.

The idea for Women?s Golf Day was born in Central Park, where Gaudet stumbled upon an event involving a massive collection of yellow yoga mats. It was a light bulb moment for a woman who had grown tired of the stale fashion shows men threw in an attempt to draw more women into golf.

?What I saw in the marketplace was fragmentation,? she said.

The idea of a one-day, four-hour event that was light, inviting and competition-free began to percolate. Gaudet first floated it to World Golf Foundation CEO Steve Mona in January 2016 on a bench outside the media center at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Both private and public clubs can register to participate, as well as retail stores. The event is split between two hours of a golf-related activity and two hours of socializing.

?The genius in this is in its simplicity,? Mona said.

The third edition of Women?s Golf Day is slated for June 5. The initiative grew 68 percent after its first year, with events taking place in 46 countries and 711 venues.

?I?m beyond honored to say we had four Muslim countries,? Gaudet said.

Alida Vilogorac, a close friend and ambassador for the organization in Switzerland, was in Palm Beach with Gaudet on Women?s Golf Day last year. The excitement began early with Skype calls from Australia and then Africa, and ended with a late-night chat with those participating in Hawaii.

In Switzerland, Vilogorac said, single women with good careers don?t often know how to approach the golf community.

?Normally here you start to play if you?re a couple and your husband or companion plays,? she said.

This event opens another door.

Women?s Golf Day events split time between golf and socializing.

Women?s Golf Day events split time between golf and socializing.

Gaudet would rather not talk about the breast augmentation. The result, she said, was so subtle even her mother wouldn?t have noticed. But to get the story out ? to help at least one person ? she had to start there.

Prior to the augmentation, Gaudet had to schedule a mammogram, which immediately came back clear. Two days later, on June 28, she had the procedure done.

?It came out perfect,? she said. ?Michelangelo.?

Thirteen days later she was at an event at a beach-side hotel in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., when a patio umbrella came loose from the table and nailed the back of her head. She went flying.

Gaudet left in an ambulance and had two staples put in her head. Her left side was bruised from her armpit to her hip. While in Geneva for a long-term stay for business, she went to see Dr. Xavier Tenorio believing she had developed a hematoma after the incident. Tenorio referred her to another doctor for an ultrasound. He discovered the tumors and ordered a biopsy. While in a museum on a Saturday in Zurich, Gaudet heard the jarring report: You?ve got breast cancer.

?It was just like a bad dream,? Vilogorac said. ?We all believed in the mammogram.?

Gaudet was soon back in South Florida, where her condo was under construction. She checked into the local Hilton, which she called home for the next 40 days.

Gaudet chose to have a double mastectomy to avoid radiation and chemotherapy.

Dr. Yvette Laclaustra performed the operation, and her brother-in-law, Dr. Luis Vinas, put in the implants during the same procedure.

That should?ve been the closure Gaudet so desperately sought. But not two months later, she developed an infection in her left breast and the implant was removed.

Grueling routine

For 94 days Gaudet never slept more than four hours a night. She dropped to a size 0.

?I learned to shower at night,? she said of struggling with the sight of her own body.

The complications resulted in six weeks of radiation. She?s scheduled to have the second implant re-inserted in March.

Were it not for Tenorio?s decision to order the ultrasound in Geneva, Gaudet believes the cancer might have been caught too late, as she was not in the habit of getting an annual mammogram.

Dr. Robert Smith, vice president of cancer screening, cancer control department for the American Cancer Society, said it?s estimated that for 7 to 8 percent of the population, mammograms are ineffective due to breast density.

As of now, Florida does not have a breast-density notification law, meaning women such as Gaudet can be unaware that an ultrasound might be needed to detect tumors.

?Don?t confuse density with firmness or lumpiness,? Smith said.

And breasts aren?t uniformly dense, he continued, meaning there might simply be an area that?s large enough to hide an abnormality.

Federal legislation has been introduced into both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that would require mammography reports to include information about breast density and its impact on masking the presence of cancer on mammography.

?You would think this would be kind of a no-brainer,? Smith said.


Women?s Golf Day

WHEN: June 5, 2018
WHAT IS IT? A collaborative effort by a dedicated team, golf management companies, retailers and organizations working together to engage, empower and support girls and women through golf. The 4-hour experience allows a simple and accessible platform to build a foundation and creates a network to support the continuation of golf no matter what skill level or interest.
WHERE: 46 countries with 711 venues
ON THE WEB: womensgolfday.com


On Sept. 11, 2017, the day after Hurricane Irma ripped through South Florida, Gaudet found herself in the hospital once again after fainting from dehydration. On the wall of her hospital room she looked up to the faces of Arnold Palmer, Tony Jacklin and Jack Nicklaus.

?When I saw it I was shocked,? Gaudet said of the print on the wall. ?It was better than seeing a photo of Jesus Christ.?

Strong words for a woman who was raised Roman Catholic.

Gaudet asked if all the rooms in the hospital had golf prints and was told that was only one. She went back three weeks later and asked if she could make a donation in return for the print. It now sits in her bedroom on the right side of the bed, just like the hospital.

Gaudet clings to the good that has happened these past few months. Like the Patriots hat her cousin Tony sent or the Boston Strong shirt from cousin Tim. She rejuvenated with horses on a farm in Argentina and found strength in a friend from San Francisco who was battling lymphoma. They went to Paris together after completing radiation.

?Strong? was her only choice

A Bob Marley quote became her mantra: ?You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.?

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be 268,670 new cases of breast cancer in 2018 and that 41,400 men and women will die from the disease. Gaudet is desperate to get the word out that mammograms aren?t always enough.

She looks at the 17,000 connections on her LinkedIn account and thinks about all the women in each person?s life ? moms, daughters, sisters and aunts. She thinks about the rapid growth of Women?s Golf Day and what that means in terms of getting her message out. This year she?s asking each venue to add a charity component to the program.

?This is my fingerprint,? she said.

A passion project that has taken on a whole new dimension.? Gwk

(Note: This story appears in the Jan. 29, 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

Feb. 5, 2018

19th hole: Time for PGA Tour to take stand on slow play



A Presidential Golf Outing, With a Twist: Trump Owns the Place – New York Times


The news media blackout was nothing unusual in the annals of presidential free time. President Barack Obama routinely played golf out of sight of the press pool that traveled with him, only occasionally allowing a glimpse of him taking a swing or interacting with his partners.

Photo

Mr. Trump and Melania Trump with Mr. Abe of Japan and his wife, Akie Abe, and Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Friday.

Credit
Al Drago/The New York Times

But it was the latest reminder that Mr. Trump?s presidency is mixing his official role with the business that bears his name. Mr. Abe?s visit was the first of what Mr. Trump?s top aides say will be many in which he uses Mar-a-Lago, the 126-room, pink-hued and Spanish-tiled castle on Florida?s Gold Coast, as a setting for forging high-stakes relationships with important world leaders.

That is likely to mean that the property ? along with Trump golf courses nearby in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, where the president squired Mr. Abe on Saturday, along with the professional golfer Ernie Els ? will draw increased attention and prominence, with all the potential for additional profit that brings. Mar-a-Lago has doubled its initiation rate for new members, to $200,000.

?We got to know each other very, very well? on the golf course, Mr. Trump told reporters Saturday evening as he stood beside Mr. Abe and their wives on the way to dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Nearby, a line of clubgoers in formal wear maneuvered Bentleys and Rolls-Royces into the driveway as a full moon rose over the palm trees.

The administration said that Mr. Trump was hosting Mr. Abe and his wife as a ?gift? to the Japanese leader and has said that any profits earned from the stays of members of foreign governments at Trump properties during his presidency would be donated to the United States Treasury, to avoid the appearance that he was cashing in on his office.

It may be a frequent arrangement. Mr. Trump, his aides say, believes in getting to know foreign leaders with whom he will be spending time and taking their measure in informal settings outside Washington.

?President Trump is a deal maker, and his coin of the realm is personal relationships and trying to convince people to negotiate a certain way in his favor, so this is what he does,? Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has studied presidential travel, said.

Mr. Trump is not the first president to make use of a personal retreat to engage in informal diplomacy. George W. Bush hosted foreign leaders at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, while Bill Clinton used Camp David, the official presidential retreat near Thurmont, Md., as an informal backdrop for high-stakes diplomacy, including efforts to forge peace in the Middle East. But for Mr. Trump, his retreat is also a for-profit club that benefits his family business, from which he has declined to divest.

?It?s just one more example of using public office for private gain,? Richard W. Painter, a White House counsel to Mr. Bush who is an expert on government ethics, said. ?He?s going to Trump this, Trump that ? it?s clearly designed to raise the value of the brand and send the message to foreign leaders that you ought to patronize Trump properties if you want to get in good with the president.?

On Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to have taken some steps to separate the personal from the political. While Mr. Trump and Mr. Abe shuttled from resort to resort in the armored presidential limousine known as the Beast, the flags that normally flutter on the front and the presidential seals that usually adorn the doors were absent, an indication that these were not official stops.

There were other reminders that the visit was unfolding almost exclusively on Mr. Trump?s own turf. At the Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, journalists traveling with him were admonished not to take pictures or video.

?It?s a private club,? an aide explained.

Continue reading the main story



Sandy Alderson on Cespedes' golf, Wright and all things Mets – New York Post


Before the Mets? pitchers and catchers report Sunday, general manager Sandy Alderson took a swing at some spring training Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: Why should Mets fans be excited about this year?s team?
A: Over the last couple of years, the team has performed at a much higher level, and I think we can do that again. I think that while we haven?t seen a lot of new faces or won?t see a lot of new faces in spring training, other than some young players that we have coming through our system, we?re gonna have players coming back who weren?t able to perform, mostly for health reasons last season, and as a result I think we?ve got the potential to be better than we were last year and comparable to what we were in 2015. We?ve got starting pitchers coming back, we?ve got position players coming back, we?ve got some young players with room to grow. ? I just think the potential is there to be very good.

Q: If your Core Four starting pitchers stay healthy, could this be your best team?
A: Well, it?s a possibility yeah. First of all, we have some very good starting pitching, but we also have some very good depth for the rotation, so we are very optimistic about those four pitchers you mention ? as well as Zack Wheeler and [Robert] Gsellman, [Seth] Lugo pitched well last year ? so looking at our depth going into this season, I?d say that it?s probably better than it was last year, but the frontliners should all be ready to go.

Q: How is Matt Harvey?s health?
A: I haven?t actually seen him throw off a mound, but I?ve seen video, know he?s in excellent shape. ? He?s in good spirits, he?s been working hard and has been throwing. And so from all of those indications, it appears that he?s right on track. I always caution and remind myself that we?ll know a lot more in spring training as Harvey and others progress through their throwing programs. But right now everything looks very good.

Q: How would you characterize the relationship between Harvey and the Mets?
A: I say it?s very positive. He has gone through some health issues that obviously have been some disagreements over how to address those health issues and so forth, but I think that?s largely in the past. I think he?s in a very good frame of mind. We?re very high on him. So I think the relationship ? probably better than people perceived it to be a couple of years ago, and it?s just as good now.

Q: What sense do you get about how hungry he is to recapture his old form?
A: We haven?t discussed it at all, but knowing the competitor that he is, knowing how he enjoys pitching in New York and the feedback that he gets from the fans, I think he?s anxious to get back to that level. There are lots of motivating reasons, but I don?t think there has ever been any doubt about his desire to succeed and perform level.

Noah SyndegaardAnthony J. Causi

Q: What do you like best about Noah Syndegaard?
A: First of all, his phenomenal growth and maturity over the last two, 2??/? years. From the young pitcher that we acquired from Toronto, to the successful major league New York icon (chuckle) that he?s become. It?s just a phenomenal metamorphosis. I really enjoy his personality, his wit and the way he allows himself to enjoy what he?s doing.

Q: At the time you made that trade, what did you envision him to be?
A: With his size and with his velocity, the only question with him at that time was whether he was gonna develop a breaking ball. And I would say since that time, not only has he developed a secondary pitch, but his command is extraordinary as well. He had the size, he had all the potential in the world ? had that amateur pedigree. ? He had all those things going in his favor, and I give a lot of credit to our player development system for growing that potential out of him, and to himself obviously.

Q: What do you like best about Jacob deGrom?
A: He?s overstated in a way, and understated in a way. It?s always positive when fans identify with a player for their performance as well as for something unique about them, their personality. But the other thing I like about Jacob is that his personality is understated. He?s a regular guy, enjoys what he?s doing, he?s a very honest, authentic individual. He?s a great complement to Harvey and Syndergaard and their sort of outsized personalities, and Jacob is just quietly outstanding but also has his own flair.

Q: What enabled him to become a star?
A: It?s velocity, it?s movement on his fastball, it?s command of all of his pitches. He doesn?t have the overwhelming velocity that for example Syndergaard may have, but even when his velocity was down last year, he was still a very effective pitcher. So in a way, that might actually hold him here in good stead going forward knowing full well that he can be successful without necessarily having to top out his fastball at 95, 96.

Q: How high is up for Steven Matz?
A: He has potential to be much better than he has been, and he?s been very good when he?s been healthy.

Q: All four of them have the same mentality in different degrees, don?t they?
A: I?d say very definitely, yeah. I think they?re all aggressive, they all have good mound presence, and they?re not afraid to go after hitters.

Q: What do you envision for Zack Wheeler?
A: We?re not looking to put him in the bullpen, but we also have to be mindful that he hasn?t pitched in two years and that may affect how we can use him, or how many innings he can pitch. I think he wants to be a starter, and certainly understand that, but we?ll make that decision when we get down to spring training.

Q: What tells you that Yoenis Cespedes has the perfect makeup for New York?
A: I think just the way in which he approaches each game. He has a flair that people have come to appreciate. That flair comes with outstanding ability as well. You can tell he?s superconfident, he?s an outstanding athlete ? and a bigger-than-life aspect to his game with his power and his arm. Fans enjoy winning games, but I think that in New York, personalities stand out as well. He hasn?t heretofore communicated all that much, but there?s that quiet, mysterious aura of power and speed and strength, it?s manifested quite often at the plate. People are intrigued by it. Hard to ignore that (chuckle). ? What I?m most [excited] about is that he?s been working out in Port St. Lucie pretty regularly and I think is really motivated to play well and be healthy this year, and that?s a very good sign.

Q: You have no issues with his golfing?
A: No, I really don?t. Last year there was an unfortunate juxtaposition between the golf and the leg injury that didn?t sit well with some fans, and wasn?t looked on favorably by the media. I don?t think there was any real connection between the two.

Q: David Wright?
A: We just have to wait and see. I hate to put any limitations on David, because until we get to spring training, we don?t know exactly what his physical capacity will be. But we have to deal with the uncertainty that exists, and I think we?ve done that by accumulating a number of players, infielders who give us a lot of flexibility, versatility and coverage, not only at third but the other on-field positions as well. I don?t want to really speculate on what Plan B is if David can?t go, but obviously Jose Reyes played well there last year and we expect to play there this year if he had to. But at this point, we?re looking forward to seeing David in spring training and having a healthy David Wright to open the season.

Q: What is the state of your bullpen with Jeurys Familia?s uncertainty ? with a domestic-violence suspension looming?
A: I think what we have now is probably as solid as anything we?ve had to begin any season with since I?ve been with the Mets.

Q: Any concern about Familia overcoming his postseason woes?
A: First of all, he?s a very hard worker, and success it not on any occasion, he handles the pressure really well, so I think that will be the case this year as well. We still have tremendous confidence in Jeurys, and expect he?s gonna have another good season.

Q: How much of a concern is Travis d?Arnaud?
A: I?m not concerned about Travis. Look, we understand that he?s got great potential, he?s been injury-prone, didn?t hit as well last year as he might have. Probably didn?t catch as well as he might have, but he?s been doing a lot of work in the offseason with our new catching instructor/third base coach Glenn Sherlock, and he?s been working with Kevin Long also on the hitting side, so I?ve got a lot of optimism about Travis.

Q: What will you outfield defense be like with Jay Bruce in right field?
A: If Bruce is in right and [Curtis] Granderson and [Juan] Lagares in center, Cespedes in left ? Cespedes is an excellent left fielder, Granderson did a nice job for us in center last year, Lagares is excellent, and Jay Bruce I would say he?s league average at least. He?s got a good arm and he makes the routine plays. He?s not gonna save 100 runs for us out there, but we?re not unhappy with our outfield defense.

Q: Where would this leave Michael Conforto?
A: Well, that?s something we?d have to work out in spring training. I don?t think that Michael is the kind of player that we want to be sitting on the bench.

Q: But you still believe in Conforto, correct?
A: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Q: How is Lucas Duda?s health?
A: Right now everything?s definitely a go. Opening of spring training he should be 100 percent and getting ready for spring training on a normal routine.

Q: How close is prospect Dominic Smith?
A: I would expect right now that he?ll end up in Las Vegas and start the year. Had a very good season in Double-A, big defensive first baseman, starting to show some power, always had a very good approach to the plate. He?s gonna be a very good player. He?s not that far away.

Q: What is the state of your farm system?
A: I think our farm system?s in very good shape. We?ve got a number of position players that are on the cusp of the major leagues ? you mentioned Smith, we?ve got Ahmed Rosario, we?ve seen of them briefly last year, Brandon Nimmo, [Gavin] Cecchini, T.J. Rivera. ? We?ve got a number of very good players at the top end who give us the kind of depth that we didn?t have the first couple of years that I was here. But also we?ve got some pitching depth. And we?ve got some very good players at the younger end too we?re very excited about. I think our system?s in good shape.

Q: Why is Terry Collins still the right manager for this team?
A: We had some success in 2015, and in spite of injuries last year we made a big run at the end of the season and ended up in a wild-card spot, so players continue to respond to him, so if that continues to happen, he continues to happen, he continues to be the right guy.

Mets manager Terry CollinsGetty Images

Q: Describe the NL East.
A: More competitive than last year. Philadelphia?s getting better, Atlanta?s getting better, the Nationals will still be very good, and Miami was very good last year, and suffered that terrible tragedy losing Jose Fernandez, and from their standpoint, hopefully that will not be a hangover from that loss.

Q: The Nationals would be the team to beat, right?
A: I?m sure they think they are (laugh).

Q: What do you think?
A: They?re a very good team. They should be deemed favorably, yeah.

Q: Other than health, where does this team need to step up to reach the next level?
A: I think the key thing for us is offensively scoring more runs, which really means getting on base more frequently, and with having more traffic on the bases. We hit a lot of home runs last year, but we need to do all the other things that contribute to run production, and I do think we have the potential to do that.

Q: How much longer do you want to do this?
A: That?s a good question, but the foreseeable future, so what does that mean? I don?t know. Right now I?m healthy, and still energized by the job. So no plans on retiring, or voluntarily anyway (laugh). I don?t expect to be doing it for another 20 years, but other than that, I don?t really set any limitations.

Q: Your working relationship with the Wilpons, and how has it changed from when you first took the job?
A: Well I think, not surprisingly, after six years or so, the relationship is better and stronger than it was the outset, only because I think I know Jeff and Fred and Saul [Katz] better and they know me better, and through common experiences, the relationship has gotten stronger. We went through a dry period, we had some success recently, and I think certainly I?ve learned from both of those sets of experiences.

Q: Is it heartening to you that the Mets are no longer viewed from the outside as a small-market team?
A: To the extent that that perception has changed, that?s a credit to the Wilpons and Saul Katz. I think they realized that we were gonna have to go through a dry period at the major league level at least to get back to where we wanted to be, and at the same time, they were prepared to invest in the team when the time was right. I think they?ve demonstrated that.

Q: Was it frustrating for you during that dry period when the payroll was less than $100 million?
A: No, because we needed to focus on talent acquisition at the lower levels and increasing our payroll flexibility during that time, and when those things were accomplished, we would have the opportunity to improve. No I wasn?t frustrated by it at all.

Q: What have you observed about Bill Belichick and the way he runs that Patriots organization?
A: A lot of it has to do with Tom Brady, but a lot of it has to do too with the organization and the system and the processes that that team has put in place to maintain their continuity and also be able to replenish their player roster over that long period of time. They have a plan, and they execute it, and are not afraid to stick with it, and you really have to hand it to them.

Q: Who are leaders in other sports or outside the realm of sports you admire?
A: Geno Auriemma [UConn women?s basketball coach]. An incredible string of success, but it?s not predicated on doing one thing right and then living off of that for the next few years. It?s a matter of doing things well over and over again, and facing challenges from year to year. ? One guy was a company commander of mine [in Vietnam], in the early ?70s, his name was Jim Jones. He later became commander of NATO and actually served as the National Security Advisor for Barack Obama for a short period of time.

Q: If all goes well and your starters all remain healthy, do you think you can challenge the 3 million attendance mark?
A: Yeah, I think that?s possible.

Lady Gaga performs during the Super Bowl halftime show.WireImage

Q: Thoughts on Lady Gaga?s Super Bowl halftime performance?
A: I really enjoyed it. It was theatrical, it was physical and athletic, and it was I think pointedly patriotic and not controversial, which, in its own way, made it controversial (laugh). So I think she hit just the right note, because it kept the topics for the day top of mind, but didn?t hit you over the head with ?em in a way. And I?m looking forward to seeing her when she comes to Citi Field [Aug. 28].

Q: What would it mean to you to bring a championship to New York?
A: It would be gratifying for all of us in the organization, especially to be able to do it here in New York City largely because I know how much it would mean to Mets fans here in New York, ?cause I know how much they cherish their memories of 1986, and in some cases 1969. It would be great to make that a trifecta.

Q: Did it take you a little while to get over the sting of losing the 2015 World Series?
A: I don?t think one ever gets over the sting of losing a World Series (chuckle). I lost a couple in the 1980s, and I?m still not over that. I certainly have never acquiesced in the notion that Kansas City is a better team. They played better than we did during that period of time when it was critical, but we had our chances, and it could have gone the other way. But it didn?t.