Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley delivers annual press conference

Masters Report
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Transcript below:

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for joining us.

My name is Fred Ridley and I have the honor of serving as Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. With me today, are two good friends, and two of my fellow members. To my left is Craig Heatley, who you all know well who chairs our Media Committee and to my right is Jim Hyler, who serves as Chairman of the Competition committees.

On our behalf, and on behalf of our entire membership, we want to welcome you, as well as our loyal patrons and golf fans watching around the world to the 83rd Masters Tournament.

Like everyone who loves this great game, we are excited to see what may unfold this week as golf’s best players assemble for our annual springtime tradition. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that two of our friends are sadly missing.

Last May, we lost our 1957 Masters champion, Doug Ford. Doug loved the Masters, he came back to Augusta each year as a proud champion. Last evening was the annual gathering of Masters champions and old friends. That occasion is not quite the same when someone is missing, and that indeed was the case last night. All who were lucky to call Doug a friend agree. His legacy will always be honored here at Augusta National.

More recently, we were saddened by the passing of the great Dan Jenkins.

We were fortunate Dan made the Masters his destination, his priority, for the past 68 years. During that time, he blessed us with his masterful prose and his quick wit, which flowed from the printed page into countless conversations and friendships he made here at Augusta National.

So this week, we celebrate Dan Jenkins and all he meant to the Masters Tournament for so many years. Covering the Masters was only part of the reason Dan loved Augusta. More importantly, was the bond he shared with all of you, his closest friends, with whom he would reunite every April without interruption, without fail.

Dan will be remembered for the words he wrote, the stories he told, and the people whose lives he touched.

Eighty-five years ago, the Augusta National Invitation Tournament was held as a gathering of friends, conceived by our co-founders, Clifford Roberts and Bobby Jones. From that beginning, the Masters quickly became a competition that defined greatness in this sport, and come Sunday, just as it has been since 1934, someone’s life will be forever changed.

For this latest edition, we welcome a field of 87 players from 22 different countries, six of whom are amateurs, and 17 first-time invitees. They will encounter a golf course that has been magnificently prepared, although Mother Nature has provided a few challenges during our preparations this year.

The first came earlier in the season during our overseed period when we saw four times the amount of normal rainfall. To say that growing conditions were a challenge would definitely be an understatement. And given the recent rainfall, the course will not play as firm and as fast as we would like it.

Nevertheless, thanks to the excellent work of our golf course and nursery teams, we are ready to provide a proper test for the best players in the world.

As has been reported, last summer, the fifth tee was moved back and shifted away from the fourth green. In doing so, the fairway landing area was regraded and the bunkers were repositioned. While this hole now measures 40 yards longer, we believe this change maintains the original design philosophy of Bobby Jones and Alister MacKenzie, and not only continues our commitment to keep the course in step with the changing state of the game, but we believe it will have a positive impact on pace of play.

As part of this renovation, we took the opportunity to rebuild and slightly enlarge the fifth green. In doing so, we were able to make adjustments to the back left portion of the putting green in order to support new hole locations.

But an exciting byproduct of this instruction is the improvements to our patron experience. For the first time, we will route patrons down the right side of the fourth hole, as well as behind the green, providing an attractive vantage point for this challenging par 3.

The new tee at No. 5 also provides for additional viewing areas, so we feel these holes have been much improved from a patron perspective.

It should come as no surprise to any of you that we continue to study other enhancements to the golf course. That includes much-talked-about changes, potential changes, to the 13th hole.

Admittedly, that hole does not play as it was intended to play by Jones and MacKenzie. The momentous decision that I’ve spoken about and that Bobby Jones often spoke about, of going for the green in two, is to a large extent, no longer relevant.

Although we now have options to increase the length of this hole, we intend to wait to see how distance may be addressed by the governing bodies before we take any action. In doing so, we fully recognize that the issue of distance presents difficult questions with no easy answers. But please know this: The USGA and The R&A do have the best interests of the game at heart. They recognize the importance of their future actions. You can be assured that we will continue to advocate for industry-wide collaboration in support of the governing bodies as they resolve this very important topic.

As we state every year, we’re bound to a tradition of constant improvement. We maintain Mr. Roberts’ philosophy that nothing stands still. We have committed to always move forward and we always will strive to do it in a manner that serves the competitors in the Masters, our patrons, consumers of our content, and the game of golf as a whole.

With the much-appreciated support of the City of Augusta and the State of Georgia, this summer we will begin a multi-year development of a portion of our property north of Washington Road. Site work already is underway, and in a matter of weeks, we will commence construction of a tunnel connecting an area near Gate 1 to new development on the north side of the road. This project is the first of its kind in the State of Georgia. Thanks to modern engineering, we will be able to excavate under Washington Road without any impact to the flow of traffic above.

The result of this project will be a pathway that will lead us into the future as we expand various tournament services, including initially a state-of-the-art television and digital compound.

This project will become our Global Broadcast Village. It will greatly improve the environment and services for those who, along with you, help tell the story of the Masters. And through our ability to adapt and expand this facility, it will serve us well as we deliver quality content to our fans anywhere, any time.

In that vein, this week we are very excited to unveil a new feature on all Masters digital platforms. For the first time ever in golf, we will capture virtually every shot of every player during every competitive round. This extensive library of content will be available on our web site and apps through the leaderboard and track features. Within minutes of every shot, this added content will now allow our fans online to follow their favorite players from their drive off the first tee to their final putt on the 18th green.

I would also like to highlight the continuing work being done by the Masters Tournament to contribute to the development of the game. Since we saw you last, we celebrated ten years of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and five years of the Latin America Amateur Championship. Last Sunday, we held the sixth Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. We believe all three of these collaborative efforts are achieving their stated goal: To inspire a new generation of golfers who will make this sport their passion for a lifetime.

As you know, just this past week, our latest grow-the-game effort, the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur brought 72 of the women’s top amateur golfers together here in Augusta.

Thanks to our valuable partners, and with the enthusiastic support of our membership and our exceptional staff, we believe we have created a platform that not only will increase interest in this important segment of our sport, but in a larger sense, will shine a bright light on the amazing accomplishments of women everywhere.

I want to congratulate Jennifer Kupcho on her well-earned victory and thank all of the competitors for their participation.

I also invite each and every person who loves this sport to introduce women of all ages to the game, a relative, a friend, a colleague at work; let’s share the values of this game and the opportunities golf presents. Our hope and our ambition is very simple: To make a difference, and we believe the Augusta National Women’s Amateur is a good start.

Before I close, I would like to acknowledge one of your own among us this morning, Mr. Jerry Tarde. Jerry is the long-time editor-in-chief of Golf Digest, and his 40 years of covering the Masters will be recognized tonight when he receives the Masters Major Achievement Award. Jerry, we offer our sincere congratulations and we thank you for the way you’ve covered the Masters for the last four decades. Thank you very much. (Applause).

With that, I would like to thank you again for all being here. I’m happy to take a few of your questions. Craig?

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Questions?

Q. Chairman Ridley, when I watch other tournaments on television, I notice lots of cell phones, I notice lots of yelling. Will you please talk about the decorum in place at Augusta National that sets the Masters apart?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Thank you. I think that’s something that does set us apart. I think our patrons appreciate our cell phone policy. I know that we have now become an outlier, if not the only outlier in golf, as well, at allowing cell phones.

But I think it’s part of the ambience of the Masters. I read Rory’s interview yesterday, Rory McIlroy, and he made some very insightful comments about that. He said it was really nice to be out there on the golf course and not seeing everyone with — looking down at their hand with their cell phone.

I don’t believe that’s a policy that anyone should expect is going to change in the near future, if ever. I can’t speak for future chairmen, but speaking for myself, I think we got that right.

Q. What about the loud yelling you hear other places? It doesn’t happen here.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: We encourage our patrons to exhibit proper decorum. It’s right on the pairing sheet. There’s a great quote from Bobby Jones about that, and the importance of good behavior and how distressing it is for someone to applaud a bad shot, which you do hear from time to time at other places.

There’s something about Augusta National when someone walks through the gates, they know that it’s a place of respect, of beauty, and honoring traditions and values of the game. So it’s something I don’t think, and I certainly hope, never changes.

Q. With regards to the 13th hole, the easy answer has seemed to always be, move the tee back. A couple of questions. Have there been any discussions about possibly just moving the tee to the left, opening up that right side of the fairway, and making that second shot a little longer; and, how hesitant are you about making changes to Amen Corner?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, I think the answer to your first question about moving the tee to the left, I mean, we’ve looked at a number of options, not only for that hole but for a lot of holes, and we’ll continue to do that.

I mean, my personal feeling, which I stated, is there has been a comprehensive undertaking by the USGA and The R&A, not only with respect to rules changes, but with respect to distance. There’s been a two-year study that has recently concluded, and I think everyone involved now is sort of going through the process of thinking about, you know, what are the options.

And as I stated, while there’s no hesitation on my part or historically on the part of Augusta National to make changes that are necessary, that’s been observed through the years. Amen Corner is a sacred place in the world of golf. I am hesitant to move too quickly in that regard.

My preference, as I stated, would be to see what happens, what the governing bodies decide is best for the game, and then we will take appropriate action in response to that.

Q. You’re 20 years into the second cut. I want to know what you think the overarching effect that’s had on tournament play. And the other thing is, the club made the choice to start installing a fair number of trees at a time when hundreds of clubs across the country were removing a lot of trees, a lot of them for agronomic concerns and issues, and how much evaluation is the club doing about maybe removing some trees?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: You’re right. Many clubs around the country and the world are removing trees. That is primarily, as you stated, for agronomic reasons, and I’d like to think that, agronomically, we’re about as nice as any place in the world.

The towering pines of Augusta National have been part of our history, and many of these pines are now what we call third or fourth generation pines, and they are — while they are beautiful — they are nearing the end of their expected life.

So what we are doing is really just a reforestation program to make sure that we have trees that are there to replace those that are nearing the end of their life, and of course we did suffer some damages, as everybody knows, in the ice storm a few years ago.

There have been a couple of occasions where trees have been planted for strategic reasons, and we’ll continue to look at that. But we will also look at removing trees if we think that’s in the best interests of the strategy of the golf course.

I think the Georgia pines are part of our history, and they are not going to go anywhere.

Q. And your thought on the second cut, 20 years in.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Of course, when I played here as an amateur, there was no second cut, but for the most part of our history, there has been a second cut and it was not new to the club and the course when it was put in 20 years ago.

I think that’s an element for debate. I think the conventional wisdom is that it does add a bit of uncertainty, particularly when you think about how players are hitting shots into greens that usually are very firm, and so it adds just a little bit of uncertainty, takes a little bit of spin off the ball.

So I do think it adds some element of difficulty, and I think it has served its purpose.

Q. Can you talk about the growing footprint of Augusta National in the immediate area and the possibility of an exit off Interstate 20 to your parking lots?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Richard, we have tried to take appropriate action to try to make sure we are continually meeting the growing demands of putting on the biggest golf event in the world.

We have expanded our footprint for a number of really good reasons, one of them is the building that we are sitting in today. We also were able to create, years ago, under Hootie Johnson’s chairmanship, a world-class practice facility for the competitors by moving 4,000 automobiles out of the area and that obviously takes a lot of space to do that.

We are continually looking out — not just what do we need next year or five years from now, but what’s the Masters going to look like 20 years from now or 50 years from now, and so we’ll always look at options.

As far as the dedicated exit, don’t know a lot about that. I know it’s in discussion, and certainly would be a great benefit for the Tournament, but I’m sure it’s something that will continue to be discussed.

Q. Mr. Chairman, were you surprised by the success of the first Women’s Amateur and what may be next in the club’s efforts to grow the game?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: You know, when you plan something like that, it’s hard to really predict what’s going to happen.

On paper, I felt that we knew what was going to happen. I mean, it was scheduled; our staff, working with our partner, Champions Retreat, and our sponsors, and everyone involved, did a masterful job executing on our plan.

What I’m not sure I fully anticipated was the emotional response, which was something that I’m still really glowing about; and that is that, of everybody involved, certainly of the players, who had an opportunity to compete on a stage unlike any they had ever competed on; but beyond that, and certainly their families and their friends and everyone involved with the players; but beyond that, I think I was really heartened by our staff and the way that our staff really was motivated and inspired by this effort. I think it made us a better organization.

I’m also very proud to hear so many members who have come up to me and say how proud they are, and to say that they have never been prouder to be a member of Augusta National.

So it’s those emotional, those subjective elements, that I’m not sure I fully anticipated, but it’s been something that we’ve been very pleased about. It was an exciting celebration, exciting golf, elite athletes showing what they can do. It was a Sunday-like, a Masters-like Sunday, even though it was on Saturday, but it certainly had that feel.

As to what we might do next, I’m still thinking about last Saturday, so I’ll start thinking about that next week.

Q. As far as the planning process for the Women’s Amateur, how long was the idea floating around before the decision to have the tournament, and also, can you take me through the decision to have an amateur tournament, rather than a tournament for maybe professionals? What went through that decision?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: The first part of the question, how long was the idea floating around, we usually don’t float ideas around for very long (laughter). We don’t float ideas to begin with.

But seriously, I understand your question. I want to say that I think certainly the idea of using the assets we’ve been blessed with to promote the game of golf has been something that’s been part of the history of Augusta National since before it began.

For many years, the Masters Tournament was really the way we did that, and then 10 years ago, 12 years ago, under Billy Payne’s leadership, we branched out. We transformed the Par 3 Contest into something that became a family day, a fun, family day that was televised for the first time a dozen years ago. We extended that with our international tournaments, trying to create young heroes that could go back to their home countries and be role models, then the Drive, Chip and Putt.

Really what we were doing was an extension of that. The first week I arrived here as chairman in October of 2017, I raised the issue with Will Jones, our Executive Director, I told him I thought it was time we did something for women’s golf and I thought if we really meant what we said, that we should do it here at Augusta National. I also said that I think we should announce it at the Masters Tournament, which we did last year.

I can’t remember the second part of your question.

Q. About the decision to have an amateur event, rather than maybe an event for professionals.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I think part of that kind of goes back to history, and that is that Augusta National was founded, co-founded by the greatest amateur of all time. To date, all of our grow-the-game initiatives have been focused on amateur golf and amateur golfers.

In this particular case, we elected to conduct a women’s amateur tournament for really that same reason, but we really wanted this to continue in a grow-the-game sort of mode. But having said that, I do think that what has happened is going to translate and be a real benefit for professional golf and for the LPGA.

The LPGA is clearly the strongest women’s sports organization in the world. They now have a group of women, two in particular, who were spotlighted for three hours on Saturday, who will be joining the LPGA Tour after the collegiate season. They both qualified, Jennifer and Maria Fassi, both qualified for the LPGA Tour. They are going to come out with a lot of fanfare and a lot of attention. They were in New York on Monday, as most of you know, on The Today Show, and Jimmy Fallon. I heard reports they were walking the streets of New York and people recognized and walked up to them. I have to think that that’s going to be good for women’s golf in general and I think they are going to be well received by the LPGA and are going to get off to a great start in their careers there.

Q. Has there been an effort to get badges off the secondary market or maybe limit that?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: As you know, our credentials are very reasonably priced.

Secondary markets are an issue in every sporting event and we are no exception. There’s sort of an element that comes with that, that it just doesn’t seem very healthy, and so when we are aware of it, when we know about it, we take action.

I mean, there are certain laws regarding scalping in Georgia that have to be adhered to. It’s not something we really like, but to some extent it’s inevitable in sports, but we do try to be diligent in enforcing our ticket policy.

Q. Are you worried that a bigger chunk of the tickets are not being, or the badges are not being used in the correct manner; that it’s kind of getting worse instead of better, maybe?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I think any comment I might make would be anecdotal. We certainly don’t have any evidence of that. I mean, the Masters ticket is a very, very valuable commodity in sports. We know there’s going to be a lot of that. We’d like to think that most of our patrons respect our ticket policy, but we know that some don’t.

Q. I think this might be a Masters record of positive conversation about women in the game of golf and that’s wonderful. As you said, Saturday was terrific, and your call to introduce women to the game is certainly notable.

But as you know, for decades, there was a stop sign, basically, a symbolic stop sign that was put out by restrictive clubs saying women were not members, did not necessarily send a positive message to women and girls to play the game.

So I’m wondering, in hindsight, was it a mistake to be so restrictive for so long?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, you know, Christine, I think that everyone, no matter what the issue is, you know, we can always look back and say we could do better. No question.

But what my focus is, is on the future and where we are now and where we want to go. I don’t think it’s particularly — well, it is instructive. It’s always instructive to look at the past. We learn from the past.

But what I think is most productive is to look at where we are today, realize that throughout the history of this club, we have promoted the game, and we have now identified a really important segment, the fastest-growing segment of the game; that we can help make a difference. We can’t do it all by ourselves, but we can help make a difference.

So I’m just so excited by what happened last week, and we’re so enthusiastic about the potential for this event and for what we can do working with others to promote women’s golf that I’m not focused too much on the past right now. I’m really looking ahead.

I don’t know if you had an opportunity — you probably did, to see some of the promotional ads from our sponsors. I have to tell you, they were terrific, and they went well beyond golf. They used golf as a theme and as a medium, but they really showed what women are doing in the world right now. I’m proud of that.

Q. The flagstick issue, it became more of a talking point in the pro game maybe than was expected when the new rule came aboard. First of all, do you, yourself, putt with the flagstick in, are you okay with it happening here at the Masters, and did you guys have any input into that new rule?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I’m not sure what I do makes a lot of difference. I do putt with it in every once in a while. I think I’m seeing more and more people do that, and including on the Tour. Certainly for longer putts, it seems to make sense.

I think if you go back in time, there was a day when the flagstick was left in. There was a day when you couldn’t move your opponent’s ball on the putting green; they played stymied. So there’s been a lot of changes through the years.

So I mean personally, I don’t have a problem with the rule, but I know one of the motivations was to improve pace of play and hopefully it’s doing that.

As far as whether we would have any consideration of not following that rule, no, there would not have been any consideration. We are aligned with the governing bodies on following the rules, and we certainly are free to have input, and our comments would have been respected.

But I can’t say that we really had any influence on what the governing bodies did. I mean, we partner with them in a lot of things, but we believe that they are best suited to promulgate and implement the Rules of Golf.

Q. There’s been some back-channel talk among players and caddies about a possible new pin placement back right at 18. What can you tell us about that?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Okay. Thanks, Tim. The 18th green was a green we rebuilt this summer, and we captured, or recaptured some areas on the back part of the green that had been lost to encroachment, which is really a natural process in all golf greens over time. So there is a larger area, both on the back left and the back right.

The back right I think is going to give us an opportunity for a really good hole location. There’s plenty of room back there, but it kind of looks like it’s almost tucked, almost in the bunker, when you’re in the fairway.

I mean, the thinking there, really, was just really to try to reestablish what was there before that we had lost over the years. I’ve heard some good comments. I was at the Champions Dinner last night, and everybody seemed to think it was a good change.

Q. This is in regard to what Bob also said, we’re three months into a lot of new rule changes and there’s been a transitional period; do you feel like players have settled down and understand the rules, are they comfortable with it, and do you anticipate any problems this week?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: The rules process was I think a collaborative one. There was lots of opportunity from all stakeholders for an input. It was a fairly lengthy process, but it was also, I believe, the first major rules sort of overhaul, if you will, in about 30-plus years.

So with that type of backdrop, I think it’s natural that there’s going to be some adjustment period to it. There have been some fits and starts admittedly, but I think there has been good communication. I think Jay Monahan had some very instructive comments at his press conference at THE PLAYERS Championship, and I do think things are settling down now. I know the governing bodies have reacted to a couple specific situations and are considering — and I think in some cases have proposed some modifications. You might want to comment on that.

JIM HYLER: New rules, massive change, it is a period of adjustment there. There was a lot of chatter about some of the rules, the USGA and R&A have looked at some of these issues, and even last night issued a new model local rule around damaged clubs.

So they are going through a period of adjustment and reacting to comments and will continue to do so.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the digital project you have with the tracking feature. You’re talking about showing shots from every player of every round the entire tournament. Could I ask why you’re doing it?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Why we’re doing it? The reason we’re doing it is because we have always subscribed to the notion that we want to provide content to our fans in the way they want to receive it.

You know, the world is migrating more and more towards digital technology. It was something that we thought, and that we were hearing, that our fans wanted, and with a lot of great work of our Digital Technology Committee and our staff, we were able to develop this.

It’s been two or three years in developing. We had it in a beta test mode previously, but now I feel like that we can actually execute on this. So we just thought it was something that people wanted and which supplemented our other forms of providing coverage of the tournament.

Q. What made me think of it, your broadcast schedule has always been the smallest window of all the majors. There’s always been a feel of just giving them enough to keep them coming back. Was there any discussion about giving fans too much?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I think there’s always that discussion. I think it’s a balance of — what really drives us is quality. We could have come out with this a year or so ago, but we weren’t ready.

So I think quantity is important, but that is not what is going to drive our decisions. We’re not going to sacrifice quality, but we thought this was a great supplement to our traditional means of providing coverage.

Q. Mr. Chairman, since design and integrity of this golf course is so important to you, and you mentioned earlier about waiting for the USGA and The R&A and the reporting in regards to distance, could you foresee a situation where you might do something other than lengthening the golf course in order to rein in distance on this course?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Something other than lengthening it?

Q. Yes. Something like a ball of some type.

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: Well, let me answer that question a couple of ways.

One, I’ll just address the ball, the ball issue. That’s been a topic for a long time. I think it’s very unlikely that we would ever produce a Masters ball. There are a whole lot of reasons for that, but I think you can be pretty assured that that’s the case.

As it relates to other things we might do, I mean, there are numerous architectural enhancements, if you will, that have been made to the Augusta National course over the years and there are a lot of options we have for making the course more difficult that don’t necessarily translate into distance or to lengthening the course.

But we have to face the reality that quite a few of these players hit the ball prodigious distances, and we do have to deal with that.

So we’re fortunate that we have the opportunity; if we do need to lengthen the course, in most places we can do it. But there are certainly other ways that we can challenge the best players in the world, and that’s something I’m going to be looking at.

Q. Given your thoughts on the positive impact of the Women’s Amateur and also your stated desire to focus on the future, can you see a day in the not-to-distant future where this club hosts a professional women’s event involving the best players in the world, and if not, why not?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I think as I mentioned before, our focus throughout our history has been on, as far as our efforts to promote the game outside of the Masters, have always been on amateur golf.

I think what we would like to do, and hopefully will achieve, is doing things that will benefit professional golf, benefit professional women’s golf, and all of golf. But by promoting women amateurs, the future stars of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, we’d like to think that that is something that’s going to benefit them, as well, and I think that the LPGA would agree. So that’s the track we are going to continue to take.

Q. Wouldn’t the greatest benefit be highlighting the best female players in the world, as you do on the men’s side? Wouldn’t that have the greatest impact on the women’s game?

CHAIRMAN FRED S. RIDLEY: I guess that’s a matter of opinion, but again, we’re really looking to the future. We also have to be respectful of the Masters Tournament, which is one of the reasons why we had a partner that put this championship on with us, Champions Retreat.

We were trying to balance providing the women competitors with the opportunity to be at Augusta National, to have a championship decided at Augusta National, but yet be cognizant of the fact that we were just a few days away from the Masters Tournament.

So if you sort of put it in context with the Masters being the epicenter of our competitive tournament administration efforts, we do have some limitations as to what we could do and we try to balance that in deciding how we can best deploy our resources for the good of the game, and in this case, the women’s game. I think that’s the approach we are going to continue to take.

Thank you, everyone.

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