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June 14, 2005

Phil Mickelson


RAND JERRIS: Pleasure to welcome Phil Mickelson to the interview area this afternoon. Phil is the 1990 United States Amateur Champion. He's playing in his 15th U.S. Open this week. He has had three 2nd place finishes at the Open in the past, including 1999.

Maybe you could start us off with just some general recollections of '99 and specific memories of those final few holes.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, '99 was a very emotional week, and it's something that I relive or recount, not just losing to Payne, but my last memories of Payne took place that week as well as the Ryder Cup shortly thereafter and the birth of my first child came the day after the event ended. So it's a very special place for me here and it's fun to get back.

Q. Tiger just talked about how he likes to take the week before a major off so he can work at home and have a free schedule. You like to play your way in. Why do you do that, or is it just a matter of personal preference?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it is a matter of personal preference. I've found that when I first came out on Tour I thought that that was the way to do it. I had a conversation with Jack Nicklaus who liked to take the week before off and get ready, and I tried it a bunch of times, but it just didn't work that well for me. I found that play the week before I was in a better frame of mind competitively, fresh and sharp, and when Thursday comes around I've only had three days of competitive golf off as opposed to 10 or 11, so that seems to get me a little more focused on the round at hand.

Q. Sort of a twofold questions for you. Try and articulate what makes this course so special and different and being given those shot options around the greens, do you think that plays into a strength for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think the reason this golf course is so well liked amongst the players as well as the USGA and why it's so well received is that it tests every aspect of a player's game. It stresses the short game. In normal U.S. Open conditions short game is not stressed as much; there's a lot of luck involved in if the ball will get close or not on greens you missed, whereas this week it seems to bring out a player's skill.

That being said, with the grass around the greens because the grass is so tight, there's a lot of sand in those areas and the grain of the grass is always going away from the green or into the player, it makes for the shot to be much more difficult than if it were the other way.

Q. How does this course compare in condition to '99, and when you've played here before did you see anything on No. 2 that you hadn't seen back in '99?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the course today on Tuesday is very similar to how the course was early in the week in '99. It's very hard, very fast. The greens were very firm, and when I came here a week ago, the changes I saw from '99 were maybe a few tee boxes that were back a little further. But we were hitting a lot of the same iron shots into the greens this year as we did six years ago. So it's playing very similar to '99.

I think the winning score will be much higher than it was in '99 because we got rain, and we're not expected to get any rain this week, and if it dries out and plays anywhere near close to what it did today, quite a bit over par would be the score I would anticipate winning.

Q. You talked about the memories of '99. I know you talk about this in a television interview repeatedly about how you tried to get some of that emotion out a couple weeks ago, but how do you not think about your daughter being born and three children and all the things that happened with your life and Payne. When you're out there I know you're only focused on playing, but that never enters your mind?

PHIL MICKELSON: I try when I get on the course to think about just the shot at hand or the round, but certainly when I arrived here and I saw the statue of Payne and when I drove by the house that I stayed at, a lot of memories came back. Having my kids come into town this week is going to be something that I'm going to enjoy because we tell the story to our daughter Amanda about her birth and how it all took place and the story about it, and it'll be fun for her to be at the place that we've been talking about all these years.

Q. You talked about the short game and the emphasis on the short game all this week. Back in 1988, Paul Azinger used his putter quite a lot off the greens and he won the championship. Do you see that as a possibility for you this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's a very real possibility that we will see and very probable that we will see a lot of people putting the ball from off the greens, as tight as the grass is. But for me personally, I would prefer to chip. I chipped well in '99, and I anticipate me trying to chip this week, too.

Q. Does the course set up for U.S. Open favor the Europeans or hurt them? How do you feel about this?

PHIL MICKELSON: When I think about players I don't dissect them into American players, non American players, European players. I just don't look at it like that, so that would be a tough one for me to answer. I think that it sets up very fair for everybody.

Q. As we mentioned, it's hard not to come back here and think of Payne, the ceremony later today. Explain a little bit about your reflections on coming back in here to Pinehurst and all that surrounds six years ago and Payne Stewart?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's a very emotional place. It has a lot of sadness for me in that a lot of my memories of Payne took place here, a lot of the things I remember that were so great about Payne took place here. The competition between he and I, losing, the U.S. Open was a great championship, by a shot.

But it also has a lot of joy for me in that my wife and I shared something very special, not only the day after the event ended but throughout the whole week, we were talking on the phone, talking about how she was feeling, talking about Amanda kicking and the things she was doing. It has a lot of mixed emotions for me.

Q. Tiger was talking about how it seems like there aren't maybe as many options around the greens as he was expecting because of the way the grass is and the sod. Has that changed around the greens? Are there fewer options and is there anything you have to approach differently around the greens than you did in '99?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think the options have diminished necessarily. I think that it's very difficult to execute the shots on the lies that we're getting around the greens in that the grass is so closely mown and the grain of the grass is growing in that it's very easy for clubs to come just slightly behind the ball, the grass grabs it and stops it and you see guys flub it. In an effort to not flub the chip they catch it thin and chip it too far. That's what's so tough about chipping and I think we'll see a lot of guys putting, but there's still a lot of options.

Q. With the conditions the way they are, especially around the greens, I would imagine play would be pretty slow, especially the first two days. How much of a mental test is that, going through slow rounds at the Open. Secondly, how do you handle a player who's playing slow that's with you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't anticipate the rounds being very fast, and typically the first two rounds of a major they are going to be a little bit slower until we get the cut. Because of that, you just try to get into a slow pace. You try not to rush. Your fellow players, there's no need to rush. We just kind of take our time because typically we have to wait. It's not hard to adjust to it because you expect it coming in.

Q. You said that you have your memories of coming back here from '99, and you said there were a number of memories about Payne Stewart. Anything that you'd care to share with us?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, obviously talking about fatherhood after he had just won is very special, but being able to play the final round with him, recounting a lot of shots, certainly the putt he made on 16 was an amazing putt. Some of the shots that he hit, the way we went back and forth and the lead exchanged, just a lot of cool things took place that final round to make it exciting, and he did it in a very classy way.

Q. We talked about major championship pressure. Heading into and leaving a U.S. Open, your state of mind, state of emotions, is it any different playing a U.S. Open as opposed to any of the other majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: Typically the major championships feel the same as far as intensity and pressure. The difference about the U.S. Open is the rough off the tee is usually the toughest of the four majors, and because of that it causes a little bit more anxiety or concern in between rounds about whether or not you'll drive it in the fairway and be able to recover or what have you. But other than that, it's pretty similar to the other majors.

Q. What players do you see as contenders, and secondly, what are the key factors and who will separate themselves from the field in terms of driving accuracy, greens in regulation, putting, that kind of thing?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think there's a lot of players that can win here, and it's tough to name them, but I certainly think that the top players in the world, in the World Ranking, I expect them to play well. I think that driving accuracy will be very important, but I don't feel it's the most important element in winning this championship.

I feel like the driver is a key club because, yes, you want to be in the fairway, but you need to hit driver because if you do miss the fairways, you've got it get it far enough down where you can wedge out close or maybe get a 9 iron on it and get it close enough to the green where you can have a reasonable chance at par.

So I think that distance will actually be an element here at Pinehurst, even though the rough is tough and you've got to put it in play, I think it's important to get the ball far enough down where if you do hit it in the rough you can get it close to the green and make par.

Q. I'm wondering if you could take us through a little bit of your preparation over the past few days and over the next couple of days. Are you playing here, are you playing elsewhere, just a little bit about your routine leading up to Thursday?

PHIL MICKELSON: I played last week in Washington, D.C., and the Friday, Saturday, Sunday before the event I came here to Pinehurst with Dave Pelz and Rick Smith and we went over the golf course and kind of our game plan as to how we wanted to attack it. It's amazing how in the last seven to ten days the course has evolved in maturity in such a short time period. The rough has grown up immensely. There were a few spotty areas where I thought the rough wouldn't be bad. Those have grown so much that they've already been cut and they're at the three or three and a half inch level where they want to them to be at. It's very difficult now.

Around the greens have gotten a lot better than they were seven or ten days ago. There was a lot of sand on the grass and it gave the potential for the ball to be very heavy very easily, but it seems to be much better than it was just a week ago.

Q. Given what happened last year at Shinnecock, what are the greens like now and what do you expect them to be like Sunday especially if the weather stays warm and dry?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, right now they're very firm and fast just like they were say Thursday and Friday of Shinnecock, but as soon as they dried them out overnight they became what we saw over the weekend, and I feel as though without rain, and it doesn't look like we're going to get any, we have potential for 18 holes that could be like No. 7 at Shinnecock, very conceivable.

Q. Two parts, one, if I'm not mistaken, one, you've figured that your first major would be a Masters, but you've come so close at the Opens obviously last year and '99, do you think it's your time to win an Open now since you've been knocking on the door so much? And how much has this new preparation thing that you started last year with Dave and Rick elevated your confidence level coming into majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the new preparation has really helped out in that I approach or come to the golf course much more confident, and I have a distinct game plan as to how I want to attack it as well as the opportunity to practice and prepare for the shots that I'll have in the tournament. That's been exciting for me because my performance in the majors have improved dramatically. My consistency in the majors has improved.

As far as the U.S. Open being the best chance, I always felt The Masters was the best chance for me to win a major, and I was fortunate enough to have won it last year. The U.S. Open has been a tournament that I'd played very well in the past, 2nd three times and had some good chances to win. I think that given the reputation as a wild driver that I seem to have, it would seem unlikely that the U.S. Open would be such a great venue for me. But I think that when I do get to a U.S. Open course I tend not to try to swing all out with the driver and I see the importance of getting the ball in the fairway, and for whatever reason I've been able to drive it much better these past few weeks and score well.

Q. One more '99 thing. If Payne misses that putt it goes to a Monday playoff. Would they have had it without you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I would have left. It happened so early, her water broke right about the time that we would have been teeing off. It broke about 9:30 in the morning. 12:30, which is about the time we teed off. So I would have just made it back probably. I think we delivered about 6:45, and we were guessing it would be about five and a half, six hours by the time I got to the hospital. I would have just made it in time.

Q. Would she have for sure told you? She went into that in your book, she went into it on Saturday and she stopped it, or would she have let you play?

PHIL MICKELSON: If her water broke, I think she definitely would have called.

Q. In the six years since that Open at Pinehurst in '99, how much have you changed as a golfer and off the course, too, as a person?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I would probably say a lot. Specifically I think the biggest area there's a lot of areas, but probably the biggest is that my life feels much more fulfilled having three children and having the relationship with my wife Amy and having the family that I have. It was great, Amy and I together, being married. We had a lot of fun together. We've been together well, we've been married eight years, but we've been together four years prior to that. So we've been together a long time. So that was great.

When we had children, it brought us closer and just made our lives much more fulfilling.

Q. The Women's Open next week at Cherry Hill you know from the '90 Am. What's your feeling about the old historic courses that you guys can no longer play because of length and logistics, and do you see a day where this course will be rendered obsolete or will these greens always stand the test of time?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that a lot of the old great golf courses have withstood the test of time with some alterations to a couple of tee boxes. We've had evolution in equipment for since the beginning of the game. As we saw at St. Andrews this year, some tees have been moved back to bring the bunkers back in play. There's a couple of courses that maybe they can't move some tees back because they're limited on space. I've heard that about Marion and I've heard that about Cherry Hills. Cherry Hills is a tough deal because the course is at altitude and the ball goes so much farther that it's going to play shorter. I don't see that many more courses becoming obsolete. A new tee box here or there seems to make the courses every bit as tough. Certainly when the USGA gets a hold of them, they're every bit as tough (laughter).

Q. If I heard you right a second ago, you said if there was no rain, there was the potential for 18 greens like No. 7 at Shinnecock. Considering the abuse that the USGA took for that a year ago, would you be astounded if something like that were allowed to happen?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm a little biased because I would love to see that happen (laughter), because it's always been my contention that if nobody can hit a green, I've got a pretty good chance (laughter). I'm not opposed to that occurring this week.

Q. What was your preparation like say in '99? How much did you prepare for Pinehurst compared to how you prepared for it now? And other majors for that matter.

PHIL MICKELSON: Pinehurst in '99 was a different deal for me because I relied heavily on Bones. I didn't get in until Wednesday night, never played a practice round, had not played the course. So I relied heavily on Bones, and he would tell me Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday what to expect. He would tell me the greens are hard, they're fast, talk about the speed. When I was home I would try to find a place that accommodated that.

This year I've been able to come out early, been able to spend three days before I even got here this week, hit a lot of shots in the chipping area, looked at all the pin placements from '99, saved those, Bones saved those, and we were able to look at where the pins were going to be, and I hit a lot of the shots I had to hit in '99 and tried to get sharp with my short game. So it's been a big benefit to be able to come in early.

Q. Just a follow up, do you feel like did you play over your head or over the top at all in '99 to get to where you were on Sunday, or did you feel pretty comfortable the whole week?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I felt that heading into the week I was very determined to come out on top, that I was traveling across the country, leaving my wife who's about to deliver, and I was only going to do it for the biggest of events and only going to do it if I was going to win. I didn't want to come here and finish 30th and not accomplish anything. I was very determined to play to win. I was actually very surprised that I didn't obviously Payne played tremendous, but mentally I was so focused and I really thought that I was going to win this tournament, that it was kind of a shock to me that it didn't happen. Obviously everything happened the way it should have. Mentally I was so determined that I was going to win that I was surprised it didn't happen.

Q. I know this place has special memories for you with Payne. How about the rest of the players? Are people telling you Payne stories in the locker room or out on the putting green more than usual?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I haven't been hanging around the locker room or putting green. I know that when you see the statue of Payne, a lot of stories come out. I know we started talking a lot about Payne Stewart stories last week, I heard a lot, and everybody has got their own personal experience with the man, and I think that for me personally, watching him win our national championship and the class he did it with was something that I'll always remember.

RAND JERRIS: Phil, thanks very much for your time.

End of FastScripts.

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