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March 3, 2019

Keith Mitchell

Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

DOUG MILNE: We will go ahead and get started. We'd like to welcome the winner of the 2019 Honda Classic, Keith Mitchell. Congratulations on your first career PGA TOUR win. I've known you for a long time and I know you've come a long way and worked really hard, and today you got the job done in dramatic fashion with that putt on the 18th hole. 3-under 67 today and moving to No. 17 in the FedEx standings. You have a lot coming up, a lot to ingest, I'm sure, but just a few thoughts on your first PGA TOUR win.

KEITH MITCHELL: It was awesome. I wish I could come up with a better word than that. But just having a chance to play -- coming down the stretch against Rickie Fowler and Brooks, those guys are the best in the world, and they've been out here proving themselves. I'm just pleased that I could prove myself against guys like that in such a great field and a great tournament, the Honda Classic.

Everybody dreams about having that putt on the 18th hole to win a tournament, and I had it today, and fortunately I was able to capitalize, and it feels awesome.

DOUG MILNE: With the win you obviously have a lot to look forward to, the two-year exemption and so forth. Is that the kind of thing that you've allowed yourself to even entertain or have you had a chance to kind of look ahead, or are you just kind of letting the moment sink in for a bit.

KEITH MITCHELL: It's -- you obviously know what a win gets you. It gets you the two-year exemption, puts you in amazing position in the FedExCup for the year-long race, and I've got THE PLAYERS coming up in two weeks, which I'm excited about. I got to play in that last year. I was the last man in the field. So just having a little bit of knowledge there, looking forward to that.

And then really just -- I mean, I've always wanted to win and dreamed to win, and just to be sitting here and having these questions is amazing.

Q. We tried to find what your last win anywhere was, and we found like the State Am in Tennessee in '10. We couldn't really find anything in college. What was your last win?
KEITH MITCHELL: I won a mini-Tour event in 2016. I played in two Web.com events in the beginning of '16 and had to wait for the reshuffle, so I went and played in one in North Carolina, I think it was the T Pro Tour, and that I think is my only other professional win.

I mean, I lost in a playoff on the Latin American Tour and was pretty close on the Web, and then finished second last year. I've been close, but those times when you're close isn't -- that you've had a chance to win, and I've never been able to pull through. This week we were -- my caddie and I were really focused on not letting the emotions get to us about the winning because you want to win so bad if you let those emotions get to you while you're still on the golf course and you're still performing it's going to take you over. So we didn't do that today, and now I can let it sink in.

Q. Just wondering if it felt like karma or maybe redemption, I guess, you had a 15-footer a couple years ago at Pumpkin Ridge and missed that. Just wondering -- to get your card, and just wondering if that feels like a long time ago or does it feel like you paid one back today?
KEITH MITCHELL: I actually thought about it this morning on the car ride over here because the feeling of missing out on an opportunity or the feeling of, I don't want to say losing, but the feeling of putting yourself in the position to win or to succeed and then not coming through or not taking the moment as yours is something I'd struggled with in the past because you want it so bad. If you think that way, it's never going to be a good outcome.

So this morning, I tried to remind myself of a few times that I actually missed out and those feelings, and knowing that I didn't want to have those feelings today, that I wanted to be -- I wanted to overcome those, and I wanted to see what it was like on the other side. I had that chance on 18, and it was tough. It was tough to sit there and focus just on your putt and just on the break and just on the read because you know what's on the line but I was able to do it, and I hit a great putt.

Q. How often have you thought about that putt since it happened just a couple years ago?
KEITH MITCHELL: I think about it all the time. I don't have a number, but it's in the thousands. I used that same kind of redemption the very next week on the Web.com TOUR finals in Columbus when I played some of the best golf of my life because I refused to have that feeling again. I didn't win that week, but it was probably the best tournament I've ever had in my life. And that was until today.

I used those same emotions that week, tried to use them this week, because I don't know, I feel like I play better when I try to come from behind or when people don't expect you to win, and a friend of mine sent me a newspaper article and it says "no-name is leading Honda after Friday," and I don't expect to have any great stuff to be written about me because I've only been out here for a year, so I'm not saying that in a negative light. I just used that as a little kind of emotion that everyone gets their start somewhere, everyone gets their first win somewhere, and I wanted this to be mine, and I was able to do it.

Q. I want to follow up on what you're talking about on the final putt. What was your read? What was your overall feeling walking into the putt? And just take us through that whole process.
KEITH MITCHELL: Thankfully, I knew what it was doing before I even got there. I mean, all the grain on the green goes left to right, the slope on the green goes left to right, and it was a little uphill. So I didn't really have that much questioning in terms of my read and my speed.

I was able to -- I was able to be confident in what the putt was doing, which is huge, because if you have any doubt if the putt is breaking left or breaking right or uphill or downhill, it really takes your focus off what you're trying to do. So I did a great job from the fairway leaving it below the hole. I knew that was the place to do it. I knew I was going to have the best chance to make a putt from there.

I mean, I think I might have early looked that putt. It looked good so early, I kind of stepped it too soon. But it was the best putt I've ever hit under the circumstances, hands down, and just to have it fall is too cool.

Q. How many majors have you played in?

Q. How long did it --
KEITH MITCHELL: Well, half a major. I played in THE PLAYERS last year. That's like a half a major.

Q. How long did it take you to think about the event you'll be adding in April?
KEITH MITCHELL: A while. But it's -- I've been to that tournament so many times being in Georgia and played the golf course a couple times, and it's -- I mean, to be honest, the first thing I thought about was having a job for the next two and a half years on the PGA TOUR. And the second thing was when I saw my mom, gave her a hug, and then everything else just kind of started sinking in.

I'm very lucky. One of my best friends in the world is from Augusta, helps me with my career, and his brother has always told me that I could have his house when I won to play in the Masters this year to stay in, so that was one of the first things Lee over here said: We've got you a house already.

Q. After you bogeyed the first two holes today, what were your thoughts, and what did you change and so on?
KEITH MITCHELL: I wouldn't say the first two bogeys were nerves. I would say they were bad execution. I was so mad. I was a little frustrated on the first hole. I was just -- I was anxious is the best way to say it. I've been working really hard with my caddie to try to not let my emotions take over, and what I do is I block him out and I get mad and I don't talk, and I walk fast and put my head down, and I was telling myself, I was like, I know that's my problem. I know that's my mistake, but it's so hard to overcome that and talk about something -- about what you're doing for dinner or anything, anything to get my mind off what was actually happening.

I really focused on that walking up No. 3 because I knew I could have a chance to birdie that hole, and normally I would go for that green in two from the yardage I was at, and I didn't because I was focused on getting some momentum back, and I didn't want to try to pull off a stupid shot and my day be over on the third hole.

So I actually laid up on purpose, which is rare, but I laid up exactly where I wanted to and hit my chip shot exactly where I wanted to and I made birdie, and I used that as momentum going forward.

Q. Would you mind discussing maybe your overall thoughts on the Champion Course as well as playing the Bear Trap down the stretch with the heat on?
KEITH MITCHELL: I've never played well here in my two times. I missed the cut last year, and then in Q-school I did not finish in the top 45. It's because you cannot be aggressive on this golf course to go at flags. I almost hit it in the same spot on every green on purpose for four days no matter where the flag was. There was very few occasions that I had maybe under 130 yards that I would actually go to a different -- that I could actually attack the flag.

So many times we never even looked at the yardage of the pin was sitting. We would look at the yardage we wanted the ball to land and hopefully roll out to. It was almost irrelevant to look where the pin was unless we were on maybe a few holes maybe inside 120 yards because you don't aim there because your miss is so tiny.

So that was very -- the thing I did best this week was manage my game. I did not hit it well yesterday at all, but considering where I was aiming on my shots, I was able to make it through the round and shoot even par. And then today I started hitting some better, higher quality shots which gave me a couple birdie opportunities to shoot a couple under.

Q. Your caddie told us that there was an incident yesterday where a woman -- No. 8, a woman walked right across your line just as you were getting ready to play, and he said that didn't bother him at all. He said, I saw then a demeanor that I don't see from him on a regular basis. Could you talk about that?
KEITH MITCHELL: I've let a lot of things bother me the last couple weeks that shouldn't bother me, and we talked about that going into this week. I had a week off last week, and I was just -- I was too anxious. I was too -- I mean, I guess too just emotional on the golf course. I was living and dying on every shot instead of looking at it as how many tournaments we have for the season, that's four rounds, and then that's 18 holes a round, and then 70 shots a round. I was thinking that every shot I hit was determining my entire season, and that's not the case.

And then you blame little small things like for example, somebody walking around the hole or behind the hole or somebody yelling something, and again, if you let that one thing mess up that one shot and that shot dictates your round, then your tournament is over. So this week, I did such a better job of focusing on what I was supposed to focus on, and as easy as that sounds, it's so hard out there when you're playing against the best players in the world.

Q. How aware were you of the chaos on the leaderboard? At one point there were six guys tied for the lead.
KEITH MITCHELL: I saw it on 15 where there was, I think, a five-way tie for first, and I knew two of the guys were already in the clubhouse. I mean, I got 15, 16, 17 and 18 to play. I knew anything could happen.

The last thing I thought I was going to do was go 2-under the last four holes. I had such a great number on 15, which helped be aggressive, but then I saw Brooks -- I think Brooks birdied -- did Brooks birdie 18? He did, yeah. So I saw Brooks birdie 18 to get to 8, and that's when I knew that 17 was going to be huge. It was going to be huge because I mean, if you miss that green, your chances of winning are almost over because it's so hard to get up-and-down out of the bunker, if you hit it in the water you're making bogey at best. So my tee shot on 17 huge, and as I'm sitting knowing this, Rickie makes a 35-footer from the back of the green. I'm just like, oh, my goodness, what is going on here.

Everybody is cheering for Rickie because he's such a great ambassador of the game and everybody was cheering for Brooks and I'm standing in the fairway on 18, and I see Rickie make another putt to go to 8. So I'm thinking, well, if I make par here, I got a playoff with two of the best players in the world and potentially Hall-of-Famers of all time. That's a big thought for a guy that's on his second year of TOUR that's never won. So I was able to execute, and that's something I haven't been able to do in the past.

Q. When you got to your ball at the bunker at 18, was there a feeling of disappointment knowing you wouldn't be able to go for it?
KEITH MITCHELL: Normally there would have been -- 99 out of 100 times I knew there would be, but I knew I had a chance to win the tournament, and I wasn't going to let my ball being in the bunker deter that. I made birdie the old-fashioned way I guess they call it, which is not the Keith Mitchell way at all. I'm trying to hit driver and on the green and make a two-putt or make eagle. But I did that today, and that's -- that just shows you how well I played this week.

Q. Tell me about your newfound love for Palm Beach county?
KEITH MITCHELL: I used to come down here a lot when my granddad had a fishing bowl and we used to fish here all the time. I love that part of it. That was the first Palm Beach I ever knew. And then a good friend of mine, I used to come down and just hang out with him and play golf. So I've always liked the area, and I've got a great family down here from Chattanooga that was kind enough to host me, so I've got a little home feel this week, and that's big when you can just go home and have dinner and not really think about what's going on because sometimes you're in a hotel room by yourself and your mind is thinking about all the -- everything that could happen and what this could happen, should have, could have, would have, and being with them was a lot easier. It helped me just kind of focus on what I was there to do.

Q. I was just wondering if you can talk about your days at UGA in Athens, how much you learned from the upperclassmen when you got there, and the second question would be just looking at your numbers, you struggled a little bit after the freshman year. What was the turning point for you in your career college?
KEITH MITCHELL: My freshman year at Georgia, I was a true freshman. I enjoyed college. I didn't know what was going on, didn't have responsibilities, practices, getting in routines. I didn't have any of that. But thankfully I had Harris English, Russell Henry and Hudson Swafford who were older than me, and thankfully they were really good at the time because I wasn't very good and they kind of carried the team. And then when they left, I kind of realized that I had to grow up a little bit, because with those three guys on the team, it didn't matter what the fourth and fifth guy were shooting or the guys below that because they were so good, and then you realize if you're going to be the guy that the team is going to lean on, you have to grow up, and I had to grow up fast.

I did here and there. There was definitely times that I wish I could go back in college and be a little bit more dedicated. But once I turned pro and you're out here playing for yourself and nobody else and you've got to pay off your credit card bills and it costs a lot of money to do it, it makes you realize, you really got to want to do this, you really got to want to play. Luckily at Georgia that was kind of our mentality that we had qualify every week, and it just made you a better player. That's why there's so many guys out here that went to Georgia because nobody ever held our hand, nobody ever made us practice, nobody ever gave us lessons on the range. I mean, you were out there and you had to prove yourself from day one and the only way you could prove yourself was scores on the golf course. They never picked a team, none of that.

So I'm thankful for Georgia in that way, because it really made me grow up fast, and it really -- it taught me a lot when I turned pro.

Q. I know you were a little kid at the time, but do you remember anything about Vijay's win at Augusta in 2000?
KEITH MITCHELL: I don't think so. I just remember when Vijay became No. 1 in the world. Was that 2007? 2004 and 2005, I remember when he was doing that. I think he took the No. 1 in the world from Tiger, and I was honestly disappointed. But it's so amazing what that guy can do at his age. I'm standing there holding the trophy and my back is already kind of hurting a little bit. That guy is 30 years older than me and he's out there hitting more balls than I am. That guy is a true testament to fitness, to health, to just a true competitor because there's days that I wake up and kind of not feeling right, and I don't really want to hit balls, et cetera, and he's out there grinding and competing at -- is it 56? At 56. If I'm anywhere near a golf course at 56, I'm going to be excited.

Q. What influence did Davis Love have on you career-wise?
KEITH MITCHELL: Davis has been great. Davis has always been a big father figure for a lot of us. But Davis kind of brought a bunch of guys in who brought some more guys in, and it's kind of like the same with Harris and Hudson and Brian Harmon. They were the kind of guys that were a little bit above me that moved down to Sea Island, and they were the reason I moved down there, and Jonathan Byrd I played with on the Web TOUR for two years, and he was kind of guiding me through a lot of stuff out there, and then lately Zach has been a huge, huge influence on and off the course, being with him the last year and a half.

Again, I try to surround myself with people that make me better that have been at Georgia, and it's happened at Sea Island, just having the -- I get very distracted, I guess, and having guys down there that make me want to practice, and that's what their goals are and everybody having the same goals, it really helps me kind of channel my -- just my life a lot more dedicated to golf and being out here.

Q. It was a little over three years ago where you missed the final stage here and had the conditional status and had to get your starts and take advantage of your opportunities that way. Where do you think you've grown most as a player and person since then, and what advice would you give to yourself at that point kind of for the road ahead?
KEITH MITCHELL: Not living and dying on every swing. I did not play perfect golf this week, but at the end of the day, it was good enough. And that's not always going to be the case, but this week it was. I think that's why the best players in the world, the guys like Rickie and Brooks are always at the top. They're not playing perfect every week. They're just managing their games and managing the golf course, managing their emotions better than everyone. I mean, the line between the Web.com TOUR and the PGA TOUR is so thin, I don't even know if you can see it. Again, I never won on the Web Tour, and I've won on the PGA TOUR. So it shows you how good those guys are and how many guys that come off the Web TOUR eventually win the first year, eventually win the second year is a true testament to that Tour. And I think on the Web TOUR I did that too much; I never even put myself in a place that I had a chance to win on the last couple holes because of probably some emotions that took over early because I've played a lot better than I have this week but I didn't manage my game or manage myself better than I have this week.

DOUG MILNE: Keith, congratulations, Buddy. Well done.

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