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April 8, 2019

Keith Mitchell

Augusta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
We welcome in the interview room Keith Mitchell. Keith will be making his Masters debut this week. Let's start there.
Keith, you've secured an invitation to the 2019 Masters Tournament after winning The Honda Classic with a birdie putt on No.18, no less, for your first PGA TOUR victory. What has the beginning of this week been like for you, and how excited are you to take part in this first Masters?
KEITH MITCHELL: This week is something that anyone as a golfer dreams about, and I was‑‑ I've been fortunate enough to attend the tournament before, and to play here in college when I was at the University of Georgia. But it was very different today walking out on the range and being on the other side, and I thought I was prepared for that moment, but I wasn't.
It just kind of‑‑ just walking, I was nervous just simply walking across the range, and then I started hitting some putts and some balls and I started feeling better. But this place is just magical for anyone and everyone, and it's been true, all the years the tournament's been here. So just being a part of it is truly just a blessing.
THE MODERATOR: As you all know, Keith attended the University of Georgia. He lives in St. Simon's Island with several other professional golfers. My next question was how often have you played here, and you've already answered that. So let's wish you the best of luck this week, and we'll take some questions from the floor.

Q. As somebody who went through a bit of a whirlwind thing at Honda, I just wonder how much you appreciated and had a look at what Corey did yesterday in San Antonio and winning, Monday qualifying, getting here for the first time as a pro, and how much‑‑ if you have an appreciation for that, as well, just because you've kind of changed your life quite a bit with the Honda win.
KEITH MITCHELL: Yeah, I think it's very cool in our sport that that can happen, and at the time when I was playing against two of the games greats of Rickie and Brooks coming down the stretch at Honda and prevailing; and then Corey who, I've obviously heard of. I've played against him my whole life and he's been an incredible player. But everyone gets their start somewhere and Corey got his start yesterday.
I think that happens so often in golf, which is so fun. You look at the best players in the world, they are going to win a couple times a year, but there's 40‑something events, there's going to be guys that get their first win every year. That's what so great about our sport is the unknown, someone that you might have never heard of win this week and then you might be able to follow him for the next ten years on Tour and the name might become a household name.
Golf is so, I mean, honored to have that ability as an individual sport, yet having the same‑‑ you know, the same team of the Top‑10 players in the world that probably everybody can relate to, but then having another hundred guys that have a chance to win any week.

Q. When you're being recruited by Chris Haack, and then while you're at Georgia, how much does he talk about the PGA TOUR and winning on the PGA TOUR? How much does he address what's out there beyond the college experience, and why do you think it seems like since Bubba started this streak, and the other guys, Kisner, Kirk, you, everybody; what do you think is the common thread to why you guys have had so much success?
KEITH MITCHELL: I think it's the way he runs the program, which is very unconventional in some people's eyes, but as a player, it's very‑‑ I'd say it's different but the most helpful in terms of past college. Because he does not ever pick a team usually. It's always you go out and you qualify and the low five scores play in the tournament, and that's how it is in professional golf.
You don't have somebody sitting there and saying, well, you had a bad couple rounds in qualifying, we're going to take you anyway. That doesn't happen on the PGA TOUR. You have to earn your way by your scores, and that's how he coaches at the University of Georgia. There's no holding hands. There's no qualify for one spot and I'll pick four. It doesn't matter who those five are. They are going to go.
I remember one year, Joey Garber, who actually just got his TOUR card this year, was ranked the No. 1 college player in the country and he didn't qualify that week, and he didn't play. And Haacker sticks to his rules and it made Joey a better player and it made us a better team.
Just because at the time it wasn't the best circumstance, as players that went to Georgia, I think we can all say that it helped us in the long run and that's what Coach Haack does is he looks well past your four years at college, he's not focused on him and his team at the time, he's focused on each individual player and their success that they are going to have down the road.
I think that's why you have so many guys down here, out on the PGA TOUR.

Q. Is it a mental toughness then, that you learn?
KEITH MITCHELL: Yes. It's more you have to prove yourself in college, and a lot of guys in college might have an easier road. You don't have an easier road at Georgia. It doesn't matter how good you are. I think Chris Kirk might have missed his first year as one of the best juniors in the country and didn't play really for a year, but he's won four or five times on Tour and that's why Coach Haack has such a mind‑set that's so far past your four years at Georgia.

Q. When you look at turning points in people's careers, how much do you look at the tough time you had in Portland at the Web.com Tour and that year and how much do you look back on it?
KEITH MITCHELL: Someone asked me if I could have one shot over in my career, what would it be, and I'll always go back to that. But at the same time, I think that was the best thing that happened to me.
It gave me some sort of better determination, motivation, I guess, for myself, and also, it changed kind of my attitude for a whole season. Because if everything comes down to one shot, I mean, I think I sawa stat that said 4,000‑something shots the whole season. If I had won earlier, who knows, in July, and we were doing it in September, it wouldn't have mattered.
It just kind of gives you a bigger perspective of how important every shot is, and how important a Thursday morning round is, compared to a Sunday afternoon round, and it's just the nerves and the pressure kind of built up throughout the week, but they are all‑‑ they all count the same.
And very fortunate that that happened to me, and it happened in an unfortunate way, but I think it made me a better player and I use that because I don't have want to feel that feeling walking off 18 at Portland that I did. I want to feel like I did when I walked off 18 at Honda. I think you can relate the two in terms of motivation to not to do that, and motivation to do the one at Honda.

Q. Speaking of your feeling leaving the Honda. How much of that feeling has kind of resonated since then? What has remained with you as you head into this Masters that makes you maybe just a slightly different golfer in here than you were heading into The Honda Classic, now heading into the Masters?
KEITH MITCHELL: Well, it's fun. I've had a lot of people this week that are still congratulating me on the Honda, and that's well over a month ago. I think that's pretty cool that there's a lot of people out there rooting for you, fans that you might not even have known, and just kind of a reminder every week is pretty neat that you won. And some people call you "Champ" and some people say, "Congrats on win."
I hope I have that the rest of my life because it's awesome. It's fun having people encouraging you. And at the same time, it helps me to know that I have handled a situation, a pressure situation, well, before. I'm not saying I'm going to handle all of them well because each one is going to be very, very different. But it gives you kind of a sense of security out there when your nerves start going and your heart starts pounding to‑‑ that you know how to, some sort of way to control it.
I know every situation is different. The Masters is going to be a lot different. I hope I can just kind of rely on that and see what we can do.

Q. The nervousness you talk about when you walked on to the range today, how would you compare that with whatever you felt the first time you walked on to a range at your very first PGA TOUR event, and what were the differences?
KEITH MITCHELL: Very similar. Very, very similar. I remember my first PGA TOUR event, I Monday qualified into the Valspar Championship when I was on the Web.com Tour, and it was so‑‑ I mean, honestly, sometimes I get more nervous on the range because you feel like you're not supposed to, you're supposed to be relaxed and you're just supposed to hit some balls and have a good time and talk to your caddie.
But when you're on the course, I feel like I get in game mode and it's a little bit more comfortable out there. Out there on the range this morning, it was nine in the morning and it was foggy and the whole stands were full. There was probably more people watching me warm up on a Monday here than a lot of tournaments I've played in my life. That's one part of it.
The other part is I've seen that range from the other side of the ropes before and I've always watched people and admired how they hit the shots and hit their wedges and the shapes of the drivers, and then I was the guy that people were watching. I think it's just kind of neat seeing it from the other side.

Q. Do you think they were watching you?
KEITH MITCHELL: I felt they were. (Laughter).
I wanted them to.

Q. What are your expectations? Obviously tee it up on Thursday without expecting to win, but what are your realistic expectations in your first Masters and what part of your game needs to be clicking to win on Sunday?
KEITH MITCHELL: Every part of your game has to be clicking to be in contention in a major. I think that's pretty safe to say.
However, my course management here is so different than a lot of courses. There's a lot of pins that you can't attack, and there's a lot of pins that you can, and it depends on where you are in the fairway and things.
So I think that's why guys that have played here a lot are very successful because they know the nuances of the course. And I've only really seen it in this condition. I've never really played it in bad condition in terms of weather, like‑condition‑wise in terms of if it's raining, if it's windy, if it's firm.
So it's going to be interesting. There's no way to prepare for that, unless you've experienced it. And today was more of a point‑and‑click kind of golf course in terms of where you want the ball to land and where you want it to finish.
And with the weather, it looks like it might rain; it looks like it might get hot. The golf course could play four or five different ways and that means every shot you hit into the green is going to be completely different. That's why I think guys that have been here for so long, they have played all the certain conditions and they know what to do.
I promise you, my caddie and I are probably going to be over some shots‑‑ I hope we're not guessing, but we're definitely going to be looking at that yardage book a lot closer if the conditions change.

Q. You mentioned having attended as a spectator and having played it. How many times do you think each of those occasions, watching and playing the course?
KEITH MITCHELL: How many times have I attended?

Q. How many times did you come as a spectator and how many times have you played before?
KEITH MITCHELL: As a spectator, I was probably here, probably four or five tournaments, and then I've played it four times when I was in college, and then one after I won the Honda, I came up and played a practice round. So five times before this week.
The fifth time was the first time I actually was paying attention to where putts were breaking, where I should lay up to. Before I was just so excited to be on the grounds, I would just hit my shot and go to the next one and just try to soak it all in, and I did a great job of that, but I didn't do a very good job of preparing for the Masters. You always want to be here, but it's hard to put yourself in that position if you aren't.
And then when I came a couple weeks ago, it was a totally different ball game stepping off stuff and hitting chips from different areas and realizing how fast some of these putts can be.

Q. What's the most important thing, you were talking about preparation, the most important thing you think you need to achieve before Thursday?
KEITH MITCHELL: I think getting comfortable out here. I still kind of feel like a rookie and still feel just kind of in awe of the place, and I hope that never goes away, but at the same time, I want to be more comfortable inside the ropes out here.
That's tough, because only experience and time can change that I think. But hopefully‑‑ I played nine holes yesterday and I played nine holes today. I'm hoping by Thursday I'll be ready to go and clicking on all cylinders like any other tournament.
At the same time, it's the Masters and something you've always dreamed about and I've always wanted to be here. Everybody is saying, enjoy your first trip, soak it in, have fun. I'm trying, but I'm also playing in one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and you want to play well. So I've got to try to get in that kind of mentality.

Q. There's no such thing as a typical career arc on the Tour, but you've come so far since you left Athens. Are you reaching your first major ahead of or behind schedule, or had you anticipated being in this younger?
KEITH MITCHELL: That's a good question. I never really had any expectations, and to win, I thought I was going to be places. I've had a pretty unique path in terms of my first year out of college, I played on the Latin American Tour and I played on the Web.com Tour and this is my second year out here. I feel like it's been a very progressive path, I feel like I've gotten better every single year which has led me to being here. It obviously wasn't as fast as some of the other guys like a Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth who left college early because they were incredible, I was not incredible in college and it took me a little bit more time to get out here.
Now we're on the same playing field. Obviously their resumés are a lot more stacked than mine, but on Thursday morning, when you tee the ball up, everybody is all‑square.

Q. As far as growing up in Chattanooga, you grew up on the Honors Course. What similarities can you draw from there this week in terms of specifically the greens and how fast they are?
KEITH MITCHELL: The Honors, when I was growing up, was bent, and it was definitely very similar in terms of slopes in the greens, where Mr.Lupton was very keen and very appreciative of Augusta National and trying to make his golf course very similar.
It was a different grass, we played zoysia in the fairways, but I remember the Honors Course greens in the spring and the fall were incredibly fast. Now they are Bermuda which makes them even faster sometimes.
It's the same style of golf course in terms of slope, a lot of slope on the greens and a little bit more forgiving off the tee. But it's just‑‑ I was very fortunate to grow up in a place like that and on such a difficult golf course because when you play difficult golf courses all the time you do learn that sometimes you do need to stay away from pins and you need to learn to make pars on holes.

Q. There was a story that went around about you talking to Ian Poulter about match play and why is he so good at match play. Just wondering if there's anybody whose brain you could pick on how to play Augusta or why they are so good at the Masters; who would that be, and will you actually try to talk to anybody about?
KEITH MITCHELL: Jordan Spieth, no question. I mean, he played his first Masters here and I think he finished second and then he won after that.
That's so unusual for a golf course that people have played experiencing it, and it looks like he's played this place his whole life. I don't know how he does it in terms of plotting. He's one of the best course managers I've ever seen and even when Jordan is not on top of his game, he always seems to have a good finish here and when he is on top of his game, he wins. It's impressive what he does out here.
I remember watching‑‑ I remember I was actually here and then I remember watching him win both times on TV, and it's just incredible how ‑‑ you feel like he knows what's going to happen before it happens out there, and that's really impressive considering the amount of time he's played in the Masters.

Q. Will you play a practice round with him?
KEITH MITCHELL: If he let's me. Jordan, you want to play? (Laughter).

Q. You've had the reputation of being a guy who makes a lot of birdies, high‑powered game, very aggressive. How much have you had to temper that or harness that, or are you basically playing the way you did in the past?
KEITH MITCHELL: This week, I'm trying to put myself in positions to attack, to be aggressive. And if you can do that, then you can make birdies.
It's very different than most golf courses where you don't‑‑ I remember at the Honda, there was a lot of holes I would hit to the middle of the green every single time. This course, there's not, because there's so many slopes around the greens and so many different yardages you can have to the hole, so you want to try to put yourself in a position where you can attack and you can make birdie.
If you are out of position, there's always a place that you can‑‑ I won't say always, but there's most likely a place that you can get up‑and‑down and make par, because of the way the golf course is set up. There's no water around, except a couple holes where immediately it's either out of bounds, high grass, rough that you have to chip out.
I'm trying to plot myself as a way to put my ball in the place where I have the best chance of making birdie. Sometimes that's hitting driver. Sometimes on No. 3 I'll probably lay back with a 4‑iron if the pin is on the left, that way I can attack that flag. It's very different here at Augusta National where you can play aggressively by laying back, in a way.

Q. Did you ask any veteran players for any specific advice about this week, and did you get any?
KEITH MITCHELL: I did. I talked to some guys about the tee shot on 13, and it looks like you can take it over the corner but those trees are so tall and they run almost parallel straight up until the fairway turns left.
So you can't take it over the trees. You actually have to turn it around the trees, and if you turn it too much, it hits the trees and goes in the water.
So I tried to hit driver over the trees and it's‑‑ I don't want to say it's impossible, because it might go through the trees, but I think it's actually impossible to cover all the trees and cover it, unless you start really low with a draw, because I hit my driver with a fade and it just doesn't set up.
I was trying to pick a good line today, and it's going to be a tough tee shot. I'm able to draw my 3‑wood a little bit better, so I'm probably going to hit that club off the tee.
And then No. 3, like I was talking about earlier, where you want to lay back, so you can be aggressive to the front left pin.
And then, let me think, No. 10, you don't really have to fly it all the way down to the bottom of the hill. You can hit less of a club as long as it's running and lower and it will probably catch all the way down to the hill, which it would if it flew down there.
So just a couple things like that that guys have mentioned to me that you might not know if you haven't played here a lot.

Q. Who gave you the most help, if you don't mind me asking.
KEITH MITCHELL: I've asked probably 15 guys. I didn't‑‑ like I didn't have a sit‑down conversation with anybody about the course, really.

Q. If you win this tournament, Mr.Morris let's you write your own headline.
KEITH MITCHELL: I told him that he better write nice things about me.

Q. What would it be?
KEITH MITCHELL: "Augusta National Wins Again."
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, very much, and Keith, good luck to you.

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