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April 5, 2016

Phil Mickelson

Augusta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's always a pleasure to introduce and welcome three‑time Masters Champion Phil Mickelson here in the interview room.
Phil added to his tournament record at Augusta last year with a runner‑up and started 2016 with three early Top‑5 finishes.
Before we ask questions, just like to ask you to reflect on this being your 24th Masters, and what are your thoughts?
PHIL MICKELSON: This is a special place, and 24 years I think I look forward to it more and more as each year comes about. It's so fun for me to be able to be a part of this event every year and to be able to come back and be a part of the dinner tonight, to be a part of this great tournament.
The Masters has given myself and every young golfer something to aspire to, to dream of, and to be able to be part of its history means more to me than anything. I just love this event.

Q. There's been some speculation about the 13th hole, whether it might be extended, because I think some property was bought at Augusta Country Club. What are the pluses and minuses of that and do you think it should happen?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't really know. I don't really have an opinion on that, which is rare for me (laughter), but I don't really have an opinion because when they moved the tee back 20 yards or 15 yards before, I still hit the same shot. From a left‑handed‑‑ this golf course, and most every golf course, will have certain holes, certain shots that set up, that favor a right‑handed player or a left‑handed player, and a great golf course will have an equal dispersion of those. That has to do with the shot dispersion I've talked about. Left‑hander, when you hook it, it goes long right, short left.
If I try to hit it over the trees and I come out of it, it goes short left, as opposed to right and it's long left. I just go around the tree. So it doesn't affect the way I play the hole in any way, shape or form.
If it's a longer hole, I'm just going to hit less of a slice. I'm just going to hit it a little bit straighter. Right now, I have to take something off the driver or else it goes through the fairway. It won't affect my second shot because I'll be arguably in the same spot either way. So I haven't really formed an opinion on that.

Q. With regard to Bryson, how much do you know about him and can you talk about just‑‑
PHIL MICKELSON: I really like him, I really like him. And what's really funny was the line of the day, I thought, came from Dustin, as a matter of fact. Bryson and I were talking about some of the science of an uphill putt and a downhill putt and the break and why it's most from this point and that point and so forth. He was using some pretty scientific terms and Dustin kind of shook his head and he said, "If I hang around you guys much longer, I'll never break 100."
I really enjoy spending time with Bryson because he comes at the game from such a different point of view and has such well thought‑out opinions as to why and how it should be played a certain way, a different way, the way that he plays it. He's a terrific player. He's fun to be around.

Q. How fascinating is it for a guy that's that young to have kind of that package? He seems to have kind of an "it" factor to him, already.
PHIL MICKELSON: He really does. I think he's going to have a steady climb in his career. I think it's just going to get better and better. I just think that he's got an incredible amount of talent right now, but I just think he's going to continue to get better and better as he takes on his professional career next week.

Q. I know you have a long list of why you love this golf tournament, why you love this golf course. What tops the list?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that kind of an example of the many things that take place here is that they renovated the Masters champions locker room this year. Now, this is only going to affect 25 or 30 people. That's it. And they spent a lot of money to make that champions locker room twice as big inside and twice as nice.
And that's what makes this tournament, that's an example of what makes this tournament so great is that every little detail is well thought through. Again, nobody is going to see this. This doesn't‑‑ nobody except for the past champions, and there's only, what, 30 or so living past champions that it's going to affect, and they want to do it right and have every detail right.
And I think that they do that for every experience, for the fans, whether it's having the underground tunnel now so the driving isn't impeded over there on Berckmans and the parking lot, having the best practice facility in the game. Every detail is done to perfection.

Q. Jack wins at 46. You're approaching 46. Does 46 not seem that old anymore? And how long can you see yourself being able to compete here?
PHIL MICKELSON: So I don't feel old at all. I feel great. I guess maybe you hang around these young guys as much as I have been, you just feel young.
I'm starting to be in some of the better‑‑ I was looking at some of the highlights ten years ago when I played in one, and I just thought, gosh, I wish I had known then what I know now about nutrition and about all aspects. I think I could have saved myself from grief in the last ten years.
But now I feel like I'm in some of the best shape I've been in. I feel like my game is starting to, I'm driving the ball better than I have in well over a decade, and my game is‑‑ I'm so excited to play golf.
So I also have a message, like an internal message that I want to ultimately get out, and that is: You can play golf for a lifetime and injury‑free if you swing the club like Bobby Jones did, like Ernest Jones used to teach, where it's a swinging motion rather than a violent movement.
A lot of the young guys continue to get hurt as they create this violent connected movement, and I don't believe that that's the proper way to swing the golf club. I think you want to use leverage and kind of quiet your body down so the arc and club head can swing and accelerate. And the better I play and the more successful I am at an older age, that message will get through and hopefully kids will start to play golf and swing the club with less of a violent body movement and be able to play golf for a lifetime.

Q. How far out do you feel you could realistically‑‑
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't see‑‑ like I was looking at the numbers. I was 25th in distance in 2003 at .2993, and this year I was 40th in distance at .2993, same distance 13 years later. So I haven't lost any distance.
Certainly guys have passed me, there are some guys out here that have hit it a ton farther. I don't feel distance is any factor as far as holding me back. Now that I'm starting to drive the ball reasonably straight and not have as many wild drives, I feel like I'm able to play and compete a lot easier, like the game is just a lot easier. So we'll see.
We're here on a golf course that has suited me well in the past and for the first time, I really feel like coming into this tournament, I'm not trying to find anything or search for anything. I feel like my game is coming along. I feel like the game is starting to be easy again.

Q. Can you share some of your more memorable, unusual stories about the green jacket? And separately, how does this place change on Sunday afternoon?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the golf course is going through a number of changes. Obviously the lengthening. But also, before the length happened, Sunday's greens would get a lot firmer, faster than earlier in the week. As length became part of the golf tournament, as length has become part of the challenge of Augusta National, the greens didn't have to be the sole defense. And so the greens have not been as firm or as fast as they might have been in the '90s when that was the only defense that the golf course had. So there's been a great mixture now. If the weather is going to be perfect, they can firm up the greens and make that a defense and a challenge to the game.
So there's a lot of versatility year‑to‑year, or variability year‑to‑year that I see in the golf course. Sometimes the fairways around the greens and so forth are shaved very tight to where you can't chip and where you need to putt it, and sometimes the grass is a little bit longer where it's a lot easier to chip than it is to putt. So as a player you have to be prepared for all of those variables because you just don't know what you're going to see.
As far as green jacket stories, for me, it's just a great way to give the other guys grief (laughter), kind of like give them a little jab here or there. I always like to rough up Dustin. He's just a great target, I think (laughter).
We were walking down 1, and I just said, "So, what are your plans tonight?" Might have been a little too subtle, okay (laughter). That's been my favorite thing about having the green jacket.

Q. Rory was in earlier talking about changing his approach, his preparation, not coming in until Monday and the theory being that you can over‑prepare for this golf course. I'm just curious‑‑ or that there's a danger in that. Curious in your career if you ran into that at all, and if so, what is the danger of maybe spending too much time or focus on it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, for ten to 15 years, I played this tournament, and I'd come in prepared and I still was never fully prepared. You cannot over‑prepare for the golf tournament. But what I think he's saying is that you can oftentimes be worried so much about the golf course the week of the Masters that you don't fully prepare your game and get your game sharp and ready. That certainly can be a factor if you spend too much time trying to learn the golf course the week of the Masters. That's just not a good idea.
That's why I come in early, is that I try to get all of that out of the way. I try to get learning the course, developing a game plan to each pin off the tee, into the greens, hitting the shots that I likely will see so that they are familiar with me. Does the ball break more or does it break less than usual? Is it a little faster or a little slower? All the nuances I want to have before so that now that I'm here, all I'm working on is touch with the greens, chipping, making sure that I'm in control and got good distance control there; driving, making sure that I'm driving the ball the way I want to; that I've got that sliding slice for 10 and 13; that I've got a high draw for some of the other holes. So now that the management or the preparation of the golf course is out of the way, I'm able to focus on my game.
I think that's what I'm hearing him say is that sometimes he overdoes the learning the golf course the week of, and he neglects his game. It's much better to be ready with your game because you've got to execute no matter how well you know the golf course.

Q. Why do you think the culture exists here that players help other players, their competition, to try and learn this golf course?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that it's a great history there, but I also think that the course goes through about so many changes that it's fun to reminisce and look back and talk about the way putts used to break and the way they break now and things to look out for. It's just fun. It's the only place, the only major that we play the same venue every year; that history is made every year and that you get to come back and relive those moments.
When we go back to Baltusrol this year, it was ten years ago that I won there, it's hard to remember a lot of the shots and what it did and how I thought it was going to break this way and it didn't and things like that.
So you get to relive those memories every year at Augusta. So for guys that have won it before, it's fun to reminisce and talk about it, and then for the guys that haven't played here before or are new to the Masters, it's fun to hear those stories because it's helpful.

Q. Bubba was saying that the greens today he felt were as they looked like and fast as they would be on a Saturday. Did you sense that today? And in your experience, how is earlier in the week different from the weekend?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm hopeful that this is going to be a firm, fast Masters. And I know we have some rain possibly coming in, and if that's the case, it may not be. But when the golf course‑‑ when the greens on the golf course are firm you and you don't make a divot, angles are very important and so is lag putting and so is missing the ball in the right spot. So is management, strategy into the greens, putting it in the right spot.
When the greens are soft and receptive, you can get away with a lot of mistakes. You can put the ball in the wrong spot and still have a shot, still have a chance to make birdie, still have a chance to salvage par. And learning and knowing the golf course isn't as big a factor. When the golf course is soft and you're able to fly the ball to the hole and stop it fairly quickly, it eliminates a lot of the trouble and a lot of the challenge of Augusta National.
I'm hopeful that this year will be a firm, fast golf course because it gives me what I feel like is a slight advantage of the history and the past knowledge, knowing where I need to be, and having hit those shots to allow me to make easy pars.

Q. You talked about every year getting excited to come here. Is it getting easier or harder to manage your expectations?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, my expectations don't really change year‑to‑year. But this year, I feel a little bit more relaxed heading into this event because, like I said, I'm not trying to find anything. I feel like it's a lot more stress‑free golf because I'm driving the ball in play and now we come to the Masters where the corridors are much wider than, say, Doral where the fairways are angling off and kicking off into the rough; that I feel I'll able to put the ball in play a lot easier. And as I'm doing that, my iron play, which I feel is the strength of my game, will be an advantage.

Q. You spoke about players having back injuries. Bryson said one of the possible advantages of the same‑length clubs is that he has the same posture over every swing. His theory is that people work, tweak different muscles when they slightly change their posture on different clubs. Does that make sense to you and could he be onto something?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there was a German study that kind of showed that to be the case, and so there is some kind of validity there, but I'm not knowledgeable enough on that to be able to know if it's accurate or not.

Q. There was an interview with you I saw where you talked about the importance of working on the parts of your game that give you problems, and with that in mind, I'm curious what your approach would be to the Sunday tee shot at 16, if you're there.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's always a challenging shot for me, 16, because there's no margin of error. If I come out of it, my shot dispersion is going to be short left in the water or right on the top section. Fortunately it's only a 7‑ or 8‑iron shot for me, and sometimes less, and I'm able to have a reasonable margin of error that I just have to hit. I just flat‑out have to hit a good shot there.
But it's not like I'm trying to hit a 4‑iron to the top knoll on No. 4 in that little tiny section. It's not like it's a shot that I shouldn't be able to hit.
A normal margin of error for a Tour pro is going to be 5 to 7 percent, and there's a 5 to 7 percent margin of error on that shot. So all I've got to do is hit a normal shot.

Q. Have you gotten used to or does it still seem strange to be at majors, particularly this one, without Tiger?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's not like we shared a house together, so I don't notice it that way (laughter).
I think we all appreciate what he's done for the game of golf over the years. We all miss him and want him back. He's a big part of the game even when he's not playing. So fortunately, I've heard from reports that he's going to be able to play this year, which is great. We would love him to be here. If he's rushing it to play this event, then he needs to wait, I mean, whatever his doctors say.
But the Tour misses him. The game misses him. Hopefully he'll get back to his winning ways. It was only a few years ago he won five times in a year, so it's not like he's that far off.

Q. A couple of just totally unrelated questions. How do you think Rory's game sets up? He's going to be trying to do something you're going to be trying to do in a couple months, set up for here. And also after that, what's it like to play down on 16 in a practice round with all the hubbub and skipping balls? What's that like, or do you have any favorite memories of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: That is fun, playing the 16th hole and skipping shots. It's a nice, relaxed atmosphere. The Masters is a very intense event for us. We want to win it so bad. We are tight. We are worried about every little thing and trying to learn the course and have our game sharp. To be able to go out and skip shots on 16, it's fun. It's a fun, relaxing thing to do.
Gosh, as far as Rory's game, there's really not much weakness in his game. He's hitting drives so long, it's great, he's going to have a huge advantage around this golf course. There's about five or six guys I can think of that drive it so far that some of these holes, they are coming in with such short irons, it makes a massive difference as far as getting the balls stopped on some of these sections and these tiers, and he's one of those guys. He's going to have a distinct advantage over 95 percent of the field.

Q. Just wonder what you think as a group, the par 5s, what role do they have in how the tournament plays out? And if that significance is high, why do you think that is?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there are no longer any holes outside of the par 5s that are easy birdies, other than No. 3. So the par 4s now are so long and tough, that you're coming in with mid and long irons more often than short irons. We used to hit a lot of wedges in here and now we don't.
So there's not a lot of birdie opportunities. They only really come on the par 5s. The four par 5s and No. 3 are really the only holes that I kind of enter thinking that a birdie is the score I need to make. Maybe No. 12 when there's no wind. If there's no wind, you try to birdie 12. But we've been getting wind and we should have wind, which is going to make it one of the more difficult shots now.
That's why there's such a critical element is they give you momentum and opportunities. They're the only ones that you're going to have easy putts for birdies. You're going to have to make a lot of 20‑ to 40‑footers to make birdies on the other holes. So you have to play them smart and effective to be able to shoot under par here.

Q. Nice story with Jim Herman. Have you had a chance to talk to him? And if not, what do you say to first‑time guys when they are playing this?
PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't seen him. I saw he won Houston. I've played with Jim before, he's a really nice guy. I'm really happy for his success and I hope he enjoys his week here. Obviously he's playing well.
It's difficult when you are playing here and you haven't had the chance to prepare for it properly, because he's been trying to‑‑ he just qualified last Sunday. But when you're playing well, execution is the most important thing around here, and he should have a good week.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all. Thank you, Phil. Good luck this week.

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