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WGC NEC INVITATIONAL


August 18, 2004


Phil Mickelson


AKRON, OHIO

CHRIS REIMER: Happy to be joined by Phil Mickelson. Phil, another Top 10 in a major. Talk a little bit about last week.

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought it was a pretty interesting finish. It was an incredible final round with so many guys having a chance to win. I just wasn't able to get that one birdie that I needed coming down the stretch, but I had a great time playing there and it turned out to be a wonderful host to that championship.

Q. I'll start with an NEC‑related question. This golf course, there's been a few changes out there. Can you talk a little bit about the golf course in general, how it sort of stacks up against major championship venues and those types of things?

PHIL MICKELSON: This golf course is one of the best we play all year and everybody gets really excited to come back here. Tee to green it's as good as any we have, but also, the greens this year are extremely fast. They have an extra it seems like two feet of roll on the stimp meter. They're very quick, and putts are rolling quite a bit by the hole. It's going to be very challenging on these greens with the speed, but it's in such great condition that I think we'll see some reasonable scores.

Q. The added distance, would that be much of a factor at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: Unlikely that it would be much of a factor. The 2nd hole, which was lengthened is still very reachable. The 11th hole, which was also lengthened, I don't see being too much of a factor.

Q. With Vijay's big lead in the Player of the Year race now with the PGA of America, what do you have to do to even have a reasonable chance to catch him?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think win once or twice coming to the last few events of the year. I think I'm in the lead for the Varden, so if I were able to get one, probably two wins, it would maybe close the gap enough.

Q. Would you change your schedule if it got tight?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, possibly, absolutely. The Player of the Year award is something that I've wanted for a long time. I've never had it. I thought I had a good chance in '96 and lost out to Lehman and have not really had a great chance the last few years, but I would certainly consider changing my schedule, adding a few tournaments to try to get a win.

Q. What has your approach been in your career and especially lately towards the No.¬† 1 position? Is it something that you actively seek or something you figure is a by‑product of good play? Is it something that is good to think about or not so good to think about?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm kind of indifferent on that, but what I have found is that I certainly, along with everybody else, would like to be the No.¬† 1 player in the world, but I haven't had the right direction or the right¬† ‑‑ I wouldn't say work ethic but I haven't worked on the right things long enough to put myself in that position.

Now, this year has been a whole different year for me because the time I have put into my practice I feel like I have really gotten out in my game. The scores have been lower, I can feel the difference when I'm playing in my confidence level as well as my effectiveness for hitting shots and making putts and so forth.

So based on how the World Ranking system is, it's on a two‑year scale. I've only been playing well for eight months, so I've got another 12¬† ‑‑ really at least 12, probably 16, months left before I have a realistic shot at trying to acquire the No.¬† 1 spot in the ranking. I have to play at this level and continue this level for at least another year.

Q. What would it mean to you compared to other things, whatever, winning a major, Player of the Year? Is it an important goal?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would rather win majors and I would rather win Player of the Year. I think if you win those, you have a pretty good chance of becoming the No.  1 player in the world. Right now it's between Tiger, Ernie and Vijay, and that's because they've been playing well at a higher level or at a high level for longer. I just haven't played at this level for longer than eight months yet.

Q. And lastly, do you feel like the No.  1 player is, by definition, the best player in the year?

PHIL MICKELSON: What do you mean?

Q. In other words, if you're No.  1 on the computer in the Sony World Ranking, do you think that other players and yourself consider that person the best player in the world?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that's what we're basing it off of, sure. Now, there might be instances where the No.  1 player in the world or No.  2 player in the world doesn't play at that same level every single week because you have peaks and valleys in the game, but for the most part, it's a pretty good, pretty consistent system.

Q. You just said you might add some tournaments to your schedule. I think you said after the Ryder Cup everything is up in the air. Can you give us an idea of how many tournaments and which ones you're considering?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, again, I probably won't make a decision until after the Ryder Cup. That will have given me a chance to play here, a chance to play in Canada. I feel like my game is pretty close. I haven't played many Tour events since this summer. I've played the three majors. I played the U.S., british and PGA. I haven't played a Tour event in there. I'll probably play here and in Canada and see how I play and then take it from there after the Ryder Cup.

I wouldn't rule out, though, the ability to add events. I'm certainly leaning towards going to Ireland, leaning towards playing a few more events.

Q. I've just seen a press release a little while ago about some new relationship with Exxon Mobile and education. I was wondering if you could talk about that briefly, especially now with three children, I know you're just a dedicated father.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, Dave, it's not like a normal relationship in that it's more of a partnership, and it's not a partnership where we're trying to promote products. We have the same beliefs in helping educate the youths of America, specifically in math and science. As Amy and I have our three kids entering school, we realize how important having good quality teachers, having enthusiastic teachers, having students who are being properly educated, how important that is and what an effect teachers have had on us. So we found a company in Exxon Mobile that has given last year over $103 million, who cares about the same things we care about, so we're going to create a partnership and develop ways to help educate teachers and better educate students with more enthusiasm so the kids are excited about it. We're going to try to do it in a lot of communities that we visit on the PGA TOUR so Amy and I can be involved in those local communities. It could be something as simple as passing out awards to some of the teachers or even more in‑depth than that hopefully.

It's been exciting for us, and I think a lot of it stems from the support that we've had for another charity event that we've been involved with this year with the Birdies for the Brave for the ^ Warrior Fund. It's very flattering to feel like we can have an impact and be able to partner ourselves with the leading energy company in the world and do something that can really be impactful. It's not a small level; this is a very national thing that I think Amy and I are really excited to be able to be in a position to do something like that.

Q. You mentioned you were going to do¬† ‑‑ a lot of it is communities on the PGA Tour; are there other places you'll go specifically?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly in San Diego because we live there, but we want to do it more on a national basis. So it's easier for us to correlate it with the tournament cities that we're going to be traveling to and try to do something maybe the Tuesday or Wednesday the week before.

Q. The last couple of majors, TV has made it a point to show you prior to your round two and a half, three hours prior to your tee time on the range starting your routine. Is that a new extended routine? Is that how you've always done it or can you talk about your pre‑round preparation and how it might have changed?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we have been getting a lot of late tee times when we play on the east coast. At least when you play well you get late tee times, which is a good problem to have. The Masters, 3:00 o'clock, U.S. Open, 2:30, the last tee time here, 2:45. I get up late, kind of meander through the day and don't get much done. What I've actually done is turned those days into a day that's very similar to how I play back home, get up early, go practice, spend a couple hours practicing, grab a lunch, have a break and then go play. That's what I've tried to instill out here, get out there three and a half, four hours before I play, ball‑striking, putting, ^¬†chipping and so forth, take an hour break and then I'm ready to go tee off. It has been a routine that has been working well for me the last three, four years and I'm trying to stay with it.

Q. Do you think this course shows¬† ‑‑ basically the best players who are playing the best tend to show well on this course, and also, how do you feel playing on this course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we have one reachable par 5, and that's it, on this golf course. That means that 17 holes that are¬† ‑‑ if you want to make birdie, you've got to hit a good approach shot. A majority of those holes are par 4s, and because of that, ball‑striking becomes a key element of it.

Certainly putting is important. You've got to make putts. But ball‑striking is at a premium here and that's one of the things the better players really enjoy, the ability to get the ball in the fairway, to get it close with their irons, gives them a better chance at making birdies. You don't have the four reachable par 5s. You just have to get up near the green, get it up‑and‑down and you're 4‑under.

Q. How do you feel when you come and play this course?

A. Well, I really enjoy this course. I've had a good record here in the past I would say, and I love the greens. I love putting on the greens, but I love the challenge from tee to green because if you strike it well, you're going to give yourself a number of good chances. The greens, as tough as they are with the speeds this week, are still at a point where you feel you can make a lot of putts. They're not like Augusta where you get 12 feet and you're trying to two‑putt. If you're 12 feet you feel like you can make it on these greens. If you strike it well, you're going to have a lot of great opportunities.

Q. The way you revamped your preparation and then committed for the majors changed everything around like you did. Now that they're over with, was it more of a payoff than you thought it would be when you first decided to do this or about the same?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I was certainly pleased with the way the majors went this year. Obviously getting my first win was nice. But being in contention consistently in all four of them was what I was really after. Now the next step will be to just improve on it just a little bit, just that much more, and see if I can salvage that shot or two a tournament, which is all it seemed to take this year, five shots away from a shot at the grand slam. If I can improve a quarter of a shot now we're talking about, one shot every 72 holes, it can be a world of difference.

Q. Any thoughts of pitching batting practice this year?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not this year, no. I think I'm going to stick to golf. It's been a good year on the golf course. I'm going to stick there on the golf course where I belong.

Q. You made reference to No.  1. I'm only going to frame this in reference to since you turned pro. Have there been this many players at or near the top of their form, at or near the top of the Varden race all at the same time since you turned pro?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that there have been, yes. I think when Greg Norman was playing well and leading the Money List, we had guys like Nick Faldo that were playing great and Tom Lehman was always up there, David Duval and Tiger started to come along in the late '90s. I absolutely think there were a lot of people. Maybe not four or five guys that seemed to be considered a lot, but there have always been two, three or four.

Q. Just one last thing on the No.  1. Do you feel as you get older, you're projecting forward another year, would you be able to make that sacrifice that it might take to be No.  1 in terms of the scheduling and maybe the commitment?

PHIL MICKELSON: What would I do differently scheduling?

Q. I don't know, just playing more perhaps.

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I don't see that that would be a benefit. I look at Tiger who's been No.  1 for however many years. He plays a limited schedule, plays even less. He's not even married or has kids.

Q. All the things in your life, do you feel it would be a sacrifice to go to the next level or do you think it's just a natural progression?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't feel like I'm sacrificing. I do feel like you need balance. I certainly am not going to be 15 hours a day golf only. I enjoy time with my family, I enjoy being together and doing other things. I get burned out on golf. I'm only effective when I'm excited to play. The biggest difference for me is not that I have not been not wanting to do the work, I just haven't been doing the right things. Last year I worked harder last year on the wrong things and had the worst year of my career for the most part, and working on the right things allows me to practice less because when I'm sharp I'm ready to go. I entered the majors not wondering whether I was going to play well. I knew I was going to play; I just needed to execute.

I do feel excited and eager about working on my game and getting better because I've seen the progress, and I feel like I've got the right direction now. I trust what Dave Pelz says, I trust what Rick Smith says, and I feel like they're giving me something that really does get me better and I've enjoyed that.

Q. Any inkling on who Hal is going to pair you with?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't talked to him about it. He hasn't asked me who I thought. I think in his press conference he says he's going to be decisive. I think it's going to be similar to Ken Venturi when he came in at the Presidents Cup in 2000 where he says, "You're playing with him, you're playing with him." You knew exactly who you were going to play with. There was no partnering or talking about who you want to play with. I think he's going to come in and tell you who he's going to pair you with. I've got no problem with that. I've got no problem being paired with anybody on the team. I think everybody feels the same way. I just want to play.

Q. I've heard some guys say today that put Mickelson and Woods out in the first match every session and have Europe take a shot at that. What do you think about that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'd love it. I've been wanting to play with Tiger for a long time, so I would love to be paired with him. But again, just about everybody on the team I would love to be paired with. I was really excited to see Chris DiMarco play well and make the team. I think he's an excellent partner for me. We enjoyed playing together at The Masters, I know that. We enjoyed playing together at Presidents Cup and we have a great rapport. There are a lot of guys I would love to play with, but if that's what Hal thinks is best for the team, I'm all for it. I haven't heard that yet, but I'm all for it.

Q. Touching upon your previous answer about how well you played this year, has the progress fueled the excitement for the game or was it the other way around?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, at the end of last year, I wanted to make this year a great year. I wanted this to be a special year where I played well, where I improved and so forth. So the desire was always there, it was just developing the right game plan to get me there. I haven't looked at how many tournaments I've played. It's 15 or 18, around there, but I know I've had a number of Top 5s and Top 10s in that span, and what I'm most proud of is the consistency that I've been able to play at because I haven't really done that in the past as much as I'd like, and I feel like having chances to win on Sunday has made the game so much more exciting for me.

Win, lose or draw, I just love having a chance on Sunday.

Q. You played a practice round today with Chad Campbell and Chris Riley, two Ryder Cup cookies. What did you say to them, if anything, about that. Do you feel yourself sort of becoming the sort of a mentor, from a young gun to sort of a seasoned veteran?

PHIL MICKELSON: It is weird. I don't look at myself as being old, but this is my fifth Ryder Cup and it is interesting that Chris and Chad had a couple of questions that I was more than happy to answer, and I guess it's kind of evolved into that. I don't feel old. I'm only 34, I don't feel that way, but I do feel like I might have some insight that could help out. Playing in your first Ryder Cup, knowing what I want through, knowing what to expect might make the experience a little bit easier.

Q. Did you say anything specifically to them about what to expect?

PHIL MICKELSON: I told them to be really careful of reporters in flowery shirts if they start asking questions, so you might want to wear a solid tomorrow (laughter). I didn't really have anything in particular to say things about corporate outings, like Chris Riley had an outing on Monday, and I would say it's never a good idea to schedule an outing after a major because it's such an emotional week, just like the Ryder Cup. You don't want to do something the day or two following the Ryder Cup. It's such an emotional week. So much is brought out that the last thing you want to do is an outing shortly thereafter. Give yourself a little time to rest.

Those are some things that I kind of learned at a young age, but as far as the Ryder Cup, I think the greatest advice I ever got was from Corey Pavin when he said, "listen, a lot of guys are going to be sit out. Be ready to play when it's your turn." There's a lot more benefit to going 2‑0 or 3‑0 than there is to going 3‑1 or 3‑2. You don't need to play every match, but when you're in it, be ready to play. I thought that was some of the best advice I've ever gotten because when I'm not in, I'm there to support the other guys, and you see it like that, as though this is a chance to rest and a chance to get ready and be more prepared for the next match.

Q. Talk about maybe having to take a quarter shot off each round to maybe win the grand slam this year. Have you started thinking about a way you could possibly do that because it seemed like you did everything you could possibly do this year?

PHIL MICKELSON: I did see a couple of areas, sure. You can always find areas. I saved a lot of shots or didn't throw away shots in the four majors this year like I had in previous ones, and now I just have to go back and look at do I need to be more aggressive on certain holes, do I need to be even more conservative on certain holes, how did I do on the par 3s, 4s and 5s. Those are the things that we'll go back in the off‑season, sit down and analyze and see if we can come up with a solution to improve in those areas. I'm really excited about Augusta because going back to the same spot every year makes it easier than trying to learn a new golf course every year.

Augusta I feel very excited about because I feel like I have a good game plan for a lot of the pin placements. I feel like I'm pretty sharp and ready for some of those spots. A lot of it was putting from off the green that salvaged a couple shots for me.

CHRIS REIMER: Thank you, Phil. Good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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