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June 15, 2004

Phil Mickelson


RAND JERRIS: It's our pleasure to welcome Phil Mickelson, the 1990 U.S. Amateur Champion and 2004 Masters champion. Your chance to win a second major this week, just some general thoughts coming into this week on the golf course and your game.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the course looks fabulous and I think everybody has been saying. It's playing hard and fast, and I think the biggest difference between this and '95 is the shaved areas around the green, the way the ball is going to roll 15, 20 yards away can make it very difficult, but it also incorporates your short game ability into the final score and I think the player will be tested fully on his abilities this week. I'm very pleased with the way the course sets up.

Bruce, you had a question. Did you want to fire one at me?

Q. Are you the best player only to win one major?

PHIL MICKELSON: That is such a nice question to answer, so much nicer than the ones in the past. I don't know if I have an answer for you, but it just sounds a lot better.

Q. There's a sense with the media and the fans that something special is unfolding with you, Tiger, Ernie and Vijay all being at the top of your games. Do the players feel that, as well, and do you sense that competition?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't really thought about it. I just feel like this has been a wonderful year for me, and two months ago was a very special moment, and I felt like I played very well heading into it, and '04 has just been a great year. '04 has been a great year for a number of players, obviously Vijay has played terrific, Ernie has played terrific, Tiger has been playing well, he's Top 5 every week, so I think a lot of guys have been playing well. There's some guys there you just don't want to rule out as guys that can pop up this week. The way David Toms plays is as talented as anybody out here on Tour and Davis Love is due to win again soon. I think it's fun to be able to see Jim Furyk defending his title. David Duval is back, hopefully he'll be in top form. There are a lot of guys that are going to try to make this a special year.

Q. We were watching you outside before with the fans signing autographs and you seem to have such a great rapport with them. How big is that a factor, knowing that the fans are out there for you when you're playing your game, and number two, Tiger elaborated on it before, how tough is this course when you're not on your game? Like you said, the natural elements really rip you up here.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the response from the people here in New York and Long Island and everybody to the professional golfers has been exceptional, very flattering, we really enjoy playing in front of them. The people here are very sports knowledgeable and it's fun to hold championships here. I think that this golf course is going to be extremely penalizing. The rough is obviously difficult as always, but it is not as definitive a wedge-out shot. You can get a little bit greedy, try to get shots up by the green and get it close to the green and make par. But if you do that with the shaved areas, balls that are coming in hot with a lot of steam will roll off 20, 30, 40 yards away, put yourself in a very difficult spot. So recovery shots are going to be challenging.

I think with the course being as hard and as fast as it is, I don't really have an idea what the winning score will be, but I just don't see how it can be that low if we don't get any rain. If it stays hard like this, I don't see how anybody can shoot around par.

Q. So that being said, you saw what happened at Bethpage. If the course stays this way, hard and fast and the wind picks up, does this take a lot of people out of the tournament or keep a lot more people in the tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think that it will change who is in the championship, who has a chance to win. I think that the best players should be able to come out on top in the more difficult circumstances because the luck factor has been taken out of the scoring with the short game areas being included. The only thing that luck is involved in is in the bunkers. There's so many rocks in the bunkers that balls shoot everywhere. They come out with no spine and you really want to avoid them. I've ruined two wedges in five rounds. I've had to change them outright because they've put so many dents in my wedges that the only luck element of this course that's being brought into play is the rocks in the bunkers.

Q. You had problems with the one par 5 here last time which cost you a shot at winning. With your new way of playing, would you play those holes differently now, all conditions being equal? What exactly in your mind is your recollection of what went wrong on that par 5 the last time?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't know if it was the USGA being nice to me or if it was the USGA laughing at me, but they shaved the entire area right of 16 where I had been hacking it out of the rough in '95, so it's fine now. If it was like this, I'd play it the same way I did in '95 and I should be all right. But it wasn't like that in '95; it was a lot of rough, and I certainly would have wanted to play from the fairway. I hit irons off the tees. It wasn't like I was trying to get greedy and get on in two; I just pulled my second shot and was hacking out of the rough.

I like the fact that it is now fairway. Thank you.

Q. How much differently do you feel now coming to the U.S. Open as The Masters champion? Is there a feeling of security, a sense of relief? It has to feel somewhat different?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I wasn't ready coming in here (laughter), so that's been a nice change. I don't feel different, but I do feel like it's enjoyable to answer questions, it's enjoyable to sign autographs, it's enjoyable to play practice rounds, and I don't have to feel like, gee, if I could just break through or feel the pressure of trying to break through.

Now I'm looking at it as though this is a tournament that I came close to winning in 2002, I came really close in '99. It's a tournament I've played well in the past. Maybe I could add one more to it.

So I see it as an opportunity to grow in successes as opposed to an opportunity to just barely get over the hump, if you will.

Q. Two years ago at Bethpage there was great talk about the gallery and the gallery participation and shouting and hollering. We're nearly 100 miles away totally, but it seems like a totally different atmosphere with the fans.


Q. I get the feeling that they're not nearly as vocal and rowdy.

PHIL MICKELSON: It's a practice round.

Q. Do you think the galleries reflect the personality at the clubs? It was public at Bethpage.

PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I see what you're saying. It's a good question, I don't know. I thought the response in '02 was fun and very flattering and exciting, and I think everybody really enjoyed playing there. I expect it to be very similar this week.

Q. Another fan question. I wonder if you could talk about your visit to Yankee Stadium last week and how the fans treated you there.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was terrific. I loved spending time in New York. My wife loves it, our children love it. They go to shows, they just think it's the greatest place in the world. I've really enjoyed coming here and playing golf. There's so many great courses in the area. Going to a Yankee game, going to Yankee Stadium, being part of the experience there is something very unique in all of sports. I took my daughter, we had a little daddy-daughter date. She loved it, too. I expected her to want to leave after a few innings but she wanted to stay the whole time. We had a great time and it's just a fun place to go hang out, and I really enjoyed it.

Q. A story in Sports Illustrated, back in New Orleans you said that when you were a child you kind of aspired to be like a people's champion in the mold of Arnold Palmer and --

PHIL MICKELSON: You know SI, though. You've got to take what they say with a grain of salt. I'm kidding.

Q. Is there any truth to that? Can you speak to that, what your thoughts were like as a kid? Does something like that appeal to you and maybe how that still shapes your behavior today on courses and with fans?

PHIL MICKELSON: When I was growing up playing the game and when I first came out on Tour, the person that I tried to emulate the most was Arnold Palmer, and I'll tell you why. 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, I saw him come out of the volunteer tent after spending an hour and a half signing autographs, and his comment was after people were thanking him profusely, he said you guys spent hours on end helping out with this event, helping it run smoothly and yet you don't have a chance to go out and see any golf at all. I wanted to come here and let you know how much we appreciate it. He spent an hour and a half signing autographs for roughly 1,000 people. I thought that was what professional golf should be, the way professionals should handle themselves, the way he treated people with respect and was always thoughtful towards others.

So I've used him as a role model. I do my best. I'm not able to do it always, but I do my best to show the same respect that he does and emulate what he has done.

Q. It wasn't too long ago that people were questioning the competition Tiger was having after winning seven majors. Given what you've done the last few weeks, Vijay, Ernie, Sergio, are those kind of things being put to rest? Is the field at the top of golf as good as it's ever been?

PHIL MICKELSON: Again, this has been a very fun year for a lot of players. I didn't mention Sergio earlier. I forgot, he had a great win last week, he had a great win at Byron Nelson, and after not playing his best for the last year and a half or so, it's great to see him back on top.

So there's a lot of guys playing well this year, and I think that we all know when Tiger reaches his level of play, he is still almost unstoppable. We're still trying to get to that level where we can compete with him when he's playing his best, and I think we all appreciate that he's sharing the wealth and letting us win some tournaments (laughter).

Q. With regard to the gentleman's question over there, do you think that anybody will ever win 7 out of 11 majors again the way Tiger did, and the other thing is do you think that you guys and the rest of the competition have caught up to him to some degree?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, those are both tough questions to answer. I think that anything is possible. I don't think we ever thought we would see a player as dominant as Jack Nicklaus was and then Tiger came along and was every bit as dominant. I think that I'd hate to rule that out. I'd hate to rule out him coming back and playing at that level again because I think that's most likely going to happen.

I don't know if we've caught him, if the gap has narrowed or not, but I think we all expect him to come out and light it up like he usually does, and I think it's very, very soon going to happen. I just hope we can put it off as long as possible.

Q. One of the neat things about this course is that the par 3s have such a great variety of them. Which one of them is playing the toughest this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: The 7th hole is going to be the toughest par 3 out here. It will probably be the toughest hole out here. I think that the percentage of players that hit the green in regulation will be less than 20 percent, and with that being the case, if you play it 2 over for the four rounds, I think that would be a pretty good score. There's really just no place to hit it there. The greens run off and the ball is going in the bunkers off the edge, and you'll just have to get up-and-down.

I don't think there's another hole out here that will play anywhere near as tough as 7.

Q. Confidence-wise, have you noticed a difference in your game since winning The Masters? Has your confidence increased? How would you rate your play in tournaments since The Masters?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I could feel that after The Masters when I came back I played pretty well in the next couple of events. I had a 2nd and a 5th at New Orleans and Wachovia, but I got a little tired and didn't have the best performances at the two events in Texas.

Last week was fun week for me because I hadn't played in a couple weeks and I could feel that I was a little rusty. I played okay. I don't know what exactly I finished, Top 20 or something. It wasn't the best, but yet I could feel that things started to come back. I'm very glad that I played the week before this week because I needed to get rid of a little bit of rust throughout the 72 holes. I hit some shots I probably wouldn't have had I not been playing in tournaments, so I think that it's progressively getting better. I thought I hit the ball better last week and I was pleased with that.

Q. Another Tiger question. Considering a player of your talent and skill took 40-plus majors to have all the breaks line up for you to win a major, can you put into historical context for us or long view what you think of the chin-rubbing and brow-furrowing over Tiger's 0-for-7 streak? Do you think that should be a news story or is it newsworthy in light of history?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, if you accept the premise that Jack Nicklaus was the greatest player of all time, he went through moments like that where he didn't win major championships for a couple of years and yet he had no problem coming back and winning a bunch. So I don't think that it's something to worry about. I think Tiger will be back just like he always is, and he'll win his majors.

Q. This is a Phil question. Ernie seems to have bounced back pretty well from what happened at Augusta. I know there are a lot of players that have gotten that close to a major and it's taken them a long time to recover. As one that's lost some heartbreaking majors, is there a key to how you picked yourself up afterwards? Is there a key that you kept telling yourself?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's tough to recover from a major loss when you've won a couple of majors already, and Ernie has won a couple of U.S. Opens and a British. He has already experienced what it's like to win big tournaments. I don't think it was anywhere near as tough as it would be when I hadn't won to accept the loss when let's say a Scott Hoch, who is a tremendous player and could have won The Masters there on 10 and didn't, I think those are very tough to come through when you haven't won a major.

When you already have, it's still difficult, but I don't think it's as difficult because you don't question your ability. You've already proven to yourself you can win the big ones.

Q. Is there something you told yourself say after Pinehurst or Atlanta or anything?

PHIL MICKELSON: Was there anything I told myself? No, nothing different. I really felt and really believed that it would happen, it was just a matter of time. I never really doubted that it would happen, but again, I'm looking at it a little bit different. I'm looking more big picture. I want to try to build on The Masters victory. It was a wonderful, exciting moment for me, and I don't want it to be the pinnacle per se, I want it to be kind of a steppingstone to playing at that level more often in majors and having more chances because I enjoyed it so much that I'm hoping I'm able to do it some more.

Q. It's easy for us to look back to 1995 here at Shinnecock. How much can you draw from that week nine years ago now, and how much has your game changed, if at all, compared to your game in 1995?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly a lot has happened in the last nine years. I've gotten married, I've had three children, my golf swing has changed immensely, I've played a number of major championships, I've even won one now. A lot has happened since '95. My success at The Masters this year stemmed from trying to salvage a half a shot to a shot a round somewhere throughout the 18 holes. It's very easy to look back on '95 and salvage a shot around there. We look right to 16 where I threw away six shots on a par 5.

I don't feel like I have to do that much different from '95. I drove it very well that year. I hit almost 80 percent of my fairways. If I drive it like that I'm going to have opportunities to make easy pars as well as some birdies. I think that it will be much easier to shave that half a shot to a shot off than say at Augusta where I had been playing very well the last few years.

Q. After Augusta you started the Grand Slam and you said let me enjoy this for a while. Have you let that cross your mind and have you been working on your vertical leap?

PHIL MICKELSON: To me it's just amazing what's changed in the last two months. We go from "will he ever win a major" to "is he going to win a Grand Slam." I haven't really thought about it. I know that I've had two months to relish that victory and to relive it.

I was at a Rolex dinner last night where we replayed it. I still got chills looking at the final putt go in. It was an awesome memory and I want to hopefully create more memories and more successes. I love this national championship. Growing up here in America this means a lot to me, and coming so close for the last couple of years, I think that it provides an opportunity if I play well to come out on top and it's something I'd like to do.

So rather than dwell on The Masters victory as the pinnacle, I want to take what I learned from that event and what helped me succeed, whether it was the preparation beforehand or how I played and so forth and carry it into this week, and hopefully I'll have a shot on Sunday, too.

Q. You were one of the few players to come in here early and spend some time here. Could you tell us, A, initially how you felt after your first day here on Friday in regards to what you thought from the course standpoint in regards to your game, and B, how you're going to attack this course differently than you might attack another course during the year?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I did come in early, and the way I'll -- the second part of your question, the way I'll attack the course won't be too different than say a Tour event with the exception that you cannot fly the ball at the hole here and get the ball to stop, so you have to be very careful trying to get the ball close to the hole with all the runoffs that we have. I'll try to hit a lot more middle of the greens and putt from the middle up into the corners where pins are placed and make birdies that way. But you really have to pick your spots where you try to make birdie. There's only four or five holes out there that when you stand on the tee you feel like you have a good chance to make birdie. So it's not a hole that I'll attack per se as much as I will try to attack the course from the center of the fairway, center of the green. The first part of your question I forgot.

Q. Just initially what your thoughts were after being here one day in regards to your ability to win at this course.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, when I played -- I actually spent three days here. When I played the first round, I knew before I played it that I felt I had a good chance because I liked the course so much in '95 and I had played well in '95. I liked the greens, how the break is very subtle and you're able to pick it up and I'm able to read the greens well. It's poa annua grass, which I grew up on in southern California. It's a course that provides anybody a great chance to win or to do well if you're playing well. I don't feel like there's any tricks to it that you need to play here for years to know the course. I feel like if you're playing well it's pretty straightforward golf and you can do well.

RAND JERRIS: Phil, thank you for your time. Good luck this week.

End of FastScripts.

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