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March 24, 2004

Phil Mickelson


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you for joining us for a few minutes in the media center at THE PLAYERS Championship. Good to have you back after missing last year for the birth of your third child, Evan. Why don't you talk a little about missing last year, and being back again and how exciting it is for you.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, yesterday was my son's first birthday, so we had a nice little party, and it is nice to be back out playing. We obviously had a tough year last year and missed a bunch of tournaments at this time. This is an incredible event, largest purse in the game. I'm excited to be back here playing.

Q. We've talked -- there's been a lot of talk this year about what happens if Augusta is firm and fast, which it has been since the changes. What about this place? I don't think there's any rain in the forecast.

PHIL MICKELSON: We saw Lee Janzen win, and he was only 5- or 6-under par when he wins. We have 5- or 6-under par wins when it's hard and fast. So it makes a big difference. Here the greens are much smaller, and very little room short to run shots up. So it makes it that much more difficult, where at Augusta you can still bounce a lot of shots up.

Q. What was the wind doing on 17, and how did Bones do?

PHIL MICKELSON: Bones, he fatted a wedge (laughter). He fatted a wedge. There was just a little right-to-left wind, and he tried to hit this big hook and caught it heavy.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: If that (laughter).

Q. Can you talk about your form and how this early part of the year has gone so far?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's been a good start to the year, and I feel like I've been playing well. I haven't played the last two weeks. And typically when I don't play for a couple of weeks, when Thursday starts, the first couple of holes I'm a little -- I don't want to say shaky, but on edge as far as how the round will go. So I'm trying to get some good work done and be sharp, ready to play. This is a golf course that penalizes a miss much more so than many other courses, so I want to make sure I'm driving the ball sharp and have good control and trajectory and ball flight because of the wind, because of the trees.

So I'm excited about the year, the way it's started, and I'm looking forward to this week.

Q. Can you get a idea, even though you haven't played competitively in a couple of weeks, through your practice rounds, what those first few holes will be like, or is it still a little unknown?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think as we get to this tournament, the setup starts to change a little bit, it becomes much more difficult, the green speed picks up immensely, heading here and into Augusta. The greens start to get much firmer. You know, the West Coast, we played AT&T, we're worried about spinning the ball back too much because the greens are soft and spongy. And when we play in the Bob Hope, it's a birdie-fest because it's pretty easy courses.

But when we get here, it seems to change a little bit. This is where it changes. Last week at Bay Hill was a change, too, but here is where the green speed picks up, Augusta it picks up, and the firmness is much more severe starting this week. It's a little tougher to judge.

Q. You sound like you're fighting a cold a little bit.

PHIL MICKELSON: Just allergies, I get them here and Augusta. I don't know if it's the ragweed or what, I'm a little congested.

Q. You talked about the tribulations this time last year. Just talk about the calmness this year and what impact that has on the game.

PHIL MICKELSON: It seems great. It's fabulous. Things couldn't be better with my family doing well and playing well. We're all together traveling. It's just been a lot of fun. And it makes practicing much easier, at least focusing on practicing much easier, and it makes playing much more enjoyable. My mind -- it's much easier to keep my mind on the game and on the golf course, the shot at hand, than it has been in the past. It's been great.

Q. I'm going off the top of my head, but I was thinking -- I was listening to the broadcast last year, and you were dealing with a pretty significant crisis that none of us new the extent of of. Weren't the NBC guys ripping you for a lack of heart and lack of commitment to the game?

PHIL MICKELSON: Who wasn't, Steve? So I didn't watch the telecast, I had other things going on. But that's okay. That's part of playing the game. You've got to have thick skin.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the field that's here? Obviously the best of the best?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that's just it. It's the best that we have. The best that we'll have all year is right here, from the first player all the way through to the 150th guy. We have all the top players in the world here, and that's what makes this tournament so unique. We obviously have strong fields at the majors, but player-for-player, this is the best field we have all year, the biggest purse we have and one of the toughest tests of golf we have. So it makes for really a great showcase for this game.

Q. To ask you about your series of commercials, I've seen them and they seem to be pretty good. The whole notion of what will Phil do next. Do you find this said affectionately or disparagingly, or how did this whole thing come about?

PHIL MICKELSON: I know Tiger loves to scuba dive and spear fish and has a lot of other interests. A lot of guys like to fish, some guys like to ski. I just enjoy doing a lot of things, as well. I love to ski. My wife and I go every year. I love to throw baseball, we do that a lot. I love to try other sports, other things. And I think it was just a little bit of take on that. And it was a lot of fun making it. I can't sing, obviously. They tried to computer enhance that, and it still sounded horrible. I'm horrendous at singing. And hockey, obviously, I've never played. So it's fun to try new things and kind of have a take on that. And I think that it kind of captures my personality in the sense that I'm kind of adventurous in that I like to try other challenges; I enjoy it.

Q. Some of the things you've been working on, some of the changes, how are they geared for playing events like this and courses like this?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that it's not as though anything was done specifically for this tournament or with the majors in mind, but the fact is that as I've driven the ball more accurately and have more control over the trajectory, I've been able to play the more difficult courses more effectively. So it will be easier for me to see the improvement in my game when I see a test like this, or Augusta or the U.S. Open, that penalizes misses greater than say the Hope did. Even though I won the Hope, a lot of people were able to get away with misses.

As we get here, we're not able to do that. I think that it will be easier for me to see the improvement of my game on a course like this.

Q. Could you talk for a second about your switch back to the regular Pro V instead of the X. Are you losing a little distance off the tee because of that?


Q. How much, would you say, 15?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would say 15, 18.

Q. What benefit do you get?

PHIL MICKELSON: The benefit is that it's softer with the wedges, and it's always been a little give and take. I wanted to go back -- my wedge play was not what I wanted. And it may not -- it may or may not have been the ball, I don't know. But I know that when my wedges were the best I was playing the Pro V1. I went back to that. I may go back to the X. I may experiment back and see how the wedges do with it. But because my wedge play has been so much better, short irons have been better with the Pro V1, that softer, more spin, I'm hesitant to make a change. I have given up 15 to 18, maybe 20 yards, certainly on the statistics. But I notice it a lot, as well, when I'm out in the fairway, how much further I am than last year.

Q. I've heard that on the range, guys giving up distance off the tee, they like the V, or those that want the extra distance. I wonder if you could talk about the impact that's had on the game, given eight years ago the choice was 90 or 100 compression, and that was it. Where are we now where guys can look for the slightest change and the difference between a V or X or Callaway Blue versus a Callaway Black, and how much has that impacted the level of play?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think what it does is it gives each player a chance to get a ball that fits their game. When you put a lot of spin, you get a lower spinning ball, you get shots that are more receptive, or if not much spin, you get a ball that stops. And they adjust for certain courses. When we play Augusta, you can use the X off the tee, but you might want to have the Pro V1 because the greens are firm, you can adjust equipment-wise, how you feel the best way to attack a golf course is. I wouldn't be surprised to see guys switching week in and week out.

Q. Does it level the field?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think it's leveled the field, I just think it's enhanced each player's own ability, because they've got a ball now that matches their game.

Q. There wasn't a discrepancy before, where if this guy couldn't spin it very well, he was going to suffer that week, now he has a better chance?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so. I think there was a lot of talk about like Bay Hill, where the greens were so fast, and you carry the ball to the green, they couldn't get the ball stopped. Now we have guys playing well there who don't necessarily hit it long, and high and soft. They have a ball that can get it stopped. And the guys that do hit it long and high and soft can take some of the spin out of it like for AT&T.

Q. I want to take you back in time to the Sunnyham Amateur in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. I wonder if you have any memories.

PHIL MICKELSON: I remember Alan Doyle used to win that tournament. The greens were open in front. He used to hit the low shots that skipped back to the hole and he putted the eyes out of it. I enjoyed that golf course, we always had the best field. But Alan Doyle seemed to own that.

Q. How important is the future of golf to have tournaments like that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's great to have top end amateur events. Sunnyham and other amateurs, those events yearly get the best participants. They showcase their events on a national level.

Q. You talk about the -- how tough was it for you going, then, back to The Masters at that time and how different will it feel for you going back this year in a different frame of mind?

PHIL MICKELSON: It wasn't the easiest. My first week back I played in Atlanta and played horrendously. I hit it so poorly that I didn't practice for the five days leading up to Augusta. I had five days off, the weekend and three days, and I was hitting it so poorly that I didn't want to see myself hit bad shots all the time, so I didn't practice. And I went out and was able to mentally reverse it and finish third. So I think I had a lot on my mind to where I just needed to get away a little bit.

Q. In your opinion what kind of player does this course best suit?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it doesn't favor one style of game. I think that the longest hitters might have an advantage on some holes, and the short, straight hitters might have an advantage on other holes. I think it's a great design to let everybody compete. It doesn't take one player out of the mix. A lot of talk is that Augusta is only for the long hitters, that the U.S. Open is only for the short, accurate hitters. I think that this golf course is for everybody, and we've seen a great mix of winners, it just depends on how you're playing. Whoever plays the best is going to win. It doesn't favor one style of game, which is why I think it's a wonderful venue.

Q. Can you talk about 17, and what you think of it, and whether it enters your mind on 16?

PHIL MICKELSON: I look at it a little differently. I see it as a birdie hole, it's only 135 or 40 yards. If you feel a little tight, you can just aim for the middle of the green. Guys have hit tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of 9-irons that distance and knocked it close or on the green. It's the penalty for the miss is much more severe.

But I equate it to walking a balance beam. You can walk a balance beam no problem a foot off the ground, but raise it to ten stories it looks different, but it's still the same task.

Q. Tiger had built up such a big lead as the No. 1 player in the world. I was curious when you were in the No. 2 spot or anyone in the No. 2 spot, is there a difficulty being there?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, why would you --

Q. Because the gap is -- you are No. 2, so is there a pressure narrowing the gap and being compared to him?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not really, no, I don't think so.

Q. The switch back to the old Pro V, did you make that down at Presidents Cup, when you did alternate shot with Chris?

PHIL MICKELSON: That was when I started thinking about it. Fulton Allen said something to me in Tampa, he said what are you doing, man, you were great with your wedges with the Pro V. So it just got me thinking. And then DiMarco and I played together at the Presidents Cup and he didn't want to play the X, he wanted to play his ball. That's when I started thinking about it and felt very comfortable with it. I played the ball a number of years, was No. 2 in the world with it. It was an easy transition back.

Q. Would you talk a little bit more about the caddy event today for charity, and what advice did you give Bones?

PHIL MICKELSON: I look forward to this event every year. I wish we did this every week, where we had the caddies hit a shot on one of the par-3s. It's fun. We always put a little money in the pool for the winner, and this year the money is going to Bruce Edwards. It's not really going to the winner, it's going to Bruce Edwards' Foundation, in the winner's name. I think it's cool. It's a fun, fun shot.

Q. Did you tell Bones the balance beam was a foot from the ground?

PHIL MICKELSON: It wouldn't have made a difference, he would have fallen off anyway.

Q. I think there's been a perception this year that your style of play has been scaled back. Has anything changed about the way you approach the game?

PHIL MICKELSON: I certainly don't feel that way. In fact, one of the things that I've talked a lot about with Dave Pelz is that when I hit shots from 50 yards, my circle of shots is going to be much tighter than my shot from 70 yards. And my circle of shots at 70 yards is going to be much tighter than my circle of shots at 90 yards. When you get a short par-4, get a driver and hit it closer, so you're in the tightest circle possible. And par-5s, go after it. The closer you are to the green, the tighter your circle is around the green. He encourages that type of aggressive play. I haven't wavered from it.

The only thing I've done differently is put the priority off the tee of getting the ball in the fairway. And that sometimes means not hitting driver or it sometimes means hitting a cut driver, which is what I've been doing a lot of and taking 15, 20 yards off it. That's why I've loss 15, 20 yards of distance. It may be that I'm playing a fade instead of hitting a hard draw and getting a little more control over it, not hitting it quite as far but keeping it in the short grass. I want to get it down as close to the green as possible, while still being in the fairway.

Q. This is probably where you made one of your more famous speeches a couple of years ago, this is the way I'm going to play the game, if I never win a major. You remember that?


Q. If you look at some of the shots you hit, are they poor decisions or is it mostly poor execution?

PHIL MICKELSON: I always thought it was poor execution. I've always thought the execution is what's been killing me. The execution this year has been the biggest difference. I feel like I'm executing the shots I can hit.

Q. When we talk about the majors, is it possible to overemphasize the importance to a player's career so that's all they focus on and overlook everything else they've accomplished?

PHIL MICKELSON: They're of great importance, and consistency week in and week out is important, too. There are guys that have won two majors that haven't followed it up in their career. And there's guys that haven't won any majors that have won a lot of tournaments (laughter). That doesn't look great, either, so there's got to be a good balance. I think that you need to win a major to show the credibility that you can play in the toughest of conditions.

Q. I'm a passionate Chicago Cubs fan as I am a passionate fan of yours. Does our passion sometimes cause more stress on you, because we want you to win so bad, especially when it comes to majors? We really want to see that happen. It would be a great day for me when I see that happen.

PHIL MICKELSON: It's only been 33 years that I haven't won a major. How many years since the Cubs won a Series? So I'm not quite in that big of a hole. But the Cubs' prospects look awfully exciting this year.

Q. And so do yours.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you. And I've got to tell you I'm very excited about the four majors this year, much more so than I've ever been, for the reason that I feel I've got the game now that I can play a major championship test without getting in nearly as much trouble.

Q. Go get 'em.


JOAN vT ALEXANDER: Thank you for joining us.

End of FastScripts.

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