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June 10, 2003

Phil Mickelson


RAND JERRIS: It's a pleasure to welcome Phil Mickelson into the interview area. Phil is a past USGA champion, by virtue of winning the 1990 U.S. Amateur. This is your 13th U.S. Open. You arrived a bit earlier than some of the other players this week. Tell us your impressions of the golf course and how it fits your game.

PHIL MICKELSON: Is that a nice way of saying I missed the cut? I came and played here Sunday. I actually played here last Tuesday, a week ago today. The golf course is exceptional, as always. We really look forward to the U.S. Open test, and the USGA sets up where every shot is critical, every tee shot there's such a great value on it to get the ball in play, on and around the greens. And every shot is at a premium.

We enjoy this test, and Olympia Fields is no different. Wonderful test off the tee, wonderful test on and around the greens and into them, and it's going to make for a great championship.

Q. For you last year in the Open it seemed as if that tournament was defined more by you -- of you really relishing the experience and being embraced by the crowd than the fact that you finished second. I wonder if you could reflect a year later on that experience. It seemed like it was a pretty meaningful experience for you.

PHIL MICKELSON: Last year's open at Bethpage was an incredible experience. And the reaction, the support the community gave the tournament created a very exceptional environment, especially given that it had been not even a year since the 9/11 tragedy. And the way the community supported the event, the way that I made a run at the end and came close made for a very exciting event and one that I'll always remember. I unfortunately started the day a little too far back, and something I feel I need to improve on this year is not to put myself five shots back of the lead like I did last year and see if I can get closer coming into Sunday.

Q. Would you go back to the first time you played in a major with all the famous golfers? Talk about the pressure you felt and what a 16-year-old who's playing in this tournament must be feeling now.

PHIL MICKELSON: I believe my first major championship was the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah, right here in Chicago. And it was the very exciting finish that Hale Irwin knocked in a 90-footer or 50-footer on the last hole and ran around the green and high-fived everybody.

I think on the final day the best I had gotten was four under, so I got within four shots of the winning score. I had played a couple of years in collegiate golf and had a chance to play competitive on the PGA TOUR before I played in a major, and as a 16-year-old playing here, I think that it is an incredible opportunity to really test yourself against the greatest test of golf that you'll ever see in a USGA event. We'll never have as a recreational golfer an opportunity to play in rough that we'll see here today and green speeds we'll see here today and play a course that's overall set up as difficult as USGA events. As a 16-year-old to have that opportunity, it can only help him get better.

Q. I'm not saying you are, but if you were a wagering man, what would you say your prediction would be for a winning score this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: That's a very good question. And I think there's a lot of variables, as we always have in these championships. Wind is always a variable. I think the biggest thing to look at will be green firmness. If they start to get firm and fast with the undulations, there's more contour to these greens than in Opens we have had in the past, anything above the hole will be impossible to get the ball stopped within 10, 15 feet of the hole. In that case, even par is going to be good score, as always. If we have rain, like we did today, I think guys have a chance to get to four, five or six under par for several rounds.

As Saturday and Sunday come along the green speeds pick up. Last year the greens on Sunday were rolling almost 15 on the stimpmeter, but if that were the case, if we had speeds like that here, we'll have scenarios like we did at Olympic Club, where balls were lipping out and coming back 20 feet. If that happens, over par is going to be a great score.

Q. For the kinds of things you're trying to do in your career, how crucial is a good caddy? Is it more a partnership than employer/employee relationship?

PHIL MICKELSON: My caddy is very important. My man Jim McKay has been instrumental in my success on the Tour. He's been able to pull clubs, make critical reads on the greens, to say the right thing to me to either calm me down or get me motivated at critical points to keep me in tournaments and help me ultimately get in contention to win. I think it's a very important part, not to mention the fact that he tracks every shot that I've hit, how far -- what the temperature was, wind condition, how far it flew, how far it rolled. All those variables lead to repetitive successes. So when we go to International, where we have a huge elevation change, and we don't have to rely on percentages, we can rely on past shots. And that seems to help and subsequently I've played well there. So a caddy is a very critical element in a player's success.

Q. Without naming names, is there anybody who's won a major in recent years where you've said wait a minute, I know I'm better than him?

PHIL MICKELSON: I wouldn't touch that question with a 10-foot pole.

Q. You talk about needing to come into the final round in a better position, than being five or six back. What do you need to do to get off to a better start? Is it change your approach or simply playing better golf early?

PHIL MICKELSON: I have tried, especially in Opens, to be patient the first couple of rounds, not try to do anything too extravagant, just try to stay around par, knowing the players are not going to run it high. And I think that has been a strategy that has got me in contention and has done well for me the past so many years. I think that I may have to take a few more chances than I have in past Opens this week, in an effort to close the gap, to get below par heading into Sunday, because I think that the leaders Saturday night will be a few under par, and I'd like to be as close to that lead as possible.

Q. Following that up, what's the definition of a few more chances for you on this golf course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, a few more chances is --

Q. Taking a few more chances?

PHIL MICKELSON: There are some holes here where you can hit driver and have wedges in. And if driver is not the club, then it's a 2-iron, and you're coming in with a 7-iron, 6- or 7-iron. I think there might be a couple of holes where I might have to hit driver and have wedge in, and take advantage of the hole if the pin placement is where I can get to, whereas I may have played a little bit conservative. Certainly last year I played a little too conservative. On 15 the first day when I had a good round going I hit a 2-iron. And I hit a good tee shot in the first cut or fairway, and I had such a long shot in that I had to hit 2-iron up the hill, I ended up making double when I left it in the rough. I think that looking back, I needed to hit driver, 3-wood to get the ball down where I'd have a legitimate shot at making it easy for me or maybe a birdie. There are holes out here like that.

Q. What is the state of your driving game? The stats don't look very good. But how have you been hitting it lately? Have you been working on something?

PHIL MICKELSON: My driving statistics accuracy-wise have never been great, but the weeks of the U.S. Open they've always been pretty good. The reason is you see me hit a lot of big cuts, just like I did last year, to get the ball in play. It's not as though I feel it's a regular TOUR event, where I just go ahead and hit it, I actually try to shape a shot and hit the fairway, and I'm taking 20 yards off the potential tee shot. That will be the case this week, too.

Q. There's been a lot of talk of the depth of the bunkers. Have you been in those bunkers intentionally or unintentionally during the practice rounds and what can you tell me about them?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't been in them too much. I've hit a few shots out of them. The sand seems perfect, so the greenside bunkers are not going to be an area that you must avoid. I think they're actually an area that you can get up and down from. The fairway bunkers are the ones to avoid because of the lips. But I think you can get it close enough to the green to salvage par.

Q. You've played really well in past years, and this year was (inaudible)

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think it makes a difference, but personally I would like to be playing well for the year, but I know that a number of guys have won tournaments off of missed cuts. I know that I played well at Augusta off a missed cut. So it's not that critical an element.

Q. I'm sure this point has already come, so I'll ask you, at what point in your career did you get completely sick of hearing that you were the best player who hasn't won a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't really thought about it.

Q. When you come to the U.S. Open and even The Masters and other majors, there's no such thing as lift, clean and place, it's lift, clean and cheat. What's your take on that, do you think the USGA is being too stubborn or do you like the fact that you're playing it down regardless?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't mind the fact that we play it down regardless. I think that's always been an element in the game. As the governing body I think it's important to play the game the way it was drawn up. I think the top players will have an advantage if mud becomes a factor on the golf ball, because many guys know how the ball will react with mud on certain sides of the golf ball. And you understand that you have to play 15, 20 yards away from the pins the mud is going to shoot the ball immediately one way or another off the ball face. And to add another element into the game is a good thing.

Q. What's the worst situation you've ever had?

PHIL MICKELSON: As far as overall weight on the ball?

Q. Worst situation you've been on the ball, shooting sideways or whatever?

PHIL MICKELSON: It definitely shoots sideways. Interesting thing about mud, aerodynamically with mud, it takes it the opposite side, but if you're putting it on the ground, it actually pulls the golf ball to the mud. It's opposite if you're going through the air or on the ground. I see the guy behind you looking like, well -- (laughter).

You think I'm full of it, I can tell, but it's true.

Q. In baseball the pitchers with the biggest fastballs get a little older and that's when they lose a little off their fastball and learn how to pitch. Does that analogy carry into golf, and if so, how does that relate to where you are with your game?

PHIL MICKELSON: It is very possible. I think the placement on a fastball is much more critical than speed. Any hitter is tuned in to hit a 98-mile-an-hour fastball. But when it starts painting the corners it's a little different thing. And in golf a lot of young players like to go all out off the tee shot. And as soon as you start taking a little bit off for better placement it's a big factor. Now, I actually feel as though it's at a point right now in the game where you have to go after it to take advantage of technology. And there will be a point where I'm physically strong enough to take advantage of the technology, where I can actually go back and not go a hundred percent on it. And hopefully that time is soon, and I'll be able to start placing it again.

Q. Rand mentioned this was your 13th Open, and I presume similar numbers of starts in the other majors, and knowing how badly you want to win one, at least presumably, how -- does the pressure mount more internally as you come to each major now, and if so, how do you deal with it?

PHIL MICKELSON: The way I deal with the expectations of me to win are to try to avoid it. I try to avoid the surroundings here at the Open. I try to get my practice rounds in before people get here. I'll play one practice round this week. I played here today, Tuesday. I'll take the day off tomorrow and go somewhere else, same thing yesterday, and I find that staying out of the environment is the best way to deal with it.

Q. How about inside you?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't really worry about it.

Q. Does the pressure mount at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't really worry about it.

Q. I asked Tiger, and I'm interested in your perspective. There's been plenty of talk about technological advances on clubs and balls and the impact they have on the game but very little talk about similar leaps in terms of course conditioning and maintenance practices. From a player's perspective, how much do you notice in terms of improved conditioning, improved maintenance practices by superintendents and what sort of impact have you seen those things have on the game of golf?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it has a very positive effect. And I know last year the USGA allowed Dave Pelz to come in and utilize his new green speed measuring device that very accurately allowed him to read the speed of the greens to within plus or minus two inches of each green. Now, here at Olympia Fields, there are only two or three greens we can actually test the speed of, because they're so undulating, that last year when they were rolling 14.9, you didn't hear anybody complain, because every green rolled 14.9.

At Southern Hills we had a bit of a problem, because on 18 we had to slow it up, balances were rolling down the green, and we had that case on other holes, too. So the consistency was not there. Last year it was the most consistent we've ever had. Why he's not doing it again this year, I don't know. Because there are holes that are very fast and there are holes that are a lot slower.

The inconsistencies of the speed here this week are much more difficult to judge. As a player, we don't care how fast they get, as long as they're the same every hole, so we don't have to regauge the speed on every single hole. How to calibrate that to fairways and rough and so forth, it's been consistent now for at least a decade. But I notice the biggest improvement in the green speeds.

Q. I don't know how many of us picked Rich Beem and Mike Weir to win the last two majors. Has the pool of potential major winners gotten bigger, and if so, why do you think so?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I would have to say yes, because I look at the field. Out of the number of players in the field, I see a great number better of players that could potentially win. And I don't know why that is, but I do see the field size that could win increasing, yes.

RAND JERRIS: Thanks very much for your time. And we wish you success this week.

End of FastScripts....

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