June 11, 2002
FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK
RAND JERRIS: We are now joined by Phil Mickelson.
Phil, this is your 12th appearance in the U.S. Open, a past USGA champion having won the 1900 Amateur. All around, your game statistically has been quite strong. If there is one particular aspect of your game that you might have worked on in preparation for this week, what would it be?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, this is a wonderful golf course and a very difficult test. The most critical element here will be driving the golf ball, of course. That's always the case at the U.S. Open.
But this particular Open is different than past U.S. Open championships in that there used to be a philosophy as a player is "Let's miss it big and get it to where the gallery is."
Here, that's not the case. We have a regular cut of rough about four inches and we have thick, two-foot Heather before we get to the people, and the gallery is walking in thick Heather and in trees. If you miss it big, it's much more penalizing than in years past where the rough might be trampled down. It's different than what I've seen in years past.
Driving the ball is critical like every year, but we might not have the opportunity where we can get lucky and get a lie that we can get on to the green with. It seems like if you miss the fairway, it's going to be wedging out.
RAND JERRIS: Any stretch of holes that you think will be decisive?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the most difficult stretch starts at 10, 10 through 13. And I think that 15 is a tough one, too.
So I guess 10 through 15 is really the most difficult stretch. Starting at 10, 12, 13, those three are by far the most difficult three holes that we have. No. 12 is going to be very difficult. It's difficult just to reach it in two, yet alone think about making birdie. So that drive is going to be critical. Some guys, if the wind gets into your face, might have a tough time carrying that bunker because it's a very big carry to get to the fairway.
I think that the golf course starts out in a mode where you can make some birdies the first four, five, six holes with a reachable par 5 on No. 4 and short irons into 1 and 2, but it slaps you in the face when you make the return right around 10 and you hit long irons into par 4s that it's very difficult to make four.
Q. In relation to what you were just talking about, you're starting on 10 on Thursday. How difficult is that for guys who want to get a good start, jumping on those first three holes?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's very difficult to start on the back side here because you're starting right with the meat of the golf course. You don't have an opportunity to get into a rhythm or a flow and feel confident.
But, to play the hardest holes early in the morning without the wind hopefully -- typically when the wind is down and when the greens are a little bit softer might be advantageous, might make it a little bit easier to salvage par, because I'll have to hit long irons into the green either way and I might have a better chance to hold the green, get off to a good start of three or four pars. If I can do that, that would be a great start to play the first three in even.
Par the par 5, No. 13, is one of the more difficult par 5s that we'll play because it's very difficult to reach it and you have to hit tee shots in a very tight fairway.
Normally we look at par 5s as being birdie holes, as great opportunities to score low, but here at the Open and on 13 more specifically, it's a very difficult hole just to salvage par. You have to hit two great tee shots, a good drive and typically a 2-iron or 3-wood.
Q. There was a story in one of the monthly magazines about the possibility of the scoring record falling on this track, I guess by virtue of the fact that the greens are fairly flat. Can you examine those elements and what you think might happen?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't think that the scoring record is in jeopardy. I thought that the way Tiger played at Pebble Beach was some incredible golf, and certainly it could be duplicated, but I doubt that this is the venue to do it on.
It seems as though it's a much longer golf course than we have played in years past. We're hitting a lot of long irons into it. The wind seems to be a thicker air, thicker wind, where it seems to grab the ball and affect it's flight much more so than in other occasions.
Although the greens are subtle and you feel like you can make putts on them, they have them rolling 13 and 14 on the Stimpmeter, speeds that we don't normally see, either. So the subtle tees and the slight contours that they do have seem to be more pronounced.
Q. A lot of times a U.S. Open seems to come down to the 72nd hole, like last year and a few years with you and Payne. Why do you think this Open seems to come down to the last hole and playing the last hole is that the most pressure you've ever felt being under?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well in, 2000, it didn't come down to the last hole because it's very difficult to do what Tiger did, and that is to go out and make a lot of birdies on a U.S. Open golf course.
Typically, most everybody can make pars, but it's very difficult to make birdies, so we see a lot of people who -- a lot of players who just make solid pars, able to drive it in the fairway, get it up on or near the green, get it up-and-down and salvage par so that leads to a grouping of scores because it's very difficult to rattle off three or four birdies.
The '99 Open, I don't recall looking back on it saying that was the most pressure I felt, I look back on that saying that was one of the most exciting moments in my competitive career. Having a chance to win a U.S. Open coming down to the last hole was a wonderful feeling. Yes, it was a nervous feeling, but it was a wonderful feeling, and it's a feeling that I look forward to and hope to have every chance I play in a tournament.
Q. Could you describe the galleries? Have you noticed a difference with the galleries, the New York gallery during the practice round? And in the past, being paired with Tiger is usually a good thing, but can you describe how the galleries might be a little different when he's playing with you and you're playing with him?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't know how the gallery would be different when I would play with Tiger.
I think what I have found, playing last week at Westchester, I found the fans and the spectators to be very courteous and very respectful of all players, and that typically is the case. That's typically the case. But I certainly felt as though crowds were very supportive of the players, and not just myself. I felt like it was that case for every player. I don't know how it would be affected if Tiger and I get a chance to be paired together. I would hope that we would have a good-sized gallery, but I don't know how they would react.
Q. Are they louder? Do they offer you advice, being that a lot of them have played here before?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's not that they tell me that this putt is going to break left or right. That's pretty obvious to the eye.
What I've heard a lot of is, "Hey, I'd like to see you play after spending the night in your car." That seems to be a common theme. I guess we are very fortunate to wake up at 8 or 9 o'clock and come out and play, and I guess that's not the case day in and day out. That seems to be an obstacle. But they have been very supportive.
Q. You talked about the fourth being a reachable par 5. I'm just curious, in your practice rounds, have you actually attempted to go for the green, or have you played right; and if you have played for the green, what club did you hit and were you able to hold that green?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that's a good question, because the first time I played here was last week on Wednesday, and I hit a beautiful, high soft cut 2-iron, landed on the middle of the green and not only did it just roll over the green, it rolled through the chipping area, it rolled down the embankment by the cart path, by the Heather and the trees.
So it's not the wisest decision to attempt that green.
What I have also noticed is the faces of almost every bunker, the ball is plugging. So I would typically say a great spot to be is in that front bunker where you would be on an uphill lie, even though the green goes away from you slightly, but that's not the case either. Because the ball seems to be plugging with even a 2- or 3-iron hitting into it.
What has to happen is a scoreboard right of the green, right down the middle of the fairway for your second, that that will be the target. I will try to get far enough there so they'll be able to shoot straight up the green and not have to be hitting to a green that's slightly running away from me. I'll be hitting to a green that's left-to-right. So I don't necessarily go at the green to get at the surface.
Although today I hit it in the rough, wedged out and hit 5-iron and was able to stop it. Now, if I can get a 5- or 6-iron in there, I'll probably go at the green. I doubt that would be the case. I don't think I'll be able to hit the ball far enough off the tee to have that club in, so what I envision is a 2- or 3-iron, up the right-hand side and try to wedge on and that takes 6 out of the equation and brings a very possible birdie back in.
Q. How much is the driver taken out of your hand here? And you talk about in regular tour events that you don't mind missing a few fairways with aggressiveness; how much does that change here? Obviously it does to some extent.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the driver is not going to be taken out of your hands as much or at least forced out of your hands. You can hit driver on a lot of holes here. Now, the fairways, what happens is they don't necessarily tighten up, but they dogleg, they turn a little bit. The danger is going through the fairway, and so typically you'll see me hit a lot of fairways through the tee. That seems to be the right club for some turning points but I feel like I can hit a number of drivers.
My driver when I hit it, it's not like I'm trying to go after it for distance. It's more that I'm trying to control it to land soft. I don't want to hit a runner; I want it to come in soft, so I'm hitting a lot of cut shots with the driver.
It seems like distance is a critical factor, but, here is the big reason why driver is not necessarily the play. In a lot of Open course, the fairways will go all the way to the green and if you miss a fairway and go in the rough, you might be able to run 1-up, take a long iron, hack it out and run it up onto the green. But the fairways here cut off at 80 yards short of the green. Even if you do get a good lie, you are forced to fly it all the way to the green and that is not ever going to be possible from the rough. If you have to wedge out even if you have a pretty good lie. So I don't imagine the driver being the greatest play for me, maybe the par 5, 13 and a couple of others to see if I can get the ball down there to try to make a birdie.
But what I find is that to play aggressive here doesn't mean hitting driver. What I see is what playing aggressive here means is hitting an aggressive swing, taking a rip at it. If I hit driver, I might make a tentative swing, kind of a conservative swing because I feel like I have too much club and I might hit it too far. So I will take a little bit less club and go ahead and make an aggressive swing and try to play aggressive that way, as opposed to attack the golf course when it's really not a course that you can attack.
Q. Did you play a lot of muni courses growing up? Maybe some of your more amusing memories or some of the worst hackers you've seen on muni courses?
PHIL MICKELSON: I started working at a golf course when I was 8, and it was a municipal course and I picked the range there for four years so that I would have playing privileges. So I had the opportunity to play with a number of players, although I don't remember it that well; it was awhile ago. And I worked at a driving range through high school, through 17-years-old so I would be able to hit balls and so forth.
I've also played high school golf at Torrey Pines where we are talking about potentially holding another U.S. Open here shortly, after the Rees Jones redesign. It is a very difficult golf course, playing 7,500 yards. We saw it at the Buick Invitational, how difficult it is. I think there's a good chance that an Open might be held there. That, too is a municipal course and I think being able to play here at Bethpage Black and hopefully Torrey Pines, course that is -- everybody in the world can play -- you might have to spend the might like you do here, but I think that's really cool and for the game of golf.
Q. In the recent past, I think you've talked about not letting the quest for a Major sort of consume you. Have you found that approach overall to be beneficial, and if so, how, and is that your approach right now?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, what I have found is that every chance that I have to play in a Major championship is a wonderful opportunity to compete for the greatest thrill and the greatest trophy in the game of golf, and I just love that opportunity. I've had some wonderful chances coming down the stretch at the PGA last year, some U.S. Opens, some Masters. It is a tournament I very much want to win.
I feel like I've played some of my better golf in those tournaments; I just haven't had the break or two that I need to come through and win.
But to say that it's a quest to win, certainly, it's a tournament that I want to win. There are tournaments that I gear up for and try to focus to bring out my best game that week, and I feel like I've been able to do that. To compete against the courses I did against Pinehurst and play well and shoot even par, but it just wasn't good enough to beat every player in the field, Payne Stewart played well, and same thing at Atlanta Athletic Club last year. What I find is it's a quest to play my best over those championships, over those tests of golf and to see how that ranks against the other players.
Unfortunately for me, it has not ranked No. 1 yet, but I feel like if I keep bringing out that level of play, I think that in a short time, it should be good enough.
Q. Sunday, it's Father's Day and you're known to be a great father and it's your birthday. Could you think of a better script to win your first Major?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I couldn't, but that seems to be the case the last ten years, it's my birthday, it's Father's Day, right around that time. One of these years, hopefully.
Father's Day is typically on a Sunday; is it not? My birthday is not always, though. It's a very special time because every time I play the Open, it brings back memories of '99, playing against Payne Stewart, memories of his passing a few months later and memories of the following day when I had the birth of my first child. It's a very emotional time of the year and emotional tournament and something that seems to have a lot of memories all tied into one event. So it would be very special to breakthrough and win on that Sunday that I've been trying to win on for many years.
Q. A lot has been made about the fact that Tiger Woods has not won on a par-70-course. The theory behind it is that --
PHIL MICKELSON: Kind of stretching it a little bit, isn't it just trying to find angles (Laughter.)
Q. I agree with you and it's leading to a real question. This is a par-70 course, but one of the par 4s is 490 yards. Is 70 just a number? I would think this course still favors the long hitters?
PHIL MICKELSON: That is a good point; par is a relative score.
When the 12th hole is playing into the winds it plays like a par 5 and the scoring average will be over four and a half. It will be like 4.7. To just put a par on a hole is a little bit deceptive.
There are a number of holes here that you don't really think about what par. Is you try to play it the best -- the lowest you can, and at times, you have to play for a bogey. Maybe you didn't hit a great drive or maybe the pin is tucked in a spot that you can't get to and 5 is a good score. So you have to accept that and realize that the entire field has to play that same hole as well. They are going to be faced with the same challenges and difficulties and that their score relative to par will be the same.
Q. Talking to Steve Jones yesterday, I asked him who he thought was going to win this week and he said without hesitation, he thought that this was your week. He said the key, he thought for you winning this week was your putting. He said that you can just find that touch that you have so well, especially when you allow the ball to die in the hole, when you find that touch he thinks you're going to win this week. So have you been focusing on your putting trying to find that touch and trying to overcome the demons that have plagued you in the past, especially on Saturday and Sunday?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I have not practiced my putting in the last six or seven weeks and I've just let it go to the way side. (Laughter.) I just think it will show up on Thursday. (Laughter.)
Putting is going to be a very critical element here, but what's interesting is that you are going to be able to make a lot of putts here. The U.S. Open, a lot of times we put defensively trying to 2-putt. I feel like we will be to make a number of 20- and 30-footers here. We also need to be careful because I ran a couple of the green, given the speed.
But if you putt well, you can make them. And I think that's another good point Steve touched on, getting the ball in the hole. If you can get a good feel and get the ball to die close, take away the work of making 5- and 6-footers, I think that, too, will be very beneficial.
That is something I've been working on, something that I think everybody is working on. I feel like I've been putting better on faster greens. At Augusta I felt like I had a very good putting week there, making a lot of tricky sidehill breaking 4- and 5-footers. I don't think that we will have the curl in the 4- and 5-footers that we have had at some courses this year. I think we will be able to play at two or three inches outside, given the fast speed, as opposed to playing a 4- or 5-footer eight or ten inches outside of the hole.
When we get to greens this speed I'm used to seeing a lot more break in them and I think that we will be able to make them and they are the best shape I have ever seen greens. They are so true. If you put a good stroke on it, you'll make it. So I think that that will be the key, driving the ball in the fairway and being able to get a good feel, touch on the greens, are the two key elements to winning here.
Q. I think it was THE PLAYERS Championship where you talked about, "I wish there were more players who stood up to Tiger on the weekends." Any players that you do think stand up to him, and younger players that can do that as well?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that there are a number of wonderful players in the world. I think that the state of the game is very healthy because we have some wonderful players that are in the Top-10 and 15 in the world ranking, but we have some young players coming up, over a dozen that are going to be the future players that we look to be the contenders week and week out. They seem to be respectful of the game and handle it well. I think the State of the game is in very good shape.
As far as Tiger is concerned, it is a very difficult challenge to compete against him because he is able to do things with the golf ball that not many can even envision. So a lot of people see that as a difficulty, and it is, but it's also a wonderful challenge. It's a wonderful challenge to be able to play against potentially the greatest player of all time, or the game has seen so far, I've heard people mention, "Oh, it must be difficult being born in that same era." I don't see it that way. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to play with him, against him and try and beat him. It's been difficult to have success against him. I've been fortunate the few times I have had success; it's very difficult. But what an opportunity. It pushes me in practice, pushes me in preparation for tournaments and pushes me to bring out my best tournament, so I really enjoy having the chance to play with him and against him.
Q. One of the early TV telecasts this year, I think one of the commentators mentioned that you were thinking of having a driving iron in your bag this week to keep the ball in the fairway. Did you pursue that idea?
PHIL MICKELSON: That's correct, I have. It's similar to my 2-iron. What I am looking at now is whether I want to have my 2-iron or that driving iron in. The one thing I'm weighing is the trajectory and do I want the ball to be a little bit hotter or do I want the ball to come in and land a little softer in the fairways and help hold it. I'm not sure which way I'm leaning.
The driving iron is a wonderful club to chip out of the first cut of rough. You see a lot of guys use 3-wood and this has the same effect. I like having it in the bag, but I'm not 100%. I've been hitting my 2-iron well and I like the way that club has been working for me off the tee.
Q. Have you used it this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't. It's been something we've been working on the design of, so not only the look, but the performance of the sole and the weighting is right and right now we are get to go a point where I feel comfortable with it and we've got it right.
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