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April 9, 2002

Phil Mickelson


P. DAN YATES: Good afternoon, everyone. We are delighted to have Phil Mickelson here with us this afternoon. He's always done well playing here. He's finished third a couple of times, and he's won more PGA tournaments than I can count on my hands and my toes. So I'm going to ask Phil to have a few remarks before y'all have a go at him, if that's okay.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the golf course looks beautiful, as everybody has been out and seen already. The changes look spectacular. The golf course is playing much longer, and the greens are as fast and as firm as I've seen them this early in the week. I think that was probably because of the anticipation of rain, but if it does not rain, it's going to be four days of the most difficult greens we've seen here in recent years.

P. DAN YATES: Questions, please.

Q. What do you usually, in your years past since you first came here about ten years ago, I guess, hit into 18 and what are you hitting now into 18?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I found that the golf course is playing the same for me as it did in '91, before all of the technological advancements.

On 18 today, I hit 3-wood, 7-iron over the green, and back when I played here as an amateur in '91, I hit driver, 8-iron the first day.

So, it's playing very similar to the way it played for me, 10, 11 years ago.

I'm hitting for the most part the same irons into each hole. Into the wind on 11 I hit 6-iron, probably could have hit a 7-iron, which is what I hit in '91.

14, I hit a 7-iron, which is about what I hit in '91. So it's playing the way it did about 10, 11 years ago.

Q. Is that a significant disadvantage, no factor, small factor, how does that rate?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, everybody is playing the same course. I don't think that it really matters. I don't see it as an advantage or disadvantage. Everyone is playing the same course. I think it's just playing a little bit longer.

I'm interested to see how the scores are affected because some of the holes that have become longer, like No. 1 and 11, are holes that have been very difficult to get to the pin anyways, even with sand wedge. So I don't know if the scores are going to be affected much on those holes. If they are, I'm curious to see by how much. It should be interesting to see how different the scores have been from the past.

Q. Greg Norman says you should have the best chance of anybody with these changes, for the way you can cut it. Do you agree with that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that's nice of him to say. I do feel -- I've always felt comfortable on this golf course. I've had a lot of opportunities to win. I feel as though the golf course has set up well for me in the past, and I feel the same this year.

But again, the player to look at is the No. 1 player ranked in the world, Tiger. He's the guy that everybody has got to watch out for, and given his length and accuracy and distance control, he's going to be the guy to beat.

Q. Is there anything though, about the changes that you like?

PHIL MICKELSON: I do like the added distance. I think that there are some holes where distance could be a big factor. I think 1 and 14 and 18, those holes more specifically, I think, could be a big factor, being able to come in with a shorter iron.

But there are a lot of guys who hit the ball long enough to come in with a short enough iron.

Q. Let's assume that it does not rain and the greens stay hard. If, for instance, on 18, there's a front pin, is there any which way with a mid-iron that you could get it anywhere near?

PHIL MICKELSON: Sure. Same thing that we've been doing in the past, using the slope and ending up 15, 20 feet away. It would be the same style of shot.

Q. But is it a little harder because of the fact that you are using mid-iron rather than shorter or wedges?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would think so, yes. But it would still -- it should still end up in the same spot if you hit a good shot.

Q. We've talked to a lot of players and they say with the changes here, the most treacherous hole, may be 1, maybe because of nerves, because of the length added, and being the first hole, do you agree with that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly, depending on the winds. I think if that plays into the wind it's a mid- to long-iron into it, and you can't get to the top of the hill. This morning it played shorter than what we expected, given the length change.

The holes that are going to be the most difficult are the ones into the wind. When we played 9 into the wind today it was a totally different hole. I hit a 6-iron in there which I can't remember the last time I hit more than a wedge.

Depending upon the wind, that's going to have the biggest effect. When I played 9 downwind I was able to hit my usual wedge. And so I think the wind is going to be the biggest factor as to which holes are the most difficult.

Q. You said you're not going to change your game. Do you approach this tournament any differently than the way you approach any other one?

PHIL MICKELSON: I try not to. I try to prepare the same way that I have prepared in the past for tournaments where I've played my best and I've tried to approach the golf course and play the golf course the way that I've played the best in the past.

Q. Is there a plateau to knowledge out here, or are you just gaining it every single time you play?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that you always have to play the course and play the shots that you've learned in the past, more specifically -- on the greens, little breaks that you don't see. I made a putt last year on 7 that I not have made the first few years out here, but I knew that it was two to three inches off on my read and was able to make it on Sunday.

The reason that you have to hit those same putts over again is sometimes the subtle tees will change a little bit. If they redo the greens, maybe it did not quite flatten the way it did in the past or something, so you all want to play those same shots that seem to be a little tricky.

There's a putt to the top right pin on 16, the front right pin up top, that if you get behind the hole, it's about 30 feet of break, where it looks like it's only 8 or 10.

So those putts you really need to redo or replay to make sure that they are doing the same thing.

Q. And to follow-up on that, are you as comfortable now, even with the changes, as you have ever been out here?

PHIL MICKELSON: I felt like I have a pretty good knowledge of the golf course now after playing it for ten years or so. But just because I know the golf course doesn't mean it plays any easier. I just know where the ball seems to go, and it seems to go in not a very good place most of the time. So I know for the most part where to hit it, and where to miss it, and how to play the course more effectively, most effectively after playing here a number of times.

Q. How did you assess last year's Masters when you look back on it, as far as your performance?

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought I played pretty well for the most part. The only shot that I would want over again was the shot on 16, because after I had pulled within a stroke with three holes to go and had the honors on 16, I hit a 7-iron and pulled it a little bit. And had I hit it just a couple of feet left, it would have caught the slope and I would have had a realistic shot at birdie and put a little bit more pressure on Tiger. But instead I put it on a spot where I was guaranteed an 8- or 10-footer for par. That was the only shot I would have liked to have done over.

Q. With all of the changes, do you still consider yourself a favorite going into this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know how I would classify myself amongst being favored. I think the only thing I could really say is that in the past, I've been in contention a number of years, and I've been playing well of late, and I feel like I should have a chance on Sunday. And past that, it's hard to tell.

Q. How about some of the other names that are always mentioned every year as guys going in, heavy favorites or should be contending. Do you still see those same names surfacing at the top, with the changes?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think if you just look down the World Ranking, those seem to be the guys that are playing the best and those would be the guys that I would say have the best chance at winning.

But that being said, it's really a tournament that anybody could win. We've seen in the past players that nobody really expected to be up there be in contention and even some years win. So it's really hard to judge out of an 80-some-odd man field. I think that just about anybody could win.

Q. I'd like you to discuss the significance of power. Obviously, it's important to any player on any course, but is it more important here, and why is that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that being able to hit the ball a long ways is advantageous here at Augusta because the greens are so difficult, and the wind is swirling about so much, that when you have an opportunity to come in with a shorter iron, the wind won't affect it quite as much, and your misses tend to be a little bit smaller and you can get the ball stopped a little bit quicker on those hard surfaces. So I think it's a slight advantage.

I also feel as though the grass area, meaning the fairway and the first cut, is wide enough to where you can keep the ball on the grass area for the most part without too much threat, as opposed to a U.S. Open where, yeah, you want to hit the ball far, but if you do, you miss it a little bit, you're in the thick rough and you're hacking out. You have a chance to recover if you do hit a poor shot. So if you can hit, say, nine or ten fairways, that's nine or ten opportunities to attack the pin, let's say and try to make birdies. And even if you're in the first cut, you can still make par.

Q. Make-up holes, it was said that before the changes, the Masters course had about four make-up holes where you could count on, you had a better chance of making up mistakes. How many make-up holes do you have now with the changes?

PHIL MICKELSON: I never really looked at it as the golf course having make-up holes. I did think that the par 5s were the real birdie opportunities and if you could capitalize on two or three of those you had a good chance of scoring a pretty good round.

2 has been moved back and that is now a very difficult driving hole and difficult to reach in two. And more often than not you are going to be hitting short iron and it's not really an eagle opportunity the way it has been in the past.

8 has been lengthened as well and 8 is now a very difficult hole to reach in two, and again, you are going to be using a little chip shot to a very difficult green. So those two are still birdie holes, but they are much more difficult to birdie now.

I don't think 13 and 15 have changed too much. They are still the holes you have to make birdie. But they also seem to be the same holes where 6 and 7 pop up on the card quite often. So you need to be careful.

Q. Earlier today, John Daly says that with all of your tournament victories, he would not mind switching bank rolls with you, but he would not want to switch anything for the two majors. If the roles were reversed would you feel the same way?

PHIL MICKELSON: If the roles were reversed?

Q. Would you switch the two majors for all of the victories and the money?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know how to answer that. I think John's had a very interesting roller coaster ride of a life the last five or ten years (laughter) and I'm glad to see him playing better. That's great that he's won a couple majors and I'm happy for him. I'm more happy for him that he seems to have a wife that is very supportive, and he seems to be enjoying life and playing well again.

I've been very fortunate, too. I don't know if that indirectly answers your question or not.

Q. Do you feel that a lot of questions over the years about your representation as being an aggressive golfer, a gambler on the course, over the past season or two, have you re-evaluated that within yourself and come to grips with what your aggressive nature is going to be on the course and how that may or may not fit into the role of winning a major tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think I commented on it pretty extensively at THE PLAYERS Championship, and I don't really have anything more to add to it.

Q. With all of these changes there have been talked about, a standardized golf ball, whatever that is. Would you be in favor of that, or is the fact that all of the manufacturers are out there selling golf balls, it could never come to pass?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that's a difficult question to comment on.

My feeling, and I don't know if it's feasible or not, I can't really comment on that. But what I will say is that the golf balls in the past have always had a very high spin rate and we have not, until recently, been able to optimize spin rate for certain launch conditions. I have a very high spin rate, golf swing angle of attack, what have you. So when I played with the old golf balls before this new technology, I spun it way too much. I couldn't get a very consistent flight. I had to alter my golf swing to try to create a better, more penetrating flight.

Now the golf ball has been adjusted to my swing. It is not coming off the face any faster than it has sense 1976. All that is happening is the spin rate and the aerodynamics are being maximized to fit each player. And for me personally I think that it would be incorrect to force me to play with a ball that's optimum for a shorter, lower-spinning type golf swing, and I think it would be unfair to that shorter hitter with very little spin to have to play the golf ball that I'm using because he would not be able to keep it in the air.

Q. How much do you think the ball is responsible, say, for guys hitting 300 yards off the tee, or is it more the clubs or is it a little bit of both?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we've always had golf ball that is have been able to go as far as some of the newer technological balls like the Pro V1, that's been the one that seems to be standing out the most.

But, until that particular golf ball, we have lost control with the wedges. We have lost control with the mid and short irons, and now we don't sacrifice that control. That's the big difference. We've had balls that go this long. But, now we have the best of both words. We have the longest ball and we have the best ball to control with wedges and short irons, so that's why scoring has been so much lower.

Q. It almost sounds as -- say in the Masters everybody uses this ball, you would stand over and not really feel the comfort or confidence that you have in hitting a golf shot normally; would that be true?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, not if it was the ball that I was playing. (Laughter.) And everybody else had to play it, I would be okay with that.

Q. If everybody else had to play that ball, would you feel "Everybody is playing this ball, I'm just going to go out and hit it"?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think I've tried to say earlier that I don't really have a stance one way or the other on whether we should or should not have a standardized ball. I just think from a player's point of view, to force a player to use a ball that is not the best for his launch conditions is incorrect.

Q. Do you have any part of your game that you would consider an Achilles heel, for lack of a better phrase, and if so, could you talk about what kind of a key that may be this week and handling this course?

PHIL MICKELSON: I guess I would just say no to your first part. So that negates the second part.

Q. Is there anything to the theory or thinking that longer hitters are getting so used to hitting wedges and 9-irons to greens that you guys might feel uncomfortable hitting 5- and 6-irons, and maybe, for lack of a better phrase, being out of practice?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think so. What do you think we've been hitting into par 5s? (Laughter.)

Q. Do you feel like experience here on this particular course is as much of an advantage as it has been before the changes, or might have some of the experience have been negated by the changes?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, I don't think the changes have really negated the past experiences because the greens are pretty much the same, and that's where the biggest factor is, on and around the greens.

Visually, the holes look the same. They play a little bit longer, but again they play very similar to the way they played 10 or 11 years ago, so the guys that have been around that long know how to expect it to play.

Q. Having been in contention a number of times on Sunday here now, how nerve-wracking is it coming down the stretch on Sunday, and does it give you greater appreciation for guys like Jack or Gary or Arnie who have won not just once, but many times here?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's certainly impressive, their records here, winning all of the tournaments that they have on this golf course.

I think that the players that play the game today are playing a totally different course than 30 years ago. But I don't think the feeling on Sunday is any different. I just think that since they went to bentgreens in, I believe, '81, the golf course is playing a lot different. The greens are much, much faster than they were. I've watched a number of the Arnold Palmer victories and I just can't believe how hard they are hitting those putts. I just think it's going to shoot off the green and it slows right up.

Since they went to bent, the golf course has really taken over a whole different character. The feeling is still the same on Sundays, still the Masters, first major of the year, most prestigious event. Augusta has held every one of the Masters, whereas every other major rotates. And so history is made here every year. And to feel that sense of history on this golf course is very cool, actually. It's a little unnerving, but it's really a special feeling to be a part of it, and something that I've cherished every year.

Sundays, it always plays more difficult than on Thursdays. The subtleties of the course come out much more evidently than earlier in the week when the greens firm up.

Q. What do you think about the decision by Augusta National not to invite three of the former champions not to play this year? Do you think that's a good decision?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I really don't know what to say about that.

I love the history of this tournament, the history of this club. I'm just not knowledgeable enough in that area to comment.

Q. The frustrations that you've had in the majors in years past, in this off-season, have you reassessed the way you approach it or anything about the way the majors have gone for you in the past, maybe something you can do differently?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not really, no.

Q. Since Augusta last year, you've been in the center of the storm, wins and losses, are the galleries different? Is it more chaotic? Are people running, is it Tiger-like almost, with the chaos around you on the course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't think anybody on TOUR will ever go through the rigors of daily life that Tiger goes through. I've commented on how impressed I am with the way he handles everything, from the fans to the players, to every member of the media, to volunteers and so forth. I think that he does an exceptional job and I don't think that anybody will ever truly know what it's like to be in his shoes.

The last year and a half has been a very special time for me, because I've started to play at a much higher level week-in and week-out. I've really enjoyed the opportunities to be in contention and try to win golf tournaments.

As a professional golfer, that's always been the goal; to have those opportunities and to win some. And to have given myself that many opportunities the last year and a half was something that I desperately wanted to try to do and to improve my game to get to that level, so it's been a fun time.

Q. You remember playing in your first ever Masters, so what advice would you have for Charles Howell playing his first time on Thursday?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's really not my position to give a player of his caliber any type of advice. He's certainly a player to watch out for. He's got a lot of length, very good iron game and very good short game. I think he's a player not just to watch this week, but every week on the PGA TOUR.

Q. Last year in Atlanta you said it would be a long wait until Augusta, and you've had diversions on and off the golf course since then, but did you find yourself, because of your affinity for this tournament, since then really focusing on this week in the interim?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, but that seems to happen every year, for not just me but all players. We can't wait for the first week of April, second week of April this year, to play this tournament and get back here. There's a very special feeling. It's a different and unique feeling when you're on the golf course, on this particular course, than it is at any other Tour event. Just playing practice rounds, you can sense the difference. This is a tournament we all look forward to when the year starts.

Q. Do you feel this is the one major where you can do yourself justice, as opposed to the Open Championship?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think I've even had a Top-10 there. It's hard to disagree with that.

It is a very different style of golf than what I've grown up with here. My lob shot is negated over there, and so I'm forced to use a lot more bump-and-run shots and I think I probably have not gotten up-and-down as many times as I would like.

It is a style of play that I enjoy. I do feel as though I could play well over there, and I'm going to go over a little bit early this year to try to get acclimated again and give myself the best opportunity this year.

Q. With the opportunities you've presented yourself at this tournament and as close as you've been over the last several years, does that increase the desire and the hunger to breakthrough here particularly, you talk about the reverence you have for this place.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the desire can't get any higher for any of the players in the field. It's not as though my desire is going to increase. My confidence has increased because I feel as though the golf course is suited to the style of play that I enjoy, and that I should have an opportunity on Sunday, and if I'm patient, one of these years, I'm going to breakthrough.

Q. Which facets of your game have you really tried to accentuate in practice recently and, and are any of them specific to Augusta?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I've said for about a year and a half now, the one area that I really want to focus on is about 150 yards in, and that really has not changed. That's an area that needs to be effective for me to score well.

Driving the ball is going to be a factor here, as well. We talk about it, as though it's an open golf course, but it's not. There are a lot of very tight holes and it's important to hit the gaps. It's important to hit it just left of the bunker on 1 so that you have a reasonable shot to the green. You can't really get there from the bunker and you don't want to blow it left in the trees; it's a pretty tight area. There are a lot of holes like that. So driving will be a factor and that's something I've been working on.

Q. Is there a specific shot that you have worked on for this course and no other?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, there's not. I find that this golf course, one of it's great features is that you have to maneuver the ball both ways, right-to-left and left-to-right. I think that's a strength of this course, and so one particular shot here won't get the job done; you have to be able to hit all kind of shots.

Q. When you talk about the driving, the accuracy statistic is the one that's kind of down the list for you. On the golf course how has that converted this year as far as mistakes you've made or trouble you've gotten into, has it been a big bugaboo?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. I just think that it's just plain physics that I'm not going to hit as many fairways as the guy that hits it 30 yards behind me. We hit it two degrees off line, mine is going to find the rough and his isn't. The wedges is my strength and if I have to hit a few shots out of the rough, so be it.

Q. Is it less of an issue here?

PHIL MICKELSON: There's really no rough that's not so penal you don't have a shot.

Q. And how much will you use driver on this course, how many holes do you think?

PHIL MICKELSON: Almost exclusively.

Q. From a preparation standpoint last week you had an opportunity to play a course that is as close to similar to this with hard greens and windy conditions. Do you feel like that got you into maybe the best preparation coming into Augusta in the times you've come here?


Q. With all of these close calls you've had --

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know what else to say. I agree with him. (Laughter.)

Q. Huge close call last year and at the PGA Championship, and you've become a crowd favorite; do you acknowledge that? There seems to be a huge reservoir of cheers and sentiment and goodwill and all that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I've always made a real strong effort to treat the fans and the volunteers with the utmost respect and they have done the same with me. It's been a wonderful relationship.

Q. You talked before about hitting 10 to 11 fairways per round and those are your chances to go at the pins. Are there any holes out there that you no longer can go at the pin, even from the fairway because of the changes?

PHIL MICKELSON: Every hole has a pin placement we cannot get to. It just depends on where the pins are located as to what holes we can attack and what holes we can play for par and it varies from day-to-day.

Q. In the last couple of tournaments that I've covered that you've played, you've had some putting problems on one specific green at some point in time, like the 4-putt in Atlanta. Do you think about that and say you've got to eliminate that, people usually say they have got to eliminate the 3-putts and you had a 4-putt and I can't remember what it was at THE PLAYERS Championship. It looks like, yes, I've had this and yes I'm going on, but do you ever think about saying, gee, I've got to eliminate this?

PHIL MICKELSON: (Laughter.) It would be nice. (Laughter.)

Q. Is there anything that you can do to eliminate that 4-putt?

PHIL MICKELSON: I could make the first one. That would help. (Laughter.)

Q. Or the second or the third?


Let me just say this: When you putt on greens that are this slick, it's very difficult, and I certainly don't expect anybody to understand or relate to how it is, because nobody will ever play on greens that are this hard and this fast where the ball won't stop rolling and will trickle 50 feet by the hole, just like Jeff Sluman's 4-foot putt on No. 2 lipped out and went 50 feet behind him.

It's a surface that we saw last week, that we saw at THE PLAYERS Championship, that is a rarety, and when you miss a 4-footer it will go four feet by, no matter how soft you hit it. Last week I missed a 3-footer and it was straight downhill, and I hit it at a speed on any other normal course would have gone 6 or 8 inches and I tap-in. But it went six or eight feet by. It's just the way the golf courses are and there's not much you can do about it, unless it's straight uphill. None of those putts were necessarily straight uphill, the first ones were almost always downhill and ran four or five feet by.

It would be -- it's very easy to just look at the one mishap as opposed to the 12 or 13 good putts that I made from 4- or 5-feet. I actually putted very well last week but the perception is that I was struggling there. Last week the greens were very difficult, and I made countless 4- and 6-footers for pars and birdies and was very pleased with the way I putted.

Now you have to be very careful on this golf course especially because that is very likely to happen, a 3- or 4-putt. It's something that I have to -- it's not that I'm going to try to avoid, I'm not going to have happen, but it's not as though I'm going to putt with the fear that it will. That's a sure fire way to 3- or 4-putt.

Q. Do you think because of your aggressive nature, just generally and including the putting that you're probably more susceptible to having a possibility of a 3- or 4- or 5-putt green?

PHIL MICKELSON: Apparently. (Laughter.) Because it's been happening more often to me than most. But I saw it -- I wasn't the only one that had a four or five putt at THE PLAYERS Championship. I just seem to be the one that gets singled out.

Q. But that's not going to change your style on these greens or any other greens, is it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Probably not, no.

P. DAN YATES: Thanks, very much.


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