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April 3, 2001

Phil Mickelson


MODERATOR: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. We are delighted to have Phil Mickelson with us. Phil, as you know has finished in the Top-10 at The Masters four times in eight appearances, including a third place finish in 1996. He has successfully defended his title at the Buick Invitational and has 18 PGA TOUR wins. Ladies and gentlemen, we are delighted to have Phil with us. Phil, do you have any comments or would you like to just respond to questions?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would just say that the golf course looks sensational. I'm sure we've been getting that feedback. But the fairways are immaculate again. The greens were as hard as they have been earlier in the week, so even though we are going to have a little bit of rain, their new system of sucking some of the moisture out will keep the greens very firm and make the golf course play very difficult.

Q. How much advance planning and preparation do you put into the four majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: Certainly, a significant part of preparation is geared towards the four big tournaments. I think in the last couple of years, it has been a little bit more. But I've changed my preparation plan, as we have discussed a little bit in the last year. I have found that for me personally, taking the week off before a major is not necessarily the best way to prepare, so I found that by playing competitively a week or a couple weeks prior seems to get my frame of mind in a competitive one -- as opposed to having some time off and trying to tee up in a very big round on Thursday after having not played in a tournament for a couple weeks. So I've been trying to play the weeks before majors, last year, even though I did not breakthrough and win, I felt that I played consistently well in all four of them.

Q. Can you mention one or two characteristics of the greens here which make them uniquely difficult?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly their speed and then the undulations. The greens are by far the biggest defense of the golf course and when they get to be very firm as they have been in some years past, it is the only place that I have ever experienced where I've had -- I would say a majority of my 15 -, 20-foot putts, I'm trying to 2-putt, as opposed to trying to make them. I'm just trying to get the ball to stop rolling somewhere near the hole, and it is not always easy to do.

Q. Is there another course that you guys play where there is a back nine that has so much opportunity to come from behind, or opportunity for disastrous things to happen if you are not playing well or hit the wrong shots?

PHIL MICKELSON: There are certainly courses that provide that opportunity. I think we saw it some with TPC Sawgrass where the potential for upside and downside is significant. But I don't think that there has ever been a place that's had so much natural beauty and I where the golf course has provided so much natural excitement, natural opportunities for eagles and double-bogeys as Augusta National, and it is the most beautiful place in golf, in my opinion. I think that it is really a credit to the members, the way that not only they manicure it, but the way that -- the lure, the way everything about the tournament is done. The golf course was set here. It was not artificially manufactured like the one I suggested earlier and it seems like everything flows well. The tournament is run unlike no other. There's absolutely no commercialism involved at all. I think it is the only tournament in golf that we are not out hawking corporate tents and villages along the fairways, where it is the most enjoyable experience on television of any tournament that we see. I think that all of that provides for enjoyment, and I think that the golf course - -and the opportunities for eagles and doubles provides for great viewing, as well.

Q. As a follow-up on that, even though the 17th at THE PLAYERS is about as artificial as you can get, like you said, is the tee shot on 12 here or 17 at THE PLAYERS scarier under pressure or more difficult to execute?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, 17 has three times the landing area as 12. So I just don't see how 12 is not considered much more difficult. Certainly, there are spots on 12 that you might be able to get up-and-down from and save par; it's not all hit-or-miss. But the green surface, the landing surface is a third of what we have at 17.

Q. In recent years, a lot of players have changed caddies, even after they won a recent championship and I think you and Jim have been together throughout. What goes in that combination that keeps it going?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's really simple. I've got the best caddy on TOUR. I mean, I really do. I feel very fortunate to have him, and I want to make sure that he doesn't leave me. He does things that I haven't seen any other caddy do that has ultimately led to tournament wins. This is a great example here, but The International, I've won it a couple times, and it is the most difficult place to pull a club in golf because the altitude is so difficult to judge, since we are not used to it. He has written down what yardage we've had, what club I've hit, how far if flew, what the temperature was, what the wind conditions were and ultimately where it ended up. So now ultimately after eight years of five rounds a day, that's 40 shots we have to go back on, saying: You had a 9-iron, you had 156 and it flew 152 and so forth. By doing that, by keeping notes, it has made pulling clubs so much easier and I've been able to select the proper club the majority of the time at the most difficult place to do that. So, little things like that; plus the fact that I have just a lot of respect for him as an individual. He's a good friend and he's very intelligent. Also, he's never been late in the nine years we've been together. In fact, the one time, about two months ago, we were supposed to meet for dinner at 8:30 and it's 8:25 and he's not there and I'm wondering what happened to him. As it turned out, he was out front waiting for another one of our guests. He's just always early. That type of professionalism is appreciated on my part and I just want to make sure that I do everything that I can so that he didn't leave.

Q. Have you ever played four in a row before a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, I haven't. I haven't.

Q. What was your reasoning this year to extend it back to Honda?

PHIL MICKELSON: I felt like it was an easy four tournaments to play, because I was able to drive them all, and I took Monday and the majority of Tuesday off and did not practice. So it didn't seem like it was a very long stretch. It was very easy to play. That's why I did it. I felt if I was to travel and have to go by air to different cities, pack, unpack and so forth that will be more strenuous. But to just throw everything in the car and drive made it easy. I felt that to get accustomed to the East Coast, not just the time, but the grasses and the elements that we have over here, which are different than the West Coast, I felt like it would be advantageous.

Q. How is your mental approach to this week, and your plan on playing the course this week different than it has been in years past?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that's a question that is going to be tough for me to answer until I actually get on the golf course. I say that because I've been playing very aggressive this year, and I've made a ton of birdies. I've made a lot of eagles, even, but I have not maintained a steady performance throughout 18 holes. It has been very up and down. Here at Augusta National, it is a very penalizing course, even on a shot that would not seem very difficult. For instance, the third hole. If I hit driver down there, I've got 50 yards from the green, which is what happened this morning when I played and I made bogey because I can't hit it on the surface and keep -- have the ball stay on. I need to make better decisions to leave the ball back 80 yards to where I can actually spin a wedge and stop it. So, there are going to be times where I want to be aggressive, hit driver and get the ball down there as far as I can, and there are going to be times where I need to make a smarter decision to ultimately save a shot in the long run. Aggressive play does not always mean driver. Sometimes an aggressive play is a 2-iron off the tee, so I can be aggressive into the pin. That type of decision-making is something that I'm going to have to fall back on the last seven tournaments to really help me with, the last seven Masters that I have played in or eight, even. But knowing where the pins are and what side I have to be on for each pin position, I feel as though I will have a little bit more information to make a better decision.

Q. That aggressiveness, do you think that has cost you here in the past or at other majors in the past?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't feel like it's cost me so much here, because this is a very much risk/reward tournament, or golf course. I certainly feel like it's cost me at some other events. One of the things that I have been trying to do is be more patient and not try to force things, not try to birdie every hole because it is so penalizing. There will be time this is week, or a lot of times where I'll actually play 30 to 50 feet to one side of the hole so I have an uphill putt and will be able to salvage par, as opposed to trying to attack the pin and make birdie. That type of decision-making is ultimately going to be essential. It is certainly essential here, but it is much more important on tournaments, let's say the U.S. Open, where the rough is six, eight inches deep and you don't have an opportunity to recover. The great thing about Augusta National is it always seems like you have an opportunity to hit a shot, if you are willing to try it.

Q. Conventional wisdom always says that the right-to-left ball flight is an advantage; and therefore, a lefty is at a disadvantage. Have you ever felt that disadvantage or it works against you?

PHIL MICKELSON: I've felt that left-handers can still hit right-to-left shots -- it is sometimes difficult, but it could be done. (Laughter.) I would actually disagree with that assessment, because it seems as though the shots that are right-to-left are not distance holes. You don't need to hit the ball a long way on ten. It is going to end up in the same spot. You don't need to hit the ball a long way on 13 because you can only more it around the corner so much. I think it is easier to control a fade than it is to try and time a hook. There are a number of hole that is left-to-right shots. You have to move it left-to-right on 1 and you have to move it left-to-right on 18 if you expect to be in the fairway. I think that the greatest of the golf courses require shots both ways, and I think it is a misnomer to say that every shot needs to be right-to-left.

Q. In the last five majors, the scoreboard has read Tiger, four, the rest of the world, one. Is there a sense among the rest of the players like let's make this whole Grand Slam debate moot?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. I think that -- I have not felt as though everybody is trying to get together to beat one guy. That's certainly not the case. I think that it is going to be very difficult to beat Tiger, because he seems to be able to bring out his best game when he wants to. He has certainly done it at four of the last five majors, and this golf course sets up very well for him, as he played it in '97 and has the tournament record. So, it will certainly be challenging to beat him, and there's not a feeling as though guys are all trying to gang up to beat him. I think that we have all benefitted what he has done. Even though we are not too thrilled with the fact that somebody has won four out of five events, it has brought a lot of attention from the game and we have all benefitted indirectly.

Q. How helpless a feeling is it standing on the 18th green at Bay Hill and he has just lining up a putt and there's nothing that you can do about it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's not like I was going to try to hex him. (Laughter.) That was certainly a helpless feeling. I would have liked to have been in the group with him, to have had two more holes to try and to be able to play 17 and 18, knowing what I needed to do or having a chance to play with him and not just finish early. Typically I think that we have always said in the past that the first one in usually wins, and what we found out in Tiger's case, more often than not, once you're in the clubhouse, he then knows what he needs to shoot and a finds a way to score lower. And that's certainly what happened at Bay Hill. Albeit with a break or two. (Laughter.)

Q. You've stopped two pretty impressive streaks by Tiger in the past 15 months. What about this month?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would be very honored to stop another streak. That would be nice. When I ended up winning the Buick Invitational and the TOUR Championship, "stops the streak" was the last thing I was even aware of or was concerning myself with. It's not really that I want to stop his streak this week. It's that I would like to break through and win my first major, and I feel like this week provides me with the best opportunity that I've had.

Q. Watching on TV, a few of us have noticed that you've put on a few pounds, it appears. If that's the case, are you reversing the conditioning trend?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's just that television adds 20 pounds. (Laughter.)

Q. There's been some debate in terms of Tiger going for his fourth major whether it is a Grand Slam, so to speak. What is your take on that? Should it be considered a Grand Slam historically in one year?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. I said a while ago that by holding all four championships at once, it could accomplish a Grand Slam. I'm not necessarily sure I agree with that now just because we've always said that it needs to be in the same year. I just think it's incredible to hold all four at the same time, call it what you will, but it's impressive play.

Q. Jones held all four of his at the same time. Wondering if you can make any comparisons about between Jones and Woods, if you have any knowledge of Bobby Jones?

PHIL MICKELSON: I certainly have read a bunch of things and articles on him, as well as the books he has written, and I enjoy all that he has done and meant for the game. I think that as an individual, he is very impressive, the fact that he did not play golf year round. He studied at Georgia Tech and Emory and ultimately would not touch a club for six or seven months and play every tournament win every tournament he played in. I think it's very difficult to compare from that far of a generation removed. With hickory shafts, you could not have -- if somebody as strong as Tiger tried to play hickory shafts, he would break them. Not only that, he would hook everything -- or not hit it straight. The shafts were just not capable to hold that type of clubhead speed. So it's difficult to really compare the two, because their swing. Bobby Jones' golf swing, which was long, loose and fingers let go at top of the swings, were accustomed to his equipment; and Tiger's golf swing, I don't want to say it was accustomed his equipment, but it compliments him, just as Hogan had very stiff equipment that you could not get back when Bobby Jones played. It's very difficult to compare the two, when they were forced to go different directions with their games.

Q. Just about in terms of maybe their character or overall makeup?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that's kind of an insult to Tiger, to compare Bobby Jones's physique with Tiger's. He used to love his pie a la mode, if I'm not mistaken and I don't think I've ever seen Tiger eat pie a la mode. He's eating leaves off the trees and flower petals. There's a dedication thing there.

Q. How much does it bother you that you don't have a major on your resume, with all that you have accomplished so far?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's disappointing. It's disappointing. I certainly thought coming out of college, after having won an event in college on TOUR, my expectations that I would have not just one, but hopefully more. But to have none is disappointing. But I also feel is that I've improved each year. I really do feel since I've came out of college I've gotten better and better each year. I really feel that right now, I am a much better player than I ever have been, and if I'm able to put it together, make smart decisions and hit smart golf shots that I will breakthrough soon.

Q. How wide is the gap between the No. 1 and No. 10 in the world?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's tough to answer. How do you answer that? There's a gap between 1 and 2. How do you say 1 and 10 or 1 and 30. It's tough to answer.

Q. With Tiger seemingly -- does it make each opportunity more precious to try to make it happen now?

PHIL MICKELSON: A little bit. I think for the next ten years, what I do, how I play and the things that I accomplish will ultimately decide how I'm looked at as a player generations from now. And so these next ten years are very important to me, because I want to be looked an in a certain light. I feel as though in these next ten years, if I'm able to win some majors, I can be looked on differently than as a player who has won a lot of events, but never won a major. I feel like these next ten years are going to be very important for me. I don't feel like it's that far away; I feel like it's soon, but I really feel as though I've been playing a little bit better, a little bit different than I have in the past. It would not surprise me to be in contention.

Q. What's better? What's different? You've alluded a couple times that you've been ready to break through. What is it about your game?

PHIL MICKELSON: First of all, I've been winning a bunch. Five in the last year. So that gives me a lot of confidence. Second, when I am not winning, I feel as though I have been in contention a lot more. I don't feel so hit-or-miss. I feel as though I have an opportunity now come Saturday or Sunday and I am really not worried right now about am I going to have a chance to win on the weekend. I honestly believe if I just play Thursday and Friday the way I've been playing and make some smart decisions, I'll have a chance on the weekend, and that's all I'm looking for. So the anxiety and the uncertainty is removed. I have a lot of confidence right now in the way I've been playing.

Q. In the pre-Tiger era, if somebody came into this tournament with five wins over the last two years, a lot of Top-10s, a lot of the attention would be on them. Instead, it is all on Tiger. Does that bother you in any way?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's awesome. I enjoy spending time with my family and I enjoy being able to do things off the golf course. Tiger sacrifices a lot. The life that he leads is a very difficult one, and I've seen a glimpse or two when I've played with him, and I thank him every time that I see him for all that he has done for the game of golf and for his fellow tour pros, because I don't know if anybody else would be really capable of dealing with what he deals with day-in and day-out. So, it's really been a blessing in disguise for me that, you know, he's been able to play as well as he has and maintain all of the attention.

Q. Are you superstition, by which I mean, are you going to play the Par 3?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm planning on playing in it, yes. I would love to win it, because I'm not superstition. (Smiles).

Q. Some people pay some big bucks trying to get in here to say the Masters. If you could only come to one major, putting yourself in a fan's position, which major would you go to and how much would you pay to get in?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it would depend on how much money I had. (Laughter.) I don't mind paying for seats at the Super Bowl or the Final Four or whatever it is. So, I would like to think that I would pay a reasonable amount to watch. I think that there's no question it I would pick the Masters, for the simple reason that every year, history is made here. Something occurs that we remember forever, every single year. It could be'97, Tiger breaking the record, yes. It could be '92, Fred Couples ball hanging up on the bridge, up on the wall there on 12. Or Ian Woosnam's putt from six feet on 18 in his fist. Every year history is made. Gene Sarazen's hole-out on 15 with a 4-wood there. So to be able to walk the premises where for decades history has been made, we could not substitute. And obviously great courses like Pebble Beach and Merion and Pinehurst and wonderful courses we have hosted U.S. Opens on, sure, we have had some wonderful things occur there, but you can count them on a single hand how many events they have played there. Sure, we remember '72 Nicklaus' iron hitting the pin, and then Watson's chip-in, but that doesn't happen every year. That happened once every ten years. I think to be able to walk the premises here is a very special feeling. I think what I have seen in the last seven or eight years of coming here is that the members here hold that very dear to them. They take it upon themselves to maintain the integrity of the game with the event. That's what we talked about, no commercialism earlier, the pristine conditions of the golf course. It requires a lot of dollars to have something maintained like that. And really, no other golf course is able to do that. I think that the premises here has a very special feeling, and to be able to walk them, whether it be as a spectator or as a player, especially, it's a wonderful feeling.

Q. You said you had made a lot of birdies and a ton of eagles, but you've also made some miscues?

PHIL MICKELSON: Half-empty, half-full. (Laughter.)

Q. Can you afford that sort of brilliant and mediocre play this week on this course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Probably not. It has not suited me well in the past. I've made a bunch of mistakes here in the past while making more birdies in some years than anybody, and it has cost me tournaments because of some poor decision-making. This year, I am going in there with the mindset as though I don't need to birdie every par 5. I don't need to attack every pin. I'm going to try to make few are birdies, to make four or five birdies a round, instead of trying to make seven or eight, and I'm going to take some of those holes and just accept par now. Now, it is easier said than done, because a lot of the holes, you have to hit almost perfect golf shots just to make pars. But Bobby Jones made a statement in a question about No. 3 where somebody says, "You know, that's such a hard hole to birdie." He said, "Well not every hole was meant to be birdied." That's a pretty good point to be made and to keep in mind throughout the course of the round.

Q. Will your caddy have any say this week in reining in that aggressiveness or talking you out of shots?

PHIL MICKELSON: He always seems to say -- I've been overruling him as of late, but I always listen to what he has to say. But understand, as a player, I can live with the decision, a bad decision that I make. But it's very difficult for me to live with a bad decision that he makes. If I'm in between clubs, I'll talk the one that I feel is better. I felt you what, the majority of the time, I'm wrong, but I can at least walk away feeling that it is my own choice, and it wasn't his.

Q. If we could go back to the if-you-were-a-fan theme, if you were a fan, where would you park yourself on the back side for a day's worth of golf spectating here at Augusta National, and why?

PHIL MICKELSON: I would go for logistics most likely, which would mean right there by 12 tee, because you can see all of the action on 11, 12 and tee off on 13, that's just logistics. I think that it just so happens that Amen Corner has provided a lot of drama in the past, and it seems to be a pretty good spot.

Q. Where do you feel the passion of the fans, if you do, on that back side? Is it at No. 12?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's not so much at 12, because when we are on the green, there's nobody around. And if you make a putt, it's always a delayed reaction and an uncertain reaction as -- did the ball go in. So you don't really feel the emotion or the support or the fans reactions on 12. I think that it would be evident around 15 or 16. That seems to be the strongest point, because you have people surroundings the hole on 16 by the water and that creates -- well, the most memorable -- not encore, but the most memorable reception I've ever heard is Jack Nicklaus in '86, walking up to 16 after just knocking it five feet. I've never seen anything like that. And granted, it was on television, but I still have never seen anything like that in person. I thought that 16 provided for the greatest reception, I guess.

MODERATOR: Ladies and Gentleman, thank you. And Phil, thank you and good luck this week.

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