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March 28, 2001

Phil Mickelson


NELSON LUIS: We'd like to welcome Phil Mickelson into the interview room. Phil is the defending champion here. Obviously it must be a great opportunity to come back and enjoy a week as a defending champion.

PHIL MICKELSON: I certainly enjoy this tournament, and last year was a special event for me. This golf course is one of the better ones that we play on TOUR, and it's in great shape, obviously, every year. But I think that this is only my third year playing here, and after I played here two years ago, this became a tournament I don't want to miss.

Q. Did you play at Athens with the guys yesterday like you usually do?

PHIL MICKELSON: I did. I was down at Athens and played the UGA course yesterday with some of the guys on the team. And it's enjoyable for me, to take advantage of their practice facilities, and also have a relaxing day or two before we get ready for this tournament.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: We did actually well this year, it was nice.

Q. (Inaudible.) Wasn't he 4-under after five?

PHIL MICKELSON: He had a five-hole stretch where he was 6-under. My man can play. This year we weren't on the same team, though.

Q. Quite a complex over there?

PHIL MICKELSON: It is, and it's in great shape. The putting and chipping green on the back end there is close to Augusta National's greens as you'll see.

Q. What is it about this course that you like so much? I know you feel it has a little tune-up for next week, obviously with the chipping areas and such. It's a great driving golf course, isn't it?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's important to drive the ball well here. But I also feel if you miss a shot here, it gives you the opportunity to recover. It's not one dimensional like we've had in some weeks where the rough is so thick you can only wedge out. This gives awe opportunity to be creative, to maneuver shots around trees, because you do have some type of lie and swing. And even with the hills, you have such severe slopes, that you'll have uneven lies that you'll try to hit shots, that could be very penalizing. But I think that I like the green speed. I like how fast the greens are. I like how fairly open it is, and I like how long it is. I feel like it's a course that I feel very comfortable on, and I've played well here, the two times I've played here.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: I did play well here in Atlanta, winning THE TOUR Championship in addition to this event. I really enjoy coming here. I've played well in this city, and I enjoy the people here, and I enjoy the golf courses. I enjoy the style of grasses that are here. I enjoy the trees because there are trees that you can hit shots around and through, and I feel very comfortable when I've played here. In fact as a junior, I had a lot of success here in Roswell at Horseshoe Bend Golf Course, where I played very well on a few fairly large junior events. So for whatever reason, I've really enjoyed playing here, and I've played well.

Q. I would think that you might feel this is one of your best chances ever for going into Augusta. You might feel as good about things defending here, and last year you played well the next week, also.

PHIL MICKELSON: This is a good course to not only play well, but to get ready to play well. The practice facilities are very good. And they're in such good condition, that you can get feedback as far as what your swing and putting stroke and chipping is doing, so it gives you some great feedback. And if you miss-hit shots, it will be penalized proportionately. And so I think it's a very fair test. And granted it does have a lot of similarities to next week's event with the large quick sloping greens and the fairly open off the tee and pretty long, but I feel if we compare the event it takes something away from what this tournament means. This is a very special event, just as we have every week. And I don't want to take anything away from what this championship would mean.

Q. Regardless of the course similarities between here and Augusta, is it important for you now to simply be in competition the week before a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: It is, and I tried to stress that point last year. I took a different approach in my preparation for the majors, and I found by taking the week off, I wasn't really prepared for competitive golf because I would be two weeks in between competitive rounds. And so I found that playing the week before got myself mentally ready to play competitive golf. And I played consistent in the majors last year. I had four top 16 finishes, and granted I didn't win or didn't play as well as I'd like, I played consistent. So I'm going to take that same approach this year and play the week before.

Q. How do you feel about things just in general? The major has been there for so long that people have talked about it with you, and you've had a couple of real close situations. Is the importance of it getting less or more or how is it figuring with you having this great start this year?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I know that after being out here for nine years it's disappointing not to have won a major at this point. But I try not to think about how bad I would dearly love to win one, and really try to focus on the fact that I've improved this last year and that I have been playing well. And I want to carry over that play into Augusta, and I feel as though if I can continue to play the way I have, I should put myself into contention, at worst, and hopefully be able to break through on the weekend. Really the only goal that I have right now for this week, and you can apply it to next week, as well, is to basically get in contention the first two rounds, to have a shot for a couple of low rounds on the weekend. And that's the same mindset I'll have next week when that tournament starts is Thursday, Friday just play well enough to have a shot on the weekend. I won't be trying to win it or the results; I'll be trying to shoot a low enough score to just have a shot at it.

Q. Phil, as you've gone along in those nine years, and obviously everyone at that level starts with a certain number of strengths and then they try to add things, which part of your game has come along more in the last year or two, and what are you still focused on as the next, I don't want to use the word weakness, but the next thing you want to bring up?

PHIL MICKELSON: Obviously as players we're constantly trying to improve all areas, but specifically last year and this year I've been working on 150 yards in, and I've been really trying to stress that point. I feel the area for greatest improvement is in putting. I feel like I could become a more consistent putter week in and week out, and that's something I've been striving for and I haven't achieved this year as much as I'd like. I've had some good putting weeks, but to me, putting does not necessarily matter if the ball goes in the hole or not. What I care about in putting is when I look up is the ball on the line I picked at an appropriate speed? Because some weeks, and a couple of weeks I've putted phenomenally well and nothing has gone in. They seem to lip out. But I've had weeks where I've had a lot of lip-outs, and I wasn't putting well. I looked up and the ball wasn't on line and it caught the lip and what have you. So what I'm trying to do right now on putting is to basically work on-line and speed, just like everybody else is, but if I can become more consistent in getting the ball started on line, I know I can make more putts because I've been reading greens much better now. That's the one area I want to work on next, if you will. And so 150 yards in, though, right now is extremely important, because as I've said earlier in the year, with the technology we have in the game, it seems that courses are playing much shorter, and we're having a lot of short irons in.

Q. Stewart and Davis were in here earlier saying how this is their favorite time of year and things start bubbling and getting going. Is it different for a West Coast guy? Is your calendar set differently or your internal golf clock?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, this really is the start of the four majors. And this tournament is, for me, a start of -- I don't want to say the start of the year, but it's a turning point in the year. I love the grass on these greens being bent, and a number of courses that we play and in fact just about all the tournaments I play from here on out will be on bent greens, which is a grass I'm more familiar with and have grown up on and we tend to have more on the West Coast. In Florida and Palm Springs we putt on Bermuda, and that's a difficult surface to read and it's a difficult surface for me to putt on. So starting this week, that's where we have nice, fast, sloping bent greens, and to me those are the greens that we will be having in three of the four majors. And this is really where we want to start getting acclimated to the conditions of the course.

Q. You're a couple of swings from three wins, really?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not far away, yeah. Again, I was really fortunate to win the tournament that I did. And I probably had a bad break or two to lose the tournaments that I lost, but I don't really dwell on it too much. But you're probably right, a swing or two here or there probably could have done it. I look at the Pebble tournament as the last round I gave a few shots back, missing some short putts early in the day. And at Bay Hill I don't look at it that way. I don't look at the last round being when I lost it. It was in the early part of the round where I gave a lot of shots away. What I take from that is I need to be consistent four days, play solid, not really throw too much shots away, and that's really what I've been working on, and it's been tough. I've become much more aggressive. As we talk about from 150 in, I'm trying to hit drivers on a number of more holes, to try to get the ball within that 150 yard area and capitalize on the area that I've been working on. Subsequently I've made a ton of birdies. But in the meantime, I've made a bunch of mistakes. So I now have to balance my aggression a little bit more, similar to the way I did last year. Last year I wasn't nearly as aggressive as I have been playing this year, and I think I may need to make a few different decisions.

Q. How much better do you feel having worked to where your miss now isn't that snap, maybe it's the little right shot?

PHIL MICKELSON: It feels more aggressive. And the reason is when I had a swing where the big miss was a hook, I was constantly holding on, holding on, trying to prevent a hook. Now I'm trying to be aggressive with the club head, turn it over as hard as I want to get the face to square up and hit straight. It's a much more aggressive thought process in golf swing under pressure. And I feel it will be much more reliable as well.

Q. Not a golf question, but I know you're an Arizona State guy. You going to have any rooting interest with the Wildcats this weekend?

PHIL MICKELSON: I was happy to see them beat Illinois last week. I thought that was a pretty impressive game. And given the fact that the off-court stuff that Lou Holtz has gone through, it's nice to see him have a good tournament. I think he has a tough game this weekend. I think four good teams made it to the Final Four, and we're going to have a great semifinal and championship game. I think it's going to be hard for anybody to beat Duke. It seems physically and mentally as well, they're as strong as any team out there.

Q. You were always known as a great putter. And how much more difficult do you find it now that you're thinking about it more?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's not more difficult, because I've been thinking about it for a while. And I've actually become a much better putter over time, because when I first came out on TOUR, I was so aggressive that balls were running 6, 7, 8 feet by. And I really reduced 3-putts. I really don't 3-putt that often. Occasionally I will. I used to have one or two a round. I feel like I've become a more consistent putter, but now I want to become an even better putter. From 150 yards in, which is the area I've been working on, I've had a lot more 15-footers. I'm trying to work on getting 15-footers to go on in. From 15 feet on, I need to be more efficient.

Q. How much support would you get from left-handed players, how many players?

PHIL MICKELSON: What are you asking?

Q. In terms of for you to do well in majors and tournaments. Do left-handed players write to you, encouraging you?


Q. Can you explain?

PHIL MICKELSON: They write to me, and it's great to have their support.

Q. Do you recognize them in your gallery, then?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I really don't know if they're right- or left-handed by looking at them (laughter.)

Q. Do you and other players talk about other players being lucky players or unlucky players?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that I've always gone by the theory that the better you are, the luckier you get. And so when somebody says that I'm a lucky player or you got a lucky break, I look at that as being a compliment, because they're basically saying, boy, for you to get breaks like that, you've got to be very good. That's just the way that I take it. So if you want to relate it to say Tiger's shot on 17, the fact is he missed that slightly. He's so good that his slight misses can stay within such a minute area, that his ball is okay. Anybody else misses it the same amount and it goes in the water. That's the way I tend to look at it. Now, I don't know if I can apply that to 18 at Bay Hill. That was a pretty big miss. But I don't think that if you look at that particular scenario, I think the same thing would have happened even if it had not hit that gentleman in the neck, because he would have had interference by the cart path. The ball probably would have hit the fence, stayed by the path, he would have been standing in the path. Couldn't drop it to the left of the path, because it's out of bounds. He had to go to the right. So we would have had the same deal. Either way it worked out the same, but it just looked like he got a tremendous break. And he did, but he really made a great shot after that to win. And as I said, that week, after the tournament I thought what was most impressive about that shot is putting to rest or forgetting the drive on 16 and 18, and focusing in on the shot he hit on -- he had left, which is the 5-iron. I'm guessing that's what you're referring to.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't heard that, no. I haven't heard anybody say, you know what, that guy is so lucky. How did he ever win by 15 at the U.S. open? (Laughter.) I think there's a little -- I haven't heard that phrase amongst players, no.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, it was lucky, very lucky. I'm lucky to find the first one, because I would have been fine. But, sure. It's give and take, exactly.

Q. You talk about moderating your aggressive swings, is that something you particularly need to do to succeed in a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: Most of the time, yes. I would say almost all the time. The only time that wouldn't take effect is if it's Augusta National and the greens are soft. We get a little rain. You can aim at the middle greens all you want, and people are going to pass you by, because that golf course when it's soft greens doesn't have the defense it does when it's firm, and you can attack that course and shoot quite low. So that would be really the only instance that I can think of or if the rough is down in Europe for the British. Then you have to be pretty aggressive as well.

NELSON LUIS: Phil, I know you have an afternoon tee time, so thanks.

End of FastScripts....

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