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June 13, 2000

Phil Mickelson


LES UNGER: It's good to have Phil Mickelson with us. Phil, we heard you talking about the golf course a little bit. How about your aspirations, is this the kind of golf course you look forward to playing.

PHIL MICKELSON: I think we're all very excited to be here at Pebble Beach for the 2000 U.S. Open. I think to start the millennium off on such a great site is exciting to the players, as well as the fans watching. The scenery and everything couldn't be more spectacular, as we all know. But I think the golf course is going to provide a difficult test for the players. It looks as though it's going to be every bit as tough as in '92, if not more difficult, because the first couple of days we had a little bit of rain, a little bit of softness to the course, and I don't think we're going to have that this week.

LES UNGER: Actually, your very first event as a professional, I believe, was here.

PHIL MICKELSON: It was. It was my first round as a professional. And I've enjoyed playing here yearly in the AT&T tournaments. It's a wonderful place.

LES UNGER: You've had some practice rounds?


Q. Before The Masters started this year, you said that you felt it was the best opportunity that you've had in your career to win a major. Do you feel more strongly about that in this event?

PHIL MICKELSON: I do, to this extent: What I feel is that over the course of the last seven or eight years, I feel as though my game has steadily improved. And my performance under major conditions has improved steadily over time; thereby, I feel each upcoming event provides a better opportunity for me to ultimately break through and win one. Playing last year was a very difficult task, even shooting par over three days, was a mini-success. And it makes me feel that I can be patient on a course like this. I think Pebble Beach provides an opportunity to win my first major. But I also think that it's going to be a very difficult challenge for me to play well over 72 holes, and to manage my game right, because the course is playing different than I've ever played it, other than '92.

Q. Phil, could you take us back a year, and sort of revisit the birth of your daughter? What was that like for you, and can you talk a little bit about fatherhood?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the U.S. Open is a very special time now, and always will be a special time in my life, because of what took place last year and with being able to go head-to-head with Payne Stewart in one of his final -- well, in his final victory, but one of his final competitions, and the next day following that up with the birth of our child. Last year was a very emotional week for me. It was the biggest emotional swing that you could ever have imagined, from the lows of losing the greatest championship in the game of golf, following it with the most emotional high that I've ever experienced, with my wife, sharing that, with the birth of our child, the very next day. So I will always remember last year. It's not just a special time, but because of the emotions involved. It was a very emotional week. Every time the U.S. Open swings around, I reminisce. I've been reminiscing the last couple of days, thinking about the match with Payne, thinking about the birth of our child, thinking about the last year that has taken place, watching my child develop, thinking about how Payne Stewart's family no longer has that opportunity. Payne does not have the opportunity to watch Aaron and Chelsea grow up, and what a tragedy -- to me, that's the biggest tragedy of all the occurrences that took place last year. There are a lot of things that I feel emotionally and that I think about around this time of year.

Q. What's fatherhood been like?

PHIL MICKELSON: It's been -- fatherhood has been a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. I think that it has not changed our life immensely. It has been a little bit more difficult for my wife and I to keep our family together, because she makes such a effort to travel; that it's a lot of work for her to travel with a one-year-old. But she does, and we're able to stay together as a family. So we've been able to play -- I've been able to play my own schedule that I normally play, and practice as hard as I have been. Yet my wife has worked awfully hard to keep us together as a family. And I've experienced something very rewarding and very fulfilling in watching the growth of this individual, knowing that I have such an opportunity to influence this person.

Q. Phil, along the same lines of last year, Tom Meeks was quoted recently as saying if you had had to leave for the playoff, they might have accommodated you and had the playoff the next week or two weeks, whatever. Did you ever have any issue with the USGA about that before the week last year, and in your mind, how fair would that have been, no matter what the circumstances for you or anybody else, whatever?

PHIL MICKELSON: Everybody has a personal opinion on that. It sounds like you're asking my personal opinion. I didn't know anything about it until a week or two ago when I read it. My personal opinion is it's very flattering that they would even consider that. I think if they were to halt the Championship, it would not be fair to Payne Stewart or whoever else was tied for the lead, and it may have jeopardized the integrity of the competition. I don't know if that would have been the best decision. The game of golf is much more important than trying to accommodate one individual. And from my point of view, there's nothing that's more important in the game of golf that could rival my family; and so I would have made a different decision. It's just a personal preference. If you asked me this ten years ago, I would probably not have been able to conceive of this happening or me feeling this way about my wife, my child, my family in general. And what's been interesting for me is looking back on how I thought about the game of golf, my career, family life, and how it's evolved over time and how -- I don't want to say priorities, but just how what I care about seems to change. I care a lot more about my wife and family than I do about striking a golf ball, even though I still love playing golf more than ever.

Q. Phil, is the nature of this game such that even the most accomplished winners such as David Duval and Davis Love or yourself, will go long periods without winning? No one is calling it a slump, because these guys are still being successful in terms of money finishes, but has golf got so good that even the best players are going to go through difficulty in winning over a long period of time.

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that's been pretty much answered over the last 15 months, don't you? Don't you think that's pretty much proven to have been the case? I think so.

Q. And during the period of last year, was there anything that you did or didn't do or maybe changed mentally to try to win or did you just keep doing what you have been doing?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, we've actually discussed this quite a bit at the San Diego tournament where I was trying to win for the first time in about a year and a half. And for me, this year the biggest change in my game has been the time and effort I've spent from 150 yards in. Last year I played very well, I felt, driving the ball, ball-striking and so forth, but I was unable to convert birdie opportunities, whether it's making putts or getting the ball close enough from 150 yards in. And I've been working a lot on that in the off-season here, and continuing to work on it. And I feel like it's paid dividends, because I made a bunch of birdies this year, and given myself a number of opportunities to win tournaments, and I attribute that primarily to performance, from being improved from 150 yards in.

Q. What was the plane ride like going home last year after the Open? Was it disappointment or excitement or how did you balance it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was -- shortly after losing the U.S. Open, I was disappointed. And I flew home immediately following the tournament, and it was a disappointing flight, because I went with the sole intention of winning the tournament, coming back and basically presenting this trophy to my child as she entered the world, and that would have been cool. It didn't work out that way. I still expected it to be another week or two before we had our child, and when we woke up the next morning, around 9:00 my wife's water had broke, unbeknownst to us, because the baby's head was so low that it was almost clogging the water from -- coming through. And we didn't know that her water had actually broke. And we found out at about 11:00 when we went in to see the doctor, and he sent us right to the hospital. Four or five hours later, she delivered. It was a pretty easy delivery, I thought. She had a really rough pregnancy. It was nice she had an easy delivery.

Q. Phil, you've got your golf game going great, won three times already this year. Have you ever come in -- they've always talked about Phil Mickelson as a favorite, but you have never come into a U.S. Open with this much game and this much confidence and this much mental feeling. Your thoughts?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I would agree with you, and I think a couple of things, not just winning a couple of tournaments, because I had won three tournaments in '96, but coming in with some momentum after having won gives me confidence that I can play well, but most importantly playing well in some major championships with hard greens. Even the U.S. Open format last year gives me confidence that I can play even-par over 72 holes. I don't think it's going to take even-par this week, as difficult as the course is being set up right now. But I can -- still feel I can be patient under those difficult conditions, and hopefully post some low numbers.

Q. Could you share some of your thoughts about Payne this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: I will. What I would like -- well, I'd be happy to. I think that it's difficult for me to think about last year, because it was a very emotional week. And when on 18, Payne knocked that putt in, it was a very disheartening feeling for me. It was a very disappointing feeling, because I felt I was so close to winning my first major championship, to have it taken away the last three holes the way he did. When he grabbed my face and spoke to me about fatherhood, it changed my feeling about the disappointment I had just felt, to what I'm looking forward to, to what's more important in my life: The birth of this child, influencing this person in this world. And Payne made it very apparent that that was what was more important to him, too. Even though he had just won the greatest event in the game of golf, he felt -- I sensed that he was more fulfilled by being a father to Aaron and Chelsea and a husband to his wife, Tracy, than he was by winning this tournament. And I think the last couple of years is when he came to this realization. And I noticed a huge change in Payne Stewart's life over the course of the last three or four years, as opposed to when I first came out on TOUR. And I started to respect him more as an individual and listen to him more, to what he had to say. I will always remember what took place on 18 last year, vividly. And I will remember the times that we shared at the Ryder Cup, because of we experienced together, disappointment of the first two rounds. We experienced a bond when we came together the night before the final round. And we experienced a celebration and jubilation of winning the Ryder Cup on Sunday. And he was a very emotional leader. He wasn't there just trying to play well; he was trying to inspire everyone to play well. He was a leader, but he was also an emotional leader for the entire team. I have very fond memories of Payne Stewart. Things that I have personally that a lot of other people don't have that I feel very fortunate to be able to have those valuable memories, and I will always remember those and cherish those. It's just difficult sometimes to think about last year and what took place and recall all the events.

LES UNGER: That was beautifully said, Phil.

Q. You talk about emotion at the Open. Could you talk about your first Open, the good score the first day, not-so-good score the second day, missing the cut, and looking back over eight years, since this is your anniversary of coming out?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, when I came out in '92, I played very well the first day, shot 68; played poor the second day, shot 81 or 82. And that characterized the way I was playing at the time. When I play well, I can go low, under difficult conditions. But when I started playing poorly, I started making poor decisions, made dumb mistakes, and let the round slip away. And I feel as though the greatest improvement in my game is being able to make some intelligent decisions when my game is starting to slip. Last year, I certainly didn't play four flawless rounds. Saturday's round I went through a lull there towards the end where I made a few bogeys and struggled with my ball-striking, and I was able to get it together a little bit on 18 to make a birdie on Saturday's third round to get within a shot or two going into Sunday. And it's those types of course management decisions that I feel is the primary area where I've improved my game. As far as the past eight years on TOUR, I've averaged two wins a year. I'm certainly not disappointed with that. I feel I can improve on that. The biggest disappointment is after having won a PGA TOUR event as an amateur, my expectations were extremely high. To have won zero majors to this point is disappointing, and I would not have guessed that eight years ago. To have won 16 TOUR events, I think that that's something that I'm proud of. I feel that I can improve on that, but I'm proud of that. I feel winning twice a year on average is a very good ratio, and I'm certainly looking to improve on that. I feel like -- I feel awfully confident with the way I'm playing this year, and I feel like I can win a good number of tournaments if I'm able to keep performing at this level.

Q. Phil, could you explain the difference of the pressure for the major championships compared to a Ryder Cup?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, not so much. Not so much, really. Very similar.

Q. Phil, a lot of guys over the years that have had a lot of wins, but no majors, have always said, "Well, that's okay if I never win one. I'll still have a successful career, and be happy about it." You've never been like that. You've always expressed outwardly that your focus is to win a major, and then more after that. How important is that to break through and finally win one?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think it's very important that it take place fairly soon, because I have had so many opportunities really to break through and win, and for whatever reason I just haven't come through and done it. I think that the biggest thing is the change in my strategy, and course management and ball-striking and so forth that I've been working very hard at attaining heading into majors; I need to see some positive feedback on that. I saw some last year, even though I didn't win. I saw some at Augusta, even though I didn't win. And I think it would be very beneficial to me to receive some positive feedback for the work I've been doing.

Q. Phil, you know that out here, as you said about the course, you're not going to hit every green, and I understand that it's pretty difficult around the greens and fast greens, like last year, and tough. To me, with your short game, that kind of still (inaudible)?

PHIL MICKELSON: It certainly is an opportunity for me to stay around par if I get up-and-down. Not the problem, but what I need to do is position the ball in the certain third or half of the green, let's say, where I can get up-and-down. Sometimes it's in a bunker; sometimes it's 30 yards short of the green; sometimes it's in the rough on the low side chipping uphill. You cannot chip downhill, especially out of the rough with these greens. So I need to make good course management decisions from the fairway to leave the ball in a spot where I can get up-and-down. There's going to probably be about six or seven greens where I won't even try to hit them, if you can imagine that, because they are so small and so hard that there are a couple that are virtually impossible to keep the ball on the surface. I mean, 12 is a perfect example. I ripped a 6-iron high and soft. Landed it a foot on the green, and was barely able to keep it on. With the greens this small -- they weren't designed to be this firm, and so hitting them is going to be almost impossible, especially on some of these on the middle of the round. And I will try to probably leave it 20 or 30 yards short of some greens; so I have uphill chips and feel like I can get those up-and-down. That's where I'm going to take advantage of my short game.

Q. As disappointed as you were when you didn't win last year, when you think about it now, has your perspective changed, and are you glad it happened that way, in light of what happened?

PHIL MICKELSON: At the time I lost last year, I dearly wanted to have won this tournament. And in light of what took place, it was the way it was meant to be. It was just the way things were supposed to unfold. I would never have changed the outcome of any of the events that took place, except for the tragedy, if I could. Looking back, I think the way things unfolded the Monday after the event, where it would have been close if I could have made it back, and obviously, with Payne's tragedy, I think that it was just meant to be, for him to win on the 72nd hole the way he did.

Q. Phil, you talked earlier about the emotion of being a father. Could you talk a little bit about the day-to-day routine you've gone through being a father, changing diapers, midnight feedings?

PHIL MICKELSON: The first two months were difficult, because she was up in the middle of the night. And I really didn't play much at that time. And my wife and I kind of tried to help each other out. She didn't get much sleep at night; so I tried to help her out during the day. There's really not much I can do during the first couple of months feeding, because my wife breast-fed. I don't have a problem with diapers, at all; that doesn't bother me at all. We took a CPR class to get ready for any accidents. We took some instruction on how to do all that stuff. So I had been changing them from day one. That really doesn't bother me. After eight weeks, she started sleeping through the night, about 12 hours, and then things were just a normal schedule. So I think the way I've tried to look at it is not a life-altering occurrence, but a great addition into the lives of my wife and I. And she really has been. Our daughter has been a wonderful addition for us. Our lives don't revolve around her, but she has become a huge part of our life. We share things together. My wife and I still are able to spend the time together that we wanted. We go on dates and we get some help to watch her. She goes to bed at 7:30 every night. So if we have somebody come over and just be there, we're able to go out at night and do all the things we normally do and be together. So I think the biggest thing that I want to stress is that our lives have not revolved around her as much as she has been a great addition for us and a wonderful part of our family. I'd like to say one thing, this reminiscing about last year's tournament is a very emotional experience for me, because it was such a emotional high and low all throughout the week, and into the following week and then with Payne's tragic death in October. And I want to -- I have no problem discussing it today, I think as you can tell, in answering questions about it. I would appreciate it if we could kind of keep that to just today, so that I don't have to keep reminiscing about it each day, as the tournament goes on. I'm sure you all understand, because as Thursday comes around, I really want to try to focus solely on playing, and not so much reminiscing on last year's occurrences, and I appreciate your understanding on that. If you have any more questions about last year, I'd be happy to answer it now, but I think that we probably have talked mostly about it.

End of FastScripts…

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