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April 4, 2017
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. We are pleased to welcome back three‑time Masters Champion Phil Mickelson, who is making his 25th appearance at Augusta National.
Phil enjoyed another year of masterful play in 2016, with three runner‑up finishes, including this thrilling battle with Henrik Stenson at The Open Championship. He was an integral part of the victorious United States Ryder Cup Team. Phil has finished in the Top‑10 twice at Safeway and the WGC México Championship.
Phil, before we take some questions, we'd like you to comment about how you're feeling about your game at this point.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I always love coming here. I think we all do. It's my, probably, favorite place on earth. I've had some good and some bad, and I look to always try to find it as we go down Magnolia Lane.
Q. Obviously the number 46 has some magic around here, Jack winning at that age. Do you hope to maybe feed off that little magic this year? And do you feel like at this age, your chances are just like they were six, seven, eight years ago?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the last year and a half, I've worked really hard to get my game back to the level that I expect and the level that I've strived for. If I can play anywhere close to the way I played at the British Open last year and The Ryder Cup, I should be able to give myself a good opportunity for Sunday.
What I like most about this week, Scott, is that Thursday, Friday, the weather is going to come in and that's going to magnify the misses for a lot of players, which means that you need to miss it in the correct spots. Even though you might miss it big, if you're in the right spot, you can take advantage of your short game and salvage a lot of pars, and I hope to rely on that knowledge and skill to keep myself in it heading into the weekend where players less experienced with the golf course will possibly miss it in the wrong spots and shoot themselves out.
Q. This is a golf course obviously that requires a lot of creativity, a lot of different shots. I was thinking back a couple years ago to the great shot on 13 off the pine straw. How did you hit shots off of that surface, that material? And were there other times during your Masters years that you've had to play off of the pine straw and play shots that turned out as well as that one on 13?
PHIL MICKELSON: I seem to have an affinity for pine straw. Whether I do or not, I have played plenty of shots from it.
I don't mind it and I think there's a couple of things that come into play there. The biggest thing is you need to make solid contact with the ball, not getting any pine straw between the ball and the face. That's a lot easier to do with a straight‑faced club. I never like to hit a fade out of there where I have to open up the face, because it leaves too much room to get little particles between the ball and the face. I always prefer to try to hit a draw out of there and I always try to prefer to hit a straighter‑face club. If I can do that, I feel I can hit a very good shot.
And 13 was kind of a combination of the two. I had a straight‑faced club with a 6‑iron. I was able to shut the face a little bit to hit a draw, and it made that shot come off a lot easier than it probably looked.
Q. On the heels of that, I saw you out with Jon Rahm today. You took him over to the spot there on 13. First, what did you tell him about it? And second, when you have somebody that young with this much talent, do you give them all the information you have about Augusta National or do you keep some to yourself?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I think that when you are that good and as talented as he has been playing and as well as he is, you don't want to give him hardly any (laughter), and it's not for the reason that you think. It's not because I'm trying to hold any secrets. It's because you don't want to take your focus away from your game. If you're playing well, no matter what golf course you're on, whether it's Augusta National, a U.S. Open setup or any other course, if you play well, the course is there to be had. But you can also over‑burden yourself with trying to learn the course so much that it detracts away from your performance. And I think it's better for him to just go out and play.
Certainly there's parallel throughout the golf course, but there's a lot of great spots, a lot of opportunities, a lot of birdie opportunities. And if he just goes out and plays the way he's been playing, he's going to do great.
Again, I like the fact that the weather is coming in, because that will make the misses much better for everybody, and if you continue to miss in the wrong spot and it gets worse, you're going to make a lot of bogeys, doubles or worse, and that's something that I'm going to try to use my knowledge and skill to try to avoid.
Q. No matter what time you tee off, you're out there on Thursday morning to watch those guys. How will Arnold's absence be felt generally and by you personally?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's a very awkward feeling to not have Arnold actually be here. You feel his presence, his display, his showcase in the champions locker room. His jacket, clubs, scorecards from past victories; his spirit is here. It always will be here. But to not actually have his physical presence is extremely awkward. It will be most noticeable at tonight's dinner.
I'm hoping that we go around the table and everybody tell‑‑ especially like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Bob Goalby, guys that spent a lot of time with him; I hope everybody tells a few Arnold Palmer stories because I feel like that would be appropriate, as well as very entertaining and interesting to all of us.
Q. Is that a new logo on your shirt there?
PHIL MICKELSON: It is, actually, yes. I'm very proud of a new partnership with a company that Aneel Bhusri and Dave Duffield started back in 2005 to have the most innovative human resource software and finance software, cloud‑based, as well as create the best work environment for their employees.
So to be a part of this team is something I'm very excited about. I couldn't think of a better place than Augusta National and the Masters to start a relationship like this.
Q. Since Fuzzy won the first time, no one else has been able to do it. The question is, now Jon Rahm, taking a look at someone like that who is clearly a talent, do you think it might be easier, actually, for a first‑timer to win here than it would have been in the past?
PHIL MICKELSON: Unequivocally it's much easier for a first‑timer to win here because the greens have been so much more receptive the last seven, eight, ten years since the course has been lengthened and the greens aren't the only defense. What that allows you to do is miss it in a spot that normally would be bad but get away with it because the greens are more receptive. I think that that allows players who have not played heres many times, who maybe put it in the wrong spots, but are able to recover because the greens will receive shots that they didn't use to receive.
Q. If you wouldn't mind, could you repeat after me this line and finish the sentence: Being Masters Champion is better than...
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, being a Masters Champion is better than not being a Masters Champion. I think that's stating the obvious (laughter).
I think that for a golfer who plays golf for a living, who loves the game, I can't think of a place that you would want to win at and be a part of the history more than Augusta National, because you get to come back every year, be a part of this tournament. You get treated like royalty here as a past champion. I just can't get over the way the club, the chairman, everybody here, all the members treat the past champions. It's the greatest feeling to be a part of that.
And for somebody like myself who grew up dreaming of this tournament, dreaming of winning here, to actually do it, still feels like a dream. Even having won it a few times, every one feels dream‑like. And I look back and still can't believe that I get to be a part of this every year. It's the best.
Q. Wondering over the years how maybe the evolution of your understanding of the golf course has changed the way you approach playing it and if you've always played it pretty much the same way?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's become more instinctive and more intuitive for me to just know where the pins are that I'm going to play a certain way. It doesn't require a thought process. I know when I'm going to try to attack and make birdies based on where the pin is, based on the wind. It's just instinctive now.
So what that does is it frees me up to not have to analyze my game plan and management of the course but to just go play and to work on the refinement of my game, my touch and my feel; and that's something that if it's sharp this week should allow me a good opportunity for the weekends.
Q. When did you first play here and what are your first memories of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: 1991 was my first Masters. Ian Woosnam won it, and first thing I did when I qualified to play here after winning the U.S. Amateur in '90 was to call Arnold Palmer and play a practice round, and that was one of the highlights for me, because Doc Giffin set it up and we were able to spend a Tuesday here at Augusta. Those are moments that I'll cherish.
I'm kind of the youngest generation that was able to spend enough time with him. He was The Presidents Cup captain in '96, and I was able to spend all week with him there. I have been able to spend a number of dinners here with him at Augusta.
People younger than me, and there's a lot of them here in the field, but people younger than me have not had the opportunity to spend the kind of time that myself and the older players have had a chance to spend with Mr.Palmer. You learn a lot from osmosis with him, just watching the way he interacts and treats people.
Q. You've designed some great golf courses like Whisper Rock, and now that the Club has room to move the tee back on No. 5, No. 2 and possibly No. 13 one day, would you be in favor of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, longer is longer. Longer isn't always better. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn't. I think that you want to make the hard holes harder, but you don't want to make the ‑‑ you want to actually make the easier holes easier.
So when you start looking at the birdie holes, which are the par 5s, the last thing you really want to do is continue to lengthen them to where they are not reachable and they become just a wedge game for everybody. Loses a lot of excitement and it loses a lot of greatness.
But to move a hole back like No. 5 or No. 11 that are designed to be the tougher holes out there and sandwiched in the middle of a round in between birdie holes, like 2 and 3, I don't think‑‑ I think that's a good thing. So you want to make the hard holes harder, but you've got to be strategic on what holes those are.
I think when you make an easy hole, like 7, one of the toughest pars on the golf course, it changes the entire dynamic of how the golf course plays.
Q. If you can think back to '86, I guess you were 15 or so. Do you remember at all thinking, how is this man, this age, doing what he's doing, and do you take it at all as a personal challenge to maybe move that age boundary out a little bit?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think much about age right now. I think that guys' careers are being extended a lot longer because of the way fitness has taken over. And it's not like I'm a pillar of fitness, but I spend a decent enough time to be able to physically perform and practice and play the way I'd like to play.
You look at guys like Bernhard Langer who was in the second to last group last year, I don't feel as though age is as big a factor as it was decades ago. I feel like the generation that are playing the game now are going to have elongated careers due to fitness.
Q. Do you remember watching from the perspective of what Jack was doing at the time?
PHIL MICKELSON: Sure. I VCRed it. Many don't even know what that was, but I taped it and watched it over and over and just marvelled at what it was. It was just incredible. It was one of the greatest moments in the history of the game.
Q. Over the years, what have you learned about compartmentalizing things happening off the golf course, like 2009 at Bethpage with Amy's situation and how you balanced those things?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the great thing about golf is that to be successful and to play a good round, you have to really dive in mentally, physically, and be committed to each shot, to the round, and it takes your focus away from anything else that might be going on.
So if you are going through a tough time, golf is a great place to be, because it allows you the freedom to focus on what you want to do at hand and it's a real positive. I love everything about my job and that's just another thing that I love about it.
Q. Every year we seem to come here and guys like Rory and Jason Day, they have this level of expectation people have that they will one day win a green jacket. As the years go on and you haven't done it, is that something that gets harder on a player? Because you were in sort of that position for awhile here. You played a number of times before you finally broke through. Did it get harder on you or did you put any more expectation onto yourself the more times you came without getting one?
PHIL MICKELSON: I look at the U.S. Open as being kind of my tournament like that, you're talking about, Scott. And it certainly becomes more of a pressured feeling starting the week, like I don't have too many more opportunities and I need to play my best golf this week, and almost like it starts on Thursday, rather than starting on the weekend and playing free the first couple of rounds. So I could see why that might be the case.
But the fact is that those guys are so young and so talented, they will give themselves many opportunities here at the Masters over the years, as long as they are patient. They have already had opportunities here.
Jason Day has had a number of opportunities here and he's played so well in those pressure situations and he's had an unlucky situation where somebody just played better. Kind of like what happened to me at the British Open with Henrik Stenson. I played really well. Somebody just played a little bit better.
Same thing with McIlroy. He's had a couple of good opportunities and some guys just played a little bit better in the end and it happens.
This course is very well suited for them. They drive the ball a long ways. They putt it great. This is going to be a course where they'll continue to have those opportunities. And I would be surprised if over the course of the next ten, 15 years, they didn't win it because they are just too good not to.
You always have those players like Ernie Els and Greg Norman that you know they are going to win the Masters, and they haven't done it. And I say yet, because I still think Ernie has a good chance. I think he's still got a lot of game in him.
Those are‑‑ I would be surprised‑‑ it would be that kind of surprise if they didn't.
Q. What is the most comfortable tee shot on this golf course for you and most uncomfortable, and has either one changed since you started playing here?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think 13 is the most comfortable tee shot for me. And I think 13 is probably the most uncomfortable tee shot for me (laughter).
And I say that because it's such a critical tee shot. It sets up the entire hole of being able to be aggressive, give yourself an eagle or birdie opportunity, and really propel the rest of the round after getting through the tough 10th, 11th and 12th.
But it's also the easiest shot for me to hit a carve cut. That's just an easy drive to hit. I just whip across the ball, cut it as hard as I can and the ball just turns right around the corner. It's a very easy shot to hit, but it's also the hardest because you have to pull that one off and the penalty for a miss there is the most severe of all.
Q. You said over the years, you learned when to be aggressive and when not to. With rain coming tomorrow and likely more receptive greens on Thursday, does that change your aggression? Is it a double‑edged sword where you want to take advantage of the greens but it can turn into a big number because you're over‑aggressive?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, it will depend where the pins are, because if the greens are receptive you can get to a lot of them and make birdies. The wind is supposed to be up, and if that is the case, the wind could take balls, swirl around the trees, come up well short or long. And if you put it in the wrong spot, you'll end up making bogeys and doubles.
Like any round out here, you've got to be strategic when you go after it and the spots you try to hit to to make birdies. There's probably seven or eight good birdie opportunities out there and there's nine or ten holes you're just fighting for par.
Q. You said in your interview with David Feherty, you have to be either smart or really dumb to be successful in golf. Where would you put Dustin Johnson?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think singling anybody out is ever a good idea‑‑ I think not over‑thinking things gives people the freedom to go out and play and not get in their own way. And if you're a guy who likes to analyze things, you try to come up with ways that give you an advantage and it might be a psychological advantage or it might be an actual real advantage and you try to utilize that.
Anything in between, you're constantly trying to over‑think things and then question it, and you're getting in your own way, rather than just going out and playing. That's why I say that.
I appreciate you trying to bait me into saying something like that, but I'm not going to go for it (laughter).
Q. Curious to get your reaction to what happened to Lexi, and viewers calling in.
PHIL MICKELSON: So rather than address that specific instance, what I would say is this: I know a number of guys on TOUR that are loose with how they mark the ball and have not been called on it. I mean, they will move the ball two, three inches in front of their mark, and this is an intentional way to get it out of any type of impression and so forth and I think that kind of stuff needs to stop.
But I think it should be handled within the TOUR. I think that the TOUR should go to those players and say, look, we've noticed you've been a little lax in how precise you've been in marking the ball. We'd like you to be a little bit better at it‑‑ and see if that doesn't just kind of fix the thing.
Because we've allmarked the ball imprecisely, especially when you're standing on the side of the ball like she was and not directly behind the ball, in line with the hole, where it's easy to draw a line.
And I think that that should have been handled within the LPGA saying, hey, look, you're a little lax in how you're marking the ball. You need to be careful. Here's a warning and let's go from there.
But to have a tournament be decided like that, with all the scenarios going around, as far as viewers calling in, as far as it being a one‑foot putt with really no advantage, just a little bit of loose marking, if you will, something that happens all the time, intentionally and unintentionally, I just think that's‑‑ I think it should be reversed. I think that she should be given the trophy.
Q. You said a couple months ago, you wouldn't play a match with Jon Rahm unless he was your partner, but it looked like you were kind of going at it today. Did you break that rule and how did it go today?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we started out with playing with Mark O'Meara and Rod Pampling and they fell out and we had a nice, fun round of golf. We didn't have anything to compete on. It was more learn the golf course and play a round.
Rod fell out a little early. Mark stopped after nine, so we just kind of had a fun day.
Q. How do you stay ahead of the young guys? Do you do anything differently now at 46 than you did perhaps ten years ago?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, there's a lot of things. I don't know where to really start on that. But there's a lot of things that I feel as though I've been given a great opportunity and a great opportunity to take advantage of some of the advantages that I have to go out and play well.
But I haven't played at the level I expected to for a few years. It wasn't until last year, kind of middle of last year around the British Open and so forth that I really started to get my game back to where I wanted. Unfortunately I had a couple surgeries in the off‑season and I feel as though my season is just really starting to take off in the sense that I'm able to do the stuff in the gym I want to do; I'm able to recover a lot quicker and practice the way I want to.
My recovery is what I require more of relative to the younger guys, relative to my own self ten, 15 years ago. That's something I have to be more cognitive of. I need to make sure that I don't overdo my off‑course activities the week of a tournament, so that I'm able to remain mentally and physically focused and sharp the week of. And that's changing some of my plans and scheduling to make sure that I do it in the off‑weeks rather than doing stuff on weeks that I'm competing.
Did I answer that okay? I tried.
Q. Diet‑wise, is there anything differently?
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I have to, yeah. I have to. For recovery and to get rid of inflammation, I've had to reduce or stop any type of sugar intake, like 95 percent of it. It causes so much inflammation in my body and I'm not able to recover. Any type of processed sugar is just a catastrophe for me to eat. Still do though, at times (laughter).
Q. Sounds like the Tom Brady diet a little bit there.
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not specific‑‑ I don't know specifically what his diet is, but I'm sure it's probably similar.
Q. Everybody knows it's the 20th anniversary of Tiger's big win here in'97. What are your recollections from that weekend and what's it like for him not having him around much the last few years?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, certainly he's a great addition when he is competing. He creates a lot of interest. He's exciting and fun to watch and play with, and he's fun to compete with. His lack of presence here is difficult because he would bring so much to the tournament.
Twenty years ago, it was really impressive. When I say impressive; it was intimidating how well he dominated this golf course and dominated the field. And I had missed the cut that year and had a first‑class seat watching it. It was just like you all saw; it was hard to put into words how dominant a performance that was. It was similar to the 2000 U.S. Open. It was some of the best golf ever.
Q. Are your expectations of winning here greater than any other tournament? And secondly, 11, where does 11 rank among the hardest holes you play each year, and why?
PHIL MICKELSON: So when we talk about‑‑ when we talk about making the hard holes harder, like lengthening 5 or some of the other hard holes, when 11 was lengthened it became the hardest hole on the golf course. I think that's a great thing, because it's supposed to be the hardest hole on the golf course. And it now is. The tee box got moved way back. It's extremely long. It's a mid‑ to long‑iron in after a really good drive.
I think that ‑‑ I believe it's the hardest hole on the golf course. It's certainly the toughest par on the course.
The reason I would say some of the other holes are harder, like 13 and 15, is because you need to make a 4 there, too, as well. And it's probably a little harder 4 on 13 or 15 than it is on 11. But those count for birdies.
I do expect to play well and to compete here and come out on top more so than any golf course because of the opportunity to recover and utilize my short game to salvage pars when I do hit a few wayward shots, which I've been known to do.
Also, this course doesn't overly penalize you. I love playing this course because I can bring any handicap golfer out here. They can always find their ball. They can always advance it up to the green. They can always putt it onto the green. And because of the severe slopes and contours and length to the back tee, it's very difficult for a player like me to shoot low.
So it's just a definition of what a great golf course should be and this course allows me the opportunity to not be perfect and still shoot a good number and compete, which is why I expect to do well here every year.
Q. Just want to clarify your response on Lexi. Are you suggesting that we selectively at times ignore The Rules of Golf in certain situations?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, this is why I'm not trying to, I didn't want to comment on it directly because you‑‑ I don't want my words to be taken as though I'm commenting on the specific situation.
So I don't really have a great answer for you, Alex. I don't really want to expand on what I've already said. I feel like we've all kind of been a little lax at times in the markings of our golf ball and I hate to see it cost somebody a major championship because of that.
But yet I would like to see that type of nuance of the game improved on both tours, especially ours. So I'm not really trying to comment on that specific situation, even though it's what brought this to the forefront.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Phil.
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