What they said: Phil Mickelson

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May 05, 2009
PGA TOUR staff

MORE INTERVIEWS: THE PLAYERS Championship transcript archive JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Past winner THE PLAYERS Championship, Phil Mickelson, thank you for joining us here. Give us some opening comments about coming back to Ponte Vedra Beach for THE PLAYERS Championship.

PHIL MICKELSON: It's another big event we have, and it's been great, I think, since we moved this tournament back into May, to have a big event every month now starting with The Masters. This is our big event. The golf course is in great shape. The field is the strongest in golf, and I'm excited to get this thing started.

Q. Just curious, Phil, if you had to describe this course in one word, what would it be??

PHIL MICKELSON: Interesting.

Q. Can you elaborate on that??

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought it was one word (laughter).

Q. It's a two-part quiz. What makes it interesting??

PHIL MICKELSON: It's different in that it's not naturally blended into the land; it's very artificial. It's made up, bulldozed, dirt everywhere, but yet shot value has been created that is second to none.

The quality of the shot-making that's needed is very fair. It changes from hole to hole, there's a great mixture in length of holes, great mixture in shots needed, placements of hazards. It's just very well thought through. But it wasn't as though it was a Pine Valley or Cypress Point where the golf course was nestled into the land so beautifully, it was artificially manufactured, and yet the shots that are required are very traditional.

Q. Phil, other than just sheer experience, what has changed for you at this course? You missed the cut four times the first eight years and then you've made seven straight cuts since. Anything that you can pinpoint?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, the greens. I love the greens. In 2007 when we went to this new grass I ended up winning. When Doral went to this new grass I ended up winning. This new strain of grass on the greens putts beautifully, much better than Bermuda overseeded with rye that we had. And I'm able to see the line a lot better, I'm able to putt the greens a lot better, and that's what I think has made the difference for me.

Q. A lot of players have talked about how firm and fast this course is playing and how it brings a lot of creativity back into the game, different than a lot of the big sort of golf courses you play. If you can talk about how this suits your game and your feelings about that.

PHIL MICKELSON: I think what I like most about the change in the style of the setup is that around the greens is much more fair. It's not the thick, heavy, hack-out hay that we have had in years past. There are a lot of runout areas that are fairway height. There's rough that's not brutally difficult, so you can get balls up-and-down around these greens if you hit good shots. You're going to miss a lot of greens as firm as they are and as small as they are and as guarded as the front of the greens are in so many holes that you're not going to be able to run shots up, so you're going to miss greens. And the fact that we can now have short game be a part of the play I think helps me to have a better opportunity to play well here and win.

Q. Having won here a couple of years ago, coming here do you get a different sense of this tournament as a former champion and does it take on different significance in your mind having won here??

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that -- no, not really. I don't know. I don't know where to go with that.

Q. Before the move to May, would you already have been kind of in your mind getting ready for the U.S. Open at this time??

PHIL MICKELSON: Very likely, yes.

Q. When do you start thinking about Bethpage now??

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's already in my mind. I'm excited about that event coming up, but I haven't begun to prepare for it per se. I probably will start preparing for it after the Texas Swing. I think that the style of play that we play at Nelson and Colonial that I'll be playing this year, with the course being windy will be a little bit different than what I expect to play at Bethpage, so I probably will start shortly after that. Instead of taking the week off -- instead of taking the week off practicing, I'll be practicing getting ready for Bethpage.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: There were two months of kind of a lull in the schedule, if you will, where we had a lot of great TOUR events but nothing like THE PLAYERS that really stands out.

Q. I was wondering why you think this golf course has produced such a diversity of winners, small, medium and large, from Fred Funk and Stephen Ames to yourself being one of the longer guys. What is it about here? It seems like the guy who plays the best wins and you can't just overpower it with driver, wedge and all those sorts of things?

PHIL MICKELSON: I agree with that. I mean, I think you have to play well and it doesn't favor any style of play. It doesn't favor a long hitter, because the par-5s, like No. 11, No. 9 and even 2 that you might be able to reach, it's not advantageous to always go for it in two. Sometimes the best play is short of the green in the fairway, because of the severity of the contours around the greens. Length isn't as big a factor on the par-5s. But it is a factor to hit a 3-wood or 4-wood or 3-iron off the tee, as opposed to hit driver all the time. So it can help. But it's interesting how this golf course just doesn't favor any style of play.

Q. John Elway talked before he won the Super Bowl and said it wasn't really important to validate his career. After he won he says obviously it helps to have won the big one. To you, you're close to being No. 1 in certain scenarios, and winning could get you there. How important would it be to say I was the No. 1 ranked player in the world??

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that I would have a very similar situation as what you referred to with John Elway in that at the time of right now, I don't look at it as being an important thing on the top of my mind. It's something that I feel that if I play well and win tournaments and stuff like that will come. But I think looking back on my career, I think that it would mean a lot to me to be able to say at one point I was No. 1, even if it was for a week, a month, what have you, whatever the time period was, to say I climbed to the top. The goal of all of us would be to say that would be pretty cool, and what I'm striving to accomplish.

Q. Do you think that this period that we've been in here for the last couple of months has sustained as good as your game has been in terms of the level of it??

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't feel as though I've played quite as well as I should be able to. I feel like my iron play has not been what it has been the last couple of years. And Butch and I have been able to get this thing ironed out to where I'm able to hit iron shots the way I have the past few years. When that happens I think I'll be putting it all together. I have not ever driven the ball this long, this straight before, and my short game is as good as it's been, chipping, putting. And the last piece here is iron play; if I get my iron play back to where it has been the last few years I think that I'll put it all together and it's starting to feel really good.

Q. From the playing with Tiger at the Masters, it had been more than a year since you played together. I don't count the U.S. Open, because you didn't have driver in the bag the first two days.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you.

Q. Just for clarity's sake, it was pretty hard not to notice that you were farther than him off just about every tee in that final round. You were aware of that, too, I imagine??

PHIL MICKELSON: I kept having to wait for him to hit, sure (laughter).

Q. What were your thoughts on that? The simple question is, are you that much longer, or have you found him to be a little bit shorter, post knee surgery, post the last time you played with him?

PHIL MICKELSON: You know, like you said, I haven't played with him in that long a period of time or quite a while. I don't know -- I don't recall.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: That was '07. I thought we played together since then.

Q. Or The TOUR Championship. In that time frame, though.

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. But it seemed like he was playing like he normally did. He certainly went after it on 1 and hit -- although he hooked it, he hit it very hard. He had a lot of speed, almost like he was trying to carry the bunker. It seems like he has as much speed as he wants to have. With that being said, I've been able to increase my speed a little bit this year, as well, and even though I've weakened my irons a degree or two, I'm still hitting them five, six yards longer than I did last year, so I've almost gained 10, 12 yards with my irons without trying.

Q. Why did you weaken them??

PHIL MICKELSON: Because they were going much too far from the previous year or two.

Q. What is the club in your bag you would not think about playing this course without??

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, putter.

Q. What's an indispensable club on this course??

PHIL MICKELSON: A putter.

Q. But that's true of any course, isn't it??

PHIL MICKELSON: I agree.

Q. Outside of the putter?? PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, outside of the putter. Probably a -- some kind of a wedge. I think a high lofted wedge. You're going to need a high lofted wedge here. You cannot bump-and-run every shot here, because you are in so much rough or over bunkers, over hills and hollows that a high loft wedge is critical.

Q. Last week the HSBC Champions gained quasi-WGC status. Are you going to play there this year??

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure. I'm not ruling it out, I'm just not sure. I played the last couple of years in that event. I really like it. I think it's a great golf course. I found Shanghai to be a great city, very entertaining, a lot of things to do. My kids enjoyed it. I wouldn't rule it out.

I don't know my schedule that far back into October, November yet. I'm trying to just get through -- gear up for the majors, and after the FedExCup I'll start to look at what I'll start playing in the off-season.

Q. What's your take on it gaining that status??

PHIL MICKELSON: My thinking is the logic behind it is to help grow the game in Asia, I think, and I hope it does that.

Q. And you probably had some preconceived notions before you went over there the first time about what's going on there. How does that compare now that you've been there a couple of times??

PHIL MICKELSON: It's similar to what I expected. But the golf course was similar to America. It was very -- what's interesting is the course I play at in San Diego, The Bridges, the designer who designed The Bridges, also designed the houses and the course and what have you at Shanghai where we play that event. I think it's Shenzhen. And they look so similar to me, the style of kind of an Italian Tuscan villa kind of housing project, that it felt like Rancho Santa Fe.

Q. Two questions: First one is about your practice round today. You played part of it with Sean O'Hair. And we noticed that you talked a lot with him. As far as the dialogue, did you reference or go back to your final round with him in 2007? And also it seemed like you were giving him lessons as far as on the greens. Can you share?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, we didn't talk about '07. And if you realized he won last week, I was asking him questions (laughter).

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: Yes.

Q. How long??

PHIL MICKELSON: Shortly after I started working with Butch. One of the things we started doing was quieted my foot action. I stopped sliding or slipping, and so I've been able to play with these effectively without slipping. But before that I just couldn't.

Q. You said that the course doesn't necessarily favor a longer player, other than the fact that you're able to -- how many drivers for a long player like this, given the conditions??

PHIL MICKELSON: I was looking at that. Probably two or three, I would guess. But it doesn't mean you can't play it without driver. You can probably hit nine or ten drivers, if you would like. But I only plan on hitting it on 2, 11 and 16, so, say, three of them. And if 16 or 11 get severely downwind I'll play 3-wood off of those.

Q. Obviously the golf world gets excited when you and Tiger get together, either a pairing or on the leaderboard. Does your intensity ratchet up at all playing with Tiger or is that really not a consideration at all, you're just playing the course, it doesn't matter who you're paired with??

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if it's intensity or what. I know that early on I did not play my best golf when we were paired together, and now I find that I am. And I enjoy the pairing and it brings out my best game, and I hope that we have a chance to play together more often.

Q. Following up on Doug's question, when -- you're hitting it so much longer off the tee. Is there a little bit, and I know you guys on the TOUR are the best players in the world, but is it still a little bit of the confidence you get when you're long and down the middle against a guy like Tiger who historically is always the one who is bombing it 340, and now it's you? Does that give you that little bit of confidence?

PHIL MICKELSON: Maybe at a course like Augusta where it's open and length is a big factor. But a course like here you're actually playing more for position and the next shot. And hitting it longer or longest off the tee in your group really doesn't mean that much here because it's -- a lot of holes you're trying to hit to a specific spot. 10 you can't hit driver because you go through the fairway; you're trying to hit to a spot. And the same thing with No. 1. Sometimes if I hit driver I'll go through into that bunker in the distance on the left, and then I've got a 60-, 70-yard bunker shot that's tough. So I'm trying to hit 3-wood in the fairway.

Distance here or longest doesn't really matter. But at Augusta I think it makes a bit of a difference because the course is pretty open, and the longer you hit it the better your chance for making birdies there.

Q. I want to follow up on the Sean O'Hair. What did you learn from him in that day in '07 that kind of showed he was the type of player that we're starting to see now??

PHIL MICKELSON: He's one of the best ball-strikers that we have. If you watch him play the entire round, he hits every shot very crisp, very solid and with very little curvature. So he hits a lot of greens. His distance control is very good. And he ends up making very few mistakes because of his -- the level of ball-striking. Because of that he's going to be in contention a lot of weeks. And when he putts well he's going to end up winning.

Q. I was wondering with Bethpage coming up, since that was sort of when you planted the flag in New York state for the first time if there are any amusing anecdotes for yourself or your family when you think of that week that jump out, maybe things that happened, what people said, funny stories along those lines, that when the images of that week are conjured up that's what you think of first and foremost??

PHIL MICKELSON: I think there were some funny stories that took place during the practice rounds, during the tournaments, things that fans yelled out, things they said that I thought were pretty quick-witted. I think the humor in New York is very quick-witted. I remember Hidemichi Tanaka hit a shot over No. 9, over the green, a microphone is in his way, he picks it up to move it out of the way, and a guy yells out, "Hey, Tanaka, how about a little karaoke?" I just think stuff like that is funny, very quick-witted. And that's why I enjoy playing golf in New York, is some of the quick wit and humor that you hear.

Q. Along those lines, when you play in the New York area, does it feel like a home game to you??

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if I would say that. I feel as though the game of golf is very well supported in New York. We've got great golf courses in New York, and everybody gets it. Everybody loves Bethpage. They get an opportunity to play Bethpage, and I think so many people are excited to see us out there playing that I felt like the community really support the event well, The Open well, and has always been supportive of Westchester and the Barclays event up there. I think the Barclays the Liberty National will be a great event so close to Manhattan.

Q. I have a charity question. I guess you could go down to the range and everybody has something to do for their own charity. Could you talk about how you balance the need for that to be promoted more with the idea of charity being done silently? You're a good example of that. There's a lot of things you do that no one knows about. Doing things with the left hand that the right hand doesn't know is doing, and at the same time trying to promote what you guys do. How do you balance that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it's important for the TOUR to get out the word on the charitable impact the TOUR has in each community. Last year I think $3 million were raised for the community here, and I think that word needs to get out because we've been getting an unfair rap, if you will, in Congress about some of the dollars being spent for entertainment, spent for sponsorship of these events, and yet we're doing a lot more than just entertaining clients here. We're helping the community. We have a whole different business model structure than any sport; I think that message needs to get out.

But on a personal note there's always something that touches each one of us. And out on the TOUR we've been fortunate playing for a lot of money, and out on the TOUR, 100-plus deep make a very good living. So we're in a position to help charities, areas, people that we feel a connection with. And each one of us is going to be touched differently.

What I feel strongly about or Amy and I feel strongly about is going to be different than other people feel strongly about. And what's cool is we're all in a position to do something about it or to help out the situation at some level. But I don't feel like the need is there for that to get out as much as it is for what the TOUR does.

JOEL SCHUCHMANN: Phil Mickelson, thank you very much. Good luck this week.

Transcript courtesy of ASAP Sports.

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