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Interview: Phil Mickelson

2004 Masters Champion Phil Mickelson sat down with the press Thursday.


September 15, 2004

JULIUS MASON: Phil Mickelson, ladies and gentlemen, joining us on a beautiful Wednesday morning. How about some thoughts on yesterday and we'll go to Q&A.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the course looks amazing and we're going to have a great week. This is an event we've been looking forward to for a long time. Hal and I have been talking about it for quite some time. I'm excited that it's finally here and I can't wait till Friday starts.

Q. Right out of the gate, the obvious question, you're going to be scrutinized this week because of the equipment change. Did you feel you might have been forced to make the switch before you really wanted to?

PHIL MICKELSON: I could have waited till the end of next year, but I felt that it was in my best interests and the best interests of the team that I do this now.

Q. Could you elaborate on that a little, on the best interests of the team? Because there are some people that are questioning the timing of this and your commitment to the team.

PHIL MICKELSON: Why? Why would they question that? I've been looking forward to this event for a long time.

Q. But the abrupt equipment change, typically you would not think you would do that with so little time before a big event like this.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, you know, I really -- I don't know how to get into it, other than I feel that I am most confident in my ability to score lowest is now. It's with the ball I'm playing and it's with the woods I'm playing. I didn't make a change with the irons because of exactly that concern, the distance controls and so forth, I had not had enough time to factor in.

But the technicians at Callaway gave me a driver in their very first makeup. They said this is what you're playing and I couldn't tell the difference, only it went a few miles an hour faster off the face and my little cut shot that I've been hitting all year was very easy to hit. I've been hitting fairways fairly easily with it.

Last week, it's tough to say because I had not had time to prepare for the event. I had a lot of stuff going on and didn't practice. But I've had plenty of time last week to practice. It was evident in my final round and it's been evident to me early this week that my game is as sharp as it will be.

The biggest concern, I thought, would have been the ball. But I am so excited about this ball. There's no change from the most critical area, from 150 in, as far as the softness and performance, only it goes longer for me. I'm excited about it.

So, for me to play my best, I need to be excited about what I have; I am and I think that that will ultimately be best for the team if I can win points.

Q. I know your preparation for majors this year, you made a point of getting to the golf course early and doing a study of it and that sort of thing. Are you going to be able to do that kind of study here this week?

PHIL MICKELSON: I did it Monday, yes. No galleries were allowed on Monday, so I did my, I don't know if I'd call it a routine, but I did my practice round preparation. Took about seven, seven and a half hours, and I feel like I am ready for every pin placement that is possible, how I want to attack it and so forth, which is a little harder. We have five matches potentially, five different pin placements, at least, and there's probably six to eight on each hole.

So it took a while, but I was able to do that on Monday.

Q. I'm curious what it's been like working with Hal these last couple of years?

PHIL MICKELSON: Working with who the last couple of years?

Q. With Hal the last couple of years, as far as talking about the Ryder Cup. How has he been different as a captain compared to the other guys you've been with and what have you enjoyed about it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the biggest difference is that I have no clue who I'm playing with. And to be honest with you, it's great. I love the reasoning. You know Jackie Burke said it best. He says, "Who cares who you play with? Just be ready to take on those two individuals by yourself and if your partner helps you, great. But don't count on any help from your partner." So everybody has been approaching it that way, and I think that we are all going to be ready to take on our opponents and a partner should be a bonus.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about how the team dynamic is coming together this early in the week?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we've had a lot of fun. These are the weeks that we as players and wives cherish because we share these experiences together and they seem to last a lifetime for us.

And so we've been having a lot of fun. I think the funniest thing is watching the wives because they are very -- they are as competitive or more competitive than the guys. You get them playing any game, and it's just funny. They are just funny, spunky girls, and it's a fun atmosphere.

Q. I heard last week you played two different types of Callaway drivers. Which one are you going to use here and could you just talk about those pieces of equipment that you will use here.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the one that I'm using is the Great Big Bertha II which is the one I was asked to use. I kind of stole the Fusion away because I liked how long it was going. But because that won't be out for a while, they wanted me to wait on that, so I'll get back into it in a little bit. The one I'm using right now seems to go very straight for me.

Q. Would you describe the difference in the pressure you feel at this event compared to the usual Tour event?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it is a different feeling being accountable to your teammates, not just yourself. But there's also no greater feeling as a player than to feel that nervousness on the first tee, to feeling that nervousness coming down the stretch in such important matches here at the Ryder Cup. I think we as players on the U.S. side still feel like we have a lot to prove, losing three of the last four matches. I think that we desperately -- not desperately, we really want to play well this week. Everybody seems very focused in on doing just that.

Q. Along those same lines, the gentlemen just asked, the European side always fancies itself as the underdog, even on its soil, can you talk about whether you feel they are underdogs, and B, second part to the question, not to be a downer, but will you visit the lost to Price and what that day was like to you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, that happens in matches. I remember when Constantino Rocca beat Tiger, we were all shocked. Phillip Price played a great match and I didn't and he ended up beating me and that was that.

The first part, about the underdog, I don't consider and have not considered the European side to be underdogs. They bring their best game out. They have got guys that are winning. Luke Donald has won two of the last something on the European Tour, Miguel Angel Jimenez won four times. And that's not to mention guys that are repeatedly in contention in majors like Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington. Their overall team is extremely sharp. We are going to have our hands full. I think it's a very evenly-matched Ryder Cup this year. I certainly like our chances, but I think it's a very evenly-matched event.

Q. You mentioned the wives and how competitive they are. Hal said that he thinks that wives can be worth half a point in a format like this. What is it about them that make them so influential in an event like this?

PHIL MICKELSON: You're really asking me that right now in front of everybody? (Laughter.)

Q. Sure, I want to hear the answer.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, they are able to help the players behind the scenes when they are not playing to be relaxed and enjoy the event. (Laughter.) He's one of your own, guys.

Q. The venue of Oakland Hills for a Ryder Cup, how does it compare to the many other Ryder Cup venues you have played and also, do you see any great match-play holes, like what they have done to No. 6, making it a potentially driveable No. 4, is it like No. 10 at The Belfry without the water?

PHIL MICKELSON: Oakland Hills is a great site for this event. There are a number of great match holes because the penalty for a poor drive or one miss struck shot is very severe. Each shot there's a criticalness to it because it's not wide open. If you were to miss a drive at some other courses, you would be fine. You could play from there. But here with the rough being up, with the greens being so severe, with the front of the greens being guarded as they often are, it's very difficult to get the ball on the green from out of the rough. You're fighting for par if you miss a fairway. I think from a match-play point of view, every hole is exciting and a great hole for matches.

The sixth hole being drivable, yeah, it would be fun. It's fun. We had the sixth hole at The Country Club in '99, they moved the tee up and it was drivable and we had some guys knock it on. But that's just one hole. I think there's a lot of exciting holes out here. The biggest thing is, obviously, hitting fairways. The second biggest thing is the greens, because we're going to see a lot of four and 8-footers for halves because it's so difficult to lag-putt it close.

Q. You said the wives are competitive if not more than competitive than the men, can you give some details about what they are competitive about?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, they are competitive in whatever sport we play. My wife beat me last night in ping pong and that wasn't fun to hear about. In pool they have issues. But the other games that we'll play, whether it's board games or card games, what-have-you, my wife is very competitive, as the others are, and it's fun. We enjoy that.

Q. Two nights ago, Michael Jordan came in and spoke to the team. Any high-profile visitors last night or what was on the agenda?

PHIL MICKELSON: We had our dinner with both teams. It was the welcoming dinner. It was great. We had a great time. I got to sit with Captain Langer, as well as Captain Sutton. I sat with Paul McGinley, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie and we had a lot of fun. I really enjoy talking to those guys. They are very intelligent and have a lot of neat things to say.

It's amazing the interests. Lee Westwood is very knowledgeable in horse racing and Paul McGinley is very close to Italy, which Amy and I love to go to, so we heard about a lot of great places to go there. And Colin is one of the guys that I enjoy joking around with more than just about anybody. He's got a great sense of humor. So we had a very fun evening.

Q. Did you have any kind of team meeting away from the Europeans after the practice round yesterday, and if so, is there anything that you can tell us about what the discussion might have centered around after the first day of practice rounds, what people were talking about, that kind of thing?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, we didn't have a meeting.

Q. Has Hal said when he will determine who is playing with who and who your teammate will be?

PHIL MICKELSON: Before he sends it in. Yeah, before he has to put the names in. We'll hear about it probably just before that.

Q. Regarding Monty, he has had a propensity to be an incredible player in these events. Can you talk about that, what your theory may be on that, whether he's high or low in terms of his tournament play, he seems to come here and thrive. Obviously I'm sure you've noticed that but do you have any theories about that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't have any theories as to why, other than he's a really good player who is able to bring out his best game at the most critical moments.

But nobody was more impressed than I was in '99 when he took a lot of ribbing and able to perform at the highest level of anybody there.

So maybe that's kind of a word to the wise that maybe we shouldn't piss him off. Maybe we should just downplay it a little bit and not agitate him so much.

Q. The dramatics of the event, you've been at or near the final group in all of the majors this year, you don't know what the final group is in the Ryder Cup, how is it different emotionally, the adrenaline factor, playing under those conditions, is it a little bit different?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, each match feels like the Sunday of a major because each point is so critical. It's not as though you have three more rounds to catch up. You feel the importance of each point and so I think that the feeling has been very similar for me as the last three or four holes of a major coming down the stretch when you're at the lead or within a shot or two.

Q. Chris Riley is a bit of a live wire just normally, and this week, he's maybe been a little crazier from what we hear?

PHIL MICKELSON: Chris Riley? (Laughing) no, Melanie, elaborate, what have you been hearing?

Q. Just Hal says he's bouncing off the walls and, you know, he said everybody is going to play the first day and Chris goes, "Really", just things likes that, can you describe what he's been like and just with the new baby and everything else, too?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, Chris has a lot going on that's exciting in his life. To play your first Ryder Cup, to have your first child, there's a lot of emotions, but I think he's handled it extremely well. And he is one of the best players that we have in America, so we're very proud to have him on the team. We are going to really need his putter. He's one of the best putters the game has ever seen. This course is very interesting in how you can play the alternate-shot and decide who putts two thirds of the time, as opposed to 50/50, based on the four par 3s being odds and the two par 5s being evens. That gives you a chance to get a 67 percent putter for one guy. And I think that we are going to need his putter. He's going to be a critical part of this. He's been a lot of fun, though. He keeps us laughing and it's been a lot of fun.

Q. Any good stories?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'll let him share those with you. He'll be in in just a minute, just a minute he'll be in.

Q. Following up earlier on the Hal question. Hal Sutton, it seems like for us, he's been almost like a football coach, he's very different than Curtis was two years ago. Can you talk about that whole process? He's a very emotional guy, and would it have any effect on you guys, can he win a half or one or two points, the way he handles you guys, and how has that been?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I thought Curtis was a great captain. I really enjoyed his captaincy. In fact, I thought all of my captains were terrific. I really enjoyed Curtis and I really enjoy Hal. They are different. I think the way I refer to it before I had won this year's Masters, I was searching for different ways to prepare for majors to bring out my best game, and I feel like I came up with a plan that seems to work. So I've been trying to apply it to each major.

I feel like we as a team in the U.S. are still trying to find the best way to prepare us for these matches because the routine is so different. We are used a Thursday start, we are used to one practice round, we get in here Monday and we have got four practice rounds, we've got functions and so forth. It's different. And we have a team concept where we haven't in the past, and I think Hal is searching for a different way to help bring our best game out. And we won't know if it's effective or not until Friday, until maybe even Sunday, but it seems like his decisiveness is rubbing off on the team members and hopefully it will work.

Q. The changes that you've made in managing your game on the golf course, obviously have been very effective in stroke-play. How will that translate into match-play?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think I've become a more effective alternate-shot player because I'm able to hit a softer drive in the in the fairway. This course sets up for a lot of right-to-left shots which is great for me because I can cut it and get the ball to stop running and stay in the fairway.

So as an alternate-shot player, I'll be a little bit more effective. But I feel like I'll still be able to push on the accelerator in the best ball competition and try to make birdies, try to attack. Because there are times where in the notes that I've been taking, there are pins that you can attack and make birdies, but you need to have a partner that's going to ensure the par for some of these pins to go at, otherwise you have to play a little bit more conservatively. A great example would be the fifth hole. That is a tough hole. If you throw it to the pin to the right side, you can get at it but if you miss it, look what happened to T.C. Chen in '85. You have a double chip, he makes 8. You really want to have a partner who is left of the pin putting up the hill 40 feet and has a great 2-putt if you are going to try to attack that pain because if you short-side it you'll make bogey. I will play alternate-shot certainly differently than best ball.

JULIUS MASON: Phil Mickelson, thanks, folks.

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