An Interview With: PHIL MICKELSON
KELLY ELBIN: With more Ryder Cup appearances now than any other United States team member, Phil Mickelson joins us at the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club. This will be Phil's ninth Ryder Cup appearance, all consecutively, Phil, from 1995 at Oak Hill to 2012 at Medinah, it's been a long Ryder Cup journey for you.
PHIL MICKELSON: I love it. I just love this event. I think as a team we're so excited to get this started on Friday because it's something we've been looking forward to for so long, and what a great place here at Medinah. The people of Chicago, I can't believe how many people are out here supporting the practice rounds. It's just cool. I think this is going to be a very electric atmosphere, and we as players are very excited.
Q. When Davis was in here earlier he was talking about the evolution that he'd seen with you and Tiger over the course of your Ryder Cup careers, how you had originally come out and just wanted to win every point; and now you're taking much more of a leadership role and doing whatever is necessary. How would you characterize your evolution over that same period of time?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's been a lot of fun. We've actually had a lot of fun together as teammates. I think we have had we've had not much success together on the course, but I will say that as partners on the pong table, he and I are delivering. We are serving it up, and there are not many guys that can match us on the pong table.
Although we didn't play well together in '04 on the golf course, put us together on that table, and we're rocking it.
Q. I wonder if you would talk about the course a little bit. A lot has been made of how Davis and the course superintendent here have tried to lay out a tough course for the Europeans, but doesn't that cut both ways; it's just as tough for you as it is for them? Can you explain how you kind of approach that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm not sure I really gathered the whole context of the question, but the course is set up in a manner that a lot of birdies can be made. It's a course that is very challenging, extremely difficult with green contours, with bunkering, what have you.
However, the setup is such that will allow for some birdies, and I think that'll be exciting to watch, and I think it'll be exciting to compete in that format.
Q. When there was a question about whether you were going to make this team on points, how concerned were you, and does that make you maybe appreciate this one more?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes. I think that this is my 18th team event in a row, counting the Presidents Cup, and I realize how much over I have realized over time how much I look forward to these events, how much I love the Ryder Cup, how much I love being a part of the team and how much I want to play and compete.
It's a great motivator to play well. And fortunately in the FedExCup, it gave me an opportunity to get me game sharp and to have some good finishes and get some momentum heading in here, but certainly I was concerned because I went through a little bit of a lull through the season, and I'm glad to feel and see that I'm starting to play a lot better.
Q. How does success at table tennis or a good team room help you make a critical putt in a match?
PHIL MICKELSON: Mojo, Karen. You've got to have momentum. You've got to feel it. And it's been good for Tiger and I on the pong table. It's been nice.
Q. He was referring to your vast experience here in this event. Can you talk about how this event has changed or evolved since your first time in it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know about the event itself. I know that as a player, we have had different feels in the team room, where the intensity has been there, we've got to win. There's been feelings in the team room of let's have fun and enjoy this moment, this opportunity. There's been that feeling in '99 as though it was just destiny that something special was going to happen.
I think that over the years, looking back, we have not played our best when we have focused on trying to win the Ryder Cup. We've played our best when we've had fun, enjoyed each other's company, and enjoyed the competition, embraced the gallery and felt the momentum kind of like in 2008 with Zinger.
And I think for us to do well, we've got to feel the presence of the crowd here in Chicago. We need the support. We need that momentum. We need that energy that they provide for us to play our best golf, and I think that the environment here and the electricity that people bring is going to help us play well. I don't know if it'll be enough. It's a tough European team. But I think they're going to help us play well.
Q. You're talking about obviously feeding off the crowd. I'm curious if there's particular holes out there that you think are going to get a little bit more, I guess, lively than others, and particularly people are talking about 17 potentially being one of those holes.
PHIL MICKELSON: Certainly the amphitheater effect that the green provides could give that special feel. I think a number of matches will get to the 17th hole, and it very well could be a critical hole.
I think that's the first hole that really provides that amphitheater effect to where you can really feel it as you play.
The other hole that might provide that is 13, because it also has that same amphitheater feel as 17, and every match is most likely going to get to 13, and that's going to be a critical hole momentum wise as you head down the stretch.
Q. You have more Ryder Cup experience than any American, and yet you're on a team that's made up one third of players who have never played in one. I was wondering what you think of this Ryder Cup rookie class, and is there anything the veterans can do to help these guys?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, a lot of the guys that have been on the team, a number of team events, myself, Furyk, Stricker, Tiger, we've only won two Ryder Cups. We need that excitement, that energy that the rookies provide as much as they need a little bit of guidance as to what to expect for all of us to play our best golf.
We need that positive outlook, that desire to win, because our highlights, our moments that we look back on the Ryder Cup are '99 and '08, the two times that we've won, because of what it provides, and we want to create another memory, another special week. And we need that youthfulness and that excitement that the rookies provide, that the guys playing in their first Ryder Cup provide.
I mean, I'm going to be playing a lot with Keegan Bradley, it's no secret here. It is fun playing with Keegan because this is his first event, first team event. He is so excited, and that exuberance and energy that he brings, you feed off of it.
And I think the veterans need to feed off that from the young players just as much as the young players need a little bit of guidance from the experienced players.
Q. How have you changed as a team player? Obviously it probably took a little bit of getting used to playing on these teams. Now you've played on 18 of them. How have you changed through the years as a team player, and how did you come into this Ryder Cup viewing what your role was going to be? Did you look at it any differently?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not really. I know that we have great leadership on our team, starting with our captain, Davis Love, who has been on a number of teams and is able to take what has worked in the past and apply it and take some of the things that haven't worked and discard it.
We also have great vice captains. Jeff Sluman has been on a number of Presidents Cup teams that have been successful. Fred Couples has captained a number of Presidents Cup teams that have been very successful. Scott Verplank has played on a number of teams. And Mike Hulbert is one of the funniest, most enjoyable guys to be around and provides us the comedic relief that we need in the team room.
And our leadership from the top down is so strong that as a player, all the players are able to follow their lead rather than try to lead themselves.
Q. How are you as a teammate? How do you feel about yourself as a teammate? How much do you enjoy that and embrace it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I just love it, because as my career has progressed, I realize that these are some of the most special weeks throughout a career. There's something that careers are defined by, and also they're the weeks that relationships are formed that last a lifetime. I just love being on it, and I love getting to know the teammates. I love playing with them and playing with different guys. It's really fun.
Q. What's your take on the 15th hole, and what do you think might happen there?
PHIL MICKELSON: My take on the 15th hole is that it's a reachable par 4, but it's not really drivable. I think most guys are going to lay up. I just think it's over done as a hole that would try to entice you to drive it, unlike, say, the 10th at Riviera, which really entices you and gives you options.
I think that it's an easy birdie laying up, and as disappointing as the fans are going to be to see that, we have to play what's there in front of us and try to shoot the lowest score, and the lowest score will be shot by laying up.
Q. Davis is as close to a contemporary as you've gotten as a captain since you've been playing in these matches. Can you talk about your relationship with him and how much he relied on you early on in regards to making the picks and how you feel about this team in regards to that, because you're so close as a contemporary?
PHIL MICKELSON: I always looked up to Davis before I even came out on Tour, and when I finally had a chance to play against him and then compete with him on these team events, I even had more respect for him. He was so easy to be around, so fun to be around, and he's always been a great leader as a player and now as a captain.
We've talked about things over the years, and really we've talked about things that have worked well and things that haven't. I just think he's been a great leader from the start.
From the moment he was assigned the captaincy, I think he's been a great leader for our team. He's made it very easy to be a player on the team and made it a lot of fun for us.
And I think he's doing the things that are going to help us play our best.
Q. One thing that has definitely changed since you started playing Ryder Cups is the fact that so many of the European players are coming over here, they're living over here now, they're getting to know our courses, they're getting to know our players and our fans are getting to know them. I asked Ian Poulter about that, he's one that of course lives here, and he says you guys are good mates, but when it comes to Ryder Cup, his words, not mine, you want to kill them. If you could talk about the changes and how you interact with these European players and how it fuels your competitive spirit.
PHIL MICKELSON: There's a lot of guys on the European team that are just good guys that you enjoy being around, that we enjoy playing with week in and week out. Right here in Chicago, one of the best players on the European team, Luke Donald, lives here. I don't expect the crowd to be hostile towards him. I think they're going to support him. He has his family here and lives here.
So I think over the last 20 or 30 years, a lot of that not knowing each other, a lot of the animosity that might be there because they don't know each other is gone because we do spend so much time with each other now, especially the best players on the team who are spending so much on the regular Tour that I think a lot of strong relationships are formed. And I don't see one week affecting that.
Q. There's sometimes been a perception in the past that the U.S. Team don't gel as well as the European team. How do you feel the team spirit of this team compares with previous American teams that you've been in?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that's a misperception. I don't think that's an accurate perception at all. We've had some of our best weeks in fact, one of the most fun weeks we've ever had was in '06 with Tom Lehman as a captain. He was a phenomenal captain and we played extremely poor, but that had nothing to do with the leadership; it just had to do with the fact in a we didn't play well.
I do believe that the FedExCup has continued to improve our play as a U.S. Team because it's kept us sharp later on into the year and leading up right to the Ryder Cup. And in our case, the U.S. Team's case, the Presidents Cup, as well, to where the last five events that we've had, we've only lost once, and the one that we did lose was fairly close at Wales.
I think that this FedExCup has the U.S. Team playing some good golf, and I think we're going to be sharp and ready. But I think it would be a great misperception to think that the U.S. Team didn't gel or get along and that led to poor play; that's just not accurate.
Q. Partisan galleries aside, how are practice rounds at a Ryder Cup different from practice rounds at say a major championship?
PHIL MICKELSON: There's more to it than just seeing the course and developing a game plan in a Ryder Cup, because you are talking, you're trying to find out which partner would be best for you, to help bring your best golf out.
Then you're talking about what tees you'll tee off on and how you want to attack the golf course in alternate shot or foursomes, and then you're talking about strategy with golf balls and equipment that may be a factor, as well.
So there's a little bit more to it than just major championship where you're trying to decide how to play a course.
However, it's also a lot more fun in the sense that you have a partner, you have a team, you have teammates, and you're not just in it for yourself. It's a unique experience to have partners that you're pulling for and trying to help, as well.
Q. There's been a lot of talk about Rory being a "marked man." People in Chicago understand what a marked man is in football or basketball, but what is a marked man in Ryder Cup?
PHIL MICKELSON: Actually that's the first I've heard of that, certainly on the U.S. side. That's the first I've heard of that. That conversation hasn't really taken place on our side.
You know, our goal is to go out and play our best golf regardless of who it's against.
Q. Following on from what one of my colleagues said just now, is the phrase "we want to kill the Americans" a reasonable thing to say in the Ryder Cup?
PHIL MICKELSON: Again, that's the first time I've heard that, so I don't really know where to go with that.
Q. Will that make Ian Poulter a marked man?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't see how. I mean, again, I think as a U.S. Team we're trying to play our best golf, put our best players out there, and regardless who it's against, our best opportunity to win is to play our best golf regardless of who it's against or so forth. And whoever our opponent is, that's not going to change the way we play the golf course and how we're the shots we try to hit.
KELLY ELBIN: Phil Mickelson, thank you very much.
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