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An Interview With: Phil Mickelson

JULIUS MASON: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, Phil Mickelson joining us at the 86th PGA Championship. Phil is making his 12th appearance at the PGA Championship. Welcome to Whistling Straits. Some opening thoughts and we'll go to Q&A.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you. It's going to be a wonderful venue for this championship and I think we are all looking forward to Thursday.

Q. Does the short to average hitter have any chance at all, or does the length of the course necessarily mean that it has to be a real long hitter to win here?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think that the golf course favors a long hitter. Its length can be certainly an advantage or helpful, but I don't see how it really favors that style of play because you're not able to stand up on a tee and just rip at it. You have to control your trajectory, you have to keep it in play. There's a lot of trouble throughout the course on both sides of the fairways. I don't think that guys who have length will necessarily be able to use it.

Q. Is there anything in particular about this course that suits your game particularly well?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I like the golf course the way it sets up because I feel like I'm able to be somewhat aggressive into a lot of pins and still be able to get up-and-down. I feel like I could short-side myself on a number of pin placements and still have a reasonable chip to get close, which I like because I'm able to play a little bit more attacking style than maybe a couple other tournaments this year.

Q. What do you think the biggest challenge of this course is, the wind, the length and the narrow fairways, the unknown?

PHIL MICKELSON: The biggest factor on the scores will be the wind because it comes from different directions at different strengths and makes the golf course play totally different as far as what holes you can make birdie on and what holes you're fighting for par.

I don't find the narrow fairways, I don't think they would be as big of a factor if there was not any wind. I think guys would be able to hit them no problem and be able to attack and make birdies. But the wind, especially the crosswind, it seems to be a cross off most holes. Very few holes go towards the lake or away from it. They seem to all parallel it, which leads to a lot of crosswinds. It makes it very difficult to hit fairways and it makes it very difficult to get the ball close to the hole.

Q. A few guys in the last few weeks have talked about seeing some changes in the Ryder Cup selection process the way points are awarded. There are several ways they are done, but what do you think is the best way to have the points system set up to qualify for the team?

PHIL MICKELSON: I have not really thought about it much. It seems to be working fine. I haven't really thought about it.

Q. How much time did you get here this week? You left the Bridges on Monday, came here on Tuesday. Did you come out early? How much time did you get in? And I know you've been talking this whole season about preparation, and you just talked about being able to short-side yourself. What are your thoughts about your preparation this time around?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I did come in right after the Battle on Monday. I left Tuesday morning early and got in here and played Tuesday afternoon. I did a lot of my note?taking and so forth on Wednesday and then played it again on Thursday. I have a pretty good idea of how I'm going to attack or play certain holes, what holes, pin placements will allow me to get to and which ones I can't.

I feel like I'm comfortable with the game plan I have and it's now a matter of executing it. But I found it interesting that there were a lot of pins that you could get to, that you could attack. Unlike Shinnecock, it seemed like if you short-sided yourself there, you were not going to have any chance to get up-and-down. Of course there were some other variables there, too, but same thing at Troon (laughter). If you short-side yourself there, you have trouble, too.

Here it seems like if you just miss the green barely off the edge, it's not a problem getting up-and-down. In fact, it's a chip you can try to make. So I think that there will be a number of holes that I'll fire at this week that I probably won't have in some previous majors.

Q. Just to follow up on that, how much did you practice today, what specifically were you working on, and will you play tomorrow?

PHIL MICKELSON: I probably won't play tomorrow. I've had a number of practice rounds. I'd rather just get a couple of drills and be sharp.

The biggest thing for me is deciding what type of tee shot to hit off what holes, and whether it's hit it low, a low fade, a low draw, get it up in the air with a draw or with a fade. I think deciding on what shot suits a tee shot or what suits off the tee, that's going to be the biggest decision making. I think it's pretty well set going into the green.

Although it looks like a links style course, there are no run?up shots. You have to fly the ball on the green. There's only one hole out there that I can think of that would actually roll up on to the green.

Q. Which one?

PHIL MICKELSON: It was No. 13 that I thought a ball would run up. Every one else you need to fly on. The greens are somewhat receptive so you can go ahead and fly them on. But you need to come out of the fairway if you plan on doing that, and it's very hard to stop it unless you have a short iron.

Q. What we've seen in the last nine or ten majors with the different winners, will we ever see a stretch like Tiger had in 2000 where someone can dominate major championships like he did?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think anybody thought there would be another player to dominate the way Nicklaus did in the majors and then along came Tiger, so I certainly would not rule it out. In fact, I would expect it to happen again. I don't know if it will be Tiger again. It very well could be. I don't know if it will be another player of today's crop or if it will come later on down the line.

Q. Are there any key holes that you see being determinative in the outcome, and would you also comment on hole No. 17? Do you like the design of that hole?

PHIL MICKELSON: The question about what hole is a turning point, that's a good question. I don't think I have an answer for you because it changes based on the wind. There are a lot of holes that today we play where the wind was blowing toward the lake, which is where a majority of the trouble is. So a lot of times balls would end up down in the low spot, very tough to make par.

But conversely, if the wind is blowing off the lake, you have to start it out over the lake and let it come back so you are starting it out under the hardest trouble.

Certainly 18 is a much-talked-about hole, and a lot of things can happen there. You could easily have a two- or three-shot swing there.

17 is an interesting hole. Again, based on the wind, if it's downwind, it's not overly difficult, it's a 4- or 5-iron that you feel like you can hit the green fairly reasonably, and if you miss it right it's not too tough to chip, but I think all of the holes are an interesting design. They are just very unique.

Q. You've had a week or so experience out here. What different winds have you played in and what would you like to see? If there is going to be a wind, what would you prefer?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't think I have a preference on the wind. I've seen 180 degrees now, exact opposite winds, and I don't think I have a preference because it seems like whichever wind, there are holes that you could birdie, and whatever holes you have fighting for par, they seem to change based on the wind you have.

I feel like it's a very fair test today because the greens are receptive. Now, of course I thought that about Shinnecock on Tuesday, too, so a lot of things can change, and the wind could dry them out. It's very difficult to land shots short of the green because there is a lot of trouble short and because there's such a crosswind, it's hard to have balls run and have it go straight onto the wind. They are running across the fairway usually. You have to fly it on.

As long as they are receptive, I think the scores will be reasonable.

Q. The PGA in particular has produced a number of surprise winners over the past several years. I'm wondering if you have any theories as to why that is, and also if you were to make a prediction of some of the lesser-known guys you would think would come up here and steal a victory perhaps from yourself or Els or Vijay, who would the favorites be?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't have a prediction as to why they have had surprise winners, but I do feel as though this week, ball-striking is stressed. You have to drive it extremely well into crosswinds, which is not easy to do, maneuvering them both ways, and it's very difficult hitting iron shots into the green with crosswinds, having to cut the ball back into the wind or hook it into it. I don't think -- again, I would be surprised if one of the guys that you didn't look at and expect to do well, if one of those guys didn't win.

Q. Your strategies or your game planning before the majors has helped you so much this year. Can you talk about what you do when you're out there doing a scouting report, how many notes you're taking? Is it primarily placement or what are you looking for when you go out and do that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there are a number of things that I'm looking at. I just enjoy being able to have the time to do it without anybody around, not holding up players behind me and so forth.

It took me, I don't know, eight and a half, nine hours for the one round where I do my thorough look at how the course will play and how I want to attack certain holes. I try to get input on what Dave Pelz thinks, what Rick Smith thinks on what holes to attack, what the odds and percentages are of getting up-and-down from certain areas of the green so I can better weigh if it's worth the risk, just looking at things like that.

It's hard to really assess a course like this because the winds change so often and it's such an integral part of this course. I guess I'm fortunate to play in opposite winds and see the course play totally different.

Q. You've been here for a week or so. Can you give us an assessment of the PGA Championship here in the State of Wisconsin and the fans here that have been following you around? Do you have a pretty big entourage? Maybe an assessment of that.

PHIL MICKELSON: It's amazing, the number of people that have come around to be a part of this great championship. It's a very good thing for the game of golf to be able to come to areas of the country, to have a quality setup like we have here that can host a major championship, and we can bring golf into areas that the PGA TOUR does not extend to. I know we are down in Milwaukee, but to be able to come here, not everybody has had a chance to see professional golf.

It's been an amazingly warm reception for everyone and it's fun for us to play in that environment.

Q. You played with Tim Herron today. How is his game and his attitude right now?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I thought he looked great. I know he's been on antibiotics for Lyme disease and was not feeling well at the British Open. He looked terrific. He played very well. He was my partner and he made a number of birdies. We had a very nice day. You never would have known something was wrong.

Q. Tiger had said this golf course with the wind is the hardest course he's ever played. Wondering your thoughts, and also being a lefty, people talk about a lefty advantage, is there any advantage for you on this course given that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I wish there was. I don't see it, but I wish there was an advantage.

I think that this golf course with wind is one of the hardest courses tee-to-green that we'll see. It doesn't give you a chance to hit runners like it does in Europe and run shots up, so you have to get your approach shots into the air somewhat, and then the crosswinds, it's very difficult to judge and have it stay on the green.

So, it is very difficult. I do think that Pebble Beach with wind and firm greens was probably the hardest test I have seen; that would have been the '92 Open. But I thought it was hard in 2000 when Tiger shot 12-under. So it probably wasn't the hardest -- this is probably the hardest for him. He didn't seem to have a problem with that.

Q. Are you looser now after winning the Masters?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if I would say that. I'm certainly more confident in my preparation for the majors now that I seem to have found a process that has been effective, and a win in Augusta as well as the finishes at the U.S. and British.

Q. In addition to golf, football is a great fascination here. Given your selection of the Baltimore Ravens a few years ago and fascination here with the Packers, do you have an early Super Bowl selection and any insight into the Packers' season?

PHIL MICKELSON: I wish I did. I really don't. I have not had time to look at football. Since we've had our third child, the free time seems to have gone out the window and I've been trying to keep my eyes on them. He's been a handful. So I really am clueless for the most part heading into the football season.

Q. You came agonizingly close at the U.S. and British Opens. How much more difficult would that have been had you not won the Masters?

PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I think it would have been quite a bit tougher, absolutely, having those close chances, having the lead in the final nine and not winning would have been a lot tougher had I not won the Masters.

Q. I was wondering if you could talk about your memories of when you first met Ernie Els at the World Junior in San Diego, and did you think that 20 years down the road that you guys would be locking horns in all the majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't really remember too much except for one thing. We played together the final round and I remember he won the tournament and he hit a little chip shot that had a lot of spin on it. I just thought that was cool. That was the thing I remember most. He seems to still have that shot.

Q. The way that the last nine majors have been after Tiger's run, is that the world coming back to normal, or is it an indication of how hard it is to win a major, as in the rest of us in the field are pretty good, too.

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, that's tough to say. I don't know if I have an answer for that.

I know that the stretch that I saw or witnessed Tiger play, '99 through 2001, was some of the most incredible golf that I think has ever been played.

The two most impressive performances that I've ever seen was the '97 Masters when he was 4-over at the turn after Thursday and shot 22-under par the last 63 holes, as well as his performance at Pebble Beach in 2000, because that golf course was playing very difficult that week. To shoot 12-under like he did was amazing. Those two performances stand out the most.

So if nobody is playing at that level, obviously he's going to win by a bunch if he plays at that level. If nobody plays at that level, it's a much more packed leaderboard.

Q. At the U.S. Open this year, a lot of people were able to hit 3?woods out of the rough there. Do you think that's going to be an option on this course?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yes. There's a lot of holes where the first cut of rough has been cut to a couple of inches, and you can hit a 3- or 4-wood and chase it down. You could probably hit a 5- or 6-iron otherwise and have it run.

The difficulty will come if you, I don't want to say short-side yourself off the fairway, that's not a good word, but if you miss it on the wrong side so that you're hitting across the fairway rather than shooting straight down it. The perfect example is the 11th hole, the par 5, if you miss your drive right you have a very tough second shot to get it in the fairway.

But if you miss it left you can just chase a 3-wood or 4-wood right down the fairway into the lay-up area. So if you miss your drive on the proper side, I think you can hit wood out of the rough and get it to run down the fairway.

Q. My question was about No. 11. It's 618 yards. What's your approach on that hole and do you think that there will be any eagles at all this weekend?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't approach the par 5s here with eagle in mind, because even the ones you can reach, it's with a crosswind; it's hard to get it close. You just want to make your 4.

But 11 is unlikely to be reached. With the winds I have seen, it can only be reached with a decent amount of help. So I anticipate having to lay up down there short of the treacherous bunker on the left and have a little 125-yard shot in.

If it is downwind and we're able to reach it, I don't know that we'll see many eagles, we might see one or two, but we should see a lot more birdies because guys will be able to go for it.

Q. You've said before that you like to have a chance to play a tournament before a major. This year, it didn't happen. I think the only competitive round you played was The Bridges. How much of a difference do you think that's going to wind up making, and is this a change in philosophy or just a hiccup in the way things are scheduled?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think it was more of a hiccup of the way things are scheduled. I certainly wish I could have played the week before, but being at Castle Pines with the Stableford format, which favors aggressive play, being at the high altitude, which would really mess with my distance control and yard yardages with my irons, I didn't feel it was the best way to prepare here.

In addition, I was not able to come here to Whistling Straits prior to last week, which also was a factor in my decision not to play. I love the tournament. I wish I could have played, but the week before the PGA, it's a very difficult week to transition from The INTERNATIONAL to a major.

Q. What your first reactions when you set foot on Whistling Straits and how have they changed over the time that you've spent here at Whistling Straits?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it always looked on each tee, unique, something different than what we normally see. And that really has not changed. I really still have not seen anything like it, and it's going to prove a very difficult test tee-to-green.

Q. Can you talk about your philosophy on signing? Watching you after your practice round now, you signed more than any of the other big names; could you talk about that? It seemed like you were a relentless autograph signer.

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't sign during the round. A lot of guys choose to sign during the round and not so much after. I don't mind setting time after the round to try to sign. But it is very difficult for me to play a golf course, signing 20 autographs in between each hole, so I choose to just do it afterwards and set a long time for that.

Q. Tiger was in earlier and he was asked if he liked this course, and he said that he wouldn't if he was like an 18-handicap. Is this a course that you actually enjoy playing or, you know -- that's it, I guess.

PHIL MICKELSON: I guess the best answer I could say is I think it's going to be a great venue for this championship. It's going to host this tournament very well (laughter).

Q. Obviously everybody knows you have a tremendous short game. What did you think of all the bunkers out here, and did you get a chance to throw maybe two or three balls out there and check out some of the lies?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, out of the, what, 2000 bunkers, 1,950 are not really in play. There are just 50 bunkers that are really strategically placed that are going to be a big factor.

A couple of them, there's two on the second hole, the par 5, which makes what seems to be an easy par 5 into a very tough hole, and that one bunker in the middle of the fairway 30 yards short of the green is going to be extremely difficult to get out, as is the front left bunker just short of the green. Those are the bunkers that I really focus on because they are the ones that you have to avoid. The other ones are not overly difficult to play out of.

Q. As well as you've played this year, has it been more enjoyable because Vijay has played so well and Ernie has played so well and Tiger is still right there? Has the competition from the top level guys, is it more fun because of that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think from a viewer's point of view, it's been an exciting year of golf because we've had four guys play very well and then we've had some incredible performances from other players. Todd Hamilton's performance the at the British Open is something special and makes the year very exciting. But to have Vijay and Ernie and myself and Retief and Tiger, guys that you expect to play well play well, that makes for a fun year.

Q. More fun for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well my year is fun because I've been playing well and I had a win at the Masters and have had very consistent play. That's what's made my year fun.

It doesn't really excite me, I'll be honest with you, to see Ernie or Vijay play that well (laughter).

Q. Considering your finishes in the last two majors, do you think, what if? You could be sitting here right now, about to make history; do you think of that, one or two shots that could have made a difference?

PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, absolutely. I'm three shots away from having the Grand Slam, certainly I think about that.

I don't dwell on it. What I try to do is think about what I can do to make up those three shots. I would also like to maybe make up a couple of shots even at Augusta so I don't have to make one on the 18th on the last hole for the win.

I'm constantly thinking about how to salvage a half a shot here or there or even a quarter of a shot. If I can improve my 72-hole total by three or four shots, it would be a world of difference. That's less than a shot a round. Those are the things I'm trying to improve upon. I've been able to do it well this year, but had I been able to do it just a little bit better, it could have been an incredible year.

Q. Two questions: One, you've played Lahinch and Ballybunion over in Ireland. What are your feelings on a course built in 1998, man-made, where they truck in 18,000 cubic yards of dirt, sand, etc. What are your feelings on that, just creating a links course?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think I would have had the vision to do what Herb Kohler and Pete Dye have been able to do here because I would not have been able to visualize shipping that much dirt and creating a links-style golf course out of nothing, to be able to do it the way they did. It's very impressive.

It does not play like a likes-style golf course. There are not any run-up shots into the green. You have to play it in the air and fly shots on. It does not play like a links-style course but it certainly looks like it.

Q. Shaun Micheel said, I believe, 12 to 14 over par might be the cut line. After playing here, do you think that's an exaggeration?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah.

Q. So you guys can go into red numbers here?

PHIL MICKELSON: I believe so, yeah. A lot of it will be predicated on the wind, but if we see 10, 15 miles an hour, I don't think 3-, 4-, 5-under par is an unrealistic score.

Q. This seems to be a golf course that people talk themselves into liking just to put themselves into contention. Is this a course that is so severe guys will have such a hard time even in practice rounds that they will take themselves out of contention because it does not suit their eye?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I haven't found that to be the case. I think that if you were an 18-handicapper, let's say the average player today, it would appear to be an unplayable golf course.

But there's plenty of room in the fairways. The greens are very receptive. They are not over-undulating to where you could not make putts if you're inside 20 feet, which is kind of the critical area.

So I think that there are plenty of birdies out there. And I don't find it overly difficult to make pars if you put it in the right spots off the tee and into the green. I just don't think that you have to talk yourself into it. I think if you play well, you could score pretty well here.

Q. You said you had a game plan. Did you have to make up two because it says the weekend might be pretty nice? Do you have a contingency plan?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, there are a lot more holes that I'll be playing for par if the wind blows and a lot more holes I'll be attacking and trying to make birdies if it's calm.

That's predicated on the weather, and there's nothing that I can do about that. I don't set a score. Certainly, a lot over par could win it. I don't envision that. I think that you can shoot under par four rounds here if you play well, even if there is a little bit of wind.

But if it were to blow 30 miles an hour, then it would be tough to shoot par or better.

JULIUS MASON: Phil Mickelson.

PHIL MICKELSON: Thanks, guys.

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