2013 PGA Championship Interview Transcript: Phil Mickelson
KELLY ELBIN: 2005 PGA Champion and 2013 Open Champion, Phil Mickelson joining us at the 95th PGA Championship.
This will be Phil's 21st consecutive PGA Championship, including a tie for 23rd here at Oak Hill in 2003. Welcome back, Phil. Last few months, a lot of incredible story lines and incredible time in your life, I would imagine.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's been fun to far, and we are all looking forward to competing in our final major championship. The golf course here is just in incredible shape. It's one of the best setups I've ever seen. The way the PGA has set it up with the graduated rough, the way they have rewarded good shots, and they have not overly penalized poorly struck shots, they have severely penalized poorly struck ones. I just think it's incredibly well thought out and should identify the best player this week.
Q. Do you see any opportunities to score, holes that can stick out that are good as scoring opportunities?
PHIL MICKELSON: Absolutely. I think that the scores are going to be really good. I think you're going to have a great discrepancy in the scores, and I say that, because I feel that if you play well, you can make birdies out here and if you hit it poorly you're going to be severely penalized with thick rough.
I think the golf course is a fair, difficult test that you want, without going over the edge and without trying to protect par. And I think that the winning score is going to definitely be under par and could very well be double digits under par if you play incredibly well. But, like I say, it's just the perfect, fair test. It's one of the best setups that I've ever seen for that.
Q. Many of us cover different sports and we've never seen anybody like you, maybe what you've just done an hour ago, you spent about maybe an hour and a half with the fans. Every one of them, looked like you were reaching out, smiling, what have you; is that really the 15th club in your bag, the fan base that you're building by doing that?
PHIL MICKELSON: It wasn't an hour and a half, for sure, but I don't sign during the round. I don't sign before the round. So I have to set aside time after the round, and that's kind of what I feel is the fair compromise for me to be able to get my work done, but also to show my appreciation for the fans who come out here and buy tickets and allow us to play golf for a living.
So I've noticed a lot of good, young players are doing the same thing as far as treating the fans very well. I think we have a good young crop of players that are doing the same thing. I've just always been appreciative of the fact that I get to play golf for a living. I just love what I do, and when you see the community support for an event like this here in Rochester and all the people out here, you want to do something to make sure that they know that they are appreciated.
Q. You recently did a SportsCenter commercial with Scott Van Pelt where you're going over the fundamentals with him; how often do you go back when you're in a major championship and go back to your first golf lesson and fundamentals just to calm down and center yourself?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, when you get into the heat and the pressure of a major championship, you end up always reverting back to your old habits, whether they are good or bad.
One of the things I like to do in a major is make golf more of a reactionary sport, where I look at the shot, try to see the shot and just react to it; let myself react to the shot without over thinking it or thinking about mechanics or technique or what have you.
Certainly the British Open, coming down the back nine that's exactly what was happening. I was just trying to see the shot and create it without thinking about mechanics or whatnot, because you have so much running through your head that you want to try to simplify it as much as you can.
Q. Can you talk about the changes to 15, and the fact that they are going to let fans vote for a pin placement on the last day?
PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't notice a lot of changes on that hole. What is different to the 15th green?
Q. Made it more narrow, bringing water a little closer, since probably 2003.
PHIL MICKELSON: Okay. I think the 15th hole is a great par 3, because it doesn't beat you up on distance. You know, you can be pretty precise with a 7 or 8 iron that we'll be hitting in there, and you want to take on you want to take on that pin, but you've got to be careful of the water. But what's also challenging about that hole is that if you miss it left, the green is difficult because it's pitched into you at first and then works away; making a chip shot or bunker shot extremely difficult to get close.
So that's actually a hole where I feel like you want to take on the risk and try to get close and try to make it a birdie hole, because there's no bail out on the hole regardless where the pin is.
KELLY ELBIN: People can go on PGA.COM and determine where the hole will be located on 15 green on Sunday.
PHIL MICKELSON: Cool. (Laughter).
Q. What do you remember of the 2003 PGA, and perhaps maybe you can based on your memories talk about the comparison then versus this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: The setup is similar but I feel like it's a more fair test today because of the graduated rough.
I feel like the graduated rough was cut in places that did not overly penalize shots that were well struck but just missed its target. I feel like if you play well, you can score lower than maybe '03. But if you hit wayward shots, I feel like the rough is a little bit thicker, and taller, longer, making it harder to salvage pars.
So all in all, I thought it was a great test. I'm curious to see how quick the greens will be, because they are a lot quicker today than they were when I was here a week ago, and the challenge of this golf course is the severity of the back to front pitch of most of the greens. That to me is one of the biggest challenges that Oak Hill provides, because if you do miss it long, getting that chip shot to stop close, especially out of difficult rough where it's hard to control the ball chipping, that's the big challenge. It forces you to want to leave every shot underneath the hole so you can get up and down.
If the greens stay under 12, under 11 and 1/2, 12, you can get the ball close to the hole. You can get the ball from behind the greens close. So I think the biggest X factor or unknown is just how quick the greens are rolling.
Q. I feel like this is going to be a great week for golf fans because they are seeing two of the greatest competitors back in full form, so what do you think this means for your fans? What do you think they expect from you this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't know the expectations but I think we all hope to have the guys that are playing their best golf in the mix in contention on Sunday, and certainly that's where I'd like to be. That's what the goal is, is to get the top guys, the guys that are in the Top 5, Top 10, Top 20 in the world, get them competing for the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.
Q. You're coming off one of the best final rounds in major championship history, specifically on the back nine. Does Oak Hill lend itself to that type of performance on a Sunday, especially 17 and 18, over 500 yards possibly for both, and just par 4s for each. So what are your thoughts on that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've always said that my favorite thing about great championship courses is having holes that are having the easy holes be easy and be birdieable and having the hard holes being really hard pars. Oak Hill does that exceptionally well. There are a lot of holes that you can make birdie out here, and there are holes that if you play it well, you expect birdie from the tee. And there are holes that are some of the hardest pars in the game.
17 and 18 are two of the hardest pars that you can possibly have coming down the stretch. So we very likely could see a two or three shot swing coming down the stretch. And so you've got 12 through 16 where you can make up ground making birdies, and you have 17 and 18 where you're trying to get home in pars. You can have a huge swing of strokes in that stretch.
Q. Obviously coming into this week, a lot of people have focused on yourself and Tiger, but there are a lot of players in the field. Tiger was talking about rivalries with Furyk, Ernie, others; how do you look at it, you coming in after the British and Tiger after last week, how do you look at it between the two of you on the course this week?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that having Tiger win last week is great, because I can't remember the last time somebody won the week before a major and then went on and won. (Laughter).
Having him back, having him play well, having him win like he's won this year is great for the game of golf. And the work that he's been doing with Sean Foley has been noticeable and been paying off and he's not having the shots that he's had for a few years. He's playing solid and he played great last week. I think it's great for the game to have him back playing well.
I think it's also great for the game to see guy the like Adam Scott and Justin Rose to come out and win major championships early on; guys that have incredible games and winning, and now have won golf biggest events. That just makes it exciting, because we have a number of players that can really create a lot of interest in this final major championship.
Q. Along those same lines, you and Tiger have been the face of American golf, in particular, for going on two decades, and I asked him the same question. I'm curious was to who you think are some of the young American players, in particular, who eventually can step into those roles and sort of fill your shoes down the line when you and Tiger I know you still have several years of quality golf left, but when you and Tiger graduate on to future things.
PHIL MICKELSON: I think we have already seen some great performance out of Dustin Johnson. He's got the ability to overpower golf courses with his strength and speed.
I played with three good, young players today that I think you're going to be hearing a lot about in the near future. I played with obviously Rickie Fowler, who you've seen on The Ryder Cup Team, but also Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka who have been playing over in Europe and developing their skills and winning. I think it's that type of mentality of winning and not being happy with a Top 10, but taking on that extra risk, trying to create those shots to make birdies to win.
I think those are some young players that you'll see in the coming years, because at their early age, when they are just turning pro, they are learning how to win and play aggressively and confidently and win. I think there's no substitute for that.
Q. The importance of mentoring some of the younger players on TOUR, any importance to you, Phil?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think one is I feel an obligation to help young players the way players ahead of me helped me and gave me the opportunity to play the PGA TOUR and gave me knowledge on how to handle certain situations, but a lot of it is selfish, too, because I get a lot out of playing with these young guys. I see how good they are and it motivates me. I see how they look at the TOUR with such appreciation for all the amenities that we have and the quality of life and the ability to do what we do.
It gives me a youthful energy, as well, and makes me appreciate something I've been doing for two decades now, but I see it through younger people's eyes, and it makes me continue to appreciate what I have.
Q. I read somewhere last week that you said that you had a dream before the final round of the U.S. Open, that you had won it. Would you mind discussing that again, and did you have any such dreams before or during the British Open?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I'd just reiterate what I had said last week about having something unusual happen where the Sunday before the U.S. Open, I had dreamt that I already won it. It took me a minute to realize when I woke up that it was Sunday morning, not Monday morning.
I didn't have anything like that in regards to the British, no. I just remember feeling that elation and for the past week or two that I've had the Claret Jug, I've been looking at it when I wake up just to make sure it wasn't a dream, because that tournament really has meant a lot to me. I didn't realize that for the past however many years how important that event was to me. For years I've been saying it would be the greatest accomplishment of my career if I was able to win that tournament; having to learn different styles of shots, learning to play links golf when I only play it a couple of times a year, to come out on top in that event means a lot.
Every morning when I wake up, I look at that jug to make sure it's not a dream, because I did have that weird thing happen at the U.S. Open.
Q. Three of the last four winners of the PGA Championship were players that have won their first major. Do you think there's something is that a coincidence? Is there something about the course they select or the way the field is selected that allows first time golfers to win their first major?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the identity of the PGA Championship changes quite often. You have the Masters that you know is going to be a course that length is a big factor; that there's no real rough to speak of, and short game is a big part of it, as well as aggressive play trying to reach the par 5s. And you have the U.S. Open, which you know is going to be brutal rough, lightning quick greens, and that you'll have to play controlled golf, get in the fairway and try to make pars.
And obviously at the British Open, we have links golf where the ball runs out and the greens usually are not as fast, although this year was an anomaly, and usually they are not quite as fast and you get windy conditions.
At the PGA, sometimes we play modern courses like Valhalla and Whistling Straits where you can shoot really low and sometimes we play classic courses like here where it's more like a U.S. Open setup, but without the without the control of par, without trying to make par the winning score all the time.
I think that what that does is allow young players a chance to be aggressive and not have to play so defensive. I think that the setup we have this week really identifies the best player, because it's not overly penalizing for a slight miss hit. It's really penalizing for a big miss, and it gives you a chance to make birdies if you hit great shots. I just think it's a wonderful setup.
I guess I don't really have a great answer as to why we've had first time winners here, because it really favors guys that are playing well and are experienced.
Q. You're playing wonderfully right now; Tiger is playing beautifully as well; you guys are the most popular players out there and No. 2 and No. 1 in the world. How would you describe the relationship that you have now with Tiger Woods professionally and personally compared to maybe 15 years ago, especially considering you've been in a lot of team rooms together on national teams?
PHIL MICKELSON: We have a lot more fun together than I think is realized, especially in the team events. We've been partners in the ping pong room and we've done quite well together as partners. We have good little banter on the bus rides. We've gotten along really well in the team environments.
And I look forward to those team events every year, because friendships and relationships, whether it's with Tiger or the young guys or the older players that are out here, those relationships really form and last a career during those team events.
And when we are competing in these events, it's every bit as intense. And certainly my record doesn't stand up to what he's done in the game. It's just incredible what he's accomplished with the number of wins, the number of majors and the consistency that he's shown throughout his career. But in the last five or six years, I've had some pretty good success head to head and I feel like he brings out the best golf in me. He's a great motivator for me. He's helped me work hard. He's helped me put forth the effort to try to compete at the highest level year in and year out, and I've loved competing against him. He's really brought the best out of me, especially when we've been paired together, and I hope that we are able to play together for many more years.
Q. We've known for 20 years that Tiger wanted to get to and pass Jack's record of 18 Majors. Now that you're at five, is there a number of Majors you have in mind that either you think you can get to, you want to, you will?
PHIL MICKELSON: Right now, just six. That's all I'm thinking about. But I don't have a specific number that I want to end my career. I don't think it's any surprise, because I've mentioned it, that I would really like to have won all four, and I'm one leg away here with the U.S. Open, and I've been close there a number of times, and I'll be putting in extra effort every year now for that particular event, especially. That would be the one thing that I think is fairly obvious. But there's not a specific number.
And I feel as though I started to play my best golf in the last four or five, six months. I feel like I've keyed in on two areas that I've struggled with for years, which is putting and off the tee. I feel very confident in my ability to get the ball in play off the tee and I feel very confident in my ability on the greens now; where I've turned weaknesses into strengths, I believe, and this serves me well in major championships. I feel like now the major championships are possibly the easiest ones for me to be in contention and maybe even win, because of those weaknesses becoming strengths.
Q. Sort of a follow up to that question, do you sort of realize the significance now of five majors, each one gets you in a little more rarefied territory; do you take time to sort of appreciate that, and does it now feel a little bit like gravy from here on now? I know you would like to career Grand Slam, but with five major titles, you can walk away today and be in pretty good company.
PHIL MICKELSON: More than the total number of Majors, I think it's having won three of the four now. I think the British Open really changed some of my perception of myself as a player. I think that had I won another green jacket, that would not have done the same thing as what winning the Claret Jug has done, because in my mind, it is an accomplishment in my career that makes me more of a complete player and proves that I've become more of a complete player for the simple reason that that style of golf, I have not had much success with over the past 20 years that I've played professionally. I've finished second and third there just twice out of 20 events, and to finally have won that and break through and play some of my best golf ever in my final round, that kind of changes the way I view myself and my game, more so than just a major championship that I had already won.
Q. Not to beat a dead horse, but at what point in your career, or maybe it hasn't happened yet, do you grow tired of the constant Tiger/Phil, Phil/Tiger, the rivalry, whatever it is? Is there a point where maybe in the past you got tired of it, or have you not reached that point yet?
PHIL MICKELSON: I love what I do. I mean, I love playing golf and I love competing. I've always been a competitive person, whether it's competing head to head with Tiger or anybody else on TOUR, having our little friendly matches today, I love that kind of competition.
I've always loved it since I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to play professional golf. And now that I am playing professional golf, I'm more motivated than ever to work hard to succeed, because I can taste some of my best golf coming out. I can feel it.
That has motivated me to continue to work hard and enjoy it, and I'm enjoying it more than I ever have. I have a practice facility in my yard now that I enjoy walking out after dinner and hitting some putts and hitting some chips and hitting some balls. I find it very calming and very serene being out there doing what I've always loved to do.
So I'm as motivated as ever to compete and to play and get the best golf out of me to hopefully play against Tiger when he's playing his best. That would ultimately be the goal; if I can play as well as I can at the same time he's doing the same, I would love that opportunity.
KELLY ELBIN: Open Champion, Phil Mickelson, thanks very much.
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