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Phil Mickelson British Open Press Conference Transcript

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STEWART McDOUGAL: Ladies and gentlemen, Phil Mickelson. Thank you for coming across here. You come here having won the last two, you played at the Greater Hartford and currently second in the World Rankings. Tell us how you see your chances in the Championship.
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm very much looking forward to this week's event and I think that this golf course is a tremendous course in the Open rotation. It's probably my favorite course in the rotation, and I have not played it yet.
 
I did not play in '92 when it was held here, but what I like is how the course seems to be very straightforward. There are a lot of bunkers that you can see off the tee and know where you want to hit it and it seems like short of the green, the ground is fairly level and balls seem to kick pretty straight as opposed to many of the hills and hollows that we see at a lot of links courses.
 
I also think it's a very difficult test, much like Bethpage you have to keep the ball in play and we've lost many balls in practice rounds in that thick rough. That will provide a very difficult challenge off the tee when the wind is blowing, especially a crosswind where you're hitting to half the fairway. Downwind or into the wind won't play nearly as difficult off the tee. To get into contention and to like my chances to do well, the biggest thing is to get the ball in play off the tee and then I think it will be putting. I think the greens have very subtle breaks to them and if you can read them and see them you can make putts because they are very true.
 
Q. Your Open record is not the best. Why?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: You're right. Well, in comparison to the other four majors, I haven't played as well here than I have in the other three. I think it's a pretty easy explanation in that I have always put a lot of spin on the golf ball and when I would keep the ball low, it would be low with a lot of spin, and what would happen is the ball would land short of the green like I would be playing but the spin would make it grab and not release back to the hole like I'm expecting. In the last two years, last year and a half I've worked very hard at controlling trajectory and spin rate, so when I do knock it down lower, I'm knocking some of the spin off of it, and that, to me, has been the biggest factor. My iron play in the Open has not been as effective as it needs to be.
 
Also putting in wind is a challenge, and I have tried to address those two issues. One, with Rick Smith in controlling the trajectory and spin rate by altering the angle of attack into the ball by shallowing out the angle of attack, I've been able to keep the ball lower with less spin, and I believe that will help me perform better here with my iron play.
 
And as far as putting, I've spent some time the last year and a half working with Dave Pelz not just reading greens but how to be more stable when the wind is blowing and how to read the wind into the putt.
 
Q. Phil, would you prefer the conditions to stay as they are now or to dry up?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I have played well in these conditions where the courses are wet and soft, like the U.S. Open at Bethpage, those type of conditions I have played well in in the past. I have not played as well in the hard, fast conditions. However I have been preparing for hard, fast conditions, so it would not disappoint me if it got hard and fast, but certainly I feel more comfortable in the conditions that are such today.
 
Q. Do you think that's what the majority of the field wants in the sense of trying to maybe even the playing field?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't see how any one condition of the course is going to level the playing field. When you have a player that has been able to be as tough with his ball-striking as well as with his mental approach, it really won't matter what golf course you put him on or what the conditions are, but I feel that, for me, to score low, to really score low and everybody in the field to score low, the conditions need to stay like they are. If they get hard and fast, the scores won't be nearly as low, but that will be the same for everybody in the field. I don't know how one condition of the course would give more players an opportunity to compete or not, but I feel like this is a course that does not favor a long hitter. It doesn't favor a short hitter. It seems to favor a guy who puts the ball in play, hits solid iron shots and makes putts. It doesn't matter how far off the tee you hit it or what club you have into the green. It's not a course that cuts you off like many holes do. There are a couple that might only allow you to hit it 230 yards off the tee, but you can hit a lot of drivers out here and take advantage of length, and because of that length, it could be an asset, but also you have to put the ball in play because of the rough. So position and accuracy off the tee is an asset and I feel that everybody who is playing will regardless of style of play should be able to contend and have a chance at winning.
 
Q. Phil, you had so much fan sport at home this year. It has been almost like every tournament has been a home game for you. How have you found the fans here and what do you expect after the first blow?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, in the United States at the U.S. Open and Hartford and so forth that the fans have been very supportive of the game of golf, in general, very supportive of all players. Over here it's especially so given the knowledge of the spectators. I found them to be very supportive of all the players. Given it's a Ryder Cup year, I would expect them to be more supportive of people from the Continental Europe, but they have been very supportive of myself and other players as well.
 
Q. (Inaudible)?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: It doesn't make me more despondent, because what I've found is it is much easier to deal with finishing 2nd or 3rd, than it is dealing with 25th or 30th and not having a chance to win. I love that feeling of playing the last round or coming down the stretch having a chance to win, that nervousness, that excitement that goes through my mind and body as I have a chance to win. That opportunity to compete is what I love so much. So finishing second or third is much easier to deal with than finishing higher. I have felt that I have become more determined to do well because I can taste it, taste it and see improvement in my game. And to see the improvement in my scores and to see the improvement in the consistency of my scores, has got me excited to work harder at my game, excited to strive to get better until I finally do break through and win. And when I do finally get a taste of victory, I anticipate that it would be something I would want even more and would work harder for even still.
 
Q. Phil, I'm sure you heard the observation or maybe it's a criticism that you're too self-satisfied. You've won a lot of money and a lot of tournaments, you have a beautiful wife and a great family. When you see that, hear that, the cash-potato theory out there, what is your reaction?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that what I have said all along is that because I have been fortunate on and off the course to put myself and my family in a position where we don't have to worry about finances; all I care about is winning golf tournaments. That's why I'm trying the shots like I did at Bay Hill to win tournaments with irregard to how much money it will cost me because of a lower place finish. All I care about is winning and that allows me to only care about winning. I'm not trying to get a check to keep my card, another Top-10 finish to keep my place on the money list, that's not my concern. It allows me a chance to win. Having such a great wife and family as I do, that's a support system that I want and that I need to play my best. And having them out traveling with me and being with me and having my wife watch many of the rounds, being able to discuss the play and have that type of support when I come off the golf course, allows me to play my best.
 
And let's be honest, in the last two years I have played the best golf of my career a lot of it due to the fact that I have that support system at home and a lot of it is due to the fact that Tiger Woods has challenged me to become a better player, to be able to compete week in and week out.
 
Q. You said at the Masters that you were maybe going to come over here earlier. Did you do that? Was your preparation this year different?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I got in Saturday morning and played 54 holes over the weekend and was able to see the golf course and get a good feel for the way the course played given there was no wind. Now I have anticipated a little more wind this week that we haven't had, but it was nice to play the course a few times without wind to know how it changes with the wind. I've got acclimated to the time change the first day and I feel like I have a decent understanding of the way the course should be played to a point where I feel I can score well on it and compete this week.
 
Q. Given the natural boldness and aggressiveness, (inaudible) --
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I have found this golf course allows you to be aggressive from the fairway. There are many pins that you can get to. The front of the greens are all open as to where you can bounce shots up and get them close, and as long as I put the ball in the fairway, then I can attack, so I won't be what I call - I don't want to say aggressive from the tee - I would say I want to play attacking golf from the tee; which means not necessarily hitting driver. It means positioning myself in the fairway to where I can attack the pin. And that's the way I see Muirfield being played and I feel you can score a lot of birdies. There are a lot of Par 4s that are short irons into. There are two Par 5s that could very well both be reached. And I feel there are a number of birdie holes out there if you can play it from the fairway. So to play aggressively, my first goal is to get the ball in the fairway and then I feel I can attack from there.
 
Q. Given the history with Tiger and majors, he does not give up a lead he brings into Sunday...
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I found that out the hard way, yes.
 
Q. ...Does that put more pressure on you guys to keep him in sight -- (inaudible)?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: It's interesting because I have listened to Nicklaus talk over the course of his career and somewhat tried to buy into his theory of stay near the lead, just kind of hang in there, hang in there, and let the leaders come back on Sunday, and that has not worked for me, because Tiger hasn't come back. So I have to approach the first three rounds now in a different light. It is not to try to hang in there, hang in there. It is to try to vault into the lead as possible, to get as close to the lead, if not in the lead, after two or three rounds, because just like you said, at the Masters and U.S. Open, I was four and five shots back respectfully and had a good chance to win. I shot the lowest rounds of the day both times and barely made up any ground at all. So to have a chance on Sunday, I need to be right there heading into the final day.
 
Q. You turned pro, if I remember, in June of 1992, 10 years ago, you didn't play in this tournament. Do you remember watching Faldo and remember anything about this golf course and the tournament?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I do. I actually came over and tried to qualify over at North Berwick and I really enjoyed that experience and still remember it well with the wall hole - a wonderful hole - and a great golf course, and I went back home fortunately and did watch it on TV and found it to be a very entertaining tournament. I thought that John Cook was going to win his first major when he knocked it 20 feet on 17. Had he two-putted for birdie, he would have had a three-shot lead, because Faldo had not yet birdied 15. So I remember the tournament pretty vividly, and it's actually very interesting to come out and play the course and see now what elements they were dealing with, to see the bunker that Azinger drove in on 17 and to know how that shot kind of pulls your tee shot to the left because you feel like you'll go through the fairway on the right, and it's interesting to be able to experience or try to visualize what they were experiencing back then.
 
Q. Did you come over and look at the golf course at that time?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I didn't.
 
Q. You just played North Berwick?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I tried to get in and they kicked me out. I'm kidding. I did not come over. Once I missed qualifying I headed home.
 
Q. Would winning this Open be any more special because of the fact that there is so much buildup about Tiger going to the Grand Slam and to perhaps answer some of the criticism from your elderstatesmen about the lack of competition Tiger is getting?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, those are all elements that may take place if I were able to win, but that's not really what I'm -- it's not a motivating factor for me. I feel like the biggest motivating factor is I want to win the events -- the most elite events which are the four majors and this being one of them is a tournament I want to win. Also I feel if I can win the British Open, it is the greatest satisfaction to achieve a victory here given the amount of alteration that I've had to go through to accommodate the play here, meaning my golf swing had to take on a number of changes; my ball flight had to take on a number of changes; my visualization of shots has had to change to accommodate the ball landing 30 yards short of the pin; curving the ball more so here to get to tough pins because you have to turn them around bunkers as opposed to just flying over it, all those factors work in an effort to try to be able to compete in this event would really give me the satisfaction of winning; not stopping Tiger's streak or I forget the other element that you brought up --
 
Q. Nicklaus and some --
 
PHIL MICKELSON: The older critics, yes. That would certainly be nice to be able to answer all that, but that's not the motivating factor.
 
Q. It almost seems like you've put more time in preparing for this major than others, because of the difference --
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I would agree with that, because I've had to go -- take on more change.
 
Q. When did it start?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: About a year, year and a half ago.
 
Q. With the Open in mind?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, and it's also helped me immensely in the States on just the opposite of conditions, soft conditions. When I play well at courses that have very soft greens, like AT&T typically, which I didn't play well this year. When I play well at the U.S. Open, there were a couple of shots that I had to hit in soft conditions that did not spin back too much where I brought the ball in a little bit lower, and there were a couple of shots that I had to work a little bit more to get to some pins and those shots that I had in mind originally for the British Open has helped me play on the U.S. tour as well getting to back pins or tough pins, and it was really about a year and a half ago that I realized that my style of play was not going to be conducive to doing well in this event. And I wanted to change that because not only did I want to compete here, but I wanted to compete more regularly, more consistently on the regular tour under all conditions.
 
Q. (Inaudible)?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: No. I've heard that a few times. I don't feel that way. I feel the opposite. It's a great opportunity and great challenge to play arguably against the best player of all time. What a great way for me to try to compete, try to get better and bring out my best golf and had Tiger not been in the field, and not being doing as well as he had, had he not been challenging me to get better, I don't think I would have played to the same level the last year or two. So it's been a huge benefit. That's not to mention the exterior things. The fact that he's driven television ratings, driven the purses up, driven the fan interest, the spectator base. There are so many places that have come from it, I feel 180 degrees the other way.
 
Q. (Inaudible)?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Not at all, because part of the reward or the fulfillment of winning these great tournaments is beating the best players, and I don't want to do it without one of the best players there, and if I can do it -- win one of these tournaments with the best player arguably of all time in the field playing well, that would give me the greatest fulfillment, greatest satisfaction.
 
Q. Then your dream is to come down the stretch with him on Sunday and to beat him?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I wouldn't call it a dream. It's something that I'm working for, yes. I don't lie in bed dreaming about it, but I do use it as a motivating factor for me to try to get better so I can make that a reality.
 
Q. You mentioned the hard work you put into your game. Because of that, your two strong finishes, would you say this is the best mindset you've had in the Open?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Without a doubt, yes, I feel I'm more prepared than I have been for this event. I certainly felt that way when I first came over here and played, but as 10 years have gone by and I realize that where my game was 10 years ago and the shots that I had were not going to do well here, I realize and can see the difference from today as opposed to years ago, so I certainly feel that this is by far my best chance and it is by far the best golf course for my game as well.
 
Q. Could you tell us on an emotional level how frustrating or hurtful it is that Jack Nicklaus, who obviously makes a blanket statement about challenging Tiger, does that on a personal level hurt you at all or do you take it along with all the other stuff?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I don't take it personal. I don't think he didn't singled me out or said my name. He was speaking in general terms.
 
Q. As a pretty permanent contender, you know, you don't feel it comes on to you a bit?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I didn't take it personal. Again, because he didn't mention my name. I certainly know he was referring to the top players and I would include myself in that group, but I feel like -- it didn't bother me. I felt like it was -- it's been difficult for him to equate to how he played majors 30 years ago and how they're played today, and his style and why his style is no longer effective. Again, as I mentioned earlier, I have tried to play much of the same way that he did that was so successful for 18 majors by just keeping myself in it and letting others make mistakes. That doesn't apply to the game anymore. So you have to look at a different style to win majors, more attacking, aggressive style to win majors and to compete against somebody that doesn't make mistakes.
 
Q. For all your hard work for this kind of golf, where did you go to approximate these conditions?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't understand. You mean back in the States or here?
 
Q. To prepare for this.
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Titleist Test Center. I don't know if you've ever been there, but it's got three different holes, fairways, different grasses, and they made one firmer, a firmer fairway for me, open green in front, and firmed it up, so I was able to hit shots into the greens, landing it short, and the setup there is very similar to here where you have bunkers left and right, so to get to some tough pins I had to hook it and slice it around on the ground, around the bunkers; not just fly it over, so that's where I've been spending most of my time the last couple of weeks.
 
Q. Carlsbad?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, Oceanside.
 
Q. Major championship work there is an element or two, a lucky shot will decide these. I know you don't rely on luck. I don't recall you having much luck at all when you've been in contention for a major championship?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: It's hard for me to disagree with that. And you're right. I certainly feel that to win one of these, you need a break at the right time, and it can come in any form. It might be a bounce; it might be a putt that hit something and went in, or it could be in the form of tee times. It could be in the form of the whether. You just don't know how it will come. I haven't necessarily had one of those breaks, otherwise I may have won one. That's my own fault, for not giving myself a couple-more shot cushion, maybe minimizing a bogey or a double bogey here or there, had I had, instead of being tied for the lead, a one or two shot lead then it wouldn't have made that big of a difference. I still would have been able to win. So it's my own fault for not making those things happen. I'm a big believer that the better you are, the luckier you get. So I need to continue to get better if I want those good breaks to happen.
 
Q. Prior to making the alterations, did you make trips to the Open knowing that the odds were stacked against you or that you had no chance?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I never felt that way, no. Every time I came here I felt I had a chance to win, that I was playing well and that my style of play was going to be effective here, and as the wind would pick up and the greens would dry out and firm up, I found that I was not having control of the golf ball that I needed, that I wanted, and that I was putting the ball in horrendous spots and having a tough time scoring. And I have found that some changes in my swing has created a different trajectory and ball flight that's much tighter through the wind and through the air, as well as a lower launching lower spinning version of the Pro V1 is much more effective in the wind, as well. I feel like the combination of those two elements should give me a good chance this year.
 
My feeling this year is no different than it has been in the years past. I feel like I've been ready. I've gotten here and prepared properly and I'm ready to go, but I have not gone here with the type of shots that I feel I have now.
 
Q. A lot of the medium and short-hitting professionals have criticized Bethpage and changes that were made at Augusta and AT&T because of the length and how it has narrowed the group of players that are going to be able to win to a dozen or so. This course is the shortest of the year, and yet the history of this thing, there has never been a dark horse winner here. Do you feel this is anybody's ball game or do you and a half a dozen players have a distinct advantage here?
 
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't feel as though it's a course where we're going to have somebody out of nowhere come up and win. I do think there are a number of guys that can win, more than a handful, because it does not limit or isolate the players contending, long hitters or short hitters. We saw at Bethpage, even though there were knocks about it being so long and certainly a couple of players up top hit the ball a long ways, we saw players that don't necessarily bomb it, play well. Jeff Maggert did well and he's not known as a long-ball hitter. The criticism may have been a little unjust. But as far as Muirfield, I would be really -- I would be surprised if somebody out of nowhere won it and I think there is a reason why the best players of the time seem to have won here. It seems to be a golf course that takes a lot of the luck in the bounce out of play and rewards great shots. If you hit the ball down the fairway, it will end up in the fairway. It won't hit a mound and kick 40 degrees off line into the rough like we saw in '99. That doesn't take place here. And in front of the green, if you take a shot at the pin, it will typically bounce pretty straight at the pin. So I think that that is going to help bring out the players who are playing best and take some of the luck element out of the play.