Phil Mickelson: Pre-Championship Press Conference
BETH MAJOR: Welcome to the 2014 U.S. Open Championship at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club, here in Pinehurst, North Carolina. We would like to welcome Phil Mickelson to the interview room the reigning British Open champion. Phil's playing in his 24th U.S. Open Championship. He's third at Pinehurst including a runner-up finish most notably in 1999. Can you talk a little bit about being back at Pinehurst and your emotions of the first few day, perhaps.
PHIL MICKELSON: His place is awesome. It is just a wonderful site. This is the first -- well I really believe that this week is testing a player's entire game. Because it forces you to make decisions, make good decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green, and utilize your short game to save strokes. There's no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens. It's just a wonderful test that is, I think, the best test I've seen to identify the best player.
BETH MAJOR: Open it right up to questions.
Q. So many close calls in this tournament, but you still seem to walk around this place with sort of that extra spring in your step, at least that's what it appeared to be this morning. I wonder, what's in the makeup that allows you to just sort of take some of these tough losses and still say, I'm back for more?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the biggest thing for me is that I look at those close calls as a positive sign for having given myself so many opportunities in our national championship and I believe that I'll have more opportunities. When I do, hopefully the experience that I've had in the past will allow me to handle it better in the future. But this place here specifically, obviously I have a lot of very fond emotional memories, from the '99 experience with Payne Stewart and coming so close and now my daughter who is going to be 15 and we just started teaching her to drive and it's just amazing how much time has gone by to hear that this is my 24th U.S. Open? I don't feel that old. I guess I look it, but I don't feel it. Pinehurst here has so many great memories for me, even though it's not a place that I have won a national championship, I'm certainly trying to change that this week.
Q. What would it mean to you to finally complete the career Grand Slam and would it mean even more to be able to do it here, given what you just talked about in '99 and Payne Stewart and how much this place means to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: It would -- it's a career goal of mine to win all four Majors. I feel like the five players that have done that, have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time. It show that is they have a complete game. If I'm able to do that, I feel that I would look upon my own career differently. That's why it would mean so much, in addition to the fact it's our national championship. Growing up here in the United States, this is a tournament that I've always felt this patriotism to and would love to win, plus with all the close calls. But it would really mean a lot to me. Then to do it right here where Payne and I had this moment where he we talked about fatherhood, but he also talked about winning future U.S. Opens. Although I haven't won one yet, I'm still fighting hard and this would be a great place to break through and do it. The flip side is that I tend to do well when it's least expected, so you know, I'm not going to -- I'm going to be up front with the fact that that's a goal of mine. I'm up front with the fact that I would love to do it here at Pinehurst. But I'm not going to put that pressure on me and say that this is the only week or only opportunity, it's probably the best opportunity, because the golf course is so short game oriented, because greens are so repellant, and the shots around the greens play a premium amongst all The Open venues that we have had. But I don't want to put the pressure on that this is the only week that I'll have a chance, I think that I'll have a number of great opportunities in the future years, but this is certainly as good a chance as I'll have.
Q. Talk about -- you talked about the course, what are the most challenging elements to it? Can you bomb away and is it dangerous to do that because you've got all that scrub and you might end up in a little patch of that, those weeds or do you have to lay back? Bubba was saying a moment ago that he feels he has to lay back. And as a followup, just those crowned greens?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, every course Bubba has to lay back on. The way he overpowered Augusta National this year was just impressive. The golf course here gives you a variety of options off the tee. There's really two or three clubs every single hole that you could choose to hit. You're taking on a little bit more risk with the driver, but I actually, when I first played it I thought I was going to hit a lot of hybrids and 3-woods. It's a long golf course. There are some tees that have been really moved back. The greens are so repellant that you need to get as close to them as possible. So I'll be hitting a lot of drivers. I'll be trying to play this golf course fairly aggressively. I also found that you do need a little bit of luck, but the waste areas are playable. You can at least advance the ball up by the green nine times out of ten, then rely on your short game. So if you can get the ball closer to the green off the tee, and hit driver, I think it's worth it. There are some areas though where it's extremely dense and you don't want to, for instance No. 1, you wouldn't want to hit a driver on No. 1 because right at 300 is where it actually gets very thick. Balls will nestle down. But there's a lot of areas that are thin and you can still advance it up by the green.
Q. Another thought about the natural areas, the scrub areas and so forth, what kind of shots are you able to hit out of there, depending upon the lies, what are you finding that would enable you to maybe make a score from a place that other people couldn't?
PHIL MICKELSON: The challenge of those areas are that you have sand and then you also have kind of a wiry grass. The sand will make the ball come out dead with a lot of spin and wiry grass will make the ball come out shooting into a flier. So identifying which way the ball's going to come out is going to be a big difference, because it's 40 or 50 yards with an iron. Rickie Fowler today had a shot where he thought it was going to come out dead with the sand. The ball went screaming over the green and nailed, two hopped into the grand stands. It would have been 70 yards over the green had it not hit the grand stands. So we'll get a few of those shots and you have to be somewhat fortunate in your assessment of how the ball's going to come out.
Q. You seem to show some form last week, couple of good three rounds to start, where are you right now? How is the game coming along?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm, I feel as good about my game today as I have all year. It's not saying a lot, because I haven't played well all year, but last week was a good week for me. I started to slowly put it together. I struggled on the greens they were a different grass and I had trouble reading them but I felt I hit them somewhat solid. The greens here are quick and so I'm actually going to go back to the claw grip this week in an effort to have a little bit lighter grip pressure and create a softer roll so that I get some of the hit out of it. I was running them way by last week and by taking my bottom hand off the putter, it eliminates some that hit. Allowing me to kind of roll the ball softly into the hole. But I drove it really well last two days. Drove it really well today. I feel good with the driver. I feel like that's going to be the club that could kind of make or break my week this week. My driving's taken a whole different turn and if I can put it together like I did those last two rounds, this week could be a good one because it will make a big difference having a shorter iron in.
Q. Did you experiment with the claw last week?
PHIL MICKELSON: The final round I went to it, yes.
Q. When would have been the last time you did that?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I'll go back and forth, certainly in my practice rounds, because it creates a kind of a longer more fluid stroke and takes some of the hit out of it. But in windy conditions I like having both hands on, because I want kind of a shorter, more -- I don't want to call it a pop stroke but more of an aggressive stroke. Here I want to have more of a longer, smoother stroke on these greens.
Q. You talked about the rough and the waste areas. If you had a choice, what would you choose to be in?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I love this: If you assess the lie right, you can create a shot to get up by the green. The hack-it-out rough requires no recoverability. I think the most exciting shot in golf is the ability to recover, is the recovery shot. And this is going to provide some exciting recovery shots. I think a guy like Bubba Watson, who has had some exciting recovery shots in the past, like at Augusta in the playoff, that wedge he hooked, I think he can hit a lot of those shots around here out that have area and it could be really exciting. You could be turning bogeys into birdies. Now, you'll be making some doubles along the way too, because this golf course is just tough. But it's really, really good.
Q. Given how the course is set up, is it still an advantage for those of you who have played it in '99 or 2005 or is that lessened somewhat?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think that the experience of playing in the U.S. Open here in the past years is very helpful, other than knowing how to play the golf course, where to miss it and what places you need to be careful of, because those are pretty similar around the greens. The notes I took from 2005 were identical. Places you want to play from, places you don't want to play from. I will say one thing, I can't -- because I've been raving about how great this place is, I will say the one knock that I have, when they made No.5 a par-5, I thought it was the greatest decision because that green is the most difficult green out here and I thought it sure would be exciting to see us hitting long iron shots in par-5 trying to make birdies and eagles. But when the tee boxes were moved so far back to where it's not reachable, now the shot we're hitting into that green is a 50-yard pitch shot. That's just not exciting, challenging, and won't have the same type of drama that it would have if those back tees were removed and the green was reachable in two. Now there's some guys like Bubba and Dustin and those guys that can reach it, but for the most part, it's two good shots to about 40, 50 yards short and then you wedge on. But that green is exciting when you're hitting a 4- or 5-iron into it. But unless the tees are moved forward, we won't see that.
Q. You talked about not feeling old, but you played a match against two guys today that you add their ages together they don't add up to yours, probably. What do you get out of a round like that when? Do you like going out? Does that keep you feeling young in a way to three guys in their 20s?
PHIL MICKELSON: I love it. I really love it. Well first of all, Jordan Spieth and you'll get to know Justin Thomas soon enough, are quality, quality guys. I mean they're just fun to be around and Rickie Fowler's the same way. I love being around him. They're just really quality guys. They're funny, they're easy to be around, but what it does for me is it allows me to see what's coming up, and it pushes me to work harder. Seeing the talent and the shot making that Jordan has is exciting. That's his strength is his ability to create shots. He has every shot you could want to hit. Every shot with an iron. And he's not afraid to use it in competition to get back some of those pins. His short game is exceptional. Watching him hit shots is fun. It pushes me to do the same thing, to keep my creativity, to get the ball back to some of those pins and hit the shot necessary. It's fun to watch. Rickie and Justin are just great to be around. We had a fun day.
Q. Johnny Miller last week said basically you got no chance putting the way you've been putting. He mentioned changing the grip. How do you feel about your putting, why do you think it hasn't been up to your standards this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, he's absolutely right, you can't win any golf tournament putting the way I've been putting. I should have won that last week by eight shots if I putted worth -- decent. (Laughter.) And he's absolutely right. Now I've had a great stretch like last year and a half of putting great and this year it's been just off a little bit. I saw Stockton this morning and really the reason why I went to the claw is that I just have been a little bit too poppy, if you will, I've been popping at it. And not making a long kind of smooth, brush stroke. When I take the bottom hand off it allows me to do that. Ultimately I'll go back to a regular grip but for now, probably the coming weeks that helps me get the feel and flow back. What I should have done is practice the last few weeks with it and then gone to regular grip this week, but here we are. But what it really is it helps about the short putts. Three to six, seven feet, I'm much more solid with taking the bottom hand off and just kind of lightly pushing the putter through.
Q. Is this as excited as you've ever been heading into a Major and into a U.S. Open, knowing what's potentially at stake and also given the setup of the course?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yes, I do feel heading into this year's U.S. Open that this golf course, this setup, and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity. But I haven't had the form this year to get too excited. Although I feel it coming around, I felt it last week, I saw it the glimpses and I felt it again today, I don't want to get overly excited, because the pressure of a U.S. Open and having not been in contention, that's going to be a challenge for me. Also, the expectations of me looking forward to this event for almost a year now and the history that I've had here and how much of a great story it would be and how much it would mean to me to win here with what happened with Payne Stewart and my child and all these things, that makes it more difficult as well. I tend to do something, play better, like at Muirfield last year when nobody really expects it and I just kind of come out of nowhere and know that I can do it and not really have to answer questions about it. So these are all challenges that I'm facing this week, but I'm also enjoying it and I love being here.
Q. You mentioned meeting with Dave Stockton to know this morning and changing the grip. What kind of plan or strategy do you have for making adjustments throughout the week if on the first day your putting is not where you want it to be?
PHIL MICKELSON: There's not too much technically that I do in putting now. We pretty much do the same things. For me the biggest thing is taking a longer look at the hole, so that I get more out into the putt, get a feel so I match up my speed with the break that I chose. It's really not a technical thing. It's not a moving ball position change, hand position change, grip, it's none of that anymore, it's all about getting out into the putt. I want to create more of a brush stroke, so that's why we have kind of gone to this grip. But if something changes this week and I feel better with the regular grip -- -- gosh, I putted great in the past with it. I may do it. It may be a spur of the moment thing. I don't know. But right now the game plan is X, but it can certainly become Y in a matter of minutes.
Q. What advice would you give young people pursuing their dreams as in I just did a story on First Tee, so what could you tell young people?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I'm a big believer in pursuing your dreams. I tell my kids all the time that ever since I was a kid this is what I dreamt of doing is playing the TOUR and winning tournaments and being out here playing golf for a living and it's the greatest thing. I just think that if you pursue your dreams and are able to achieve them, it's just the greatest way to go through life. It's just so much fun.
Q. I know you're not a guy who likes to dwell on things that have not worked out in the past, but have you ever sort of analyzed your close calls in the U.S. Opens to try to figure out what it is that has cost you in those events and improve on that in the future? Have you ever made that kind of analysis of them?
PHIL MICKELSON: The one analysis that I've made is that of those six top or six second place finishes, five of them it rained. So I'm pulling for rain. (Laughter.) It's not anything technical coming down the last nine holes or what have you, but I feel like if it rains this week, it will be much more difficult for guys to putt from off the green. And it will force them to chip. And if it's wet, it's so much easier to chip where the ball is skidding through the first bounce and then checking. See, as the edges of the greens roll, they're also -- the grain is also going into you. So when it's dry, it's very sticky and it grabs the ball and it makes it very difficult to get the ball close when you're having to kind of drive those chips through the grain. But when it's wet, the ball skids that first bounce, gets up on top of the hill, and then checks, very easy to get by the hole the little bump chip that I like to hit. When it rains it's also more difficult to putt, because you see the rooster tail of the water, you see grass grab on to the ball, and it is just much more difficult. So I'm hoping that it rains this week.
Q. Because you clearly want this title so badly for some of the reasons you mentioned, does that help you focus and be perhaps even more single minded than normal, given off-the-field distractions or issues?
PHIL MICKELSON: Possibly. It's just that you know we try to prepare our best for each Major Championship. We setup kind of a game plan on how we can play our best. I can see kind of the momentum coming this week. If I can manage my game and play it smart and just focus on the shot at hand, I feel like I'll give myself a good chance. But this is a golf course where you just can't get ahead. You're going to see a lot of big numbers, especially around the greens when guys make the wrong decision and you'll see guys go chipping off the green on the other end and back and forth. That's going to happen a lot. You just can't get ahead of yourself on any shot, because the penalty is so great here. You've got to keep your focus on just the shot at hand.
Q. With the combination of story lines for you here this week, back at Pinehurst, trying to win the U.S. Open, can you allow your mind to wander to what it would be like for you Sunday night to hold that trophy?
PHIL MICKELSON: I try not to, because I don't want to get ahead of myself. But it's only natural that it's going to. Occasionally I'll catch myself, but I really try not to, because I really just want to focus on what I need to do to get ready for Thursday. If I can do that, hopefully I'll give myself a chance on the weekend. But when I jump ahead, that never really works out good, at least in the past, six times. (Laughter.)
Q. You have a good track record whether it's here playing with a beeper in your bag or a 2009 at Bethpage of focusing between the ropes, despite whatever's going on outside of the ropes, how do you do that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think that as a golfer or an athlete you have to be able to control your thoughts. When your mind starts to wander, and what will happen, is your mind will start to wander on shots that the ball going where you don't want it to go. You've got to get control of your thoughts. Whether it's outside activities or what's going on on the course, you got to be able to control your thoughts and be able to visualize what you want to have happen on just the shot at hand. And anything that's going on off the golf course or on, you have to be able to refocus.
Q. In any facet of life if you want something too much or too badly it can sometimes get in the way of achieving it. In those six near misses in some of them in any way did you feel that that was the case with you and if so how do you work around that going forward?
PHIL MICKELSON: It was, it's very possible that that's it. But I've also wanted the Masters and my first Major awfully bad. I also wanted a British Open awfully bad. You're able to just kind of get control of your thoughts that we were talking about and be patient with it. I think that this is a week that I've been looking forward to and it would mean a lot to me, but if I get ahead of myself, I won't have a chance.
Q. When did you make the decision in your own mind to go back to the claw, first. And second, can you tell us the last time you made that kind of decision that it was that you were successful in making it?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've done some crazy stuff, but one of the dumbest things I've done which actually never came back to bite me was in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, I changed irons after the first round. And Bones, different lofts on the irons. And Bones and I had a heck of a time for the next 54 holes trying to club. But, you know, you've got to take some risks sometimes. I've won Majors with two drivers, with one driver, and with no drivers. I've also lost some tournaments because of this. You have to be willing to take risks and be accountable. I feel like right now, after talking with Dave this morning, we kind of had a brief conversation before we started putting. What's going to give me the best chance to putt these greens well? And this is what we came up with: It's important to make those six to eight footers. I'm putting them better this way because I'm softly rolling them in. Last week I was hitting them right through the break. So this is giving me a chance to put the best roll on the golf ball. If that's what -- if that's what it takes, I'm willing to take any risk and be accountable either way. If it comes out great, perfect. And if it doesn't, it was my own decision, which is why Bones and I have always had a great relationship; just because I ask his opinion, I don't expect him to be right, I can live with my own mistakes. So if I take the wrong club, if I try to claw, if I put in a couple drivers or no drivers and it doesn't work out, I'm able to -- I'm fine with dealing with my own bad decisions. It's hard for me to deal with somebody else's bad decision and go with it when I feel something else.
BETH MAJOR: Well, Phil we look forward to watching this week. Thanks for joining us today.
PHIL MICKELSON: My pleasure. Thank you.
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