It wasn't all that long ago that Phil Mickelson was known to some golf writers as The Best Golfer Never To Win A Major.
That was before 2004. That year, Mickelson finally broke through, after some close calls, to win The Masters. Since then, he has bagged three majors, including last year's Masters.
Here's what the defending champion had to say on the eve of this week's Masters at Augusta National.
Q. Will you take the two-driver approach this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: I will. I have been working on the second driver, which is a longer driver, and I plan on using it a reasonable amount. It's also the square-headed driver that I've been working with. So I'll have two different drivers, yes.
Q. Before I ask the main one, the square-headed driver you're going to use for what kind of ball flight?
PHIL MICKELSON: It will be a lot higher. I talked about draws and fades, and so forth. It's more -- a better way to relate to be a driver and a 2-wood because one of them, the longer driver, the square one goes 20 yards longer than my regular one. So when I need distance, I use the square one. And when I try to hit little low shots or work it around the trees on 10 or 13, I'll use the regular-shaped driver.
Q. Was there ever a time in your career early when you started coming here that you thought this course didn't necessarily set up for a left-hander?
PHIL MICKELSON: No.
Q. Have you always felt comfortable from day one?
PHIL MICKELSON: Exactly. I've loved the way the course sets up, yes.
Q. And why would that be? Just because your cut was conducive to what you wanted to do on a lot of these holes?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think there's a slight misperception that you have to hit the ball right-to-left here. Certainly you do on 10 and 13, but there are a number of holes where you want to hit the ball left-to-right, as well.Augusta National tests all your abilities for ball-striking, your ability to hit the ball high, as well as hit the ball low; the ability to hit fades, draws, high, left-to-right, right-to-left. I don't feel as you can get around this golf course just hitting one shot. You have to be able to maneuver the ball around off the tee and into the greens, and so I've liked the way the holes have set up for when I have to fade it and I like the way the holes setup when I have to draw it.
Q. The amateur you played with said you were very helpful to him. When you first started coming here, who did you learn from and what did you learn?
PHIL MICKELSON: I tried to play with past champions, past winners. I would play with Arnold Palmer. He was the guy I called first. I had a chance to play with Jack Nicklaus and I would just kind of listen to them tell stories. And Ben Crenshaw was very helpful, as was Ray Floyd, talking about putts in the past, what certain things have gone on in the past.
7 has changed a lot, so some of the things I learned years ago about No. 7 when it was changed for last year's event you have to throw out the window because it kind of plays different up on that top left section now. But for the most part the greens are the same as they were years ago when I first started playing here.
Q. There were reports that you've put in some seriously long hours on the golf course; can you confirm those?
PHIL MICKELSON: Those aren't true, no. I just showed up this morning. I thought I would come out and play and it's been great. (Laughter).
Q. Can you confirm that, firstly, and tell us precisely what you were working on?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's not true. I can't confirm that, no. (Pausing). I would never lie to you. Of course it was true. Sorry. I've been out here a little bit practicing. As I've said in the past, there are very few courses where I just get excited just to go play, and every time I stand on the first tee at Augusta National, I'm excited just to play a round of golf. And so there are very few things in the game that I love more than just playing here, and it's great to have a chance to play and see the course when there's nobody out here. It looks so different on those days when all you see is the lush green grass, as opposed to the 50,000 people that are here each day throughout the tournament week.
Q. Going into last year's final round, you looked very relaxed; you seemed to ooze confidence as the afternoon unfolded.
PHIL MICKELSON: Do I look tense today?
Q. Not at all.
PHIL MICKELSON: Okay.
Q. Is that the most comfortable you felt in the final round of a major championship?
PHIL MICKELSON: (Thinking). Well, I don't know if I have a great answer for that, but I'm inclined to agree. I can't think of a time I've felt more comfortable or more relaxed going into the final round. And playing 31 holes, and not having as long of a build-up before you get out on the golf course made it easier because the toughest part is waiting to get out on the course; and the fact that I had to tee off early to finish my third round, and just waited a couple of hours to tee off in the final round, I think helped that; as well as sitting in the locker room and talking to Billy Casper and hearing old stories. I enjoyed the time we had here, we had a lot of rain delays and had a lot of hours telling stories. I just really enjoyed my time with him.
Q. To go back on the two-driver thing, I think last year when it had come up some folks on the outside still looked as it as maybe a gimmick of some kind, the perception that folks might have had. And obviously you had success with it. Since you won here with that, since last year's Masters, have you run into folks out in the public that have said, "Hey, I use two drivers now"?
PHIL MICKELSON: Sure. But you're absolutely right, it's a very complex theory to understand, using two drivers. (Laughter). I don't get it. But occasionally somebody will ask. I don't understand why it's so hard to understand, but it's nice to be able to make the same swing and hit certain shots I want on certain holes and make the same swing with another club and have a different shot.
Q. Just regular guys that play, guys who you might play with in a Pro-Am --
PHIL MICKELSON: Oh, I don't know.
Q. -- nobody has come up to you and said, "I do"?
PHIL MICKELSON: I know a lot of people who buy two or more drivers, but I don't know how many are using two. (Laughter).
PHIL MICKELSON: Hopefully.
Q. Richie Ramsay said he had a chance to play with you on Sunday; what did you think of his game? And Brett Quigley had to withdraw from the tournament because of the birth of his child; can you remember what that was like for you playing in the Open before your daughter was born?
PHIL MICKELSON: Richie Ramsay is a tremendous player; I'm very impressed. He strikes the ball solid and has a great touch around the greens. I expect him to have a great week. He's a very enjoyable guy to be around and has a great personality to be around and I think we're going to have a fun couple of days being paired together as is tradition. Brett Quigley left today, and if I'm not mistaken this would have been his first Masters. He's going to have more Masters and he may have more children, I don't know, but you will never be able to get back the birth of your first child. It's the most emotional experience that my wife and have ever shared together, the birth of our three children. That's a life experience you don't want to miss out. As much as I love the Masters, and revere the majors and all tournaments, you just can't get that back; that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Q. Over the last few years, the competitive gap between and you Tiger appears to be closer here than anywhere else; why?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. (Laughter).
PHIL MICKELSON: I really don't know. I don't have a good answer for you. I mean, it's a very good question. But I don't have a great answer for you. I've played very well here in the past. It's certainly a course that I feel comfortable on and have played well here whether I've played well going in or not. I remember '03 I was playing terrible and was able to finish third. And when I've entered it playing well like last year, I've been able to win. It's a course that I feel very good on, but so does Tiger. I mean, he plays this course very well. He's very tough to beat out here.
Q. Just as a quick follow, Tiger says you see guys that win oftentimes win again, and perhaps again; multiple winners seem to be a part of Augusta National; why?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know, but I like it. (Laughter). I like your theory there. I think once you have had enough time on the course to start to trust some of the things you may or may not see, start to trust some of the shots that you have to hit; you know where you can hit it, where you can't hit it, you start to understand what a good score is. Sometimes par is not a bad score on a lot of holes but sometimes you want to force birdie. The better you understand this course and how to play it, because each hole plays so differently with each pin placement, that guys play it better the more they play it. So if you've won and you've played it more, you should have more success.
Q. Just as a refresher, what will you be eliminating in your bag and will that change from day-to-day?
PHIL MICKELSON: I'm taking out a sand wedge. I've played here three or four years without a sand wedge and I have not needed it once. Since the course has been lengthened, I don't ever need a sand wedge. Par 4s are long enough where I have to hit 8 through wedge maybe or par 5s I'm able to reach or I have an L-wedge. The other club, I'm going to add a 64-degree wedge, which means I'll have to take out another club and I'll take out a 3-wood. There really are not any 3-wood holes for me, and the only time I would need it would be the second shot into 8, and I prefer to cut a driver, one of the two drivers, the FT-5 off the deck and hit a cut shot into that green.
Q. Is that wedge a new one for this course?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's the one used at the U.S. Open. It's the first time I've used this wedge at Augusta, yes.
Q. I just wonder, if I could be the bad guy and bring Winged Foot up for a second, there seems to be this perception out there that you're supposed to be this distraught guy that's going to come up time after time after time and you can't get out of bed; are you amused by that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I've had to overcome tough losses in the past. Certainly Winged Foot was a tough loss. Shinnecock was a tough loss; I doubled 17 there to lose and had to come back from that. Losing the PGA in '01 after 3-putting 16 was probably the hardest; I thought it was harder because I had not won a major at the time. Didn't know for sure if I could do it.
But I had already proven to myself that I could birdie the last hole or actually five of the last seven to win the Masters or birdie the last hole at the PGA. So it wasn't as big of a confidence killer, if you will. But I'm not really thinking about the U.S. Open as much as I am trying to defend my Masters championship.
Q. Just as a follow, one of your true, good traits seems to be your resilience; where does that come from for you, bouncing back from things like that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I would probably say my parents have instilled more traits in me than anyone. Dealing with good and bad is just part of everyday life, especially in golf. You have to deal with failure so often in golf as an individual sport. One out of 156 guys is usually all that wins. So most everybody is dealing with failure every week, and so it's just part of the game. Certainly that was a hard loss. I'm not trying to downplay it any; it stung. It also has challenged me to improve in areas, specifically driving, so that that doesn't happen again. And you try to learn from your mistakes. Just like in '01, when I 3-putted, first thing Pelz and I did was start working on lag putting and that helped me win the Masters last year especially, because I had a lot of long putts that I was able to 2-putt. Had that loss in '01 not occurred, I may not have focused on the certain drills to improve on my lag putting and may not have won.
Q. When this starts on Thursday, where are the toughest two or three decisions for you on this golf course?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I've played here so many times now over the 15 or some-odd years, that the decisions on where to play, what club to hit, and so forth, really has been decided years ago, and I just kind of stay with the same game plan. Now it may alter a little bit with conditions or it may alter with wind. But for the most part, it's pretty similar to the way I've played for many years now.
Q. Some of the guys opt to skip the early trip up to Augusta because of the lack of severe changes to the golf course; what were you able to accomplish by coming up early like you did, and what have you accomplished in the last few days that makes you feel confident to defend your title this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was a good chance for me to just practice and work with Dave Pelz and Rick Smith on a couple of things that I wanted to get my game sharp. But I would have loved to have played the week before like I have in years past over in Atlanta. I just didn't feel that was the best way for me to prepare. So I wanted that competitive environment. So I am a little bit nervous about having not played in a competition and having not been in contention in a little while heading into the tournament. That's probably my biggest concern. But on the other hand, I have had a chance to get some good work done and I'm starting to feel pretty confident with how my game is improving.
Q. What was the main area of concentration for you guys? I know short game is a very broad term.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's tough, Kelly, because if you try working on putting and the greens are not at the speed they are going to be at, well, you're not really getting much out of it because the breaks change from day-to-day depending on when they are rolled and cut. So I don't want to spend too much time there unless the greens are at the right speed. Otherwise, it's just making sure the mechanics, the fundamentals, the golf swing feels right, the stroke feels right, and as the week rolls on, getting the tough and fine-tuning down.
Q. What would you say the state of your game is compared to where you would like to be coming into the Masters?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, last year was the best-case scenario, to win it by 13, not have stress, I knew I was playing well. I feel like I'm playing well, but the scores have not been reflecting it the last two weeks, so I'm a little bit nervous about that, too. But I've had a good week with Rick and Dave to get my game sharp, and I feel good about it. But it's always another thing when it's time to tee it up on the first hole.
Q. The last ten years since Tiger won here the first time, there have been so many changes, not only here but throughout the sport, and many can be pegged back to his emergence. When you were here and you think back ten years ago, would you ever have imagined that one guy could change so many facets of the game, whether it be the television, the money, the technology, the courses themselves?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think I could have imagined the impact that Tiger Woods has had on the game of golf, but I sure am a huge benefactor of it and sure am appreciative of it. The purses that we are playing for when I came out on Tour were $1 million to $1.7 million. Doral was the biggest at 1.7. Now it's 5 to 6 (million) every week, and we've got the World Golf Championships and the FedExCup that are in the 7s, and THE PLAYERS Championship at 8. So the types of dollars that we're playing for now are unfathomable to me ten years ago before he came out.
Q. Talking about the greens, no matter where you go, it seems all greens are compared to Augusta's. What are some of the nuances that make this place so special and so unique on the greens?
PHIL MICKELSON: They never get spiked up. You don't ever see spike marks at Augusta National. (Laughter). I would say that, you know, four or five feet from the hole whether or not it's going in. The ball tracks perfectly. I would say that the statistics of 5-footers at Augusta National made are the same as, statistically, as 3-footers on the PGA TOUR because the greens are so perfect that you should be able to make a number of short putts. That being said, they are so fast that oftentimes you have 10- to 60-foot come-back putts, and that's not that uncommon.
Q. So as a follow-up, everybody talks a bomber's course and you think your putting has to be a-plus here to win?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the Masters tests your game better than any major, your full game. I think it tests your driving ability; you have to drive it long, but you have to drive it straight. The fairways are tight with all of the trees that have been added. Your short game has to be extremely on that week. Putting touch as well as chipping is very difficult around here. And your irons have to be almost perfect with distance control because you have so many elevation changes and so many small sections of the greens to hit to, or else the ball is 80 feet away you have a tough par. I just think this is such a complete test of one's game.
Q. Your gesture last year of asking everyone to say a prayer for Earl at the ceremony was touching. Did you have a feel of Tiger trying to get one last time for his dad?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, he certainly came back strong with wins at the British and PGA to dedicate those for his father and I think that was a very emotional win for Tiger at the British and that was really neat to see the bond between he and his father was still there even though Earl had passed.
Q. If you make a list of X number of players or serious contenders here, would that list be longer or shorter in comparison to the other three majors? I know they are different sites, but the other three have standard setups.
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know about that. I feel as though anybody can win. I don't feel as though one style of game is what you have to play to win. I think that we've had guys in the past who have not hit the ball long. Nick Faldo never hit the ball long, but he's been able to win three of these. So I don't think length is a prerequisite that you need to win. Chris DiMarco almost won there in '05 and he's not considered a long hitter. So I don't think length is necessary. But what I think you have to do is manage your game extremely well as well as hit great golf shots. You have to execute, but also execute the proper strategy for the golf course. And then I don't think you're limited on who can win.
Q. You're obviously aware Tiger's wife is expecting. Related to your experience, what changes in your approach to competitive golf and tournaments like this once you become a father?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't think it changes much; you just have to have better balance of your time so that you're able to still have time to make your relationship with your wife strong and time to spend quality time with your child and be a guiding factor in their life, as well as being able to prepare for your game.
Q. So you don't envision a scenario where his competitive drive wanes?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, but I hope it does. (Laughter). I don't see that happening.
Q. You referenced experience here earlier. I wonder if you could illustrate a hole where your thinking has evolved maybe the most over the years and how you play it better.
PHIL MICKELSON: I could almost pick out each hole as an example. Why don't you give me a hole and we'll go from there.
PHIL MICKELSON: 13. 13 is my favorite hole out here. It sets up perfectly for me to be able to hit a cut around those trees. I think it's much easier to hit a cut shot around those where the ball is staying in the air with extra backspin than it is to try to time or flip a hook around that corner. And so I play 13 very aggressively and I always have, so I guess I really haven't evolved too much there. But I go after that green as much as I can. Maybe the back left pin I don't go after. Maybe the back left pin I try to stay on the lower section and give myself a 50-foot putt up that hill, as opposed to trying to carve a cut and get it to release up that hill and miss it left where you almost can't get up-and-down and you're fighting to make a 5. That might be one place where it's evolved. I try to play right of that pin back left on 13 and I'll be happy to have a 50-foot putt for eagle and try to make birdie that way.
Q. There's been a lot of attention on our part, the ten-year anniversary of Tiger's win and he's won the last two majors. Is there a part of you that feels like you're kind of coming in here under the radar even as the defending champion?
PHIL MICKELSON: Not at all. I mean, it's one of the most memorable events in golf watching Tiger win his first major here at Augusta. I remember Jim Nantz, I missed the cut that week, and I had, I don't know if it was the pleasure or what to watch the telecast, but he said: "Let it be known that on such and such a date that Tiger Woods takes the lead for the first time in the Masters." It was a monumental event. The guy shot 40 on the front nine, 40, and he still broke the record. Incredible.
Q. But this year for you, all of the attention being paid to that, and the fact that he's won the last two majors played, is there a relative lack of attention coming your way?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know, but there should be. Like you just said, he won the last two majors, it's his ten-year anniversary; it should be that way, yeah.
Q. How would you compare your confidence level coming in here this year compared to last year leaving here?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I probably touched on it a little bit earlier talking about how I entered last year, was the ideal way to enter and so forth. I probably touched on that on Todd's answer.
Q. Let me follow up with another question. In terms of sustaining that level that you had coming out of here last year, how hard is that to do to be in that kind of physical and mental state for every major?
PHIL MICKELSON: It's challenging. But that's what's -- that's a fun challenge. It's what every player likes to take on. Doesn't always go the way we want it to, but it's fun to get your game up for each major championship because each major requires a different style, if you will, a different ball flight, different feel and touches around the green, different grasses, different roughs, rough lengths, that it's a fun challenge to try to get your game sharp for each major.
Q. As much as you enjoy coming back here to play, I think Bones has the same thing, especially being his home state, talk, if you would, about your relationship with him, the give and take on the course, what you guys go through and what the 15 years with him has been like.
PHIL MICKELSON: Bones and I have been together since I first turned professional, and it's been a lot of fun being with him. He's a guy that I respect not just as a caddie but as a person as well. We've had a lot of fun together as friends off the course where he married my wife's best friend and we've done a lot of things together throughout those 15 years that don't include golf.
He's one of the people I respect most in the world, and I'm very lucky to be able to spend time with him on the golf course. He's been very helpful in club selection, in green reading. Although I don't really use him much here because there's so much break and stuff in some of these greens, but I use him quite a bit on greens on other golf courses.
Q. Do you see any kind of parallel at all between the stretch that Jack and Arnie had where they went for a long period of years with one or the other winning, and the stretch that you and Tiger have got started here?
PHIL MICKELSON: I hope not, because that would mean what I don't want it to mean this week. (Laughter).
Q. I'm not talking necessarily every other year, but there was a long stretch where one of those guys won, and between the two of you, you have four out of the last five.
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I know exactly what you're referring to, and I don't really -- (laughter).
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April 4, 2007
Coming off his thrilling British Open victory over Sergio Garcia in 2007, Padraig Harrington sat down to discuss his game and his chances at the 2008 U.S. Open. "I have spent my last 10 years trying to adapt my swing to play U.S. Open golf," Harrington said. "I'd say the last two years, that and the Masters have attracted my attention more than anything else."
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