Lefty Looking to Get off Open Schneid


Phil Mickelson will be celebrating his 41st birthday on Thursday, which also happens to be the same day as the opening round of the U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.

Despite earning three green jackets as the Masters champion and the Wanamaker Trophy that goes to the winner of the PGA Championship, Mickelson has never fulfilled his dream as a youngster in winning an Open title.

But he's come awfully close to taking home that trophy. Since his first Open in 1990, Mickelson has a remarkable nine top-10 finishes, including five runner-ups. Last year, he tied for fourth at Pebble Beach.

Now ranked fifth in the World Golf Ranking behind Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Steve Stricker, Mickelson likes his chances at Congressional, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 1997. Ernie Els won that year, while Mickelson finished tied for 43rd.

Mickelson believes that, despite the close calls in the National Open, that this could be the year he finally wins it. "I think that having come close and . . . being in contention so many times through the years, I really believe that I can win this tournament," he said Tuesday.

"But just as when I was trying to win my first major championship, if you focus so much on the result, if you focus so much on winning, sometimes you can get in your own way. And so I'm trying not to think about winning as much as I am trying to enjoy the challenge that lies ahead, because I know that the next 72 holes of golf starting on Thursday is going to be very difficult."

Here's what else Mickelson told reporters during a Q&A session at Congressional two days before the U.S. Open starts. He'll be paired with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and fellow American Dustin Johnson in the first two rounds.

MODERATOR: We are very happy to have with us four-time major winner Phil Mickelson. Phil is here playing his 21st U.S. Open. Last year he tied for fourth, which is one of eight top-five finishes in the previous 20 U.S. Opens. Can you talk about playing at the Open here at Congressional this week and just being back for another national championship.

PHIL MICKELSON: So I'm looking forward to this week. I love this tournament. My first U.S. Open was 1990 at Medinah, and it's amazing how time has gone by. I've had a lot of fun in this tournament, a lot of close calls. I'm looking forward to playing here at Congressional. I think starting in 2006 I believe was the first week Mike Davis was involved with the graduated rough on the course. I thought that the setup here was spectacular.

One of the things that I noticed that I hope we start implementing more is if you notice some of the severe lips in fronts of the bunkers like on No. 2, as an example, it's a very severe roll of grass going down into the sand and usually that's thick rough and the ball will stop there and you have this very steep lie. Now the bunkers are more in play because by shaving it down a little bit lower, balls are kicking down into the sand, and it's also preventing you -- you're left with that very unorthodox stance. I like the way Mike has done that and set up this golf course. I think it's a wonderfully fair test for such a difficult, long test. I thought it was very well done, and I'm looking forward to playing.

Q. Before you won your first major, everybody kept saying when you are going to win a major. Now it just seems when you are going to win an Open? You came so close at Winged Foot. Is there anything in your game right now - you played pretty well at the end of the Memorial - that would make you think you could win this?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that having come close and having finished second here, being in contention so many times through the years, I really believe that I can win this tournament. But just as when I was trying to win my first major championship, if you focus so much on the result, if you focus so much on winning, sometimes you can get in your own way. And so I'm trying not to think about winning as much as I am trying to enjoy the challenge that lies ahead, because I know that the next 72 holes of golf starting on Thursday is going to be very difficult. Each shot is going to be very challenging and each hole will be a difficult par and so forth. And rather than worrying about the result after 72 holes, I'm trying to think about the process of playing the type of golf I want to play around this course.

I believe that I'm playing some good golf; ball-striking-wise I think it's the best it's ever been in the last three or four or five months. And I feel I'm right on the cusp of getting my confidence back with the putter because I'm rolling the ball better than I have but I'm not making them. There's a small difference there getting the right speed for the line, but I'm close. I had a great Sunday putting round at Memorial where I was able to tie in the right speed for my line. And I feel like if I play well, I know what it takes to be in contention here. This course setup here really takes -- unlike past U.S. Opens, this one tests your entire game. This one tests your short game. This one tests your ability to hit recovery shots as well as your ability to get the ball and keep the ball in play.

Q. With the way this is set up, as you just mentioned, in a U.S. Open can you put your foot on the accelerator, or is it a matter of surviving it?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, it's a matter of picking your spots, because there are going to be some difficult pin placements and some very severe areas around the greens that will be difficult pars if you put it in the wrong spot. So you've got to pick your spots. There are some par-5s that you can play. No. 6 is a great par-5. It is a wonderful par-5 that really has a lot of decision making involved. And I think it's such a great thing that they went back to it as a par-5 rather than making it another brutal par-4 like there are so many out here. It just makes it more fun and more interesting. That's a spot where you've got to really decide, is this where I really want to attack it, because you're going to see some eagles on that hole. But there are going to be some holes right before it, like No. 4, No. 2, that are brutal pars, just really tough holes. It's a matter of picking your spots, trying to just make pars on the really hard holes and seeing if you can make a few birdies here and there throughout the round.

Q. Can you talk about the two final holes, 9 and 18 and sort of how you plan to play those, both of those long, even by Tour standards?

PHIL MICKELSON: So No. 18 to me is the epitome of a great golf hole, and the reason I say that is everybody can play it. If you miss a fairway on 18, it's downhill with an opening in front. You can still advance it on the green and chase the ball down there. If you're an average guy, a high handicapper, you don't have to have a forced carry to an elevated green to get the ball stopped. You can chase one down and get it down by the green. But if you get a little greedy trying to make a birdie, there's water short left as well as long, and so there's that challenge for a good player to make birdie, but yet it's very playable for the average guy to get the ball down there up by the green and make par or bogey. 18 is again a great finishing hole. But you also can recover if you hit a poor drive in the rough, where you can chase one and try to get it up and down from 50 or 60 feet. It's just a very well-thought-out, well-designed golf hole, I think one of the best that we play.

No. 9 is an interesting par-5. There can be a lot of decision making, if the tee box doesn't get so far back. If the tee is up, then there's some decision making on do I want to try to go for it because short of the green is very difficult. Short of the green is not a good spot to make birdie. If you miss that green short in that rough, you're hoping really for par or thinking par. If the tee is all the way back, there's no real thought process. You're going to end up hitting a tee shot down there somewhere and laying it up and trying to make a birdie with a wedge or a 9-iron. So then it's just kind of a ho-hum par-5 that doesn't require much thought. But I think the tee box on the hole will determine whether or not it's a great hole or not.

Q. Can you talk a little bit about the mental adjustment from maybe Augusta to an Open and where the really important mental aspects of a U.S. Open tournament that would seem much different than a Masters?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, the thought process from the get-go on each tee box at Augusta National is to hit the ball as hard and as far as you can and worry about the next shot later, where here, you know, the whole thought process is just trying to keep it -- minimize the miss. Because the great thing about this graduated rough now is that historically at a U.S. Open, if you hit it way off the fairway, you were in better shape because you would get the trampled-down rough. But there are two things that have happened here; one is the graduated rough. So if you miss the fairway just a little bit, it's still pretty playable; you're going to get it down there by the green. It's very well done.

And the second thing that's happened is they haven't allowed gallery to line both sides of the fairways. Now, not many people notice this, but I do because if I hit it into the people, you know, it would be trampled down. But there are a lot of holes like to the left of 13, to the left of 14, where you normally, if you hit it far enough off line you'd get a pretty good lie. And now because they haven't allowed people on some of the interior parts of these holes, the rough is more challenging. And so it's actually a much better test, much fairer test. The less you miss it, the more you're rewarded with an opportunity to get by the green. So those two things have made the course play very fair.

Q. You're the last American to win a major. Could you assess the state of American golf, and do you think that's a fair indicator of where it is?

PHIL MICKELSON: I'm actually very encouraged with where our American golfers are, especially the young players. We have a plethora of great players coming up. And I think at the forefront is a guy like Dustin Johnson. This guy has got so much raw talent that I really enjoy playing with him because he's a fun guy and he's got all kinds of game. We've got guys like Jeff Overton, who I played with today, or Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim, as well as some good young players like a Rickie Fowler, Jamie Lovemark, who's been a little bit hurt, we've got guys in college now, Anthony Paolucci, who made the cut at San Diego earlier this year. We've got some really good, young, talented players coming up through the ranks, and I think we're going to be very competitive in the team events. But it's obvious that world golf as a whole has become so much stronger and that international and European golf has become world class and top notch and some of the best players in the world and certainly on the rankings right now. So although international golf has really taken off, American golf is still in very good shape.

Q. What do you make of the change to 16 with the short grass around the green, and how will that impact the way you attack that hole?

PHIL MICKELSON: So that's a very interesting design because we're so used to the thick, hack-it-out rough around the greens, to see it shaved down on all angles and have the pitch of the grass go right into the pine needles -- I'm okay with pine needles, but it's not really where you want to be. So it really makes you think on that second shot, if you can get there. If it's downwind and you can get there, you really have to think about what kind of shot you want to do because if you miss it long, if you fly it on the green and it goes over, that's a really hard up and down. And par might be difficult. If you miss it right, it just gets accentuated by the shaved grass. So you really have to think about that hole, and I kind of like that. I like the fact that it requires a lot more thought on what you want to do and how you want to play it.

Q. A couple of quickies, how often do you envision using that beefed up 2-iron? And number two, you've obviously figured out the secret of how to play the U.S. Open. I'm wondering was that the case early on, or was that a gradual morphing for you from a guy who was obviously young and aggressive and that's sort of your persona and having to play less-than-full-throttle-Phil golf?

PHIL MICKELSON: I learned a lot from the loss at Shinnecock. Corey Pavin won, and a lot of people don't even know I really was in it. I ended up finishing 4th, and I played the 16th hole 6-over par, and it ended up costing me the tournament. I learned a lot about how to play a U.S. Open that week because a lot of times par-5s, which I normally think of as a birdie hole, in the U.S. Open a lot of times it's the toughest par. There have been some Opens where -- I'm trying to think of an example, where the par-5 has been the highest -- some of the highest scoring averages on the golf course. It's changed my thought process about being overly aggressive in the par-5s.

My first real opportunity to win was '99. So it took me six, seven, eight years to really get into contention and have a great opportunity to win. But since then I've kind of figured out how to manage myself around, control my misses and salvage pars the hard way. I'm not going to play perfect golf, I'm not going to hit every fairway. But there are times I can manage it and get the ball, advance it far enough to salvage pars, and that's allowed me to be in contention a number of times. The 2-iron I thought when I came out here originally I thought I was going to use quite a bit, still might if the course plays hard and fast. But what I found is it's a little bit more playable for me with a driver, because I don't have to be perfect. If I miss the fairway with the 2-iron I'm so far back that I'm not able to get it up on or by the green. If I hit driver and I happen to miss it, I'm 50 yards closer and I have an opportunity to now advance it up or by the green and salvage pars, and I feel that will give me the best chance to make pars on a lot of the holes.

Q. Talking about the young player, Japanese player, Ryo Ishikawa, what's your impression of his play, and do you think he will be able to win a major tournament in the future, since you won four times a major?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, absolutely he's going to end up winning major championships. He's an incredible talent and a wonderful golfer that is so young. It just continues to get better. If he continues to improve, and that's really the goal of every player, if he continues to improve, he's going to have a lot of success in major championships and win multiple championships. His ball-striking is incredible and his touch around the greens is sensational, also. So he's a very complete player, and he's still only 20?

Q. 19.

PHIL MICKELSON: 19, wow (laughter). So if he can hire a driver, he should be all set.

Q. Any other changes to bag setup this week? Obviously you contemplated a 2-iron and higher lofted wedges, anything neat?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, there isn't. No, there's really nothing different of note other than a 2-iron. And I will use that on a number of holes here. But I've found that, again, it's more advantageous to hit driver, so I'm going to spend more time with that.

Q. Quite a few players have said that there's an awful lot of sand in the bunkers, a lot of shots are plugging. Have you found that to be true, and if so, would that factor into your strategy at all?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't noticed it to be overly -- there to be too much sand yet. I've seen a few balls go in and I haven't seen them necessarily plug. They've been pretty good lies, the shots that I've hit. I've enjoyed the sand. I feel that you can control it pretty good out of it. So I haven't noticed that to be an issue.

Q. Does your quest to win a U.S. Open feel any different since you've won other majors, or is it the same kind of feeling inside to get it done?

PHIL MICKELSON: So you might -- I might look at it the same way in that I was 0 for 40-something winning a major and I really wanted to win and I'm 0 for 20-something in U.S. Opens. The way I see it is when I finally did break through and won my first major, my thought process was not to worry about winning, not to worry about the result, but to enjoy the entire tournament, enjoy the process, enjoy the challenge of trying to win. So I'm going to enjoy this week. I'm going to have fun this week playing and trying to compete in our national championship. I believe my game is -- I've been playing some of my better golf. And I also believe that the course setup and the golf course itself provides a great opportunity for me to showcase the way I've been playing. But I can't worry about the result. So I'm trying to have the same mindset I had before I ever won a major, which was belief that I know I could do it and enjoyment of the challenge. So I'm trying to enjoy the challenge this week, and deep down I have the belief that I can come out on top, but I'm trying not to worry about the result.

Q. What do you like most about this course and where does it rank with all the courses you get to play?

PHIL MICKELSON: I like most -- what I like most about this course is that the hard holes are really hard and the easy holes are fairly easy. I think that provides opportunities for birdies and bogeys. I think the par-5s, No. 6 is a good birdie hole. I think 8 is a pretty easy par-4. I think that 16 is a fairly -- not easy, but fairly birdieable par-5. I think some of the par-4s here are so tough. And certainly No. 2, one of toughest par-3s we'll ever play. No. 4 is the toughest par-4 we'll ever have. 10 is certainly brutal. 13 is going to be very difficult, as is 14. These par-4s and 18 is an extreme challenge. So I love making the hard holes harder, because a good player has an opportunity to make up ground with pars on the lead. And I love having holes that are birdieable, keeping the easy holes easy, like No. 8, not moving the tee way back, keeping the green soft and subtle and making 6 a birdie hole. No. 5 is a birdie hole. I like that because it gives a top player a chance to make up ground with birdies.

Q. In the last year or so some guys have trouble holding 54-hole leads in the majors. I'm wondering as a veteran, can you talk a little bit about the dynamic of handling that pressure on Sunday, how different you feel mentally and physically on Sunday when you're trying to close it out?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, the biggest challenge is not the actual playing of the final round, I think. I think the biggest challenge is the anticipation of the start of the round, the time between finishing Saturday night and Sunday and how you handle that time, what goes through your mind. Does holding up the trophy go through your mind? Because if it does you're going to have a problem the next day. Does the ability to focus on the first tee shot or does the ability to focus on each shot during the round, are you able to think about that Saturday night? Those are the types of challenges that make winning a major championship so tough. It's that time between the third and fourth rounds.

Q. It's a short sampling of your play here, not very many rounds, but they're not particularly good, either. Is there anything about this course that hasn't necessarily fit your eye or the way you shape shots in the past rounds here?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I came out last week and spent a number of -- well, I spent a lot of time on each hole, hitting a number of shots until I felt comfortable on each tee box. And so I feel pretty comfortable with the way I'm going to play each hole. There might be a hole like 15 that's kind of an awkward fairway where the hole turns left but is angled to the right. Those can be difficult. But by taking a little bit more club, instead of hitting a 2-iron or 3-wood, taking a driver and being able to kind of cut it back into the slope, I feel like I'm able to hit that fairway reasonably well. That's what I spent a lot of time doing last week was deciding how I feel the best or what club I feel gives me the best chance to hit the fairway off the tee and getting comfortable with that shot.

Q. (Inaudible.)

PHIL MICKELSON: I think so, yes.

Q. So many times when we come the majors we talk about guys being able to beat Tiger. Obviously he's not here. The last four winners at majors since you won at Augusta, none of them were even in the top 10 when they won, and it was their first major win. So my question is, is it harder now because it seems so wide open that anyone is winning these things, or was it harder when you had this monster up there that you were trying to take down every week at majors?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, you could go both ways on that. But I've always felt as though Tiger helped bring out -- has helped bring out some of my best golf over the years. And even though my record against him may not be the best, it's helped me achieve a higher level that I may not have ever achieved had he not been pushing me. So the challenge now is without him playing his best or even competing like he's not this week, is pushing myself to achieve a level of play that is in there without him forcing me to do so. So in that sense it might be a little bit more difficult.

Q. You've talked about how much you want to win this tournament. Getting older now, do you worry about the window closing, maybe it's not this year or next year, but in the future on how many more times you're going to have a chance to win here?

PHIL MICKELSON: Not yet, no. I turn 41 here in two days, and I feel terrific in that I'm more flexible and stronger than I have been in a long time. I've been able to handle or manage symptoms from the arthritis that I've had and have been able to work out. I feel like my golf swing, which is longer and a little bit more flowing, it's not quite as violent, has led to me not having any injuries now at 41. And I've been fortunate in that regard. So I feel pretty good and feel like I should be able to compete for quite a while. I don't want to put any time pressure on my ability or belief in my ability to win.

Q. You mentioned the young Americans. Are there as many American players in your opinion ready to win majors right now as the international players? And would you just kind of assess that, please?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know. I don't know. I think that there are some American players that are ready to win majors and I think there's a lot of international players, as well. Some of our higher ranked -- 1 and 2 in the world haven't won a major yet. They're certainly ready and able to and they're international players. So there's a lot of guys throughout the world that have the golf game that could easily win here or at any other major.

Q. A few different world No. 1s in recent months. From your time knowing Luke Donald, playing with him, what kind of a person is he, what kind of a competitor, what kind of a golfer is he?

PHIL MICKELSON: I played with him at Memorial, and he's just a very steady player. Doesn't make very many mistakes, hits the ball solid, keeps the ball in play and he's a wonderful putter. When he gets hot on the greens he's always in contention. He may not have a number of victories, but he's always in there competing and in contention, and I think that type of consistency has, one, allowed him to be ranked No. 1 in the world but has also made him somebody to be reckoned with week in and week out.

Q. Just a question about having to start off on 10, a brutal par-3.

PHIL MICKELSON: So as I was saying earlier about how 18 is like a brilliantly designed golf hole, I think 10 is the exact opposite, because the average guy can't play that hole. He can't carry that water and get it stopped on that green. So when I play that hole, 3 is a great score. I'll take 3 every day, and if I happen to make a 4, so be it. But you've got to take the front out of play. So you have to miss that hole long, and you might hit a shot out of the bunker. And I've spent some time out of that sand. I think I can get it up and down to most of those pins. So hopefully I'll take the water out of play, be either on the back edge of the green or just over and be able to salvage some pars there.

Q. Talk about starting on that hole.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, again it's fine being the first hole of the day because you're just trying to get into the flow of the round. And even though it's a tough shot, it's really only one shot. You don't have to hit a drive and an iron shot, you have to hit an iron shot where you can get up and down where you can make par or on the green.

Q. At Muirfield you talked about sort of dialing back your swing a little bit. Can you expand upon what you've been working on?

PHIL MICKELSON: So I'm really not working on anything in particular in the sense that Butch and I have got my swing pretty much where I wanted it now, starting this year. And I haven't really worked on anything new, I'm just trying to hit shots. I'm trying to see a shot, visualize it and be able to hit it. I've been able to do that fairly well this year. I've really been pleased with my ball-striking. It's on the greens that I haven't been as consistent. I had a great putting weekend at Houston, I lit it up. But I'm looking at getting a little bit more consistency on the greens.

Q. You talk about a different mindset at the Open and in terms of majors. How much of that is what's happened in majors, and how much of that is what's happened off the course with all you've had to deal with through the years?

PHIL MICKELSON: I try to separate the two. I try to use the knowledge I've gained from past tournaments and past competitions as to what's been successful for me, how I've approached tournaments. And then what hasn't been successful, the way I've entered certain tournaments. And I find that taking the pressure off of the result, trying -- not focusing on the win as much as enjoying the challenge of competing and the challenge of getting in contention, that's helped me over the years to play some of my better golf.

MODERATOR: Phil, thanks so much for spending time with us today. We appreciate it and we wish you well this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.


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