Phil Enjoys 'Special' Week


It's been a whirlwind couple of days for Phil Mickelson. After finishing tied for 26th at 6-under 282 in last week's Wells Fargo Championship, the 40-time Tour winner and four-time major champion was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday. Joining Lefty in the Class of 2012 were Hollis Stacy, Sandy Lyle, Peter Alliss and Dan Jenkins.

There'll be no immediate rest for Mickelson as the 41-year-old is in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., for the richest tournament in golf, the $9.5 million Players Championship, which starts Thursday at TPC Sawgrass.

Mickelson is a one-time winner in the Players, with that title coming in 2007 when he beat Sergio Garcia by two strokes. He's hoping to get his game kick-started this week; the 10th-ranked player in the world will be paired in the first two rounds with No. 1 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Steve Stricker.

On Tuesday, Mickelson sat down with reporters for the following Q&A. Here he talks about his big week and thoughts on his chances for a second title in the Players.

MODERATOR: We want to welcome Phil Mickelson here to the media center at the Players Championship. A special week for Phil in many ways with the Hall of Fame last night, with it being the Players Championship. Before we get into that, we just have a special announcement today coming from Phil, along with Jim and Kathy Justice and the Greenbrier Classic. Phil, you and Amy are going to host a two day fundraising event here at TPC Sawgrass on November 30th and Saturday, December 1st. It's going include a pro am, a gala dinner, a concert, to raise funds for Birdies for the Brave. The military members are special to you. So if you just wanted to take some time before we get into the press conference to talk about the event and what it's going to do.

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it's something that - this was kind of a fun week. We've got a lot going on, and this announcement is special in that it was about nine years ago when we started Birdies for the Brave, and the first of the eight charities, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, that puts kids into college who lost parents. It's Steve McLeary is here for that, and we're going to have a one time fundraiser here at the end of the year. So we've got a lot of Tour pros who have supported the military over the years; myself along with them are going to get together for a couple of days and bring in some A list country singers and make a real special two day event and try and help these eight charities out.

MODERATOR: All in all, 50 some LPGA, PGA Tour and Champions Tour players along with Jim and Kathy Justice from the Greenbrier Classic.

PHIL MICKELSON: It will. I played last year, the Greenbrier Classic. I'll definitely play there again. There's a lot of great things to do there. It's a wonderful old golf course that I really enjoyed playing. I'll look forward to going back there. It's really cool what the Justices have done for that community as well as for the military.

MODERATOR: Let's start off with some opening comments about last night and the Hall of Fame induction.

PHIL MICKELSON: Last night was a fun event, and I thought that Peter Alliss and Dan Jenkins were very entertaining. I really enjoyed listening to what they have to say. They're eloquent. They deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. And I enjoyed listening to what they had to say. I think that they've presented the game in the written form and the verbal form so well and so entertaining, they've been such an asset for the TOUR. Last night was the epitome I thought of what they've meant to the game of golf. The way they have presented it is so entertaining and fun.

MODERATOR: And lastly, if you could just talk about being back here at Sawgrass for the Players Championship.

PHIL MICKELSON: Went out and played a few holes today before the rain came in, and it was in spectacular shape. It's really a wonderful course. I think that what I've come to appreciate over the years is that as difficult and penalizing as it is for a mis hit, missed green, missed tee shot, it's very rewarding on the greens if you're able to find them; if you're able to hit a good shot within 15, 18 feet of the hole, you're rewarded for a very good opportunity for birdie. I thought the risk reward, taking on and executing a great shot is very well done in its design. And I think that the penalty for a mis hit was very penalizing, but still, it was a very fair, fun test.

Q. Is the reward greater than the penalty?

PHIL MICKELSON: It depends on the hole. You know, certainly the penalty for a hole like 17 where you miss a shot is going to be great. If you do hit that green, though, and you are inside a 15 , 18 foot circle, you have a very reasonable chance to make birdie. I'll give you an example what I'm talking about. Last week on the 18th hole, that pin was front left. That shot Rickie hit in was spectacular, but if you were anywhere else around that pin you had such a severe slope, the pin was on a 3.2 degree pitch, getting it to stop by the hole was really tough. And you could stop it 10, 12 feet to the right of the pin, and had a putt you were playing defense on. Here if you hit that shot you're rewarded with an opportunity to be aggressive, to try to make birdie. Certainly if you don't pay it off the penalty here is going to be greater. You have a lot more water, a lot more up and down opportunities around the greens if you miss them. But it's very well done.

Q. Here and the U.S. Open and the British Open coming up, driver is not maybe used as much as normal. Is that something you're thinking about in your preparation, what you have in your bag, and then also big picture, do you think that's a good or bad thing or not an issue when driver is not needed as much?

PHIL MICKELSON: I think that great courses give driver as an option a number of times. I don't think that truly great courses take driver out of your hands every single hole. But I think there's greatness in decision making off the tee; having options to hit driver but with penalty, having options to hit less than driver, irons or hybrids, fairway woods with slight penalties, as well. And so I don't think that you want to take it out entirely. I don't think that Olympic does take it out entirely. I think there's some holes that you can and should hit driver. Certainly here at the Players, as well. I think that there's probably about half the holes here that you're going to want to hit driver. I don't know much about the British because I know it's been redone a little bit since I was last there, but I don't think that it takes it out entirely on any of these tournaments or courses.

Q. You have a pretty good record in holding the lead going into the final round, and not a whole lot of guys have been able to protect that lead this year. It's kind of been about a three or four year trend. What secrets did you find out throughout the balance of your career is the best way to go about holding onto that 54 hole lead and closing on Sunday?

PHIL MICKELSON: I thought that usually it was aggressive play that got me there for Sunday and got me in position to be in the lead. I didn't want to change. I wanted to keep doing the same things, and I wanted to try to put the tournament in my control and not rely on somebody else to give it to me. So I figured if I was leading after 54 holes, I was playing some pretty good golf; that I had a pretty good chance the next day. I also never really got caught up in mechanics on Sunday. I knew that you were going to fall into your old habits. You're going to go into your instincts, and I just needed to rely on short game if I hit some bad shots and not worry about the mechanics or the technical side of playing heading into a final round, because again, my instincts were going to take over.

Q. Is 17 a good hole, and do you like where it is placed within the golf course and within this golf tournament?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think that it's a good hole because of its length. If you move it back 15, 20 yards, now you start bordering on the shot being a little bit unfair for the miss and whatnot. But I think because of its short length, I think it's a fair hole, certainly. That's a great case of where longer would not be better. Try moving the tee back on that hole, I just don't think it would be anywhere near as good. Most holes are not designed like that, though. Most holes give you some bail out on one side. Most great holes will give you a bail out on one side with a huge penalty on the other, and that's a unique hole because I still think it's a really well done hole, but it doesn't have a bail out.

Q. Is the penalty too high do you think for a slightly missed shot?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, again, the green is a size relative to the shot that I think it's a fair challenge because you don't have to hit it perfect to still get it on the green. But if you made the shot longer or made the green slightly smaller, that's where it would be slightly across the edge. But no, I think it's a fair hole.

Q. I know you mentioned Dan Jenkins and Peter Alliss's speech. What was the highlight of the day for you?

PHIL MICKELSON: Probably the drive with my wife, Amy, as we were having a moment of reminiscing about all that we've experienced and all that the game has brought us, brought our family, experiences we've had. I think that was probably my best time. While they were speaking, I was stressing over my speech, and so I didn't get a chance to enjoy it until I saw bits and pieces of it later. Unfortunately they cut out some of Peter's speech. I would have liked to have seen that in its entirety.

Q. I'm sorry, driving to the ceremony or from the ceremony?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, to it.

Q. Two questions: One is last night you seemed to do everything off the cuff when you spoke. Was that the case? You just kind of just said what came through your heart?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't do well reading a speech, so I end up trying to get - make an outline of what I want to say and then just try to memorize the points that I want to talk about and then just talk freely when I get there. So kind of half and half.

Q. Second thing is, you've played here a long time. How have you changed the way you've approach the golf course with your strategy and using certain clubs, and how have you changed it?

PHIL MICKELSON: I haven't really changed my strategy too much on this golf course because it's pretty straightforward. I mean, the course hasn't changed over the years. It gives you an opportunity on the par 5s to take advantage of them if you play them properly. There's some holes you've got to be defensive. Tee shots, getting it in the right spot, you want to hit to certain spots. So it's not just stand up and hit it as far as you can, that's why there's a lot of 3 woods and 5 woods off the tee. So the course really hasn't changed much over the years. My strategy hasn't really changed, and even though I have won, my record is not what I would have liked. I believe I can perform a little bit better on this golf course than I have.

Q. You talked last night about dreaming big and how you loved golf before you were able to stand. But I'm curious, what did you like about the game? What did you find appealing about golf?

PHIL MICKELSON: I mean, it's everything about the game that I love, whether it's just the challenge of making contact and hitting the ball or the challenge of being creative and hitting shots around the greens. I love going to the course and hanging with my friends. I love going to the course and practicing on my own.. I loved going out there on a rainy day practicing under the palm tree when nobody was around hitting balls out onto the par 3 course at start us where I grew. Up, and I love going down to the club and just hanging out, hanging out and spending time with the guys before and after a round. I just love everything about the game. It's been such a big part of my life, that I'm very appreciative that I get to do what I do. I'd like to see other people enjoy it the way I do.

Q. Do you look at it as a difficult sport still?

PHIL MICKELSON: I don't know if it's difficult, but it provides - certainly provides a challenge that perfection will never be attained, per se. But it's still - it's not that it's overly hard; it's just that it provides a challenge always. Different conditions, different shots, different temperatures, different grasses, courses. It's just fun.

Q. Do you think Rickie, now that he's got this one behind him, will take off a little bit and win a bunch? And do you see any of a young Phil Mickelson in the way Rickie is with the fans, on the golf course, anything like that?

PHIL MICKELSON: I was really happy to see him win Sunday. I thought that was really cool. He's great for the Tour; and I know that as good as he's played, as many opportunities as he's had to win, and he's won at times just outside the U.S., like in Korea at the end of last year, it was a matter of time before he won. But I know that the stress of trying to win can be tough when you're expected to. I was really happy to see him break through and win, and it's very possible that that will propel him to relax and just take off. Either way, though, he's going to have a long, successful career. I love the way he treats people, the way he works at his game. I think he's got a great family background, and I just think he's great for the Tour. I think he's exciting and young and brings a new fresh attitude, and it's really cool to see, and I've loved seeing his success.

MODERATOR: Phil, best of luck this week. Congratulations on last night, and good luck in November and December for this great event that you're going to throw here.

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


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