Phil speaks

Phil Mickelson addressed the media here at the Farmers Insurance Open for the first time since Tiger Woods’ admitted ”transgressions” and took an indefinite leave of absence from the tour. He addressed it headon, before taking questions, then said he wouldn’t speak about it publicly after that. He did answer a couple more questions but wasn’t very forthcoming, sighting his friendship with Tiger as reason to not discuss it.
Here’s the transcript of Mickelson’s interview. And by the way, he’s pretty confident in his game, with or without Tiger.
“I expect this year, without or without (Woods) to be one of the best years of my career,” Mickelson said.

Courtesy of ASAP

Phil Mickelson

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

MARK WILLIAMS: We’d like to welcome Phil Mickelson to the Farmers Insurance Open 2010 tournament here at Torrey Pines. Phil, you’ll be making your 20th consecutive start at this event, your 21st in your history. Just talk about what it means to be here in San Diego with Farmers Insurance on board this year.
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I’m excited to get the year started. I’m excited to start the tournament here in San Diego, and I’m grateful we have a sponsor.
But before we talk about that and the tournament, there’s a few other areas I’d like to discuss before we go into that. The first is obviously Tiger. That’s a common topic. The game of golf needs him to come back. I mean, it’s important for him to come back and be a part of the sport. But right now he’s got a lot more important things going on in his life. Amy and I are good friends with both Tiger and Elin, and we care deeply about how this turns out. But I’m going to choose not to talk about it publicly anymore, and I appreciate your understanding on that.
The groove issue is going to be an interesting issue this year, how that will play out, the i2 wedges from 20 years ago, whether those are legal or whatnot. I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’ve looked at this from a couple of different ways because I’ve tested some of the i2 wedges. And in dealing with the USGA, we have on one side conforming and legal grooves, and on the other side we have approved for play, and they’re not the same thing. I’ve sent in grooves that are legal but have not been approved for play, and I feel like the i2 grooves are not legal or don’t conform, but they are approved for play.
And after talking about the TOUR and the USGA, the only thing that matters is are they approved for play. So I don’t feel that there’s any problem if I were to play those clubs or if anybody else were. All that matters is that it is okay under the rules of golf.
The third thing I wanted to discuss was Amy, my wife, my mom, and some scheduling things that might have come up. Amy and my mom are doing great, and things have gone very well. But even in the best-case scenario, dealing with cancer is never easy, and so it’s not easy for them. We were just back in Houston Monday and Tuesday for some treatments. My mom had surgery just recently, and things are going very well. But again, it’s never easy.
We had a couple of procedures scheduled for this off-season that got postponed for various reasons, and we had to move it into March, and this affected some of our family trips. So how this is playing out is the week of the Tucson Match Play is a week that my kids are out of school and that I’m going to end up skipping this year, not because I want to. I think it’s a wonderful tournament, I love the Match Play, I love Tucson. But it was the best week for us to have a family vacation that we had to reschedule because, again, of our procedures.
I expect this to kind of happen a little bit throughout the year, maybe missing tournaments I would like to play or normally would play. But later on in the year I’ll probably add a tournament that I hadn’t originally planned on playing to kind of offset it. So I just wanted to — that just came about in the last couple of weeks.
With that being said, those are the things I wanted to discuss, and I’m looking forward to, again, the fact that we have Farmers Insurance sponsoring this week is great for the tournament. I love this tournament. It’s obviously close to my heart, and I’m excited to start the year.
The last couple weeks I’ve been able to get a lot of work in. I spent a couple of days with Butch Harmon. I flew back to Austin, spent some time with Dave Pelz and spent some days out here with Dave Stockton. I’ve given myself — instead of one week to prepare for this week, I’ve given myself two to get ready for the year, and I feel like I’m in better shape than I have been the last couple years. I’m excited to get the year started off right.
What I’m most excited about is obviously I’ve been putting well at the end of last year, but in the last three years I’ve taken what has always been a weakness in my game, which is driving, and I feel like I’ve turned it into a strength and a real weapon and an opportunity to shoot some lower scores, and I’m excited to showcase that this week.

Q. It’s been nine years since you’ve won here at Torrey Pines. Can you talk about maybe some of the causes behind the drought, besides Tiger, of course, winning all those times, and with the way you finished last year if you think this could be one of your biggest years.
PHIL MICKELSON: The course changes that were made to the golf course affected the way I’ve played here. I knew the greens inside and out having grown up here and playing high school golf. But now having played here for the past eight or nine years on the changed golf course, I’m starting to understand this course a lot better. The reads of the greens are totally different; they don’t break towards the ocean, they break away from the bunkers, and as I’m starting to see the nuances I’m expecting to play better.
I’m expecting to have a good week because it’s a golf course that I love but also because my game is feeling much sharper starting the season than it has been.

Q. Seems like a big opportunity for you this year. You’re playing as well as anybody in the world now, world No. 1 is not there. Just talk about your expectations, and Butch has indicated that in your mind you’re playing as well as you ever have. It would seem like the window of opportunity is right there for you.
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m anxious and excited to start the year for the reasons that first of all, I feel ready, but second, at the end of last year I felt like things were starting to really come together. Again, taking some weaknesses and turning them into that strength gives me the confidence or the belief that this could be an exceptional year.

Q. Have you sensed that golf is looking to you to fill a void, and is that fair, and do you feel like it’s okay to take on that responsibility?
PHIL MICKELSON: I haven’t thought about it like that. I’m just excited to play golf. I’m excited to get back into competition and be a part of this. Again, I haven’t really looked at it from that point of view, but nobody will be able to do — or to fill the shoes that are voided right now.
But this game still has a lot to offer, and it’s been exciting. The first few weeks have been exciting seeing some of these tournaments. Last week’s event at the Hope I thought had an incredible finish, and I’m hoping to get in contention on Sunday and maybe provide some excitement of my own.

Q. When you talk about turning weaknesses into strengths, can you explain a little bit more what you’ve done for your driving and why you think it’s a strength now?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, driving I’ve always been medium distance and very inaccurate, and now I feel like I’ve picked up a lot of distance as well as a lot of accuracy, and so my misses aren’t as big. Even though they might be off the fairway, they’re fractionally off the fairway. And I think it’s a combination of working with Butch Harmon and some of the technological advancements with our Callaway driver that has allowed me to hit the ball higher and farther and straighter than I ever have and hopefully turn driving into a real strength for me.

Q. What’s the loft on your driver?
PHIL MICKELSON: It varies. Last year it was 71/2 degrees. With the golf ball last year I went from the ix to an i(z) that has a little more spin, I’ve knocked it down to just below 6. It’s not — for the simple reason of trying to get some spin off of it, and it seems to have done the trick.

Q. With that No. 1 spot sitting idle, is that something you’re looking at with you at No. 2?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, my whole career I’ve been trying to get to No. 1, I just haven’t had much success. But this year whether or not Tiger is in the field, I still believe that this is an opportunity for me to compete in majors, to challenge him. I’ve had some great head-to-head success in the last year or two, and I expect this year with or without him to be one of the best years of my career.

Q. Given your commitment to family and what you said at the beginning, is there a chance you could miss one or more majors this year depending on your schedule?
PHIL MICKELSON: It’s unlikely. I think that we’re kind of — it’s unlikely, but again, we just have little scheduling issues here and there that we’re able to work around. The six months from May through maybe November, December, was kind of the scary time, and we’re past that. But still, like I say, in the best-case scenarios it’s still never easy, but I wouldn’t anticipate those events being affected just week to week.

Q. Given the difficulties you and your family had to face last year and your limited playing schedule, in some ways would you regard your golf last year as perhaps the most satisfying of your career?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, I look at last year, and I have mixed emotions. I actually ended the year feeling very grateful about the way the year turned out because in the middle of the year there was a lot of uncertainties, and that was the hardest thing to deal with, and golf wasn’t really as important. And towards of the end of the year as things started to turn around and look up for our family situation, it felt like my game started to come around, as well.
I wouldn’t look upon ’09 as being a great year obviously, but it was — I feel fortunate in how it could have turned out, both golf and off the course.

Q. What wedges are you going to use? If you wanted to address it right away, what are you using and why?
PHIL MICKELSON: I feel like my Callaway wedges have been the best wedges that I’ve ever used, so I’m only switching the one. What we found in our testing is that the top edge of the groove is what’s been changed, and so it’s not as sharp. As we add loft and create a shallower angle, if you will, into the ball, the top edge isn’t catching the ball once we get past 60, 61 degrees of loft.
So what I did was a took a 60-degree i2 wedge and turned it into a 64, and those grooves seem to be catching the ball similar to what my wedge did last year. My 60 I still felt like my Callaway wedge was much better performance and got every bit of the amount of spin that I needed.
I actually net gained spin this year. I know that sounds crazy. My grooves last year were conforming to this year. They weren’t very aggressive. I’ve always put a lot of spin on the ball for that reason, angle of attack and hand action and whatnot.
This year’s groove that Callaway has is fractionally move aggressive than the groove I used last year, and so I’ll end up picking up it shows about 200 to 400 rpms of spin on the launch monitor, plus with the addition of the golf ball I’m getting a little bit more spin than I did last year.

Q. How much time did you spend analyzing it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Quite a bit. Yeah, quite a bit. You know, this affects my career. This is a big change.
I think it’s a ridiculous change. I think that it costs each manufacturer millions of dollars. I think it’s confusing, and I don’t agree with it one bit.
But it’s a big change for the game of golf, and we’ve got to adapt. Like I say, I don’t make the rules, but I do abide by them, and I spent a couple months working on this — well, actually it’s been a couple years, but the last couple months full bore.

Q. You hear these guys, we talk to some guys and it sounds like they barely even practiced with them before coming out here and then you’re going into this great detail, the most detail I’ve heard. Do you think these guys who haven’t examined it very closely are going to be at a disadvantage?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the one group of players that might be at a disadvantage are the guys who have never played with V-grooves that are used to square. And the only guys that I think it’s going to affect is guys that come into the ball shallow with a shallow angle of attack. Then I think a square groove makes a difference. But if you come in a little bit steeper, a V-groove is catching it just as much; it’s putting on more spin.
So like I say, I’ve never used square grooves with my irons because — I shouldn’t say never, I haven’t been using them because I spin it too much. My grooves have been weaker than what the new rules allow for so I don’t feel like I’ll feel the effects. But a guy that comes in shallow to the golf ball and has not played V-grooves in the past I think will struggle a little bit.

Q. How much pink have you incorporated in breast cancer awareness? I know you’ve got it in your hat, the spikes. And why is that important to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to go overboard, but obviously this has affected my family and means a lot to me, and so I’m grateful for all the women who have been in clinical trials, all the doctors who have dedicated their life and their profession to curing this disease, and I’m just grateful that we came along at a time where the information, the medicine, the treatments are so much better than they have been just five years ago that we’ve benefitted from it, and I’m appreciative of that.

Q. And who just had the surgery?
PHIL MICKELSON: My mom.

Q. You seemed to have immediate success after working with Dave Stockton last year. Was it a matter of everything just clicked, or did you still have work to do with him after that to get comfortable with the new putting style?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, it wasn’t really what I’d say a new putting style, which is why it was so easy for me to implement right away. I ended up going back to a stroke or a feel that I’ve always had as a kid growing up where my hands were ahead and I kept the face a little bit more — almost closed, if you will, to try to put like a hook roll on it. I’ve learned a lot of little tidbits from Dave that some I’ve implemented in my game and some I haven’t, just like I’ve learned a lot from Pelz where some I’ve implemented in my game and some I haven’t. I want to hear a lot of the things he has to say because a couple of things he’s said have had such a big impact on me.
My feel and my touch on the greens, my seeing of the line and my roll of the golf ball is much better than it’s been in years.

Q. Will you be — during the Open a couple years ago you took the driver out of your bag. Obviously this course is a lot smaller, shorter than it was during the Open. What’s in your bag this weekend?
PHIL MICKELSON: My usual set that I’ll have, which I’ll keep my driver. This golf course is pretty long. The rough isn’t like a U.S. Open, and with it being wet I think, again, it’s going to be a weapon for me. I have a 3-wood, a hybrid that’s about 20 degrees, and then I’ll have 4-iron through 64-degree wedge.

Q. Does the course play long then for you for the first couple days and then dries out do you think?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it’s relative. We’re not going to get much roll, so it’s going to play long for some guys. But I was out here the other day, and it didn’t seem overly long.

Q. What is it about the circumstances of what Tiger’s going through that I think you and other people aren’t interested in kind of getting into that and answering questions about it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, again, I don’t want to talk about it publicly for the reason that we’re friends and we have a personal relationship, and I just don’t feel — I feel like it’s a violation of our trust and our relationship.

Q. You’ve gone through so much with your wife and your mother having cancer. Can you tell us a little bit how difficult it’s been and how you’ve dealt with it?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I’m not the one having to go through it. I mean, seeing them go through it is every bit as tough, though, because most of the time you wish it was you. You hate to see a loved one go through that. But we’ve had some tremendous treatment, tremendous care. Doctors — this is a cancer-specific institute at MD Anderson, and I just can’t believe the level of care and how fortunate we’ve been that there’s a center like that that exists.
And again, we’re all appreciative of all the women — 200,000 women a year get diagnosed with this disease, and for however many years there’s been clinical trials, new medicines, new techniques, new treatments, and we’ve been able to benefit from all of these breakthroughs that we’ve had over the years.

Q. Not that I was looking at your waistline, but it looks like you’ve cinched the belt in another notch and maybe lost a few pounds. Did you do any work in that regard in the off-season to kind of get — five weeks in a row, obviously you’re going to have to hit the ground running.
PHIL MICKELSON: I did. I’ve had the same trainer now for seven years, Sean Cochran, and we had a good off-season program. Again, I didn’t play much golf for the last five or six weeks so we were able to get a little more time in the gym. Also, I tried to increase speed. I’m trying to increase speed to take advantage of some of our technology, some of our low-spin drivers, some of our new golf balls, and to be able to do that, I had to have a little bit more strength, a little bit more rotational speed, and that’s something we worked on this off-season.

Q. Have you tried to contact Tiger, either through calling or through text?
PHIL MICKELSON: You know, we’ve had limited communication with the Woodses, and again, I just feel like discussing any of that is just not appropriate.

Q. That’s okay. But you have had contact with him?
PHIL MICKELSON: With the family, not necessarily saying with who in the family.

Q. And secondly, where did you get your Ping i2, in the garage, eBay?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I had a bunch. I was in college at Arizona State where they’re located, and I have a bunch from college. I have a bunch of sets. I’ve got wedges, sand wedges, lob wedges and multiple clubs. But the only club I felt was better was — or where the groove really made a difference for me was on the 64.

Q. The 60 before you had it bent?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, the 60 I didn’t notice much difference between that club and the one I’m using now.

Q. But actually the L-wedge? It’s the L-wedge?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah.

Q. You obviously turn 40 later this year. How much of a benchmark is that to you, and does it add any urgency when you look at history and it’s not very common that players in their 40s have won a lot of majors? How important is it the next couple years to kind of make a move?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think in the last five or ten years where fitness has become a little bit bigger of an issue on TOUR, where guys like Vijay Singh who are in incredible shape and played very well in their mid to late 40s, guys like Kenny Perry who is almost 50 now has played some great golf. I don’t think it’s the same as it was 20 years ago, and so I expect to be able to play at a high level throughout my 40s.

Q. Did what happened to you last year harden you any mentally? Did you take a different approach to life, to golf? Do you think in the end maybe you looked at things differently and that’s why you did so well?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’m not sure, because I’ve always known how lucky I’ve been to have the wife I have and how supportive and loving she’s been and what a great mom she is. I didn’t need something like this to happen for me to be appreciative of that. I’ve always understood how lucky I’ve been to have a life partner now for almost 20 years who’s been so special.
But it’s just been, I think, maybe a bit of an emotional relief after we were able to find out where we were along in the process. When there’s uncertainties of what’s going on and you look at all the possibilities, I think that’s the scariest part.

Q. Can you run us through how the Pelz-Stockton thing coexists, that combination?
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, well, it’s — like I’ve said in the past about my relationship with Pelz is we really don’t work too much on technique as much as we work on what to practice and how to practice, and he helps me build a foundation that carries over into my performance on the golf course so that all the time that I spend practicing has a direct effect into my scores, that it’s not just random practice; it’s practice with a purpose.
And where Stockton has been so helpful is technique. When my technique gets off a little bit, he and I are able to relate to a similar technique and I can grasp what he’s saying and be able to implement it pretty quickly. When I exposed him to just one of the things that Pelz showed me just a couple days ago, he was — he hadn’t ever seen anything like that and was excited to try it himself. I think we’re both learning from each other.

Q. Can you just clarify, you plan to play three of the next four and then Doral?
PHIL MICKELSON: I’ll play these next three events. I’ll miss the Match Play. And again, I love that tournament, it’s not like I’m trying to make a statement or anything, I just had to make a judgment call with my family. And then I’ll play the following week in Phoenix. I’ll take the next week off. We have, again, some stuff there treatment-wise, and I should be able to play the Doral, the World Golf Championship.

Q. I know that you want to respect the privacy of Tiger and Elin, but how have you seen the reaction? Do you think it’s over the top for what it was? And then secondly, Sergio said the other day, I don’t know if he’s being mischievous, that the U.S. is a better team without Tiger in the Ryder Cup. I just wanted to get your reaction to that.
PHIL MICKELSON: I don’t know if — well, I don’t agree with Sergio’s statement because you’re talking about the No. 1 player in the world, and he’s an asset no matter how you look at it.
As far as the media exposure or coverage, reaction, I think it’s more a question for you. That’s your industry. That’s what you guys do for a living. How do you feel it was covered? I don’t know, that’s more of a question for you guys.

Q. The prognosis for Amy and your mom, have the doctors said they’re free and clear, the prognosis is good? Is there anything there?
PHIL MICKELSON: Long-term it looks good for both. But again, even in the best-case scenario it’s not easy. We’ve got precautionary measures and medicines and so forth that are to prevent it from coming back for five to ten years that are having pretty good — pretty tough side effects. So that’s been challenging for both. But I think the biggest thing for us is that we kind of had to mourn our old life and accept our new, and that’s been — that’s tough.

Q. And the second part is with TOUR sponsors dropping out and things like that that have happened over the last couple months, is there a responsibility — you’ve been very good about signing autographs, reaching out for fans whenever you’re out on the TOUR. Is there a responsibility of the players to reach out even more now in the wake of what’s been going on?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think it’s important for us as a TOUR to prove to the corporations that are involved in the game that this is the best vehicle for them to spend their marketing dollars. It’s up to us to show that in every way, whether it’s personal relationships with their clients, whether it’s interaction on the golf course, making for a great day. We’ve got to provide a vehicle that exposes their company to the public in a positive light, that the monies they spend, whether it’s $5 to $8 million an event, they can spend that anywhere. And they’re going to be tighter with the money that they spend marketing their product and their company, and we need to prove to them that this is the best way, the most effective way for them to get the most for their dollar.
MARK WILLIAMS: Phil, thanks for your time. As always, we appreciate it.

End of FastScripts

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About Jill Painter

Jill Painter is a sports columnist for the Los Angeles News Group, covering everything from the Dodgers, Lakers, Clippers, USC, UCLA, Kings, golf and all human interest stories in sports.