PGA Tour: Phil Mickelson Talks Defending Title at 2020 AT&T Pro-Am
02/06/2020 by Golf Post
PGA Tour professional and defending AT&T Pro-Am champion Phil Mickelson addresses the media prior to beginning his 2020 title defense and touches on the recent and highly debated R&A distance report.
PGA Tour: Phil Mickelson speaks with the media prior to 2020 AT&T Pro-Am
JOHN BUSH: We’ll get started. We would like to welcome our defending champion into the interview room, Phil Mickelson. Making his 4th start at this event and he’s a five-time winner. Phil, if we get comments on being back at Pebble Beach.
PHIL MICKELSON: Good morning, guys. And I love being back here and it looks like it’s going to be a little bit different style of play and golf that we’re used to where the courses are much firmer and faster. We’re not going to get any rain it looks like this week, so it’s going to be an exciting week I think and should be fun.
JOHN BUSH: Talk to us a little bit about the state of your game coming in.
PHIL MICKELSON: So I had a good week last week where I finally got some results and started to score a little bit better. I didn’t get off to the greatest start on the AmEx or Farmers, but I felt like I was playing well, but you wasn’t scoring well, I wasn’t thinking very well through the round and visualizing and all that stuff and that seemed to get a lot better last week and I’m hoping to build on that.
JOHN BUSH: Pretty cool deal this week. As we all know, you play with the silver coin from your grandfather here at Pebble Beach. All of the amateurs this year are getting a replica coin from the tournament. Just talk a little bit about how that whole process started and your thoughts on that.
PHIL MICKELSON: So it’s, this place here in Monterey, Pebble Beach has been a very special place to our family because my grandfather was one of the original caddies in the caddie yard. And he had to quit school in fourth grade to help work and support the family. And he always felt poor and he would carry around this silver dollar here that I have. It’s from 1900, it’s an old Morgan head silver dollar that he would leave in his pocket. He would reach in and touch whenever he felt poor and it made him feel like he had money. And so he often times would go to bed hungry and not eat because he wouldn’t spend it. He just wanted to always feel like he had it. And so our family’s come a long ways as we look back at him caddieing here for 35 cents a loop to now winning seven figure checks and having my brother with me and so forth and what this great game of golf has given our family for the last couple generations. So we’re very appreciative. The fact that the tournament made a replica of kind of showcasing my five wins in the same size and shape as the Morgan head silver dollar is pretty special. I have one with me. I’ll probably carry both because I think they’re kind of cool and it reminds me that I’ve had some success here. But my grandfather’s coin means a lot to me because it just shows how far we have come as a family.
JOHN BUSH: Open it up to questions.
Q. Nobody wants to ask the first question, so you know how that goes. Do you feel like you have momentum coming off the Saudi Arabia?
PHIL MICKELSON: I feel like the area that I was struggling in is better. So I have felt coming into this year that a lot of the physical areas of my game have been addressed. I was really excited about how I was playing. And then I get on the golf course and I start not seeing what I want to have happen but more what I don’t want to have happen. And the same thing started last week where the pro-am, I hit 12 out of 14 fairways and the very first hole I missed the fairway with a 2-iron and the second hole I hit driver right in the middle of the lake and make double. And my inability to kind of control my thoughts was getting the best of me the first few weeks. And I was able to identify the problem and then fix it and start to control my thoughts a little bit better, control my visualization, and I hit a lot of good shots thereafter.
Q. Different subject, but you definitely need to, I think, weigh in on it because you like to hit bombs.
PHIL MICKELSON: I do.
Mickelson addresses USGA & R&A distance report
Q. The distance report that the USGA and R & A came out with, what’s your reaction to it and do you think that there is, A, a possibility of them, the two governing bodies, doing something or B, the PGA TOUR reacting in some way to either reign in the ball or make sure it isn’t reined in.
PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah, I don’t know. I didn’t really read anything tangible from the report. I only saw that they were, they didn’t want each generation to continue getting longer and longer. I also don’t feel that you should punish the athletes for getting better. I don’t think that we have had massive equipment changes. We have just had athletes that have been able to take advantage of the equipment more so than in the past. And I hate to see that discourage. You look at what Bryson has done getting in the gym, getting after it, lifting weights, and hitting bombs, and now he’s — now you’re talking about trying to roll it back because he’s made himself a better athlete. So I don’t know if I agree with that. But I also don’t really understand the whole scope of how it affects the game and how it affects agronomy and golf courses and so forth, so I’m not sure I’m the best one to really comment on it. I just know from the small little bubble of the PGA TOUR, I hit a seeing the athletes be punished or discouraged from continuing to work and get better.
Q. Back to that first topic. I would think for you someone who has pulled off so many high-risk shots over the years that you see fairway and not trees and green and not water, how do you get into negative thinking, if that’s the right phrase, and what did you do to fix it?
PHIL MICKELSON: So it happens to all of us and you see it often times with guys that are playing great the first three rounds and then the final round they shoot something in the mid-70s and they just aren’t able to recapture their thoughts and they start letting thoughts about what they don’t want to have happen creep in and not be able to redirect their thoughts to what they want to have happen. And certainly because I’ve played poorly now for the last year it was becoming more and more of a challenge. But once I identified it, because I’ve already fixed the physical aspects and I’m hitting the ball really, really well, it’s been much easier to gain control of that. So it’s a process. Like, winning and playing well is a process and I feel like last year was a big step in my process to getting back to playing my best.
Q. I have two questions, actually. First, you talked about your grandfather and obviously every year it’s an issue here on players on TOUR coming here and the quality of the field. You’ve always embraced this event. Is it because of the family connection, because you played well here, why has this been a no-brainer for you?
PHIL MICKELSON: So early in my career I did miss it a few times, but as I got older I realized what an important event this is in developing kind of a relationship with a lot of the decision makers and key players in the game of golf and developing these kind of emotional connection that leads to better decisions as far as supporting the game. It gets companies and CEO’s more inclined to support the game of golf. It creates a relationship and fan experience between players and celebrities and so forth. And I think that this week, along with the AmEx, the two events in all of sports that allow amateurs to play alongside the professionals in the actual competition, is a unique experience that needs to be taken advantage of. Now, it’s also not for everybody. So I understand when guys don’t want to do it, it’s not for everybody. A lot of guys feel like look I only have so many number of weeks a year to compete and it is a, it’s difficult for me to play my best when I’m interacting with a lot of people and so forth. So some people, it’s just not for, and I respect their decision. But for me I’ve always enjoyed it and actually have played some of my best golf when I’m partnered with very interesting players. And I’ve been partnered the last few years, I’ve had a chance to play alongside Jimmy Dunne in the same group. And there’s nobody that I view more as an American hero than Jimmy Dunne for what he did in dedicating profits from his company for the next two years following the 911 tragedy, whereby every other company in the World Trade Center followed suit. I think he’s led by example. There’s nobody that I look up to or respect more in this entire country than Jimmy Dunne and for me to have these days with him, to ask questions and spend time with him, is what brings out some of the my best golf, because I’m having so much fun.
Q. Unrelated question. I know you’ve been asked before, but turning 50 this year and state of your game, you mentioned sort of getting over the poor play from last year. What’s realistic? What can you do at age 50, which historically not many players have won or done well on this TOUR at that age.
PHIL MICKELSON: So I, what I believe, I still need to show. Like, I believe I can play at an extremely high level, I just need to show it. Physically, I’m swinging the club better, more on plane, striking it more solid, hitting the ball longer, swinging the club faster than I have in many, many years. But there’s a lot more to winning than just hitting bombs, and I’m trying to put all those pieces together and I’m enjoying the challenge. So I don’t know if I can answer that directly. I would rather just show what I believe is possible and have a great year.
Q. How has what you consider hitting bombs changed? What was the distance or what did you consider a bomb back when you first came out here versus what it is today?
PHIL MICKELSON: I don’t know if it really compares to back when I first came out. The way I view it is to — you can win on the PGA TOUR not hitting the ball long. You can out-putt, you can out-strike, you can have great weeks and win golf tournaments without being the longest guy or without overpowering a golf course, but you cannot dominate the sport without speed. You might be able to do it for a year or two, but you can’t out-perform everyone consistently without clubhead speed, because there’s no substitute for speed in this game. It allows you to put more spin on the ball, it allows you to hit the ball longer, make carries come in higher and softer into the greens. It allows you to do more with a golf ball than if you don’t have speed and the best players in the world are going to have to have speed. So there’s no substitute.
There is a point, in my opinion, of diminishing return at about 182 mile an hour ball speed, which is going to equate to about 122 mile an hour clubhead speed. You usually have about a 1.5 smash factor, 150 percent energy transfer. It’s a little bit less the faster you swing the ball. But 182 mile an hour ball speed with a driver, you start going faster than that, you start losing a little bit of control and it almost has a diminishing return and that’s why, that’s, you’ll find all the top guys right in that area. I was struggling to get 170. I was struggling to get to 170 mile an hour ball speed. For me to hit 182, 183 now is, I can do it at will. So that doesn’t hold me back. Now what’s holding me back are some of the other areas. Maybe my iron play hasn’t been as great, my putting hasn’t been as great, maybe my accuracy could be better. Well, that’s not maybe, that could be. But the those areas I’m also addressing, but if I didn’t have the speed to start with, it wouldn’t even give me a fair chance. So hitting bombs is flying the ball 315 and getting 182 ball speed with ideal launch conditions.
Q. And when would you say you made such a concerted effort to keep up with these younger guys that were hitting it longer than you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Why did —
Q. No, when.
PHIL MICKELSON: A couple years ago. It took me probably a year before I overnight had five, six miles an hour more clubhead speed. You know, I was struggling to swing 115. I think that was kind of my average clubhead speed. Now it’s easily over 120. If I need to get to 122, 123 I can at will. And that’s an important part for me to feel like I’m not at a disadvantage before I even tee off. Now I still have to go do all the other parts, and that’s been a challenge too, but I couldn’t start until I had the speed.
Q. Following up on your sort of athletes versus technology and difference, how much farther do you hit the ball at 49 than you did at 21, 22 and how would you quantify how much is athleticism and how much is the technology?
PHIL MICKELSON: So my numbers might be fractionally off, but in 1993 or 1994 I was 25th in driving distance at 269 and in 2003 I was 25th in distance at 299, so there’s a 30-yard difference there. And I’ve jumped up a little bit in the last few years from 2003. I’m averaging just over 300, I don’t know, 303, 307, something like that. And that is equating to just training and swinging the club faster. I’ve always been right around 25th in distance, give or take, and I’m back to that area, I would say. But in that jump, I would say a big, a majority of that jump was that golf ball when we went from the wound ball to the solid core. That was a big deal because what happened was the longer guys with more speed, the stronger guys, would swing that wound ball and it would just over spin. It would spin 34-, 3,500 RPM. It’s not that the ball came off slower, it just had so much drag in the spin. And when we created that solid core technology we were able to reduce the spin and increase the launch and also perimeter weight the ball, so that made a big difference too because it wasn’t curving as much and that allowed guys to hit it the same speed off the face, but get rid of 12- to 1,500 RPM’s of spin and reduce the drag and get the ball to fly right through the air. That’s been the biggest difference.
Q. Also related to the project report, there was a suggestion to study the possibility of a local rule which would allow tournaments to use equipment that, where the ball wouldn’t go as far and the clubs wouldn’t go as far. Any reaction to how that, what you think of that?
PHIL MICKELSON: I think the best players will still find ways to win. They might not do it by overpowering the golf course with driver, but they will find ways to do it with their iron play or what have you. I think the best players will always kind of find a way to win and do what it takes. I struggle with some of our governing bodies. I struggle with it because we’re the only sport, we’re the only professional sport in the world that is governed by a group of amateurs, and that leads to some questionable directions that we go down. I wish that we had people that are involved in the sport professionally to be in charge a little bit more.
Q. Looking back, can you recall, when you left here on Monday having won, what was your outlook for the rest of the year and when did it kind of start going, did you feel that it started kind of going south on you?
PHIL MICKELSON: Well, after I won last year, I knew I was going to go out and just crush the rest of the year, and the rest of the year crushed me. Kind of reversed it. I did not play well, I didn’t play up to my level of expectation, and it just kind of snowballed and got worse. But this is a different year and I’ve had a great off season and a lot of good things have happened in the last three, four months and I’m very excited for the year. I know that I didn’t get, the first two weeks didn’t go as planned, but the rest of the year is going to be very good.
Q. What happened last year? Why did you get crushed?
PHIL MICKELSON: Just the ups and downs of a career and play and I just kind of lost some focus and direction and now I have it back.
Q. Whether it’s later this year, three years from now, seven years from now, do you have any interest in the Champions Tour? How do you view that long-term?
PHIL MICKELSON: So a lot of the guys on the Champions Tour are friends of mine, people I really enjoy being around. I appreciate all that they did for me starting. When I started out my career, they were just ahead of me, and guys I really enjoy being around. If I — I don’t want to hurt the Champions Tour in any way and if not playing the Champions Tour is going to hurt it, I’ll play a couple of events. I’ll probably play one, two or three events a year because I want to support it, I want it to be successful, I don’t want to hurt it or be detrimental to it in any way. But I feel like to be successful on a TOUR you have to commit entirely to that one TOUR. So if it’s either going to be the PGA TOUR or the Champions Tour, I don’t see me oscillating back and forth, and, until I’m ready to go one or the other. And I’m not saying I’m not going to play the Champions Tour right now. I’m just saying that I believe the next six months are going to be really good and encouraging for me to play out here because this motivates me to compete against the best players in the world. That drives me to get in the gym, it drives me to work hard on the range, it drives me to spend time on the putting green. And I’m not sure I would have the same passion and drive to be my best on the Champions Tour, but I have it out here and so right now it’s starting to bring out the best in me and I want to play out here.
Q. Building off that, the first tournament you would be eligible for would be the U.S. Senior Open the week after the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Any interest in playing there and would winning a U.S. Senior Open bring a certain level of satisfaction to you?
PHIL MICKELSON: None whatsoever. No.
Q. For playing it or satisfaction?
PHIL MICKELSON: Both.
Q. Kind of along those lines, you had such a long stretch of all the cups and qualifying for them without being a pick for a long time. How much pride or how much of you does not want to need want to rely on an exemption for the U.S. Open this year?
PHIL MICKELSON: I won’t accept it. So I am either going to get in the field on my own or I’ll have to try to qualify. I’m not going to take a special exemption.
Q. Why not? You would probably be eligible for at least a couple of them, I would think, just given what you’ve done in the game. Why wouldn’t you?
PHIL MICKELSON: I just won’t.
Q. I would ask a follow-up, if I had one, but… Please? What’s, is it a, you know, a conflict with the USGA or is it just strictly pride or what?
PHIL MICKELSON: No, I just — they have never been an organization that likes to give out exemptions, special exemptions. I don’t want a special exemption. I think I’ll get in the tournament. If I get in, I deserve to be there. If I don’t, I don’t. I don’t want a sympathy spot. If I am good enough to make it and qualify, then I need to earn my spot there.
Q. Do you see it as a sympathy spot or a reward for greatness over a long time, which they have done, whether it was?
PHIL MICKELSON: I see it as the former and I don’t want that.
Q. You see it as sympathy. Okay. Last time you qualified was Cherry Hills? I feel like it was — I feel like there was a qualifier at Denver somewhere. Didn’t you get hosed on having to come back the next morning when you were probably about 21?
PHIL MICKELSON: That year was Baltusrol, I think in ’93, where I lost in a playoff maybe.
Q. Yeah. A three-for-one spot or something?
PHIL MICKELSON: Something like that, in Ohio, and I didn’t qualify there. And I think I’ve been in every one since and I don’t know if I qualified, had to qualify in ’94 or not. That was at Oakmont. I thought I might have just gotten in there after.
Q. I kept thinking there was a story where you had to come back on the next morning to finish the playoff.
PHIL MICKELSON: That was in ’93, I believe.
Q. Some guy holed a 40-foot putt —
PHIL MICKELSON: That’s it, yeah.
Q. With a rooster tail.
PHIL MICKELSON: That’s it in ’93. I think that was the last one I missed.
Q. It’s probably a bad memory, but it was a funny story when you told it.
PHIL MICKELSON: No, it happens. I think — look, you learn a lot more out of failure than you do your successes and that was, I learned a lot from that experience and I’m fortunate, it also drove me to not have to qualify for that tournament. I don’t think I’ve had to qualify for it since. I think ’94 — I won twice in ’93, so I think that got me in somehow. Money List or maybe top-30 on the Money List got in —
Q. They used to reward winning back then.
PHIL MICKELSON: — something like that, yeah.
JOHN BUSH: Phil Mickelson, thank you for your time. Best of luck.
PHIL MICKELSON: Thank you.
Pebble Beach, California
February 5, 2020
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