Q&A with Masters champ Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson still feels the thrill … the thrill of turning onto Magnolia Lane, the thrill of winning the Masters, and the thrill he felt when his wife Amy walked onto the green at 18 when he won for the third time.

“Like you can’t believe,” he quickly said on Tuesday when asked how it feels to drive down that canopied street that welcomes golfers into Augusta National. He also discussed, among other topics, what will happen to the 6-iron he used to hit the magical shot on No. 13, how the course stays relevant and the menu for the annual Champions Dinner. The 75th Masters will be held April 7-10.

Mickelson said the feeling goes back to when he was a boy, watching Seve Ballesteros on TV and telling his mother, “I want to win that tournament.”

He said the Masters gives every young golfer something to strive for, a thrill to one day feel.

“It exceeds our dreams, which is hard to do,” he said.

The following is a portion of the transcript of today’s teleconference, courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club:

Q. Obviously you are famous, the year you put two drivers in play at Augusta, what goes into your selection of clubs and how do you go about thinking towards that?

PHIL MICKELSON: That particular year, I believe, was one of the first years, if not the first year, that the golf course was lengthened extraordinarily. I think that was the first year that a lot of length was added; tee boxes were moved back quite a few yards. And to combat that, I tried to get a driver that I could hit an initial 20 yards.

Although I called one a draw driver and one a fade driver, the long driver was the driver that I drew. But I also hit it 20 to 25 yards longer than I did my regular, was a longer shaft and so forth. And I believe that it played a big factor in me winning the golf tournament.

Now the driver that I have, is very similar to that distance. It might only be five or seven yards shorter than that driver, and so there’s really not a benefit to putting another longer driver in play. And so that frees me up to add another club.

Q. Specifically, though, you started out with the long game? Because I was kind of curious about a 64 degree wedge or a 60; do you start with driver first?

PHIL MICKELSON: Yeah. So I’m really looking more at longer stuff. Because I’ve set my wedges now I used to have as much as five wedges, as you know. And what I did was took the gap and sand wedge and kind of created a club in between.

So every week now, I am set with four wedges. I have a 64 and a 60. I have a strong sand wedge. Which is about 54, 53 1/2, 54 degrees, and then I have a pitching wedge that’s a 47 1/2, 48. So that allows me to add some other clubs longer in the bag.

And usually at Augusta, I don’t have a hybrid. I usually carry a 3-iron. And the reason for that is, if I’m not able to reach the par 5s, like 13 and 15, with a 3-iron or less, I usually don’t want to go for it, anyways.

And second, the additional length on No. 4 puts me a lot of times right between clubs, between a 4-iron and sometimes a 3-iron. And so having a 3-iron in the bag at Augusta is what has helped me the last couple of years in some of those in between shots from 220 to 245.

So that is usually how my setup, club setup, is. And I no longer play with five wedges. I’ve had four wedges now and the same wedges for the last couple of years.

Q. An age old question, but we never get tired of talking about the 12th hole. What were your typical club selections on that shot on 12, has it changed over the years, are you hitting less club? And what is your strategy on that shot as far as how you’re trying to play it?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, 12 is unique for a left handed golfer, because the green fits along a left handed golfer’s shot dispersion. And so if I aim at the center of the green and were to come out of the club a little bit and lose it left, it would go shorter left and actually catch the green; whereas if I pull it, it will go longer right and usually carry the water and catch the right part of the green.

So the 12th hole is really not the scariest shot for me at Augusta; more like 16 would be.

Now, a right handed golfer, the shot dispersion is exactly opposite of 12. Meaning it they aim at the middle of the green and pull it, it’s going to go long left and go over the green. And if they come out of it, it comes up short right and usually goes in the water. So the 12th hole for a right handed player requires a perfectly struck shot, or else the miss is fairly penalizing.

But for me, I feel like I have a bigger margin for error, which is why I’ve gone at the pin on the back right a number of times; and when I won in 2004 and when I won last year, it was the birdie on 12 on Sunday in the final round which really propelled me into the lead and to take control of the tournament.

So the 12th is one of my favorite shots. Club selection wise, I’m usually hitting an 8-iron to the back right, and I’m usually hitting a wedge to the front left. So it’s either an 8, 9 or a wedge, and that’s with no wind.

With wind, I hit as much as a 5- and 6-iron.

Q. Is that any different from earlier in your career, your first Masters, hitting more club, or has that not changed?

PHIL MICKELSON: Actually, no. The additional length that was added about five, six years ago, has brought back the clubs into greens to be the same club that I hit when I first played Augusta National in 1991.

I remember hitting a 7-iron into No. 18 when I first played it with Greg Norman and guys in one of my practice rounds, and in the tournament round with Nick Faldo; and it’s the same club that I hit in the final round last year into 18.

So the additional length now has brought back the length to where I’m hitting the same club as I did 20 years ago into the greens.

Q. You mentioned coming through the gates and driving up Magnolia Lane, does it still excite you? Do you still get a kick out that have?

PHIL MICKELSON:Like you wouldn’t believe. It reminds me of when I was a kid. It reminds me of when I was ten years old watching Seve Ballesteros win in 1980 and saying to my mom, “I want to win that tournament. I want to be like that and win this event.”

It remind me of dreams that I had as a child, and I feel like Augusta National and the Masters Tournament gives every kid in the game of golf who dreams of playing professionally, dreams of winning major championships, something to strive for, something to dream about. And when we arrive at the premises at Augusta, it exceeds our dreams, which is hard to do.

Q. You mentioned earlier this year you were still working out some things about the Champions Dinner. I don’t know if you’ve got any further along; is there anything you can share about that?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I’ve been in contact with Seve Ballesteros, and I just sent him an e mail saying that if he were able to come and feeling healthy enough to be able to make this tournament, I would love to have the dinner be something that he would like, like a Spanish dish of paella or whatever he thought would be appropriate; I wanted to kind of honor him.

But unfortunately I don’t think he’s going to be able to make it, given some e mails we’ve received, I don’t think he’s planning on attending. So our thoughts and prayers are going to be with him that evening.

I learned one thing over the years; many of the past champions, they love beef and they love meat. And because of that, I want to honor kind of the past champions at Augusta. I plan on having a trio of different meats, whether it be bison or venison or just filet, I was thinking about kind of honoring the guys with a bunch of different meats, as well as a lot of green vegetables.

Q. And Phil, I’ve got to ask, will you try that shot at 13 again when you make your first trip alongside the 13th hole?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I may yeah, I probably will go to that spot. I do that every year on the final putt that I made in 2004 to win. I hit that putt every time I play there, I always go back and look at it.

I very well may go to that spot because that is an important spot, an important shot for the tournament last year, and I will look at that.

However, I do plan on hitting the fairway all four days.

Q. The shot you hit with the 6-iron got so much attention; did you do anything special with that club, and do you collect stuff and put it away to go back and look at little mementos?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, no, I keep the sets of clubs that I won major championships with. I usually try I change my clubs at least once a year, for the reason that I like to have a fresh set. I like to have fresh grooves, and I usually wear down the face through practice sessions, especially the short irons where I spend most of my time practicing.

I do have every club in a bag in my golf room back home from last year’s win, and I will be giving the 6-iron to the Club to be on display.

Q. So you do have some little collectibles that you maybe go back and look at to rekindle memories, or you’re not that way?

PHIL MICKELSON: No, I absolutely am that way. It rekindles memories and I think it’s fun nostalgically to look back and kind of put the club in my hands and swing it a little bit, maybe hit a shot or two with the clubs that helped me win major championships.

But absolutely, I have them in my golf room isolated and marked so that I don’t forget.

Q. When you look back last year at the win, outside of the couple of magical shots like the 6-iron and holing out and whatnot, is there something in particular that went well that week for you, or a couple of things? What are the things that made it happen for you, other than those couple of remarkable shots?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I think some of the biggest challenges that I faced and have had to adapt over the years in performing well at Augusta is how I deal with my time in the morning before the rounds, because that can often be the most stressful time; anticipating the round and dealing with that downtime, given that we have 2:30, 3:00 tee times on the final day and the weekend.

Last year, having Amy and the kids played a big part in me winning, because it was an incredible emotional support to have them there. And also, it gave me a great routine in the morning whereby I would take one or more of my kids to breakfast. We would grab some coffee, we would play some chess and we just spent a couple of hours of downtime before it was time for me to go out to Augusta to begin my preparations for the round.

I felt like that was a big part of me winning because it kept me relaxed. I had emotional support, and it took away a lot of stress before the round.

Q. As a follow, can you take us through obviously everybody remembers the moment on 18 when Amy came out and you didn’t know that was going to occur prior; can you take us through what you remember of that moment?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, I just remember hugging her and not wanting to let go, and we were still right in the thick of right in the thick of it.

And we are doing so much better now, and Amy is doing so much better, and we are in such a better place.

But at that time, we were still right in the thick it of it, and to be able to share something as joyous and as emotionally joyous as that was, it was really a great time for our family to share something like that.

Q. You kind of mentioned the evolution of the golf course with its lengthening and all that. It seemed like there was a time where people were saying, we have kind of lost the roars on Sunday and what has happened to the excitement; but in the last couple of years, it seems to have come back. Wonder if you can address the evolution of course setup to make the course challenging for you guys, but as well, bring back the roars?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, it was my opinion that the first three years, where the changes on the golf course were made, to make it more challenging or longer, we had terrible weather. And I believe the terrible weather is really what kept the scores from being low and also prevented the roars and the birdies and the eagles that we had had in previous years.

The last few years we have had terrific weather and I think that has brought back some of the low scores. But really in the last year or two, there also were some additional changes to the course that gave it more flexibility. Meaning, there were tee boxes that were lengthened in the front; so that if we did get bad weather, there was an option to move tees forward to make the course still exciting with birdie and eagle opportunities; whereas when it was first changed there, was not that option. It was just, move the tee back and play from back here.

Now, the tee boxes have been elongated in the front to accommodate possible bad weather over the years and I think that not only have the last three years been exciting, but I think the future years will be exciting and fun to watch, as well.

Q. And if I could also add, just to reflect, go back to the question earlier about your hug with Amy, I’m just curious, as you sank the final putt, were you hoping that Amy was there? Were you anticipating she was there or was it just a complete jaw dropping surprise that she had come out?

PHIL MICKELSON: Well, we had talked about her coming out if it looked like I was going to win and try to bring the kids there so we should share that but I knew she was not going to be out following around.

But as the tournament is going on, I’m more focused about the shot and the putt and coming to the last hole, it was not like 2006 where I had a three shot lead and the players ahead of me were finished and I knew I was going to win. I was still right in the thick of it with only a two shot lead over Lee Westwood, who had a birdie chance.

But it wasn’t until I hit a 7-iron to eight feet that I really knew that I had the tournament in control. And so I really didn’t let my mind wander as to whether would she be there or not.

When I saw her is when I felt the emotion and felt the joy and the opportunity to share with her and the kids. We still look back on that as such an exciting week and such a fun week. It’s fun for us to have that memory.

– Doug Roberson, AJC

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