Mickelson superb even before play begins

BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2011 US Open | Preview | 15 Jun 2011

As could be expected, Phil Mickelson’s press conference today at the US Open was the largest attended of the week and it was not just because he is the leading American and a genuine chance to win the event for the first time.

Mickelson has become the consummate professional when fronting the media and today he was simply brilliant in the manner in which he responded to each and every question thrown at him and the quality of what he had to say.

If the PGA Tour are looking for someone to model their new members on in terms of handling the media in a dignified but open and candid manner then surely they should look no further than today’s example. They need only run off a DVD of today’s event and tell new recruits to take it home with them and study how to handle themselves in such situations.

Mickelson has finished five times runner-up in his National Open and there is every reason to believe that this could be his year. Today he certainly left many impressed with his understated confidence.

“I’m looking forward to this week,” he said. "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.

“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,” he added referring to his chances of one day winning this event.

“But just as when I was trying to win my first major championship, if you focus so much on the result, 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."

Mickelson was generally emphatic in his praise for the golf course further enhancing his own chances of playing well. “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.

“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.

But keeping the Media Conference balanced he also had brickbats for one or two holes, especially the 10th. “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.”

Mickelson was asked about the impact of Tiger Woods not being in the tournament. Was it a good or bad thing for the rest of the field and did it make it easier or otherwise for him.

“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.”

These were just a few of many answers to many questions and it would be hard to believe there was anyone who left that room with anything other than wishing Mickelson well this week.

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    About the Author: Bruce Young

    A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of the game comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.


    Read all of Bruce's articles »

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