This interview appeared in the March, 2003 issue of GOLF Magazine.
Phil Mickelson has achieved the greatest success possible: He's happy. Like, really happy. As in very. Completely. He's figured out the secret of making a heaven here on earth. If he doesn't call you back for a few days, it's because he's doing exactly what he wants to do. Which is something other then returning your call. There are ballgames to see with his mom and romantic surprises to please his wife, Amy. There are dolls and balloons and bikes and zoos to assume his two little girls. Child number three is due in late March.
Mickelson, 32, chases his children around the yard and he chases Tiger around the course-and sometimes gets hammered for preferring the former. He doesn't fuss about what the golf world wants him to fuss about. That doesn't mean he doesn't care. It means he thinks there is more to life than golf.
He laughs easilyat himself and at you. He's totally at ease in his own skin. He's full of life and great company, even if he does seem like the eager sixth-grader know-it-all ready to pounce on your dopey question. For our chat just before Christmas in San Diego, Mickelson, after proving he is a world-class lunch eater, sprawled on a couch facing the bay. He didn't punt on any issues, nor did he use the mulligan, good for any question, that I offered.
GOLF Magazine: I see the PGA Tour Media Guide lists you at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds. You don't exactly look like 190 pounds.
PHIL MICKELSON: It's a very old Media Guide.
GOLF: The last time we talked you were on the "eat and chew anything you like as long as you don't swallow it" diet. What's the current plan?
I'm still on the same diet with the only difference being that I've been swallowing lately. It's a bit of a problem. But there is a bright side.
GOLF: Which is?
I'm still 6-foot-2.
GOLF: Your swing is tighter, shorter, more up and down, and significantly more reliable than it's ever been. Do you think that's largely gone unnoticed?
To everyone except the players in the World Rankings.
GOLF: People say, "How can Phil compete when he is so woefully out of shape?"
I think that's an unfair statement. I have been putting on some weight, but I have also been lifting weights and have become a lot stronger in the last couple of years. Lifting is one thing that allows me to make some of the demanding swing changes. The shorter swing you mentioned requires more leg strength, hip strength, and core strength to be stable.
I have put on some weight. I tend to fluctuate with my wife, Amy. When she's pregnant, I seem to put on weight. When she's not, I seem to lose it with her. The weight fluctuations are an emotional thing, I guess.
At the end of 2001, I hired a trainer. He's a martial arts expert so I've been studying self-defense. It's made working out more enjoyable and, in fact, that's where I'm going when I leave you. I have to show you some great stuff. Go ahead and attack me and you'll see how easily I can defend myself. [Kessler grabs for Mickelson's throat. Immediately, Mickelson lifts Kessler off the floor and twists his arms in a knot.]
See it doesn't take any muscle or skill to hurt you.
GOLF: I think you're breaking my arm, Phil.
See how I'm using your weight against you? And I'm very fast.
Well, that's too bad. The first thing I think about when I wake up-and this is going to sound corny-but when I look at my wife, Amy, I think about how lucky I am to have her, to have my children. What typically wakes me up is my [1-year-old] daughter Sophia at about 7 a.m., almost to a tee. Amy and I will go grab her and grab her bottle. I think how lucky I am to have my daughters in my life.
GOLF: You hugged Tiger at the end of the Skins Game. What was that about?
I thanked him for showing such compassion in missing that 10-footer to give me $200,000. Tiger and I have a wonderful relationship. It doesn't seem that way because of the way the media portrays it, but he and I get along very well. We get along to the point where we both feel comfortable enough to rib each other quite a bit, and we do. We've had great Ping-Pong matches at the Ryder Cup, we've had great off-course conversations. I respect what he has to say. I respect what he has done.
GOLF: Do you have issues that strain your relationship?
In my mind, Tiger and I don't have issues between us. Well, maybe one. He hates that I fly it past him now. He has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player who is good enough to overcome the equipment he is stuck with. We are on the same page with a lot of issues that we have with the Tour and are not in a position to discuss because it would come out as whining.
GOLF: How much is the no-majors thing driving you crazy?
Not having won a major doesn't drive me, it really doesn't. I rarely think about it, and it doesn't consume me, even though I get asked about it a lot. Other than the attention it receives, it's not something that really affects me or something I think about disproportionately.
GOLF: Is it hard to enjoy your on-course accomplishments because everyone is so busy pointing out what you've yet to accomplish?
That's a great point. While I'm playing I can't always hear what announcers are saying, but I know what they're focused on. When I see an old telecast or when I read an article about me, it's never about what I have done, it's always about what I have not done. I find that very interesting because there are so many players that I've been beating left and right, and yet all I hear about is the great things they're doing or have done.
Mickelson is a gambler like Arnold Palmer, but Arnold in his heyday was the finest driver of the ball in the world. Arnold gambled from the middle of the fairway. Phil gambles from the precipice of disaster. Still, Arnold could win only when playing like Arnold and Phil says he must be true to his instincts, too.
GOLF: Is your tendency to be too trusting of your emotional instincts on the course still a problem over 72 holes?
I would never say that it is a problem. I think that you have to trust your instincts, you have to trust your emotions. There's only one way to have accomplished what I have in the game. I trust my instinct, and it is an attacking instinct.
GOLF: Can your name ever be included in the "Course Management Hall of Fame" with Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, and Jones?
I doubt it will be in the same category of those players. It is still very possible my style of play will win a bunch of majors and be considered a good and successful course management style.
GOLF: Tiger's won more majors since he's become more conservative. Is that something you need to do, too?
Tiger certainly has a lot of talent, and he makes a lot of birdies and very few mistakes. He can afford to be more conservative. I, too, make a lot of birdies, and even though I make more mistakes, I can afford to be more conservative. I would say the 2002 U.S. Open was a very conservative 72 holes for me-even too conservative. One of the doubles I made, on 16, was because I hit iron off the tee and I didn't get myself far enough down there to where I could get a reasonable shot in.
There needs to be a nice mix between conservative and aggressive play, and knowing when and where to get your four or five birdies a round and knowing when and where to try to get your 13 or 14 pars. Tiger has done a very good job of that. Tiger has won eight majors while I have always made mistakes. Not necessarily a course management mistake. It's been more of an execution mistake where I'll hit a hook or block at the wrong time. So I would say my course management style is still evolving, as are my game and my overall execution.