You can wear out a dictionary looking for adjectives that describe Phil Mickelson. Mesmerizing. Galvanizing. Polarizing. Agonizing. But he will never be accused of being boring.
With 42 PGA Tour wins and five majors to his credit, Mickelson is one of the most accomplished and most popular golfers ever to play. The soon to be 47-year-old Hall of Famer (his birthday falls during this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills) is still contending on a Tour that is increasingly dominated by players young enough to be his son.
Mickelson sat down with GolfWRX for a little one on one during his stop to promote The Greenbrier Classic. The July PGA Tour event is making its return after a one-year hiatus due to a catastrophic flood that left the course and the community at large devastated. In the Q&A, Mickelson talks about his commitment to The Greenbrier, his family, and his quest for the final leg of golf’s career Grand Slam.
Michael Williams: So let’s start off with talking about The Greenbrier and this tournament. What’s special about this place, and what’s special about this tournament?
Phil Mickelson: The tournament itself is being played on one of the classic great golf courses (The Old White Course), so right there it’s got a unique catch. But what makes the Greenbrier so great, whether you’re a PGA Tour pro or whether you’re somebody from the East Coast bringing your family down here for a vacation or for the tournament, is this. The greatest moments in life are those spontaneous moments that you spend with your family, and the Greenbrier provides more spontaneous fun moments for a family than anywhere. There’s so many things to do here, from fly fishing and golf and tennis and all these fun things, that you end up having moments, having memories, that last a lifetime. And they’re formed here because of all the activities you can do together as a family.
And you’ve been a big supporter of this. Do you have a house here?
We have a lot, and we’re building a home. This is a place where we want to spend time with not just our kids now, who are in high school, but ultimately our grandkids in a short time. This is a place where, again, you want to have those family moments.
Let’s talk a little bit about you and how you’re playing this year. Do you feel like you’re close to winning? If so, how close?
Well, the reason I feel like it’s close is that I’ve played at a very consistent level. I’ve played 14 events. I’ve made all 14 cuts, but I’ve only had a few top-10 finishes, and I’ve had almost all top-30 finishes, which means that I’m right there on the precipice of being in contention and winning, but I’m not quite putting it all together. One area has been lacking each week, whether it’s driving the ball and iron shots have been great but I haven’t putted well, like the last weekend at the Memorial. Or I’m putting great, but I hit a couple of stray tee shots or what have you. I haven’t put it all together in one week. But I’ve actually been enjoying this challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the last three or four years, even though I haven’t won in the last three or four years, and I know that it’s close. I know what it feels like to win. I know what my game needs to be for me to win. I’m playing at that level, but it’s that last little piece of putting it all together for a week, and I’m actually enjoying the challenge of doing that.
Do you feel like a player has to play better than he used to if he wants to win on Tour? Do you absolutely have to be on top of your game to win?
I think so, because the players today have such length and power and the ability to dominate a golf course that they end up making a lot of birdies. So out of all these 30, 40 young kids that hit the ball a mile and make a lot of birdies, somebody’s going to get hot that week, and so that somebody needs to be me to keep up pace. You can’t get by just hanging in there. You have to go attack the golf course and dominate it if you’re going to win.
You were diagnosed in 2010 with psoriatic arthritis. How has that changed your approach to the game and to life?
Yes, I was diagnosed in 2010, and it was a big change. But it forced me to take responsibility for my health and my fitness. I’m down now 25 pounds from my peak. I don’t eat a lot of the fast food and sugar that I used to eat. I drink lots of water instead of soda. All of that helps me to manage the condition. When I started out, I was being treated once a week and now it’s down to once a month. I feel great, and long term I don’t think the condition is going to affect what I accomplish on the course. All in all, being diagnosed was kind of a blessing in disguise.
You have not been ranked, I don’t believe, a single week as No. 1 (in the Official World Golf Rankings) in your career.
But you have balance in your life. This whole decision about — and we in the media have been over it many times with you — not attending the U.S. Open this year for your daughter’s graduation is about that balance. So you don’t have the one thing, but you do have the other thing. Was being No. 1 ever a specific goal for you?
What would you have done different to make that happen?
Of course it was a goal, and I had an opportunity there a couple of times, when had I won that particular week or whatnot, where I could’ve done it and I just didn’t. But that’s not the end-all of life. I’ve had a pretty good career.
“Pretty good” is one way to put it.
I just happened to play against the greatest player of all time, and I have fallen short on that front. If you compare my career to Tiger, it’s a failure, but if you compare it to just about anybody else, it’s a success. More than that, though, I love what I do. I love who I do it with, the people I get to share it with, and the time I’ve had playing this great game. So I wouldn’t change anything about it.
So you’re a pretty smart guy and a pretty personable guy, and it seems like these days smart, personable guys, including our friend (Greenbrier Resort owner and West Virginia Governor) Jim Justice seem to run for political office. Any of that in your future?
No, it’s not for me, and the reason is all the things that occur in politics — there’s a lot of dinners, there’s a lot of functions to go to — are things that I don’t enjoy. What I do enjoy is playing golf, and I do enjoy being outside. I enjoy spending time with family. I enjoy spending time with friends. What I don’t enjoy doing is multiple dinners and functions and congregations and meetings and so forth. That’s not what I enjoy. I grew up on a golf course. I grew up outside. That’s what I enjoy and those types of interactions. So at this point in my life, I’m fortunate enough to do things that I do enjoy and not that I don’t.
Now, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Justice, and the reason I have such respect for him is that he’s getting nothing out of this politically. Becoming a governor does nothing for him. He has a great quality of life. He’s a billionaire. He’s run multiple companies. He’s doing it because he genuinely wants to help the lives of West Virginians. He’s doing it because he has the knowledge base from his past business experience to turn a state around and run it properly. Very few politicians have any type of business acumen.
In Singapore, you have to own and operate a business for 10 years before you’re allowed into politics, but that’s not the case here in the U.S. People get into politics without ever doing anything, and so they don’t know how to run a business. A government, whether it’s a state or the United States government, is one of the biggest businesses, and Jim Justice has that type of experience to do that. For him to run for office, to become governor, there is no self-motivation here. He gets nothing out of that, other than, because his heart is so big, he wants to help West Virginians have a better quality of life, have better jobs, have better healthcare, have better opportunities, and I just have the ultimate respect for somebody like that.
They’re gonna take you away from me in about one minute, so let me get two quick questions in. With you not in the field, do you feel comfortable naming a favorite, your favorite to win?
I think Bubba Watson’s gonna be a huge favorite because he lives here, and I think that having that, even though the course is pretty…
I meant the U.S. Open, not the Greenbrier Classic!
Oh, the U.S. Open.
I don’t know who to pick for the U.S. Open because I have not been to Erin Hills. I don’t know who a favorite is. It favors kind of the hot hand, the hot player, I would guess, would be in contention, but I don’t know who I would end up picking.
I played it. I didn’t do well.
No, but you’re not even in the field. You’re like me. You can’t win if you don’t play.
Yeah, I missed the qualifier. Last question. I always ask this question of all-time greats and I get some surprising answers. What would you rather win the Grand Slam of golf, an Oscar, the Nobel Prize, or a $50 million lottery?
Well, the only one that is appealing to me at all is the Grand Slam of Golf, and I’m one win away with the U.S. Open. That’s the only thing that, out of the things that you named, that is something that is appealing to me.
Go out and get her. I know we won’t see you in the U.S. Open this year, but we look forward to seeing you out there for many others.