Gullane, Scotland: Phil Mickelson is very clear about his relationship with links golf, a challenge he used to detest but now relishes going into this week's British Open. "It's hate/love," the American four-times major champion told a news conference on Tuesday. "I used to hate it and now I love it.
"Because it's much easier to get the ball in play off the tee, I would fight the thick, heavy air. I would fight the wind off the tee. And now it feels much easier for me to get it on the fairway and into play." Mickelson has one of the best short games in the world and knows his prowess on the greens will be crucial if he is to win at Muirfield.
"I've always appreciated the rub of the green and the luck of the bounce and those things," he said. "What I've enjoyed most about links golf is the importance of the short game because when you get the ball going away from the hole with crosswinds, downwind or what have you, the short game becomes really important."
Mickelson, who has never won the British Open, warmed up with victory in the Scottish Open last week and, after years of toiling on the links courses that stage the sport's oldest major championship, he now enjoys the unique challenges they present. "I'm looking forward to this week," the 43-year-old left-hander added. "I've enjoyed my time over here and having (wife) Amy and the kids here makes the week much more enjoyable.
"To start off with a victory last week feels terrific. I've been playing well for a few months and I'm hopeful this will be a good week." Mickelson has finished in the top 10 only twice in 19 British Opens but he was tied for second two years ago. "I've not putted these greens well with these little subtle nuances and rolls, with the crosswinds that come into play, as well as the strong blades of fescue grass," he said.
"But I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I'm starting to putt as well as I ever have. "I putted great last week and more than that I've been putting well now for months and feel like I've really keyed in on something over the last three or four years." Mickelson used to dread the windy conditions common at the British Open but has learned to deal with them.
"To do well you have to have fun with it, you have to enjoy that challenge, because it can get very frustrating because of its difficulty," he said. "You don't know what kind of weather you're going to get here. And certainly you need a little bit of luck to come out on top but you also need to play some great golf."
Mickelson has experienced winning a major the week after landing a regular tour title, donning the U.S. Masters champion's green jacket in 2006 a week after claiming the Bellsouth Classic. "It's difficult to win the week before a major and then follow it up by winning the major. But then again the last person to do it, you're looking at him," he joked.