Hes 34 and Just Getting Started
Mickelson didnt win last year, meaning for only the second time in his career he didnt start the season at the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii. But from the moment he hit his first shot at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, he has been a new, improved Phil. He won that tournament, incidentally, and has been going strong ever since.
He credits his season-long work with Dave Pelz and Rick Smith as the reasons why a golfer who is entering middle age (34) could start playing in this rarified stratosphere. He is mentioned along with Ernie Els and Vijay Singh as the three best golfers on the planet now, and Mickelson has a record in the majors that stand all alone.
Last season was his worst year as a professional, albeit hindered in no small part by his wifes near-tragic pregnancy. Phil was no higher than third, had just seven top-10s, and finished back at 38th among his tour brethren.
Mickelson had to make a choice ' how good did he want to be? He now had three children and a wife, and certainly no one could fault him if he dedicated a greater amount of time to his family. But on the other hand, there was this question of unfulfilled greatness, or majors that were never won and promises never delivered. There was, frankly, a lot that Phil Mickelson had left on the table.
He decided on a renewed dedication. He decided to focus his work with Smith and Pelz. He decided to change his mind-set on the way golf should be played, decided that he was too good to let his best days be behind him. A whole generation of golfers were about to pass him by, now Mickelson had to step up to the plate with something he hadnt shown before.
I felt from before I even played a tournament at Bob Hope that this was going to be a special year, said Phil. He was tired of this backward progress, tired of a 2003 when he clearly wasnt good enough. So he began working toward a new Phil, nothing at all like the old Phil, and after only three weeks of practice he unloaded it on his fellow pros.
I felt totally different about my game, about how I was playing the week of the Bob Hope, said Mickelson. And when I ended up winning, I knew this could really be something this year.
To have results like that, that quickly, can be very encouraging. And Ive seen a steady progression throughout the year.
And he doesnt see any reason why he cant continue to improve, even though has been playing professionally since 1992. Mickelson has an excitement about him that he has never had before. This year has been very good. But next year is only going to be better, he believes, and then you should see him five years from now.
In short, Mickelson isnt as impressed by this year as he plans to be next year. Pelz had got him on a two-month plan, a six-month plan, a one-year plan, a five-year plan. So three top-threes in the majors this year shouldnt be extra-special. Phil has plenty more planned where that is coming from.
I also look at it as though Ive only been working on the proper things for seven months, he said. So I feel like if I can continue on the same path, the same direction for a year, two years, for four years, for six years, I feel like I can steadily improve ' thats kind of the goal.
So rather than reminisce on any years gone by, I want to turn those one- or two-shot losses into one- or two-shot victories.
One other thing that Mickelson is proud of is the way that he has handled courses as diverse as Augusta, Shinnecock and Troon. Its immensely gratifying to have a game that travels well, that is equally scary on great parkland courses as well as great links courses.
Actually, Mickelson is excited about golf ' period. He feels like he is just starting, even though he had rung up 21 victories before the season began. New beginnings are something special ' right, Phil?
Email your thoughts to George White
Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59
Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.
While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.
He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.
"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."
Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.
"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."
Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot
When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.
Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.
"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"
The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.
Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.
"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."
DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.