Professional golfers are asked to opine on host venues every week, producing rhetoric which ranges from blunt honesty to verbiage culled directly from a public relations manual section on how to say something without saying anything at all.
What these viewpoints lack in originality, they often make up for in description and speculation.
You’ve got to keep it in the fairway on this course. If the wind blows, this place is going to play really tough. These greens are so difficult if you leave yourself in the wrong place.
You get the idea – and you’ve undoubtedly endured such responses during the pre-tournament coverage of any upcoming event.
Every so often, though, there’s a comment so telling, so astute, so discerning, that it paints a picture, explaining how and why certain results have occurred in the past, and how and why they may occur again in the future.
The following quote easily falls within the slim boundaries of this category:
“You don't have to be perfect there. You can make mistakes. You can make some loose swings and still have a shot to get close to the green and let [your] short game make par. And so I feel very relaxed that I can play that golf course with a far less than perfect swing.”
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, those words were proffered by Phil Mickelson as part of his examination into Augusta National Golf Club. They serve to explain why the love affair between the two parties has always been mutual.
It’s no secret that the three-time Masters champion is the consummate risk-reward golfer. He’ll never be confused for the most accurate ball-striker in the world, but he’s a shot-maker of the highest order. His uncanny ability to hook an improbable 3-wood around a sturdy tree or elevate a wedge over an obstacle and coerce the ball to parachute its way next to the hole is an art form few in the game have ever possessed.
No shot during his illustrious career more appropriately defines this talent than his second shot into the par-5 13th hole in the 2010 edition of the event.
Faced with a small sliver of a window between two pines, Mickelson elected to make the risky selection – 187 yards over the creek to the front of the green; 207 to the hole – rather than playing it safe and keeping his lead intact. The rest is history. The ball hopped onto the putting surface, stopping 4 feet from the hole and while he missed the ensuing eagle attempt, it was easily the most memorable moment of that week’s triumph, if not his entire life.
It was quintessential Lefty, but it was also quintessential Augusta National.
Not that sublime driving accuracy nor brilliant putting on its slick greens won’t enhance a player’s performance, but at the heart of the famed venue, it is a second-shot golf course. By nature, some of the game’s most legendary shot-makers have enjoyed success here, each generation showcasing a headstrong daredevil, from Sam Snead to Arnold Palmer to Seve Ballesteros.
Mickelson is, of course, this generation’s greatest gambler – in figurative terms, at least. And so it should come as no coincidence that his style of play fits the style best suited for the year’s first major championship.
In 19 career Masters appearances, he has missed the cut on just one occasion, and that came back in 1997. Total them up and he not only owns those three green jackets, but four third-place finishes and 13 top-10 results – ranking seventh all-time in that category, behind a very small gaggle of fellow Hall of Fame inductees.
It is for all of these reasons that when Mickelson makes the famous turn off Washington Road, he’s never bristled at the enormity of the undertaking, but rather exudes confidence, brimming with the knowledge that he has played his best golf on this venerable track.
“When I drive down Magnolia Lane,” he explains, “I just have this ease going to Augusta.”
This is a course that unmistakably suits Phil Mickelson’s game, but more importantly, Mickelson owns a game that forever suits this course.
Call it a perfect match.