How Mickelson became a great links player

By Ryan LavnerJuly 15, 2016, 4:14 pm

TROON, Scotland – His black rain suit was drenched, his feet soaked. He wore two gloves. He used a binder clip on his hat just to keep it from blowing away in the wind. And he marched around Royal Troon without an umbrella, inviting the sideways rain to pelt his face during a five-hour round.

All that misery Friday, and yet Phil Mickelson couldn’t stop smiling.

And why not?

After years of resisting, after countless Opens where he failed to adapt, he has finally given in. He’s finally stopped trying to overpower the golf courses here. At 46, he has finally embraced the vagaries of links golf, and the miserable conditions, so long as it remains fair for all 156 players in the field.

“I really enjoy the challenge that this weather and these elements provide,” he said.

Throughout his career, Mickelson has done most of his damage in ideal weather and at venues that suited his grip-it-and-rip-it game, but here he was hoping for the wind to howl and the rain to pound the course. He knew it would give him an advantage.

Much of his confidence stems from his first few sessions with short-game coach Dave Pelz back in 2003. At the time, Mickelson was 33, and major-less, and both he and Pelz agreed that the toughest event for him to win would be The Open, because it would require a complete overhaul of his aerial attack.

“He has a very descending blow, hits the ball very hard and has more spin on his wedges than most golfers in the world,” Pelz said by phone Friday. “That’s about the worst thing you can do over there in the wind.”

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And so he worked to take some of the spin off Mickelson’s shots with both his short and long clubs. He wanted to get the ball out of the air and on the ground as soon as possible.

“I was taught growing up that to hit the ball low, you scoot the ball back in your stance, which de-lofts the club,” Mickelson said. “The problem is you come in steeper and create a lot more spin. And even though the ball is flying low, it’s spinning. That’s what you don’t want.

“So now the only difference for me is I keep everything the same – ball position, swing, so forth. But I just shorten the backswing a little bit and accelerate through. It doesn’t have enough speed to create the same spin, but it comes in from a shallower angle of attack and gets the ball launching lower without the speed, without the spin.”

During a practice round at St. Andrews in 2005, Mickelson was hitting 150-yard shots from the middle of the fairway. He took two more clubs than usual, made a three-quarter swing and flew the ball about 100 yards, letting the ball run up the rest of the way. After Mickelson hit eight of the 10 balls onto the green, some of them tight, the course superintendent ambled over to Pelz.

“Is he really that good or is he just getting lucky?” he asked.

“He’s really getting pretty good,” Pelz said. “I think he has a chance to win over here.”

It would take until 2013, of course, before Mickelson finally broke through, but he called the win at Muirfield the most satisfying of his career. He isn’t shy about sharing his secret to links-golf success. He’s proud of how he’s become a complete player.

Mickelson has continued to use those lessons here at Royal Troon, where he posted two near-perfect rounds in wildly different conditions.

On Thursday, Mickelson was in complete control of his game while firing the first 63 ever at a Troon Open, his bid for history spinning out on the final green. On Friday, when an annoying rain pushed several players off-track, Mickelson carded four more birdies, dropped his only two shots of the week and remained in front, his second-round 69 leaving him one clear of Henrik Stenson (65). At 10-under 132, Mickelson matched his lowest 36-hole score in a major.

Watching back in Austin, Texas, Pelz was most pleased with Mickelson’s restraint off the tee. Instead of trying to fit a driver or 3-wood into a narrow fairway, Phil the Thrill sacrificed distance and opted for a low, running 2-iron on several holes.

“For the first time in 13 years together, I saw him hitting an iron off the par-5 tees, which is fabulous,” Pelz said. “I don’t care if he gets in trouble around the green – he’s the best wedge player in the world. But when he gets in trouble off the tee, that’s what kills you. This is the way I love to see him play.”

At 46, Mickelson would be the oldest Open champion since 1867, though he was quick to dismiss the relevance of the statistic. Compared to a decade ago, he is 25 pounds lighter, in better shape, physically stronger. “And now that my swing is back on plane,” he said, “I’m starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again. I don’t see why there’s any reason why I can’t continue that not just this week but for years.”

It was always assumed that Mickelson would factor the longest at the Masters, thanks to his love affair with Augusta and how well it suits the left-hander’s eye. But maybe it’s the Open (with four top-25s in the past five years) where he’ll experience the most long-term success. It was unthinkable about a decade ago, before his reinvention with Pelz.

“It was all new to him,” Pelz said, “but when he started doing it, it was like a whole other game and he liked it almost immediately. It’s taken a while, like it would for any player, but now he’s gotten very good at it. He’s embracing it more and more.”

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

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Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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