Phil Mickelsons 2007 season was a microcosm of the way he plays golf - it had plenty of highs and plenty of lows. Lefty had seven top-3 finishes, including four victories, to go along with missing the cut four times, twice in majors. It is that go-for-broke style of play that keeps the 15-year veteran a fan favorite at any tournament he enters.
The gambling Mickelsons shot selection can turn him from Peoples Champ to chump faster than any putt at Oakmont this year. One doesnt need to look far to find examples of this hurting his play (Winged Foot maybe?). Thats why Mickelsons final round at THE PLAYERS Championship on May 13 of this year was so surprising. Playing the safe shot all day by hitting fairways and greens was so un-Lefty that he might as well have been playing right-handed.
The mini-evolution of Mickelson was most evident at the Tournament Players Clubs terrifying 17th Island Green. It was shaping up to be classic situation for Phil the Thrill to surface: two-stroke lead on the 71st hole, difficult pin placement on an island green, why not go for it and deposit one in the drink?
Not this Phil.
Mickelson made the right decision and calmly played for the center of the green. He left the risky shot for his opponent, Sean OHair, who put two in the water for a quadruple-bogey 7.
What was the reason for the transformation?
The swing coach extraordinaire had been critical of Mickelsons style in the past telling Britain's Golf World magazine, Phil is obsessed with distance. It's pathetic. All he thinks about is how far he hits it. He would never win a major with [that] philosophy.
Mickelson had to make a difficult decision in leaving his longtime swing coach, and close friend, Rick Smith. With Smith as his coach Mickelson won 30 times, including three majors.
After finishing a disappointing 24th at the Masters, and further inconsistencies with his driver, Lefty knew it was time for a change.
This has been a difficult decision for me. I feel that now is the time to go in a new direction, Mickelson said. I went to Rick Smith as a friend and asked for his understanding of this decision, and he's been very supportive of it. No one could ask for a more true or loyal friend.
Now teamed with Harmon, the two were able to come up with a game plan for TPC Sawgrass, a course that had given Mickelson some problems in the past. It was very straightforward: stay in the fairway.
It's a mind-set. It's a matter of trying to get him to play a little more conservatively, not quite as aggressively, Harmon noted. That may be a bigger problem than the swing.
He's got as much talent as anybody in the world. And I think if we can get him [hitting] out of the fairway, I think he can rival Tiger. He's got a short game that's as good or better than Tiger's.
Impressively, all this was accomplished after just three weeks of the pair working together. For most players it takes months for them to adjust to new swing instruction.
That's what's most exciting is, I feel like we're just getting started, Mickelson commented. This is only week No. 3. I feel like in three months how much am I going to progress? In three years where am I going to be?
We already know how the rest of Phils 2007 played out ' inconsistency mixed with a wrist injury can hinder any golfers progress. Mickelson, who missed the cut in two of the final three majors, clearly had his ups and downs. This, however, does not worry the swing coach.
'This is just the tip of the iceberg, Harmon said. He's going to get a lot better. I think he can maybe rival Tiger.
With the 2008 season around the corner it remains to be seen how much Harmons star pupil will improve, and if it will be enough to challenge Tiger Woods atop the summit of the golf world. Only time will tell. But after walking off the 18th green a winner at The PLAYERS Championship, Phil handed his coach a signed flag with the note, Butch: The first of many.