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?
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