SAN DIEGO – Phil Mickelson is in a unique position at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open: when he tees off Thursday morning in his opening round on the North Course, he’ll look to go low on a track that he will have a hand in overhauling next year.
Mickelson explained Wednesday that his work on redesigning the easier of the two courses at Torrey Pines will begin in 2015, and the five-time major champion has eyes on making the layout accessible for the average player.
“The last year, year and a half we’ve been taking a lot of input from the public and making sure that we’re on the right track to make the golf course as playable as possible,” noted Mickelson. “There was concern that after what happened to the South becoming almost unplayable for the average player and 80-plus percent of the local rounds going to the North … that the North would become too difficult in an attempt to make it more challenging.”
A key for Mickelson’s prospective design will be to remove obstacles in front of greens, ones which prove difficult for higher-handicap players to overcome with their approach shots.
“Why so many players love links golf is that you always have the avenue to run a ball up and it’s very easy to make the parameters left and right,” he explained. “There’s no need to block the fronts of greens.”
The changes align with Mickelson’s overall thoughts on golf course design, which he reiterated Wednesday has led to courses becoming overly difficult as players increasingly watch shots carom away from their intended targets.
“So much of golf now repels balls away into trouble,” said Mickelson. “What I want to do is contain. I want to create containment where balls run up to the green. Once you get to the green, that’s where you can start repelling and making it challenging.”
He also expanded on his desire to cut back on overall maintenance and water costs by removing sections of grass that rarely are in play, and Mickelson will look to make the scenic coastline that borders the course a larger factor in the future.
“I want to bring the canyon back into the feel of the golf course,” he added. “I don’t want to move the holes to the canyon; I want to bring the canyon back into some of the holes so that you feel the natural beauty that’s here.”
While Mickelson hopes to make the North more playable for amateurs, he’s confident that the course will remain a suitable test come tournament week, when the track in its current form frequently averages two shots easier than the South, if not more.
“You can make any golf course hard by simply making the greens firm and making thick rough,” said Mickelson. “What I want to do though is make a course that is fun to play, that is playable under a variety of conditions.”
Mickelson remains upbeat about the prospect of rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on the North Course, but his attitude is somewhat frosty when discussing its counterpart at Torrey Pines. The 43-year-old has won this event three times, but his most recent victory came in 2001 – not coincidentally, the final time the event was played before Rees Jones’ redesign.
He admits that his attitude toward the course that comprises 75 percent of this week’s competitive action hasn’t exactly helped his playing record, which includes just one top-10 finish since 2009.
“My feelings of animosity toward it might be a factor as to why I haven’t played well per se on it,” said Mickelson, who tied for 51st here last year and missed the cut in 2012. “I’ve learned to play it over the years, but it is not conducive to the way I like to play, which is aggressive.
“Every shot is repelled away from the tucked pins, every green breaks away from the bunkers, every time you’re in a bunker you’ve got a downhill shot,” he continued. “It’s just monotonous to me and it doesn’t allow for great recovery and it does not allow for aggressive play. It allows for 40 feet away from the hole and try to make a putt, try to take advantage of the par 5s.”
Mickelson cedes that a bevy of positives have come to both the course and the area following the redesign, which led to the venue landing the 2008 U.S. Open, but concluded his comments Wednesday with a terse response when asked if it surprises him that the season’s second major hasn’t returned to San Diego.
“No, it doesn’t,” he noted.
For Mickelson, the South Course will wait until Friday morning. Thursday will be about making birdies on the North, and perhaps bringing with him a notebook to jot down changes to make next year when shovel meets dirt.