NORTON, Mass. – Tim Mickelson waited patiently while Jon Rahm, who Mickelson represents, answered a parade of questions following a second-round 66 at TPC Boston that moved the Spaniard into the lead at the second postseason stop.
But player-manager is Mickelson’s day job. He’s been moonlighting as his brother’s caddie the last few months and Caddie Mickelson hasn’t had a lot of post-round work to do this season, as Player Mickelson has eschewed practice sessions after playing.
It’s not as though Phil Mickelson hasn’t had the desire to work on his game after rounds in recent months, it’s just that the energy and focus hasn’t been there to make the extracurricular activity worthwhile.
“I'm going to go practice when we're done. I haven't done that in a while because I've been so tired after the round, and I just feel a lot better,” Lefty said following a second-round 67 moved him into the hunt at the Dell Technologies Championship.
All of which meant Rahm’s press conference was just the beginning of Caddie Mickelson’s day. “Heading to the range in about 20 minutes,” he smiled.
Although Mickelson declined to give specifics, he explained following Friday’s first round that he’s been struggling with his focus and energy for the last six or eight months, a concern that led him to see a doctor who devised a treatment program that Lefty said has made a big difference, as evidenced by his play this week.
Mickelson hasn’t opened a tournament with back-to-back under-par rounds since early June and he said the biggest difference is with his short game and shots like the one he hit on the 18th hole when he scrambled from a collection area with a vintage pitch to 2 feet for a closing birdie.
“That's exactly what I'm talking about,” Mickelson said of his shot at the 18th hole. “I haven't been able to see how I want the ball to come off while I'm hitting it. When I'm looking at the ball, I usually have a mental picture of the shot and visualizing the shot, and then my body kind of reacts to that; creates that shot. I haven't been doing that. I've just been blindly hitting the shot.”
The timing couldn’t be better, not just for Mickelson but for U.S. Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker, who will make his picks for this year’s team following Monday’s final round.
Last month, Stricker offered Mickelson a bit of motivation at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, “you’ve got to show me a little bit more than what you’ve shown lately,” he told the southpaw in what was an admittedly awkward moment for the normally reserved American captain.
But Mickelson, who has played on every U.S. Presidents Cup team and hasn’t missed a team event since 1994, understood.
“[Stricker] needs to do what's best for the team,” Mickelson said. “He needs to get the best guys on the team. These are fun events but they are also important and we want to win, and as a captain, it's his job, responsibility, to make the tough decisions and do what's in the best interests of the team and I support that either way.”
Although a solid week at TPC Boston would certainly make Stricker’s Tuesday a little less stressful, it’s hard to imagine Mickelson being left off the U.S. team.
In recent matches he’s taken on the role of team room leader, pairing with rookies like Anthony Kim and Keegan Bradley with great success and generally being, well, Phil.
“If you've got an option to have him around on or off the team, it would be a benefit,” said Lucas Glover, who played on the 2007 and ’09 Presidents Cup teams with Mickelson. “Just the competitiveness, the humor, the passive-aggressive, just, I want to beat everybody. And you feed off that. Just great for a team.”
Although Mickelson is currently 18th on the U.S. points list (the top 10 automatically qualify), there’s not exactly a list of players making more compelling arguments to be a pick. No. 15 on that list is Brandt Snedeker, who shut it down for the season with a sternum joint injury, and No. 17 Ryan Moore, who withdrew from the second playoff stop on Friday following an opening 82.
Last week on Long Island, Stricker indicated Kevin Chappell, 11th on the points list, has played well enough all season to deserve a pick if he doesn’t move into the top 10; which means there’s a scenario where the final pick could come down to No. 12 Brian Harman, 13 Jason Dufner, 14 Gary Woodland and 16 Brendan Steele.
Oh, and Mickelson, who seems to have found some 11th-hour form and brings an unquantifiable level of leadership to a team that already includes five Presidents Cup rookies (six if Chappell makes the team).
“I would love to be the one he felt added to the team but if I'm not, he's got to make that tough call. I totally understand it,” Mickelson said. “I've had a tough time for awhile. But these two rounds, although they have been great, I don't know if that's enough or not.”
Mickelson’s start at the Dell Technologies Championship may not be enough to ease Stricker’s busy mind, but two more days of focus and energy would certainly help.