Balance between technical, touch guiding Phil at AT&T

By Will GrayFebruary 13, 2016, 12:30 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – There may be a few extra wrinkles lining his familiar face these days, his visage a bit more weathered after traveling fairways and greens under the sun for more than two decades.

And recently, he may have incorporated a few new buzzwords to describe his swing, hinting at a more technical approach to a game he refined by feel for years  like a sculptor crafting a masterpiece from a single slab.

But make no mistake: the youthful spirit that propelled Phil Mickelson to unprecedented heights remains alive and well. The kid who trusted his touch without hesitation, the swashbuckler who took on every challenging shot with the same confident swagger? He’s in there, too.

It seemed like that persona had been in hiding over much of the last two years. But as he embarks on a new approach with a new coach, Mickelson has tapped back into those inner workings that helped guide him to the first 42 career wins.

And now, heading into the weekend at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am one shot off the lead, Mickelson is in prime position to record win No. 43.

Granted, Mickelson’s talking points of late have become increasingly technical, making it seem as though he had all but abandoned his innate touch and feel on the course.

At the CareerBuilder Challenge, where he finished T-3, he spoke of “face awareness.” During last week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open it was “shot dispersions” and “divot patterns,” hardly the diction of a player directed by feel and touch.

But as Lefty explained it after a 6-under 65 at Monterey Peninsula Country Club that followed a 68 at Spyglass Hill, the technical jargon is a necessary requirement to tap into those elusive elements as he continues the transition from Butch Harmon to Andrew Getson.

“The only way to have proper feel and that slight sensitivity to get a ball to fade 5 or 6 feet, or get it to draw 4 or 5 feet, that stuff, you’ve got to be on plane,” Mickelson said. “Now that I’m starting to be back on plane, all that touch, sensitivity and feel is coming back.”

That progression has been evident early this year, as Mickelson makes his fourth start in as many weeks. Outside of a poor round on the North Course at Torrey Pines that led to a missed cut, Mickelson has averaged 67.73 swipes per round in 2016.

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Articles, photos and videos

That includes Friday’s effort on the most remote of the three courses in rotation this week, a round that Mickelson started by playing his first 10 holes in 7 under before stumbling a bit down the stretch.

“I thought I was going to shoot a lot lower than I did,” he admitted.

In an era where Trackman is king, players now have instant feedback on precisely what their ball and swing are doing at any given time. Launch angles and spin rates – along with acronyms that seem better suited for baseball sabermetrics – are now commonplace on a practice range.

It’s a fine line, then, for even the best players: trust the gut instinct that got you to an elite level, or buy into what the numbers say about the state of your game.

It represents a battle that Mickelson has waged even this week, as his tinkering has continued despite recent strong results. He tried a new driver for his opening round at Spyglass Hill in search of extra run off the tee before quickly replacing it, and a similar experiment with a new 3-wood cost him on at least three holes during Friday’s inward nine.

Justin Rose trails Mickelson by a shot through two rounds, and he knows full well the temptation to mix science with skill. For Rose, though, that inner feel remains paramount.

“Basically you can have your swing looking up-and-down, but if you haven’t got the inside working well, if you’re not firing the right muscles at the right time … you can have a swing that looks pretty good on camera that kind of goes off in the wrong direction,” Rose said. “So I think that it’s more the feel and the kinetics that are the most important thing.”

Mickelson can derive an extra sense of comfort amid friendly confines this week on the Monterey Peninsula. After all, he’s already won this event four times – two more than the career win total of the four names surrounding his on the leaderboard.

“He seems energized, excited, talking about the game feels easy, he’s enjoying it again,” Rose said. “He seems hungry for it, so it’s great.”

But while he is trending in the right direction, Mickelson hasn’t gotten over the hump in quite some time. His most recent win remains the 2013 Open Championship, a victory that most viewed more as a watershed than one final moment in the sun.

When asked to evaluate the current status of his game, Mickelson paused for a moment before flashing a grin that golf fans know all too well.

“It’s pretty much there,” he said. “I’m very pleased with the way I’m striking the ball, the way I’m chipping, putting, all that stuff, the way it’s coming together.”

It was briefly the look of a much younger man, one who dazzled crowds for years by relying on feel that few have ever known. It was the look of a man who finally, after a pair of lean years, may have unlocked the key to his confidence.

“The last piece,” he added, “is mentally performing under the clutch.”

The opportunity to complete the puzzle awaits this weekend at Pebble Beach.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

Getty Images

McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

Getty Images

Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

Getty Images

Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.