Mickelson returns from break with revamped swing
January 21, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson opened with a 4-under 68 at the CareerBuilder Challenge. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Phil Mickelson had just one one-putt birdie in his first competitive round since October, but he still shot his lowest score at La Quinta Country Club in a decade.
Mickelson’s PGA TOUR season started with Thursday’s opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. It also was his first round since he started working with new swing coach Andrew Getson.
Mickelson’s 4-under 68 was the product of strong par-5 play and two hole-outs at the end of his front nine. He holed a 96-yard shot for eagle at the par-4 eighth hole and chipped-in from just off the ninth green. Mickelson’s other three birdies came on La Quinta’s par-5s. He hit iron for his second shot on all four of them.
Except for the hole-out, Mickelson hit just one other approach shot within 15 feet of the hole. That was a wedge shot on No. 1. His only one-putt birdie came at the par-5 11th, where he got up-and-down from a greenside bunker. Mickelson didn’t hit many shots close but there weren’t large misses, either. That had Mickelson encouraged with the work he’s done with his swing.
“I felt good with my game. I didn’t feel like I was fighting it. I was able to kind of let it go,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t hit a lot of shots really close, I just hit it kind of OK.”
He is four shots behind co-leaders Jerry Kelly, Jason Dufner, Jeff Overton and Anirban Lahiri; Kelly and Lahiri also played La Quinta. This was Mickelson’s best score in his past five rounds at La Quinta; he’d failed to break 70 in the other four.
Getson has helped Mickelson get his swing back on plane. Mickelson knew he’d varied from the proper path, but admitted he was surprised at how far his swing had strayed. “It’s been a lot more drastic process than I thought it would be,” he said.
“It was actually a lot of work for the last three months of video and drills. What I was feeling and what I was doing were so far apart that it took a real effort.”
Mickelson said his swing plane had become too flat in his backswing and too steep on the way down, forcing him to make compensations just before impact. That led to inconsistency and a constant searching. Mickelson, who turns 46 in June, is seeking his first victory since the 2013 Open Championship.
Mickelson and Getson began working together in the offseason after Mickelson announced the end of his partnership with Butch Harmon, who’d instructed Mickelson since 2007.
Getson was at La Quinta on Thursday. He watched his most famous student warm up and walked all 18 holes. He declined to comment when approached for an interview. Mickelson is pleased with their progress, though.
“When you’re off plane, all the feel and touch that I’ve worked on for decades doesn’t work,” Mickelson said. “Andrew’s just making sure that my swing’s on plane and then it’s up to me to work on the touch.”
La Quinta Country Club, which was founded in 1959, is tighter than the two PGA West courses being used this week. Mickelson hit seven of 14 fairways Thursday, but several of those were in the first cut or just a couple yards off the fairway. He was confident enough in his driver to use it on 10 of La Quinta’s 14 par-4s and par-5s.
“I didn’t feel like I was struggling or fighting to get it in play,” Mickelson said. I could just swing. And because I’m back on plane, the parameters are a lot tighter. … La Quinta is a tight golf course and I didn’t feel like I was claustrophobic playing these holes.”
Mickelson made the turn in 5-under 31 thanks to his two hole-outs and two-putt birdies on the par-5 fifth and sixth holes. He shot 1 over on the back nine, though. Poor tee shots on two of his final five holes led to bogeys. He drove into a fairway bunker at the par-4 14th; his second shot slammed into the lip and only advanced a yard past the bunker. Mickelson pulled his tee shot right of the 17th fairway, and his approach hit a tree. He had 75 yards remaining for his third shot on the par-4, and missed the 8-foot par putt.
He hit 11 of 18 greens Thursday, though he didn’t leave himself difficult par saves. The bogeys at 14 and 17 were his only two of the day.
“My swing is back on plane and so that means that all the feel and the touch and the release … will eventually come back,” he said. “But because I’ve been a little bit off plane, my release and all those intricate feelings that I need to create shots have not been creating those shots.
“The swing is back on plane and I’m just working on touch.”
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Phil Mickelson’s impressive hole for eagle is the Shot of the Day