Changes coming together for Mickelson
January 24, 2016
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson finished T3 at the CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation. (Harry How/Getty Images)
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Phil Mickelson admits he was anxious about the state of his game while making swing changes in the offseason. Those concerns were quieted with his third-place finish at his first start of the season, the CareerBuilder Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.
Mickelson shot 21-under 267 (68-65-66-68) to finish four shots behind winner Jason Dufner. This was Mickelson’s first top-10 since he finished third at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. It also was his best finish at the CareerBuilder in a decade.
“I was concerned about, ‘Is it going to come back?’ and, ‘How long is it going to take?’ and so forth,” Mickelson said Sunday. “I got a pretty good glimpse today that my game’s on the right path.”
Mickelson, who will turn 46 in June, still has majors and the Ryder Cup on his mind. The U.S. Open is the only major standing between him and the career Grand Slam. He would be the oldest winner in tournament history if he were to lift the trophy at Oakmont Country Club. Mickelson didn’t join Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker as Ryder Cup vice captains when Davis Love III appointed them in November because Mickelson still wants to qualify for the team.
It’s no surprise when Mickelson speaks optimistically about his game. He doesn’t hesitate to talk about how a new swing thought or piece of equipment will lead to good scores. The results don’t always follow, but that wasn’t the case at PGA West.
Mickelson’s game will be tested again this week at his home tournament, the Farmers Insurance Open, which he has won three times. Torrey Pines’ South Course is a long, demanding layout; the rough will likely be thick after Southern California’s recent rain.
PGA West’s dormant Bermuda rough is much more forgiving. Mickelson made just three bogeys at the CareerBuilder Challenge, tied for second-fewest in the field. This was his first tournament since the Presidents Cup and first stroke-play event on the PGA TOUR since the BMW Championship.
“I think Phil’s driving it better,” said Charley Hoffman, his friend from the San Diego area and playing companion for the CareerBuilder’s first three rounds, after the second round. “He hasn’t hit a bad drive for the most part and he’s been aggressive off the tee. I know he’s working hard on his golf game and he wants to play well this year. He’s starting out in the right direction. I think he feels a little more in control. He can work it both ways.
“Any time you get new ideas, just like any business, it feels like you’re getting a new lease on what you’re doing and a little more fire.”
Mickelson is seeking his first PGA TOUR victory since the 2013 Open Championship. He’s failed to make the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola in each of the past two seasons after finishing in the top 15 in the first seven FedExCups. He’s had just four top-10s over the previous two seasons; he hadn’t had that few in a single season since 1995.
His poor form over the past two seasons led him to make his first coaching change in nearly a decade. Mickelson, who’d worked with Butch Harmon since 2007, began working in the offseason with Arizona-based instructor Andrew Getson. Getson also coaches Mickelson’s caddie Jim Mackay, who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Columbus (Ga.) State in the late 1980s.
Getson watched Mickelson warm up each day last week and followed him in his galleries. They also had off-site practice sessions after Mickelson’s CareerBuilder rounds. Getson declined to speak to the media when approached by reporters.
TOUR player Kevin Streelman, who described Getson as “one of my best friends,” said that he often goes to Getson for advice.
“What I love about him is that he played professionally, so he gets the playing aspect of it,” Streelman said. “He uses a little video but not a crazy amount. He keeps things really simple, an idea at a time. He’ll give me a quick drill, and then we’ll go grab a glass of wine or a beer.
“He saw some things with Phil’s swing that he thought were pretty simple to fix, to get (the club) a little more on-plane, keep the club in front of him a little bit and have him use his body more.”
Phil Mickelson interview after Round 4 of CareerBuilder Challenge
Plane is a fundamental part of any swing, but that doesn’t mean the change was easy. Mickelson said he was not trying to “reinvent the wheel,” but that their work was “a much more drastic process than I thought it would be.”
Former TOUR winner Dennis Paulson played with Mickelson in the offseason. Mickelson told him the change in his swing plane was so drastic that he felt like he was swinging like Jim Furyk, Paulson said.
“It was actually a lot of work for the last three months, of video and drills,” Mickelson said, “(because) what I was feeling and what I was doing were so far apart.”
Over the past few seasons, Mickelson has taken the club too far inside on the backswing and then swung too steeply on the downswing. This has forced him to use his hands to square the club and led to inconsistency. Mickelson now feels like he is steeper on the backswing and flatter on the downswing.
“It felt from waist-high to waist-high that it was almost on a track,” Mickelson said. “I didn’t have to use any hand action to try to square the face.”
Paulson, who followed Mickelson this week as a reporter for Sirius/XM, said he saw a quieter lower body through impact.
Mickelson said his job now is to work on the nuanced hand movements that allow him to shape the ball.
“I don't feel like I'm going to the range trying to find something, I feel like the swing is on plane, fairly easy, and now I'm just trying to work on the subtleties of fine-tuning a little fade, a little draw. All the touch is starting to come back,” he said after his first-round 68 at La Quinta Country Club. “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.
He didn’t hit many shots extremely close to the hole this week – his only one-putt birdie in his first-round 68 at La Quinta Country Club was an up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 13th – but the big, penalizing misses also were gone. Mickelson hit driver on 10 of the 14 par-4s and par-5s at La Quinta Country Club, a tree-lined layout built in 1959.
“This is a really good week for me for validation that I’m on the right track,” Mickelson said. “I’m back on plane and the touch should start to come back.”
Phil Mickelson gets back-to-back birdies at CareerBuilder