By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Don't expect to see Phil Mickelson in a helmet and wetsuit any time soon. But he did invite Ben Crane into one of his patented practice round sessions on Wednesday.
Mickelson and Crane got the best of Dustin Johnson and Keegan Bradley, too. Then Crane, the original “Golf Boy,” rode the momentum into Thursday and shot 66 in the first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
"They said don't run too far because we're going to play again next week," Crane said, smiling. "(Mickelson's caddy) Bones (Mackay) said, hey, it might be a little too early. I don't want you peaking before (next) Tuesday, so easy now."
Crane said he spent some time with Mickelson a few weeks ago, and that the big lefthander has been extremely helpful. Crane outlined what he and his mental coach have been working on, and Mickelson helped him refine and simplify things. Wednesday's practice round was an outgrowth of that skull session.
"He was calling himself the golf whisperer out there, helping me some with some shots and stuff," Crane said. "It was fun."
Crane had an adventurous round on Thursday that consisted of six birdies, one of which was a chip-in, and two bogeys. He only hit five fairways and eight greens but more than compensated with a red-hot putter that necessitated just 23 putts.
"I did not drive it in play today, but I putted awesome and chipped in and just took advantage of some opportunities, read some putts right, lipped a couple putts in," Crane said. "It was just one of those days where I just scored awesome. ...
"I love this golf course. I mean, it's just like right in front of you. It's hard. You've got to drive it in play except for days like today. But you can't do that all week, obviously, and survive. But this is just one of my favorite courses. ... It just never lets up. It's a great test of golf."
Crane came to Akron rested after a two-week break. He was first alternate for the British Open but elected not to take the charter to England from the John Deere Classic because the field was already over its limit of 156. Turns out, he would have gotten in had he been at Royal Lytham.
"It's just like when we've got a putt and it's either a ball out on left edge, you make your best decision," Crane said. "You go, well, my gut tells me it's left edge so I'm going to go with it. And sometimes it breaks a little more than you think, and you go, I guess it was a ball out. That was definitely a ball out, and I played it left edge on the British there."
Crane has no regrets, though. Crane took his family to Black Butte in central Oregon. Several times he stayed on the range until dark watching his wife Heather, who is learning to play golf, hit balls.
"We just had an awesome time," Crane said. "... I just did what I thought was right, and at the end of the day, I'm like, I wish I would have gotten in, but I got two weeks off. And one week off by the time you unpack, you pack again. But two weeks off before a lot of big tournaments coming up, I thought this is awesome.
“Maybe this is a blessing in disguise."