Phil Mickelson showed great focus in winning The Open Championship. (Franklin/Getty Images)
By Mark Immelman, Special to PGATOUR.COM
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield has a reputation of producing champions destined for the Hall of Fame. This year, The Open Championship was one for the ages and Muirfield did not disappoint.
Storylines abounded as The Open Championship week commenced. They evolved and continued throughout the week and into Sunday morning. Heck, with nine holes to play any shrewd betting man would have been loath to place a wager on one player. In the end it was Phil Mickelson who produced a performance suited for a Hall of Famer over the closing stretch which was enough to win by three strokes.
Many of Lefty’s shots were worthy of the highlight reel and we could learn from many of them. The lesson, however, that jumps out to me deals more with the emotional balance, perspective and mental aptitude that The Champion Golfer of the Year exhibited in recent weeks:
Bob Jones once stated: “Competitive golf is played mainly on 5 1/2-inch course ... the space between your ears.” In my opinion there isn’t a more apt truism in the game, and Mickelson personified it at the very highest level.
Rewind a few weeks. Mickelson is in the Sunday final group with his sights set on the illusive U.S. Open trophy. After a hole-out for eagle on No. 10, momentum appeared to have switched in his favor. But bogeys with wedges on Nos. 13 and 16 scuppered his progress and another runner-up finish was his fate. He was desperately disappointed after the round and commented on how much that failure was difficult to bear.
He then traveled to The Greenbrier Classic, looking to bounce back from Merion’s disappointment, only to post two lackluster rounds and miss the cut. I remember seeing Mickelson's good friend and caddie, Jim Mackay, sitting with his head in his hands after the second round. It was a picture that spoke 1,000 words and was evidence of how the Mickelson camp reacted to the missed cut.
Forward a week and a trip to the home of golf. Almost magically Mickelson regains his top form. In the process, suddenly the time he had invested in his putting began to bear fruit. He also figured out how to play links golf courses and he won the Scottish Open in a playoff. He then travelled down the coast to Muirfield and the rest, as they say, was history.
Consider how Mickelson must have felt after the two letdowns stateside. I imagine that the trip across the Atlantic was filled with more trepidation than it was anticipation and expectation given the state of his game and his record on the links of the British Isles. Mickelson, however, resolved to keep the outlook positive. He reinforced both to himself and to the media that he had uncovered what he believed was the key to his putting. He also continued to speak positively about the season he had enjoyed to that point and the fact that he felt like he was striking the ball as well as ever. Not for one moment did he allow himself to look backward and forge a negative mindset.
What was also impactful to me was the fact that Mickelson three-putted the final green in regulation play at the Scottish Open to drop back into a tie and a playoff. He still continued to speak to the fact that he was putting as well as he ever has in his career in all of his pre-tournament press at Muirfield. Even after the second and third rounds of The Open Championship where he let shots slide, he continued to keep his frame of mind free from negativity as he referenced that his game was sound.
It all culminated on Sunday morning when in a pre-round interview Mickelson stated in a very convincing tone that if he could get to even par through nine holes he would win the tournament. It was a very positive statement from a guy who was in absolutely the right tournament frame of mind. His mind was positive and clear – a result of the positive self-talk and reinforcement he was continually proffering. He had the utmost belief in himself – a result of the fact that he had put his past failures way, way behind him. He was ready to go mentally and emotionally and as a result his body was ready for him.
Know this – anything can change in an instant, especially in golf. Mickelson’s odyssey from Philadelphia to Scotland is proof. Also, take it from respecting Jones and observing Mickelson both on and off the course – competitive golf is a game played in the mind. Improve your mindset and your body will follow.
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.