Equipment Report

    ‘Now I’m short and crooked’

    Revisiting Phil Mickelson’s driver-less setup at the 2008 U.S. Open

  • Phil Mickelson finished T18 at the 2008 U.S. Open. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)Phil Mickelson finished T18 at the 2008 U.S. Open. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

At 7,643 yards, Torrey Pines was the longest course in major championship history when it hosted the 2008 U.S. Open.

So what was Phil Mickelson’s plan of attack for the first major at his hometown muni? Eschew the driver. With firm summer conditions and thick rough lining the fairways, Mickelson decided to start the week without a driver in his bag.

“I don't really want to hit it past 300 yards on most of the par-4s because it starts running into the rough,” Mickelson said back then. “And I felt like with the fairways being firm like they were today, all I needed was 3-wood on the holes.”

Mickelson may employ a similar strategy this week. He expects to hit a 2-wood on about half his tee shots this week. But Mickelson, who’s made no secret of his pursuit of extra clubhead speed in recent years, also will have his driver in the bag.

“There's a lot of holes where it kind of turns or tightens,” he said in his pre-tournament press conference. “That 2-wood, I'll call it, seems to fit the right yardage on a lot of those holes for me.”

Mickelson’s 5-degree driver, the Callaway Epic Speed Triple Diamond driver with a Fujikura Ventus Black shaft, also will be in the bag. It’s the same club that helped him hit big bombs in his win at last month’s PGA Championship. Most impressive was the 366-yard tee shot he hit to set up a crucial birdie on the tournament’s 69th hole. 

A close-up look at Phil Mickelson's driver setup. (GolfWRX)

In 2008, Mickelson opted for a Callaway FT Tour 3-wood — a 13-degree version bent to 11.5 degrees and equipped with a 43-inch Mitsubishi Diamana White Board shaft – in lieu of his driver.

However, over the opening two days of the tournament, Mickelson struggled off the tee. On the brutally challenging and lengthy California course, Mickelson found himself not just in the rough for most of Thursday and Friday, but short too.

“When I made some terrible swings and hit in the rough it kind of defeats the game plan because now I'm short and crooked,” he said.

Following rounds of 71 and 75, Mickelson abandoned the plan and put his FT-5 Tour driver (bent at 8.5 degrees) back in the bag for the weekend. Being 4 over par forced his hand. He needed to make birdies if he was going to contend at Torrey Pines.

As he explained to media that week, being 4 over par forced his hand, and the need to have more short irons into holes to help him score was what brought the driver back into play.

"Why did I put the driver in the bag today? … I needed to try to make some birdies and get a few shorter irons in,” he said. 

He was undone by a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 13th, though, and shot 76 in the third round to end his chances. He closed with his low round of the week, a 3-under 68, to salvage a T18 finish.

Since then, Lefty has won multiple majors and also experimented with going without driver again at Merion at the 2013 U.S. Open. Mickelson won the 2006 Masters with two drivers in the bag, an experiment he repeated at the 2019 Memorial Tournament presented by Workday. Two years ago at Muirfield Village, he reflected on his decision to start the 2008 U.S. Open without a driver.

At the Memorial Tournament in 2019, Mickelson carried multiple drivers, where he also reflected on his 2018 driverless experiment at Torrey Pines.

“That was a mistake, obviously. What a great idea that was,” he said. “I'm going to play with a 3-wood. And then I missed the fairways with the 3-wood. That was ridiculous. That didn't work out.”

Mickelson will have a different setup this week and hope for a different result. It would be a storybook victory for the World Golf Hall of Famer.