Keith Mitchell credits Michael Phelps for strong start at THE PLAYERS Championship
One-time PGA TOUR winner said his attitude was poor before Olympic legend set him straight
March 10, 2022
By Cameron Morfit , PGATOUR.COM
- Keith Mitchell carded a 5-under 67 in the opening round of THE PLAYERS. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Granted, it was a wet first round of THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass, but it was still surprising to hear Keith Mitchell credit a swimmer for the assist after shooting a 5-under 67 to trail co-leaders Tommy Fleetwood and Tom Hoge by one.
Over a year ago, Mitchell, 30, was well into a promising career had yielded one PGA TOUR victory at The Honda Classic, but he suspected he wasn’t getting the most out of his game. The culprit: his bad attitude. To address the problem, he reached out to 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps, the most decorated U.S. swimmer of all time.
“I was not giving it my all,” Mitchell said after his opening round Thursday, which featured an eagle at the par-5 ninth hole. “And he was kind of helping me through some like downs and kind of really hit the reset button about a year ago. That kind of started everything, getting a mentality, getting some coaching, and really just not just feeling sorry for yourself out here.”
With weather delays that eclipsed five hours, the first round tested everyone in the field. Mitchell said he had fun hanging out in the locker room and maintained a positive attitude. That hasn’t always been easy, but his work with Phelps, an avid golfer, has helped. Before they began their skull sessions, Mitchell said, he felt beat up, and like he had hit some sort of wall.
“We had dinner a long time ago in Phoenix,” Mitchell said, “and he was talking about some really thoughtful things that apply to every sport. I'll never forget, it really made an impact on me. It's not just your typical golf stuff like one shot at a time and stay patient. It was more of kind of how to act and focus on the course, which is how you would do in swim meets.
“… I just remember feeling like a loser talking to him sometimes,” he continued, “how I felt on the golf course, like pity and sorrow, and this game is hard. He just pretty much said there's no place for that if you want to be at the top. That was probably a year, year and a half ago, when I was probably the lowest I've been in the World Rankings since I got on the PGA TOUR.”
Mitchell had dropped all the way to 249th in the world after the Valspar Championship last year but began his comeback with a T3 at the Wells Fargo Championship. Since then, he has made a steady climb, and top-10s at The Honda Classic and WM Phoenix Open have him up to 73rd.
Asked how often he sees Phelps, Mitchell said not often, but they still talk on the phone.
“One call with him is pretty impactful,” he said. “I can promise you that.”