Lefty’s Right-Hand Man (and Fresh Outlook on Links Golf)
By Stephanie Wei under British Open

Tuesday practice fun

Phil Mickelson played “terrible” during his Tuesday practice round at Royal St. George’s, but he still managed to enjoy himself, along with the setup for the Open Championship. It also didn’t hurt that his partner came through in the clutch to win the little match. Mickelson teamed up with Jeff Overton in a “friendly” game against Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Lefty and Overton were four-up through nine holes when DJ decided to press. He won the 10th hole. The par-3, 242-yard 11th hole played so long into the wind that none of the guys reached the green.

“I played terrible and couldn’t reach that par-3, 11th, busted a driver short, and I just thought — I mean, obviously it was really windy today, but I’m having a lot of fun here,” said Mickelson.

Overton got hot with the flatstick, knocking in a 20-footer on the 11th for par, and then a gargantuan putt across the green for the win.

“We had a fun game and Jeff Overton made a long putt on the last hole,” said Phil during his Tuesday presser. “He was my partner, so I’m very appreciative of him.”

Mickelson isn’t known for his links-golf prowess, nor does he have the greatest Open Championship record in the world. His best finish came in 2004 when he placed third at Royal Troon. It was also the only top-ten of his career at the Open. Which is strange for a player of his echelon. But links golf doesn’t resonate with everyone. It’s in a class of its own.

So, Phil, who is known for his sometimes-loony strategies, has decided to brainwash himself into pretending it’s his first time competing on a links-style course.

“I’m entering this year kind of like a fresh start, if you will,” said Mickelson. “I’m not going to worry about past performances, and I’m going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge of playing links golf. And I’m having fun doing that. I’m trying to pretend like it’s my first time here and appreciate playing the ball on the ground on days like this and appreciate being able to play some through the air when the wind is a little bit calmer.”

Phil: I love links golf!

He’s not going to dwell on the past, like his real first appearance at the Open in 1991 when he T73 at Royal Birkdale. (I’ve heard hypnosis works for brainwashing?)

Nope, he’s not going to lament on the past. He’s going to play Royal St. George’s as if he were a bright-eyed, eager rookie. He sure did sound like he was trying to convince himself as he spoke cheerily to the press on Tuesday, gushing with optimism.

“I’m not trying to fix any past poor play,” said Phil. “I’m trying to come here and play the way links golf should be played, along the ground, as effectively as I can, and really enjoy the challenge that it brings, because again, it’s a different style of play. We can’t play through the air. We have to accept what the ground gives us when we have conditions like we had today.”

When the Open was last played at Royal St. George’s in 2003, Phil placed T59.

Apparently some of the marshals have joked that they’ve issued hardhats to protect themselves from Mickelson’s errant tee shots. Phil laughed, but claims he’s driving it pretty well.

We’ll see how Mickelson’s game plan and mental approach fare soon enough.

Meanwhile, Phil’s wife, Amy, took their kids to Paris for a few days. And I actually loved his answer and the smirk that accompanied the words:

Q. Last week the family went away hunting the Loch Ness monster. What are your plans for this week away from the golf course?
PHIL MICKELSON: Amy and the kids went to Paris today. My kids have never been there, and they’re going to head into the city and see some of the sights, some of the things that the kids have studied in school the last couple of years, and they’ll spend most of the time at the Louvre. They’ll spend some time at the Eiffel Tower. That’s kind of a big tourist thing for Americans. We see and read about a lot. So they’ll spend some time over there. They’ve never been there. Amy has been there. It’s only less than an hour flight, so they’re excited about that. They’ll be back, I think, Thursday night.

Subtle jab at Bubba Watson? Maybe. After all, Phil is the anti-Bubba when it comes to traveling internationally and showing respect for other cultures.

(AP Photo/Jon Super)