Phil Mickelson, who finally broke his 0-for-Great-Britain streak on Sunday with his thrilling win at the Scottish Open, has gotten over his past struggles with links golf. Mickelson has never consistently performed well at the Open Championship, but he’s now conquered his former disdain for this style of play and even discovered a secret ingredient to cure his previous troubles on the greens.
In other words, it’s Phil being Phil — thinking he’s learned the magic formula to success at a major.
“It’s hate-love,” Mickelson said Tuesday from Muirfield, the site of this year’s Open Championship. “I used to hate it and now I love it.”
Phil, who seems to temper his expectations for himself on this side of the pond, has more missed cuts (4) than he has top-tens (2) at the Open in his career. Aside from luck and misfortune, which usually comes into play in links golf more than any other ordinary week, Mickelson explained that he had struggled with figuring out how to putt on the fescue greens.
“The common thread is, I believe, is more on the greens than anything,” he said. “I’ve not putted these greens well with these little subtle nuances and rolls, with the crosswinds that come into play, as well as the strong blades of fescue grass. But I am really optimistic about this week and going forward because I’m starting to putt as well as I ever have.”
However, he’s unlocked the mystery to putting well on links courses. .
“I putted great last week (at the Scottish Open), and more than that I’ve been putting well now for months, and feel like I’ve really keyed in on something over the last three or four years, where I’ve added some poor stretches,” said Mickelson. “You’ve seen me try the belly putter, you’ve seen me try different grips, and finally I believe I have kind of found the secret to my own putting, and what I need to do to putt well.
“And every single day now for the last year it’s been the same thing, and I’ve been putting really well. And I think that last week was a very positive sign for me, because I putted difficult fescue grasses, and in wind conditions on Sunday, very well. And hopefully that one common thread that’s given me problems here, I hopefully have solved.”
When asked to clarify on this putting tip, Mickelson didn’t want to divulge. After all, he thinks he’s discovered an edge over the field.
“I tried to skip over that, because I’m not going to discuss it,” he said. “I feel that I’ve kind of keyed in on something, and I don’t really want to share.”
Mickelson three-putted from a short distance on the 72nd hole on Sunday at the Scottish Open, which forced a sudden-death playoff with Branden Grace, and he ended up winning on the first extra hole by ironically hitting a very-American shot with his 64-degree to tap-in range. Given it seems he’s vanquished his former demons on the Scottish links, WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN for this week?
“I thought there were two things that I liked about last week, was that the first part of the week the wind was pretty calm and we were able to play the game through the air and I played well, and was in contention and made some birdies,” he said. “And then when the weather got bad on Sunday, I was also able to get the ball on the ground and still make some birdies. And I thought that that was a good sign because you just don’t know what kind of weather you’re going to get here.
“Certainly you need a little bit of luck to come out on top here. We saw what happened to Tiger in ’02. It was one of worst breaks imaginable, especially after he had won the first two Majors and had a shot at the Grand Slam. It’s part of the tournament here, you need an element of luck, but you also need to play some great golf. These last few months I’ve played well enough to get in contention and play well here, but I do need some luck.”
Sure, luck plays a role every week, and like I said, it’s usually more of a factor at the Open, but if you look at the list of past Open champs when it’s held at Muirfield, you find that the cream always seems to rise to the top: Harry Vardon (1896), James Braid (1901 & 1906), Walter Hagen (1929) and Henry Cotton (1948), Gary Player (1959), Jack Nicklaus (1966), Lee Trevino (1972), Tom Watson (1980), Nick Faldo (1987 & 1992) and Ernie Els (2002).
Now it’s no secret that it’s tough to win consecutive weeks in a row. Phil has won back-to-back weeks four times in his career, including the 2006 Bell South Classic and the 2006 Masters.
“It’s difficult to win the week before a major and then follow it up winning the Major,” said Mickelson, with his famous grin. “But then again the last person to do it, you’re looking at him.”
As you may recall at the U.S. Open, Phil took driver out of his bag at Merion and carried five wedges. With the firm and fast conditions at Muirfield this week, he’s leaving it out once again.
“I’m not going to carry (a driver) this week, no,” said Mickelson. “I feel like the 64-degree wedge on this firm ground can save me some shots, and I just don’t see how a driver is going to help me in any areas. I’m able to hit that 3-wood on this firm ground every bit as close enough in distance on the holes. And distance on any tee shot is not even in my mind. It’s avoiding bunkers, avoiding rough, getting the ball in the fairway. And I can do it a lot easier with clubs other than driver.”
You’ve probably seen this already, but Phil hit his renowned backwards shot in a practice round on Monday at Muirfield, which was captured on video by Geoff Shackelford.
And that’s part of the reason why Phil is the second most-accomplished golfer on the planet.
(AP Photo/Alastair Grant)