Phil Mickelson: Anatomy of a Saved Round and Embarrassment

Sergio Garcia shot a tasty 64 in Saturday’s second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at the TPC Boston. He has a one-stroke lead over second-year player Roberto Castro and a resurgent Henrik Stenson.

But as is so often the case the story ended up being about Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, primarily because of the pairing protocols that paired the players by their FedExCup standings. That meant that all eyes were on Tiger (1), Adam Scott (2) and Phil (3).

Tiger scrapped it around in 4-under 67 to get to 7-under and 6 shots back. But he knew it could have been a whole lot better: 

Yeah, I just lost my patience out there.  I gave myself some good looks [at putts], and just didn’t make them.  Hopefully tomorrow they will go in.

And he knows that he’s going to have to move on “moving day.”

There’s going to have to be [low scores in me] to get back into this thing.  There’s so many guys up there that are basically 9‑under par or better.  There’s a ton of guys up there.  It’s going to take a couple of low rounds.

In the first round, Phil shot an amazing 8-under 63 which, it turned out, he needed to do. He had such a circus-like second round hitting both right and left off the tee while making an impossible pitch shot to two feet on 11 that even he couldn’t describe. Tiger was asked about it:

Mickelson had a couple of crazy shots there, between 9 and 13.  And an amazing shot up and down at 11.  You and Adam were joking with him as you walked off the 12th tee.  What was that conversation like.  Phil was just alluding to it?

He wasn’t playing well through that little stretch there.  He hit a lot of bad shots.  He had a two‑way miss going.  The shot that he hit off — on 11, Bones said it wasn’t that long.  He took a pretty good [look] at it and pulled it off.  That’s what he does.  And it was pretty impressive to see the up‑and‑downs he made throughout that stretch, and holed a few putts, kept his round together.

Phil had a similar view of his overall round. But he also talked about what happens when you “lose it:”

That was one of my best numbers right there, because I was playing terrible.  And I shot even par.  I fought hard.  And throughout 72 holes, throughout the course of my career, it happens, where you kind of lose it a little bit.  I fought hard in the interim and was able to find it there in the end to give me confidence heading into the weekend.

But more than that, it kept me within striking distance.  And sometimes when you lose it, I could easily have shot myself out of the tournament.  I shot even par today.  I got it in the hazard I don’t know how many times.

If I go on and play the way I believe I’m going to this weekend I’m going to look back at those nine holes as the key to the entire tournament.

So about that incredible shot on 11. Could he tell us how he did it?

I could describe it, but nobody is going to understand that.  It was a really good shot.

How could it possibly have been any better?

Yeah, I’ve not seen anybody else hit that shot, to be able to spin it back from that distance and lob it.  It sure looks good.

The media still couldn’t get enough about the shot and all that ensued as a result of it:

Tiger Woods and Adam Scott were actually joking with you on 12 as they walked off the tee.  What were they saying to you about that shot?

They were laughing at it, too.  Because it’s just a hard shot to hit.

I played terrible obviously for nine holes.  But that was almost me at my best, because I could have easily shot myself right out of the tournament, when I just kind of lost it there for a few holes.  But instead I was able to find it there at the end.

I feel like I know now what I want to do with my golf swing heading into the weekend.  I’m putting unbelievable.  If I’m able to play tomorrow the way I believe I’m going to, I’m going to look back on that nine, ten hole stretch as being the key to the entire tournament.

Talk me through 11, because that’s ridiculous.

I don’t know how to explain that shot.  It’s a hard one to hit.

Well, the ground had to be firm in order for you to be able to spin it that much.

Yeah.  But still the angle of attack and the face angle and the weight — all that stuff factored in to be able to come off right.  And it came off perfect.  It’s not a very high percentage shot.  I got lucky that it didn’t hit a tree and go in the hazard.  That ball was headed so far right.  And to even have a chance, and then pull it off, it wasn’t an easy shot.

You could have shot yourself out of the tournament but as it is you’ve still got a chance.

Well, that’s exactly it.  I’m looking forward to the weekend, I feel like I’ve figured it out the last few holes and I can’t wait to get back on the course tomorrow.

Okay, it’s one thing to have turned your game around when you can feel it slipping away. But how exactly did he go about it? In this case it was all swing mechanics (although who’s to say that there wasn’t some level of fearfulness that was causing him to swing with reticence or too carefully?).

Just a slight adjustment in the follow through and so forth.  I was just hanging back [on his back foot] and flipping it, and hanging back and wiping it with a slice.  And I started to move forward on it, release the club and hit shots, you know, the way you’re supposed to.  But I mentally just kind of lost it for a few holes.

But that was — I thought that was actually one of my better moments there, because it could have easily gone away, some of the shots I was hitting.  And instead I fought to hang in there.  I shot even par.  And I feel like the game actually just turned around the last few holes.  I’m looking forward to this weekend.  I feel like I have the direction now I was looking for ball‑striking wise, and I’m putting really good.

And then he talked about the state of mind necessary when things start heading south to keep hanging on to the end of the rope:

I don’t know, but over the course — nobody is going to play 72 holes perfectly.  You’re going to have up‑and‑downs and flows and it’s going to come and it’s going to go.

The key is a lot of people just let it go when that happens and they shoot themselves right out of the tournament.  Where if they get hot the next day it doesn’t get them up at the top of the leaderboard, it just kind of gets them in the middle of the pack.

But that right there, the last ten holes, kept me within striking distance.  I’m within five going into the weekend.  I’m putting really well.  And I feel like I keyed in on what I want to do with my golf swing.  I’m excited about the weekend.  I’m going to look back on those ten holes as being the key ten holes.

Just how tough is it to grind through it?

It’s tough because it’s embarrassing to hit shots like that, and to have a bunch of people out there playing with Tiger and having every shot exposed on TV, you know, it’s embarrassing.  But we all have our moments like that.  And you just have to deal with it.

It’s quite fascinating to see such a great player as Phil Mickelson grappling with being embarrassed. With his seasoning, it obviously isn’t debilitating in his case, but it is no less surprising that he feels any embarrassment at all.

For an examination of the root cause of these feelings in us and how to begin to think about them in an empowering way, I encourage you to read one of my earliest posts that dealt with this very topic, “Embarrassment.”

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