Phil Mickelson: Ever Interesting

Phil Mickelson stopped by the media center for the 2014 Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio, and as usual, he had a lot of interesting things to say. He’s kind of the “Joe Cool” of the PGA Tour and you find yourself just wanting to know more about him and how it relates to his game.

For example, we think of him as a largely self-sufficient superstar, but he’s in need of a keen eye by his coaches just like the rest of us:

“Had a great two weeks [off].  I really had a good couple of weeks back home.  I had a chance to spend some time with Butch [Harmon].  I had a chance to spend some time with Dave Pelz [the short game guru].”

“And I’m excited about these next three weeks [Memorial, Memphis and the U.S. Open].  We’ll see how it goes.  My short game right now, which has not been great this year, is — after spending a few days, it feels good.”

“So I’m curious to see how it goes this week.”

What’s so interesting here is that we tend to think of Phil as having one of the best short games in the game. He’s very inventive, creative and bold. So why would he check in with Dave Pelz? His short game is great, right? Maybe the reason it’s great is because he understands its nuance and subtlety:

“Well, it’s such a small difference between getting it inside three feet and getting inside six feet.  It’s just such a subtle little difference, but yet it’s a huge important difference in scoring.”

“And the touch and just reading the lie and getting it in contact just right, all those little things, it’s the first thing to go when you’re not playing well.  And when you’re not playing well, it’s the last thing to work on.”

“And right now my short game feels really sharp.  So I’m curious to see — I won’t know where exactly I stand, but I have a much better feeling about these coming two weeks before the Open than I’ve had in a long time.”

And he’s definitely not talking about mechanics as he tunes himself back up:

“It’s not so much technique, it’s developing the touch — reading the lies, seeing the shot that you want to hit, and pulling it off.”

One of the things that risk averse players do is play down their aspirations as if they would somehow jinx it if they dared to speak it out loud. Not Phil. He is very open that winning the U.S Open is a big “missing” in his resume. Having finally won his British Open, he lacks only the U.S. Open to complete the Grand Slam, winning all four majors:

“I just think it’s easier to be honest and up front about what I’m feeling and going through than it is to try and deny it, which is why, when I lose, I talk about how tough it is.  Because it is.  It’s challenging.  Like it was the biggest defeat — I had such a down moment after losing at Merion [last year to Justin Rose].”

“The same thing at Winged Foot [in 2006, slicing his tee shot on 18 into the trees, blowing his lead and losing to Geoff Ogilvy].  And it’s easier, rather than trying to put on a front or trying to deny what’s playing out in my head, just to be honest.”

Part of it goes to the reverence he feels for the players who have won all four majors. While Bobby Jones was the only player to win the “original” Grand Slam — the U.S. Amater and Open and the British Amateur and Open — there are only five players who have won the modern Grand Slam that swaps the two amateur events for the Masters and the PGA Championship: Jack Nicklaus (14), Tiger Woods (14), Ben Hogan (9), Gary Player (9) and Gene Sarazen (7).

In the modern era, there are nine players who have won three different majors but not a fourth, one of whom is Phil.

“And what I’m feeling is that there’s such a difference in the way I view the few major champions that have won all four, the guys that have won all four, I view in a different regard.”

“And I’m fortunate and I’m honored to be part of that long list of great players that have won three of the four.  That’s great.  But it would mean a lot to me — I would look at myself, I would look at my career, which is all I care about, in a whole different light if I were able to get that fourth one.”

Part of his honesty in dealing with his disappointment was to share just how brutal the loss at Merion was. It was no doubt magnified by the fact that he only had two majors at the time. He wouldn’t win his British Open for another month. Oddly, that’s the one few thought he would be able to win because of his up-in-the-air playing style when running the ball onto the green is the usual requirement.

“Part of it is being honest with it, being honest about it, like I was saying, because if you try to deny it and try to act like it doesn’t hurt and that it’s no big deal, well, you’re just lying to yourself.”

“It stung, and you just do what you have to get over it.  And it took me a few days to kind of — we had a great trip planned in Montana, so I only got three days in bed before I had to get up and do something.  But I probably would have moped around for a little while.  And instead what I was able to come to the conclusion is that I’m playing really good golf and don’t let it affect the potential outcome of some of the upcoming events.”

“That’s what really got me to refocus on the future and the upcoming majors and at the British.”

And finally, the U.S. Open is a USGA event and thus, like the Masters, has a different management system than a regular PGA Tour event. Phil hasn’t been able to play this year’s site, Pinehurst, because when they were still open, he couldn’t find a big enough hole in their tee sheet to conduct the rigorous, methodical practice rounds he requires.

And now that it’s closed for final preparations for the Open, he discovered that so many people are trying to get their prep work in, he needs a tee time just like the rest of us:

“And even with the course closed, you have to get a tee time.  I guess there’s so many people trying to play it. But I’ll get out there Monday and Tuesday.”

Ah, the trials and tribulations of a PGA Tour superstar… He’s got the jet but still needs a tee time.

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