Phil Mickelson’s thoughts on Tiger’s dire short game problems

If it’s Thursday, it must be the start of another PGA Tour tournament, this week, the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla, California, a northern suburb of San Diego.

They will be playing both courses, the South, which stretches to 7,698 yards (okay, call it 7,700 yards) and the North, a tidier 7,052. And being at sea level and in heavy ocean air, it will play all of that. The reports are that the greens are firm and the rough is rough. Phil Mickelson added another subtlety only a great player would know that makes the South course more challenging:

I think that patience is going to be a big challenge, because when you tuck the pins here, every green repels from the outside to the center. So, every ball’s working to the center of the green and it’s very difficult to get it close to a lot of the tough pins. So, you have to be patient. You have to accept 30, 40-footers, that you just can’t knock it too close, and you have to make some putts. I think that patience will be the key.

The North Course has been in the planning stages for a renovation and redesign by Mickelson for a couple of years now, but he says it’s been mired in perpetual delays: 

Delayed. Delayed, delayed. It’s a long process. But the bidding process, it was a difficult one, there were a bunch of line items that were thrown in late that drove the bidding significantly higher than what the North project was and is and it included things that were unrelated to the North. So, bids were significantly higher and now it’s delayed.

But he’s hopeful that enough people want it to happen that it will:

I think so. I think that the Mayor and everybody wants us to have this happen and I think that everybody’s working hard to make it happen. But I don’t have — there’s no answers right now. It’s kind of in limbo, as far as I know.

Want a sense of perspective on the young guns versus the old guard? This marks Mickelson’s 26th appearance in the Farmers. But the media session quickly turned to Tiger’s short game woes. If Tiger came to him for help, what would he tell him?

I think that Tiger’s going to have the last laugh. I think that his short game, historically, is one of the best of all time. I think his golf game is probably the best of all time. I think the short game is, when you haven’t played, it’s the first thing to feel uncomfortable and the quickest thing to get back. I don’t think he’s going to have any problems, I really don’t.

I think we all, myself included, have had stretches where we feel a little uncomfortable, we don’t hit it solid, and usually it’s just a small tweak. Because it’s such a short swing that it’s not a hard thing to fix. I just don’t see that lasting more than a week or two.

I had the same experience with my putting stroke due to neglect, the same issue Tiger’s had with his short game. I was busy writing my manuscript for my soon to be published book and sometimes the flow of the morning’s writing didn’t get me to the courses in sufficient time to properly warm up for my 11:30 tee time. So I would skip the putting. Not always, but too much. And why not? I was a great putter with a high degree of confidence in my stroke.

Without my noticing the decline, I soon found myself wary when I grounded the putter behind the ball for fear of flinching into the ball. Yikes! Never in a million years would I have imagined it coming to that.

It took me a couple of months to get back to where I was. It began with certainty in my putting skills; these flinches were not who I was as a putter. And then realizing that the thing that made me a great putter was an accelerating stroke through the ball. So all I concentrated on was pushing the putter back and then accelerating through the ball. I chose 40 foot putts because that distance required an affirmative motion without a lot of fine motor skills trying to manipulate the face. I would hit 40-footers until I could no longer feel any tension or aberrations or hit in the stroke; it was all seamless flow.

Once I knew that I could again count on the acceleration, I began to work on just 6-footers; same flow, just modulated. And once that maintained, I’d polished it all off by working on the flow making the putts, not me trying to force it in the hole.

Phil described the process he went through when he lost his chipping technique:

It’s happened to me a number of times where I have gone through spells where I had trouble getting, chipping the ball close, chipping it solid. But it comes back. It’s not like it’s a big concern. As long as [Tiger’s] healthy and as long as he can swing the club the way he’s swinging it, with the speed he’s swinging at, I think his game will come back pretty quickly.

It starts out as a technical issue and then it creeps in as a lack of confidence, for me. That’s what it did for me. But once you make the slight technical adjustment, the confidence comes back instantly.

And in his game, he didn’t think that there was some critical connection between his swing and short game. He felt that they were separate techniques (and, not that I would get an equal vote with the Short Game Magician, so do I).

No, not for me, because there’s a million ways — in my view — there’s a million ways to swing a golf club. We have got guys like Jim Furyk’s golf swing and Adam Scott’s golf swing and they both have tremendous command of their game, their swing, their ball flight. And those are totally different swings. And you can swing it a million different ways and be effective. I think that you can putt a million different ways and be effective.

But there’s only one way to chip effectively. So regardless of how you swing the club, regardless of how you putt, there’s only one way to chip, because the leading edge on a 60 degree wedge is coming into the ball first. And everything you do chipping is to get, keep the leading edge down. So, there’s three or four fundamentals on chipping that everybody has to do to chip well. No matter who you are. And it has nothing to do with your swing.

For what it’s worth, I have a pretty good short game too. Between that and my putting, that’s what kept my trying to qualify on the Champions Tour for nine years. Here are the fundamentals I adhere to in my short game:

  • The target dominates everything.
  • When I chip I use my sand wedge, when I pitch I use my lob wedge
  • My left (lead) hand dominates the motion. My right hand is only along for the ride to steady the club. (I just saw John Daly demonstrating this very thing on the Golf Channel the other day by hitting one-handed lob shots to an elevated green.)
  • It’s all about swinging the clubhead. I push the clubhead back and then drag it back through the ball. It has the feel of covering the ball with a descending stroke rather than picking the ball with any kind of lifting by the right hand. The only time I use the right hand is for flop shots and I rarely hit flop shots.
  • The rest is experimenting with combinations of ball position, opening the club face at address and swing size: move the ball forward and open the blade for high, soft shots with a bigger swing; move it further back and straighten the face for lower shots that have to carry more. Practice high lob shots to a tight pin because it requires the most freedom and everything else is easier from there.
  • As in putting, I always want an assertive, accelerating swing.
  • Allow it to evolve into right-brain artistry rather than left-brain pedantry. That’s far more important than the details.

I hope the totality of these ideas help…and that Tiger makes the cut this week.

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One Response to Phil Mickelson’s thoughts on Tiger’s dire short game problems

  1. Tom Basso says:

    Enjoyed the short game tips as well as Phil’s comments. I agree with all of them.