Phil Mickelson is an amazing talent who has 20 Tour victories
and the No. 2 spot in the World Ranking, but a pair of nagging
questions persist: What accounts for the gap between him and the
top-ranked Tiger Woods, and why hasn't Mickelson won a major?
The answer to both questions is the same, as was abundantly
clear at Bay Hill on Sunday. Mickelson needs to learn what Hal
Sutton, a former pupil of mine, told me is the key to success on
Tour: "You've got to know when to put your foot on the gas and
when to put it on the brake." Too often, Mickelson has the pedal
to the metal, and we're not talking about the brake. At the
par-5 16th hole he hooked his drive into the trees and caught a
lie amid twigs and leaves. One stroke behind Woods at the time,
Mickelson should have played out toward the fairway, leaving
himself a 150- to 200-yard third shot and a chance at birdie.
Instead he went for broke (above), attempting a low-rising
slicey-hooky to a green fronted by water and framed by O.B. The
predictable result: Mickelson's ball flew into the water, and he
bogeyed the hole--plus 17 and 18--and fell into a tie for third.
HOME COOKING A favorite equation for success on Tour is
Potential minus Interference equals Performance. Woods has
unlimited potential as a golfer, but even by his lofty standards
he performs unusually well in hometown events. He has won three
consecutive starts at Bay Hill and two of six appearances at the
Disney because being in Orlando allows him to avoid most of the
interference he encounters on the road. Bay Hill is a couple of
miles from Isleworth, where Woods lives. Instead of having to
dodge paparazzi and glad-hand hotel bellmen, Tiger gets to sleep
in his own bed and work out in his home gym. Rather than being
reduced to room service, Woods can dine at one of his favorite
restaurants, Morton's Steakhouse (where he was spotted on Sunday
night), or invite himself to dinner at neighbor Mark O'Meara's
house. Best of all, Woods can avoid the frenzied driving range
at Bay Hill, cruising from his house to the adjacent Isleworth
practice area in a golf cart equipped with a stereo and seven
IN YOUR FACE I'm often put in delicate interview situations,
like the one involving Mickelson and his stunning decision at
16. These Q and A's can be as challenging for TV reporters as
they are for golfers because the players are still juiced up
when they step off the course. Being honest and concise usually
elicits a poignant response, like Mickelson's when asked about
his mind-set at 16. "The only shot I had was at the green," he
said. That wasn't exactly accurate, but it revealed a larger
truth about Mickelson: The only way he's going to stop beating
himself down the stretch is to occasionally be less aggressive
and play the percentages.
Gary Smith is a golf commentator for ABC and one of Golf
Magazine's Top 100 Teachers
Playing your best transcends the physical. You also need solid
course management, so here's a four-step checklist for when you
find yourself in an awkward position.
1. Quantify the lie. Ask yourself questions such as, Can I make
solid contact? Can I control the trajectory and spin? The
answers will help you determine the risk and potential reward of
any shot you may choose.
2. Pick the correct target. Gauge the choices and what the
percentages are for each. The first goal is to get back into
play, preferably in the fairway. Advancing the ball is
secondary. Mickelson erred by picking the riskiest target (red
target) and firing at the flag instead of choosing a safe, smart
play (green target) back to the fairway.
3. Evaluate the risk. Figure out the best- and worst-case
scenario. My rule is, Don't try a shot unless you're sure you
can execute it at least two thirds of the time.
4. Play for the future. One shot doesn't win a tournament, but
it can cost you one. Unless you're trying to make up two or more
strokes on the final hole, play chess (taking it one shot at a
time) and not craps (risking everything on one swing).
Overzealous gamblers usually end up on skid row.