There were no tears this time, nor were there any untimely
three-putts or 72nd-hole daggers. Phil Mickelson had just come
in third in the Masters for the third straight year, but his
four-under-par 68 was his best-ever final round at Augusta
National, and even though he finished two strokes out of the
playoff between Len Mattiace and Mike Weir, at five under,
Mickelson sounded like the next best thing to a winner. "It's
fun to have a chance at winning," he said. "You can't look at
success in terms of wins and losses. You have to look at it on
your own terms. Today was a successful day for me. I played
well enough to win, but two guys played better." It is a
testament to Mickelson's prodigious gifts that he was even in
contention, given what he has been through in the last couple
of months. He took off all of March so he could help his wife,
Amy, through a difficult pregnancy. Mickelson, who missed the
cut at the BellSouth Classic the week before the Masters, has
spoken about his wife's ordeal on several occasions but hadn't
revealed the severity of the situation. Amy was on bed rest
during the final two months of the pregnancy and was due to
deliver the couple's third child during the third week of
March. After going into labor twice that week without
delivering, doctors induced her to give birth to a seven-pound,
nine-ounce son, Evan Samuel, on March 30. Amy spent two days in
intensive care, and the baby was there for three days before
they returned home together.
"In a less sophisticated time, neither Amy nor the baby would
have made it through this," said Mickelson's father, Phil Sr.
"Things were not too good at the hospital. It was so close that I
don't think Phil would want to even talk about it."
Mickelson had played some pretty good golf before taking his
leave, having had four top 10 finishes in five starts, but the
season has not gone as smoothly from a public relations
standpoint. The contretemps he created in February with his snide
remarks about Tiger Woods's "inferior" equipment gave way to a
familiar discourse on why Mickelson thought it noteworthy that he
was driving the ball farther than Woods. Butch Harmon, who is
Woods's coach but who has worked with Mickelson as well, said
during a recent appearance on the Golf Channel that he believed
Mickelson was "obsessed with distance." Harmon did not back away
from that characterization last week.
"He is obsessed with distance," Harmon said. "Phil needs to
change if he wants to win a major championship. Look at the two
best players who ever lived, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Both
are very long, but they dialed back their length so they could
win majors. Phil needs to do the same thing, but for some reason
he doesn't want to."
April 20, 2003
The statistics support Harmon. During Mickelson's 10 full years
on Tour, he has never finished lower than 36th in driving
distance, yet his average rank in driving accuracy has been
118th. In seven starts this year Mickelson is third on Tour in
distance (304.8 yards) but 174th in accuracy (52.7%). Mickelson
was just as wayward last week. He was second in the Masters field
in distance (295.2 yards) but hit the fairway only 53.6% of the
time, which put him next to last among the players who made the
cut. Weir, by way of contrast, was 24.1 yards shorter off the tee
on average, but he hit the fairway 74.5% of the time.
Given all this, you'd think the last thing Mickelson would be
looking for is a few more yards. Yet while practicing last summer
at the Titleist test center in Carlsbad, Calif., he requested a
new shaft for his driver so he could hit the ball even farther.
"Phil has that all-out mentality," says Larry Bobka, Titleist's
senior vice president of golf-club promotion and the man who
works closely with Mickelson on his equipment. "Some players
might stand on the tee and hit a three-quarter shot to get the
ball in the fairway. Phil wants to hit the 100 percent shot and
bomb his drive down there."
Mickelson acknowledged last week that hitting the driver so hard
leaves him "less margin of error," but he admitted that he's
searching for ways to hit the ball farther still. "I'm looking
five, 10 years down the road," he said. "I see these guys coming
out of college with a lot of strength. Guys like Hank Kuehne can
fly the ball 345 yards and still chip and putt. If I don't keep
up, I'm going to be out of a job." That's Lefty for you. Everyone
else on Tour is sweating Tiger Woods, but he's sweating Hank Kuehne.
Until Mickelson wins his first major--the Masters was his 43rd
without a victory--such comments make him an easy target. Yet he
remains unfazed. He appeared more amused than angry when he
learned that SI had commissioned six swing coaches to pinpoint
his swing flaws for its Masters Preview issue. "People keep
criticizing my swing, but I really have stopped worrying about
it," Mickelson said.
Predictably, Rick Smith, Mickelson's coach, bristled at the
critiques, even as he confirmed their accuracy. Pointing to T.J.
Tomasi's analysis of Lefty's right knee, which tends to jut out
when he gets to the top of his backswing, Smith said, "That's
about lower-body stabilization. We've been working on that."
Smith also said that he had tried to correct Mickelson's other
major flaw--a late wrist cock--but decided to leave it alone
after it became evident that the change disrupted Mickelson's
feel and timing.
"What none of these teachers seem to understand is that Phil is
an artist," Smith said. "If you get too mechanical with him, it's
like taking away the paintbrush. When he has great feel and flow
and he's releasing the club aggressively, he's at his best.
There's a reason why he has won 21 times."
Even Smith concedes that Mickelson's shortcomings occur when he's
trying to rip a long drive. That's what makes his fixation on
length so bewildering. For example, during the third round of the
Masters, Mickelson missed seven fairways--some quite badly--and
he had to sink four difficult par-saving putts to salvage a 72
that left him one under for the tournament and four shots off the
lead. After the round Mickelson said that "interestingly enough,
some of the best-struck shots I've had [during the first three
rounds] led to bogeys, and some of the unsolid shots have led to
Mickelson is also trying to transform his body. Most of his daily
workouts with Sean Cochran, a 31-year-old personal trainer who
has been a strength and conditioning coach with the San Diego
Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers, focus on Mickelson's core, the
area between his chest and knees. Cochran's regimen includes
martial-arts drills, and though Mickelson has not brought his
all-out mentality to that discipline, his father says, in all
seriousness, that the training will "certainly help him should he
ever get into any type of confrontation."
Mickelson would've loved to have done battle with Mattiace and
Weir on Sunday, but as those two were going to the 10th tee to
begin their playoff, Mickelson was heading toward the Augusta
National clubhouse. Along the way he bantered cheerfully with a
young autograph-seeker who asked for a ball or a glove. Mickelson
said he was sorry, but he had nothing to give, telling the
youngster that he "should walk with us next time, because I give
out stuff during the round."
Beyond that, Mickelson was making no apologies. He hadn't won a
green jacket, but this time he had gone down swinging.
"In a less sophisticated time, neither Amy nor the baby would
have made it through [childbirth]," said Mickelson's father.
"Phil is obsessed with distance," says Harmon. "He needs to
change if he wants to win a major championship."