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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Phil Going Forward

Since Sunday, the futures of Tiger and Phil have been debated without much perspective. In an effort to restore some balance, I looked at Tiger yesterday and I'm looking at Phil today. Maybe you'll even learn some things from each post that can help your own game.

Phil and Amy at the 2005 PGAWhether you're a Phil fan or not, you have to appreciate what he's done. He's the only player during the Tiger Woods era to have won 40 PGA tournaments, which ties him for 9th all time, and he's won all 4 of his majors with Tiger in the field. He's won at least one tournament in each of the last 9 years. And as the announcers reminded us endlessly during the last round of the AT&T, Phil has beaten Tiger the last 5 times they've been heads-up in the final round... and Phil has won 3 of those tournaments while Tiger has won none of them. No one else can make such claims.

That makes it all the more amazing that Phil has doubted himself lately. He credited wife Amy for picking him up when he got down about it. As this article at the San Diego Union-Tribune site quoted (you may have heard Phil say this during his after-round presser):
“It’s one of the more emotional victories for me that I’ve had,” Mickelson said, “and the reason is I’ve had some doubt these last couple of weeks, given the scores I’ve shot, yet practicing and having these great sessions … I started to wonder if I was going to be able to bring it to the golf course. So this gives me a lot of confidence and erases that doubt.”
Phil has been more successful against Tiger than any other player, yet he's still fighting self-doubt. Perhaps it comes from all the beatings he took before he became a challenge for Tiger:
Mickelson’s tone was respectful, not boastful, and he later, smiling broadly, said of dominating Woods, “It’s only been in the last five years. Before, I got spanked pretty good.”
And yet he seeks those pairings. People have questioned whether Phil really means it when he says he looks forward to them, but Butch Harmon says he does and so does Amy:
After 15 years of marriage and hundreds of rounds watched, Amy Mickelson can tell from one moment to the next how her husband, Phil, is feeling and what he is thinking. She can tell you if his putting stroke is smooth or analyze the quality of his shotmaking.

She also can tell you what’s in Phil’s heart, and this was her perspective on the pairing of Mickelson with his rival, Tiger Woods, in Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

“I know he wanted that pairing, let me put it that way,” Amy Mickelson said. “He loves to play with Tiger. Loves it.

It shows.
So what do we make of Phil Mickelson? He's got psoriatic arthritis and his family has faced serious health problems of their own over the last couple of years. He's been through putting problems that have caused some to call him the worst putting great champion in the history of the game. And let's not forget that he's 42. No matter how many times the media says "the ball doesn't know how old you are," it's clear they don't really believe it. If so, they wouldn't be so surprised when a player like Phil plays like he did Sunday.

In some ways I think the arthritis may help him. I'm pretty sure it's a factor in his decision to become less technical in his game -- after all, I'm sure he's had to reduce his practice time somewhat, and that probably cuts down on his ability to tinker. His already incredible short game will probably get even better since short game practice doesn't strain your body the way full swing practice does. And like Tiger, I suspect his game will become much more strategic and depend less on length, which will probably make him more accurate off the tee. (As it did last week. Pebble doesn't require length, and Phil averaged only slightly more than 272 for the week -- and a mere 246 during that monster round on Sunday when he hit 93% of his fairways.)

I don't know if Phil will ever get the career Grand Slam, but I won't be surprised if he picks up at least 2 or 3 more majors. Jack's record may be in danger -- not the 18 majors, but the 6 Masters! And guess who'll probably break that one?

So I'm looking for Phil and Tiger to compete against each other for quite a while. They may not be the great friends Jack and Arnold are -- yet -- but their relationship has changed over the years and I won't be surprised if it eventually becomes closer than anyone expects. Rory and all the other youngsters may tease us with their potential, but it's going to be a while before we see another twosome like this. Don't be surprised if Tiger and Phil come to recognize that as well.

The photo came from this page in About.com's golf section.

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