Tag Archives: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson 77 Disappoints at Torrey

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — Phil Mickelson’s walk around 51st-ranked Torrey Pines South didn’t go so well this morning. He chunked a chip on one hole, failed to get up and down on several others, and generally F-gamed his way to a first-round 77. Phil’s a three-time winner of what we’re now calling the Farmers Insurance Open, but he hasn’t won here since the South got a total makeover by Rees Jones in preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open. Last year, Phil came close, finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson.*

* I’ve got my golf-writer hat on, as you can see. This is classic first-round reportage — i.e., obsessive attention paid to a star golfer who has blown himself out of the tournament before the dew is off the grass.

Phil Mickelson

Good form in Wednesday presser didn't help Mickelson in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open. (John Garrity)

Mickelson’s close call in 2011 was memorable for the way he played the 72nd hole. Needing eagle to force a playoff, Phil sent caddie Bones Mackay up to the green to pull the flag before he hit his wedge from 72 yards. The grandstand spectators and the television audience ate it up, but there were skeptics — Philistines, if you will — who rolled their eyes. “He’s good,” they muttered, “but he’s not that good.”**

** I haven’t lost my touch with that old golf-writer standby, the totally-made-up quote. I can get away with it because it’s transparently bogus. Phil’s “skeptics” obviously didn’t mutter those seven words in unison, unless they were seated together in a greenside skybox, chanting under the direction of a skeptics-conductor — which you rarely see.

Or is he? Asked at his Wednesday press conference*** if he had really thought he might hole that wedge shot, Mickelson replied that, yeah, he did, because he practices a lot. “I practice flying my wedges to a specific yardage three days a week,” Lefty said. I hit over 1,500 golf balls and try to fly it within a yard or hit a target, and, for the most part, I’m able to fly it within a yard 90 percent of the time.****

*** This is one of the perks of golf writing. You can draft off another reporter’s good questions, and you don’t even have to credit that reporter. Sweet!

****Another golf-writer blessing. I can meet my assigned word count by simply quoting golfers and their caddies, throwing in an occasional “he said” or “he recalled” to prove that I’m “writing.” I don’t even have to attend the press conference; transcripts are provided in the press room and on line. I just have to make sure that the transcript is accurate.

I once puzzled over a transcript of my own interview with baseball great George Brett, which said that he “planned to rent a Vada house.” Turned out he was planning to “renovate” a house.

“So the fact that it landed close to the hole,” Mickelson continued “– it was supposed to. I mean, I work at that. That’s what I practice.

Elaborating, Mickelson said,****** “About a dozen times a year, I hit the pin with a wedge, and I end up getter a worse result because of it. [Dave} Pelz wants me to have the pin removed on every wedge shot.” Mickelson said he doesn’t do that******* “because it just looks bad. But the fact is that I hit the pin a dozen times a year, and probably eleven out of those twelve, the ball ends up in a worse spot because of it.”

******My three words, entirely.

******* I paraphrased here. Mickelson actually said, “which I won’t do because it just looks bad.”

“So two things,” Mickelson said. “I wanted to give it [the wedge shot] two chances to get in — one, trying to fly it in, and two, trying to back it up into the hole. And it came close.” He shrugged.******** “It didn’t go in, so what does it matter? But it came close.”

******** In golf writing, a shrug doesn’t necessarily mean shoulders. We count lifted eyebrows, a dismissive wave — even a backward-twitch of the ears.

So that’s my Mickelson report from Torrey Pines. If time and inclination permit, I’ll run over to the locker room to see if he has anything to say about today’s awful round. Or maybe I won’t. He might bite my head off!

Gotta go now. I smell burgers.

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Free-Lunch Reprise for Top 50 CEO

LA JOLLA, CALIF. — As you probably have heard, I paid something less than a hundred grand last year to have the consulting firm, Mackinsay & Company, find ways to enhance reader satisfaction while cutting costs at our Kansas City headquarters. Mackinsay, after making certain that my check had cleared, recommended that I fire forty staffers at Catch Basin and plunder the pensions of those lucky enough to keep their jobs.*

*Having just re-read A Christmas Carol, I rejected Mackinsay’s advice and gave every employee a Christmas goose and a copy of my latest book, Tour Tempo 2: The Short Game & Beyond, available as an e-book on all iPads, Kindles and Nooks.

Highland Links, Cape Breton Island

Top 50 courses like Cape Breton Island's Highland Links (above) could suffer if consultant's advice is followed. (John Garrity)

Mackinsay’s second recommendation called for a de-emphasis of golf course reviews (“because they’re closing more courses than they’re building”) offset by a boost in tour coverage (“because pro golfers get a lot more air time than golf architects do”). This advice made more sense, but I pointed out that qualified golf writers, such as I used to be, are paid immensely more than the quasi-galley slaves who work in my basement computer room.

Mackinsay’s rejoinder: “You only paid for two recommendations. A third will cost you forty thousand.”

So now that Mackinsay is out of the picture, I’m wrestling with a decision: Should I spend more time at pro tournaments, trying to extract something quotable from sweaty guys who spend most of their days in the hot sun? Or should I spend most of my time in the hot sun, playing the world’s greatest golf courses on behalf of my readers?

To help with that decision, I’ve put on my old reporter’s hat — the fedora with the press pass sticking out of the band — and planted my laptop on a black-fabric-draped table in the media center at the Farmers Insurance Open. I’m working for my old employer, Sports Illustrated, but I’m also here for you, my Top 50 readers. If something pops into my head that I am not contractually or ethically obligated to share with SI, I promise to share it with you.

Fortunately, nothing like that has yet popped into my head. And since it’s been a long day, I think I’ll pack up and drive over to the Del Mar Driving Range for a sunset bucket of balls.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but Phil Mickelson praised a couple of courses at his post-pro-am presser. “My favorite golf course out here is probably Hilton Head,” he said, referring to Pete Dye’s 51st-ranked Harbour Town Golf Links. “And I don’t even play there any more because it’s the week after the Masters.” Reminded that the U.S. Amateur was returning to 52nd-ranked Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Col., site of his 1990 Amateur triumph, Lefty said, “I loved that golf course. I thought it was spectacular. There is so much history there, from Palmer driving the green on 1, to Hogan backing up his wedge on 17 … you can’t help but feel it.”

Until prodded, Mickelson modestly left out his own contribution to Cherry Hills lore: his jaw-dropping concession of a 30-foot par putt on the first hole of his second-round match with perennial New Jersey amateur champ Jeff Thomas. “I’ll never forget the look that he gave me,” Mickelson recalled with a smile. “I ended up making a three- or four-foot birdie putt to win the hole.”

Those of us who were there remember that Mickelson minimized the length of his birdie try after the match, saying, “I wasn’t going to try to lag a two-footer. I thought it was a gimme.”

My contemporaneous account of Mickelson’s memorable week at Cherry Hills is in the SI Vault. Check it out.

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Post-Lottery Bounce for Augusta National

I fully intended to provide final-round coverage of the Course Designers Championship in Augusta, Ga., won by Phil Mickelson of Dallas-based Phil Mickelson Design. Unfortunately, I learned on Sunday that I was one of 28 winners of the Masters media lottery, my prize being a Monday round at seventh-ranked Augusta National Golf Club. With only 24 hours to prepare for my 11:40 tee time, I had no choice but to race through a column for Golf.com, rearrange my travel schedule, and then scarf down a few calories at T-Bonz with Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie.*

*The joint was so crowded that Bones and I had to communicate across several tables using hand signals, but I could tell from the way he mimicked my thumbs-up gesture that he had learned of my good fortune.

It is customary, I know, for writers playing Augusta National for the first time to file self-deprecating accounts of the experience. (If that’s your cup of tea, I highly recommend the breezy, self-flagellating reportage of Chicago Tribune golf writer Teddy Greenstein, who was a member of my foursome.) I, however — mindful of how little space a blog affords the writer — must confine myself to a few highlights. My booming drive on No. 1, for example, which produced whistles of awe from the starters and caddies, carrying far up on the flat. (See my privately-published monograph, “Conquering First Tee Jitters.”) Or my 7-iron on the watery par-3 16th, a tightly-drawn flier that hit the spot I had picked out on the green and funneled down toward the flagstick, stopping two feet from the hole.

Augusta National No. 12

The par-3 12th at Augusta National. (John Garrity)

I was at my best, however, on the par-5 15th, one of the most famous risk-reward holes in golf. Drawing upon my inner Gary Van Sickle, I pounded a long drive up the right side. When I got to my ball, which rested on a relatively flat patch of fairway looking down on Rae’s Creek and a flagstick planted back-right on a wide-but-shallow green, I paused, feigning indecision. Then, with a tight-lipped smile, I turned to my caddie. “Bruce,” I said, “I didn’t come 5,000 miles to lay up.”

Heartened by this display of bravado, Bruce told me I had “195 to the front and 205 to the flag.” Nodding, I pulled the headcover off my hybrid-4 Rescue club, brushed the grass a couple of times with nonchalant practice swings, and then made a Tour Tempo-perfect pass at the ball. The feel at impact was sublime. I watched the shot trace across the distant pines with a feeling of deep contentment — similar, I imagine, to what Mickelson felt on Sunday, when he hit his instantly-legendary 6-iron off the pine straw and twixt the tree trunks on No. 13. My shot was probably struck a little better than Phil’s; it flew precisely 205 yards and landed by the flagstick. Unfortunately, the hole was cut pointlessly close to the back fringe, allowing my ball to skip off the back and run down the tightly-mowed bank. I had to settle for a par.

Was I upset? Not at all. I have studied Alister MacKenzie’s work long enough to know that he labored long and hard to achieve a certain capriciousness in his designs. Sometimes the perfectly struck shot will be punished. That’s how it should be. That’s how you want it to be if you’re a Scotsman fed up with Highlands winters, scratchy kilts and dour neighbors.

Anyway, I found Augusta National to be immaculately groomed and eminently fair from the members‘ tees. I was so impressed, in fact, that I filled out my Top 50 rating sheet in the Champions Locker Room and faxed it off to the Cal Sci number crunchers. A few hours later, they sent me their reply by text: “Augusta National climbs 5 rungs to second! Pebble slides to 7th!”

The Tom Fazio-designed Augusta National Practice Range, meanwhile, holds on to the 47th spot, permanently displacing Oakmont Country Club.

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