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Mickelson finally wins in Europe: Is he Open ready?

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Phil Mickelson is not the greatest golfer in history, but he is almost definitely the most exciting.

Golf fans love Mickelson for the same reason they cannot get enough of shows like “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad” — the suspense and uncertainty around every corner is addicting. And his performance Sunday at the Scottish Open was like a mid-season episode — it answered some of the major questions about Mickelson, but also posed even more maddening ones.

It took a double-bogey on the first hole, a smattering of birdies, a mental-lapse, a three-putt on the 72nd hole and a magnificent playoff up-and-down birdie, but Mickelson finally broke his second most maddening career schneid to his U.S. Open shortcomings: European winlessness. And he did not do it at one of the many Americanized courses the European Tour now puts on its schedule, but at Castle Stuart Golf Links, the North Sea-side firm-and-fast modern classic designed by Gil Hanse that opened just four years ago.

Surely there’s some mistake, most golf fans wonder. Phil Mickelson winning on a firm, windy links course?

Yes. This victory comes better late than never for Mickelson, who seems to be learning new tricks even in his 40s. It cracks open a door of possibility long thought closed by fans and pundits alike: the Open Championship. Mickelson could not have won Sunday at Castle Stuart without both a mature understanding of how to play links golf and the ability to execute the shots that it requires.

But fans and analysts have been sucked in before by the “Phil’s on form; he’s going to win a(nother) major!” narrative before, only to be disappointed by a relative dud of a showing. Mickelson’s radical inconsistency is so hard to accept because the golf world knows just how scary good he can be.

On top of all that, the adage about it being all but impossible to win the week before a major and then win that major hangs over this victory. Die-hard Mickelson fans may well have been rooting against him late Sunday in order to have that extra little bit of zeal for this week’s Open Championship at Muirfield.

And yet — surprise, surprise! — Mickelson’s career defies that nearly iron law as well. He is one of the few players who has made a major championship his second win in as many weeks. In 2006, he took the BellSouth Classic on April 2. A week later, he captured his second Masters. It turns out that the course that held the former event, the TPC at Sugarloaf outside Atlanta, is similar in key ways to Augusta National– very little rough, scooped-out bunkers, lots of water, large and undulating greens.

Castle Stuart is a very true links course. There is perhaps no truer links in the world, save The Old Course, than Muirfield. Will Phil make his first Open Championship an encore? Tune in later this week for the thrilling conclusion to his career’s latest act, but do not be surprised to be left scratching your head once again.

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Tim grew up outside of Hartford, Conn., playing most of his formative golf at Hop Meadow Country Club in the town of Simsbury. He played golf for four years at Washington & Lee University (Division-III) and now lives in Pawleys Island, S.C., and works in nearby Myrtle Beach in advertising. He's not too bad on Bermuda greens, for a Yankee. A lifelong golf addict, he cares about all facets of the game of golf, from equipment to course architecture to PGA Tour news to his own streaky short game.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Bart carter

    Jul 17, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I can’t stand “Breaking Bad” or “Homeland” and I’m not fussy ’bout Mickelson either,just cain’t see him winning “The Open”

  2. cdvilla

    Jul 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I would have like Phil chances better had he finished in the Top 5 and NOT won. He looked pretty comfortable out there so as always, I give him a puncher’s chance of pulling it off.

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Golf's Perfect Imperfections

Golf’s Perfect Imperfections: The best drill in golf (throwing the club)

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If you are struggling with weight shift, clearing your hips, or have issues freeing up your golf swing, then what you want to do is start chucking that golf club. No joke! In this podcast, we will explain how to properly throw the golf club from a safe area and the results will be absolutely transformational.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: A New No. 1 – How Justin Thomas overcame a poor putting performance

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In the final tuneup before the PGA Championship in San Francisco, many of the world’s best teed it up at Memphis’ TPC Southwind in the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. The final day showcased a stacked leaderboard and plenty of volatility, but in the end, it was Justin Thomas who came from four back to win for the third time this year. This was a quick bounceback after a letdown at The Memorial just a few weeks ago. Winning on the PGA Tour certainly takes stellar play and, typically, a little luck like Thomas’ pulled drive on 15 that skirted off a cart path, over a bridge and into prime position for a late birdie. Had that tee ball found the hazard instead, this article would likely be about Brooks Koepka and his late charge.

Golf is a game of misses and taking advantage of good breaks. That is not to take away from JT’s week of stellar ball striking. He finished the week first in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green and second in Strokes Gained Approach. That’s no surprise for the new number one in the world. What is surprising is how poorly Thomas putted throughout the week. It is extremely rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes to the field with the putter, but that is exactly what Thomas did.

In Ways to Win, it is rare that we highlight Short Game as a differentiating factor for winners. That is typically because to excel in the short game, one has to miss quite a few greens. When you miss greens, it’s hard to score. However, Justin Thomas was able to consistently get himself out of difficult situations, minimize damage, and turn bogeys into pars throughout his four rounds.

If you want to be an elite player, you can’t do it with your short game alone. It sure comes in handy on those off days, though. Just how good was Thomas’ short game? He finished fourth for the week in Strokes Gained Around the Green and got up and down inside 75 yards more than 80 percent of the time (including several clutch up and downs late on Sunday). His touch was particularly crucial, given that his putter wasn’t really cooperating.

Again, it is very rare for a PGA Tour winner to lose strokes with the flatstick. Typically the winner is the best putter out of the best ball strikers, but not so this week. Thomas only three-putted twice for the week. However, he lost strokes to the field from three out of nine distance buckets that we analyzed using V1 Game’s putting breakdown.

In four other buckets, he was almost “net zero” in strokes gained with the putter. He only gained strokes with the putter from inside six feet. Making short putts is certainly a big key to golfing success. That is why short misses are highlighted in V1 Game’s post-round analysis: missing short putts is a quick way to compound errors. Thomas is not an elite putter by any means, but he is typically solid in the clutch.

V1 Game makes it easy to keep track of personal bests and track progress in a tournament. Any stat that the PGA Tour gives can be recreated with V1 Game. Here are some quick stats for Thomas’ week using V1 Game’s Personal Bests feature:

Total Score: 267
Best Round: 65
Worst Round: 70
Longest Drive: 347 yds
Longest Holeout: 28 ft
Most consecutive holes without a bogey: 24
Scrambling Streak: 9 in a row
Holes without a 3 putt: 20
Most birdies in a round: 6

Thomas certainly played well when it mattered, resisting the urge to look at a scoreboard throughout the final round and focusing on the job at hand. His patience paid off with his 13th victory in a young career. Short game play is a fantastic equalizer and a great tool for any golfer’s bag. However, Thomas really separates himself with ball striking.

The best way to improve your short game is to miss fewer greens, like JT. For most amateurs, short game practice should focus on eliminating mistakes, such as “two-chips” when you do miss the green. Once you can consistently get on the green and have a putt to get up and down, focus should shift to the long game. Tee to Green play is where the game’s best separate themselves from the weekend warriors.

V1 Game can help you with each of these items.

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On Spec

On Spec: Talking Kirkland wedge, LPGA Tour, and teased irons from TaylorMade & Mizuno

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In this episode of On Spec, host Ryan talks about the recently discovered Kirkland Signature wedges on the USGA Conforming list, as well as what recently spotted TaylorMade and Mizuno irons may have in store
Also with the LPGA Tour back in action, Ryan also discussed why it is a good idea to check out how LPGA players gap their bags compared to players on the PGA Tour.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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