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Opinion & Analysis

The 2012 Masters champion could have easily been a different lefty

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It’s said that a player needs a break to win a major championship. In Phil Mickelson’s case at the 2012 Masters, it took two bad breaks for him not to win.

Mickelson did something neither Bubba Watson nor Louis Ooosthuizen did during the 72 holes of this year’s Masters tournament. He made a triple bogey. Actually, he made two, and he still only finished two shots out of the playoff and a possible fourth Green Jacket.

Not to take anything away from Bubba, whose creativity allowed him to make 19 birdies at Augusta National Golf Club without carding anything worse than a bogey. But Mickelson was the original Bubba, or the “Second Seve,” depending on your generation.

Pure Mickelson, to me, was the third shot Lefty played on No. 15 in Round 3 of the tournament. Mickelson bombed a drive down the middle of the par-5 15th, but his second shot bounced over the green, setting up one of the most delicate chip shots on the course. From a tight lie with water behind and little green to work with, Mickelson made a full slash with his wide-opened 64-degree wedge, which seemed like an impossible amount of swing speed for such a short shot. A nod to the gods? No, this shot went high enough to touch them. And when the ball came down, it landed a few feet from the cup and set up a short birdie putt that Mickelson converted in route to his third-round 66.

But with Mickelson, there are most always high highs and low lows. In Round 1, he found disaster at No. 10, a 495-yard par 4, where he hit his tee shot miles left into the trees. Despite the huge gallery that he always draws, no one was able to find his ball. If they had, Mickelson could have likely found a way to salvage at least bogey or double-bogey. But a little bad luck sent him back to the tee and resulted in a triple-bogey seven.

On Sunday, Mickelson had three chances to make birdie putts on the first three holes, but was unable to convert any of them. The leaderboard had changed dramatically in that short time. Oosthuizen holed out for double eagle on No. 2, the first deuce recorded on No. 2 in Masters history, vaulting him to the top of the leader board at 10-under. Third-round leader Peter Hanson got off to a sluggish start, falling to 7-under after three holes, three shots back of Oosthuizen and one back of Mickelson.

Mickelson said that his strategy as he approached No. 4, a 240-yard par 4, was to hit a 4 iron either on the left edge of the green, in the left bunker or even on the hill to the left of the bunker. From there, he could easily get up and down for par, he said. But his shot struck the metal railing of the grand stands to the left of the green and bounded into the trees. A shot in the grand stands would have been fine — he would have gotten a free drop. A shot that landed just short in the crowd would have been fine as well. With his short game, Lefty would have probably made at worst a bogey, probably a par. But’s that’s not what happened.

Mickelson was in a tough spot. His ball was buried deep enough that he was forced to lift his ball to identify it. Once he was sure it was his, had had to choose between three unpleasant options.

No. 1 — Play the shot right handed, and try to chop his ball a few yards forward into an unobstructed area where he could pitch over the greenside bunker and onto the green.

No. 2 — Take an unplayable lie, which he said did still not allow him to make a backswing.

No. 3 — Go back to the tee and try again (he would be hitting his third shot).

Mickelson, as he almost always does, went with the riskier shot, No. 1. He flipped his lefty club upside down and chopped at his Callaway right handed. The ball moved a foot or so forward — not much improvement. He was forced to play a similar shot, again right handed, one that almost hit him in the left leg as it scampered a few yards toward the green. Mickelson, now playing his fourth shot from tight, trampled down grass, attempted his signature super flop, but was not as successful as he was the previous round. He hit the shot slightly fat, which put him in the greenside bunker lying four. He nearly holed that shot, setting up a tiny putt for triple-bogey six.

A conservative estimate is that Mickelson’s two bad breaks cost him three shots — one shot in Round 1 where he lost a ball, two shots in Round 4 where he hit the grand stands. In reality, however, the bad breaks probably cost him more. But the conservative estimate of three shots still would have given him his fourth Green Jacket.

Should Mickelson have gone back to the tee on No. 4 in the fourth round, which should have resulted in no worse than a double-bogey on the hole? Probably. But that’s not Mickelson’s style. Fans think of Lefty as a swashbuckler — a gambler who sometimes doesn’t know when to fold ’em. But like his flop shot in Round 3 on No. 15, Mickelson pulls off shots other players can’t, and more importantly, he prepares as thoroughly as anyone to help his imagination become reality.

A good example of Mickelson’s meticulous nature is an iron shaft switch he made during the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Since the mid 1990s, Mickelson had been using Project X shafts in his irons. But at Doral, he put a set of KBS shafts in his 4-PW. The change was helped by the relationship between Mickelson and Kim Braly, designer of KBS (Kim Braly shafts). Braly was lead designer of the Project X iron shaft as well, and the person that fit Mickelson for his iron shafts more than a decade ago. In 2008, Braly started KBS, and Mickelson briefly tried the company’s KBS Tour shafts at that time. He liked the shafts in his long irons, but said his mid irons and short irons put too much spin on the ball, and opted to return to his Project X shafts.

Braly and his team worked hard to develop a lower-launching, lower-spinning product for Mickelson, which became the KBS Tour V2. The midsection of the stepped shafts is slightly wider in diameter than the KBS Tour shafts (about 0.1 inch), which accounts for the difference in performance.

What separates Mickelson from other players on Tour is the way Mickelson tests his irons. Lefty tests each club individually, where as a player like Ernie Els switched to a full set KBS shafts after hitting a few shots with his 6 iron. Mickelson’s testing process resulted in him using the original KBS Tour shaft in his 3 and 4 iron (x-flex, 130 grams, tipped 1 inch), while using the KBS Tour V2 shafts in his 5-PW. But Mickelson’s shafts weren’t the only things to change — the switch also forced him to change the lie angle on his irons. During testing, Mickelson noticed that his shots were flying more consistently, but slightly to his right at launch. Braly said that this was because the new and more stable shaft doesn’t “droop” as much at impact, and he suggested that Mickelson have his clubs bent 1 degree flatter to account for the change.

“A lot of players would have seen the ball start a little off their target line and gone back to what they were comfortable with,” Braly said. “But not Phil. He’s very excited about the new shafts, and worked hard to get them right.”

Braly and Mickelson still have some work to do according to Braly to get the 3 iron and 4 iron shafts perfect, and fit Lefty for KBS shafts in his 56-degree and 64-degree wedges.

Like the game of golf itself, equipment changes seem to be a never-ending quest for perfection for Mickelson. After all, he’s the guy who switched equipment sponsors shortly before the 2004 Ryder Cup, played two drivers when he won the 2006 Masters and played the 2008 U.S. Open without a driver in the bag. He’s not scared to try any club, and likewise, not scared of any shot.

This week Mickelson should have won his fourth Masters title, but for one reason or another, it wasn’t meant to be. But one thing’s for sure — at 41, he’s still trying to get better. And win or lose, he’s always fun to watch.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum.

You can follow Zak on Twitter @zakkoz.

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Zak is the Editor-in-Chief of GolfWRX.com. He's been a part of the company since 2011, when he was hired to lead GolfWRX's Editorial Department. Zak developed GolfWRX's Featured Writer Program, which supports aspiring writers and golf industry professionals. He played college golf at the University of Richmond (Go Spiders!) and still likes to compete in tournaments. You can follow Zak on Twitter @ZakKoz, where he's happy to discuss his game and all the cool stuff that's part of his job.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Jim England

    Jun 18, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Please answer with projected cost!

  2. Jim England

    Jun 18, 2012 at 9:30 am

    See above!

  3. Jim England

    Jun 18, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I would like to be fitted for a full set of KBS Tour V.2 X-Flex Shafts. 4 thru PW. and three pitching wedge’s.

    What would be the price for this fit?

    I live in St Petersburg, Florida, is there a pro-shop close by?

    Thanks.
    Jim

  4. Jim

    Apr 14, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I was right under Phil’s ball on # 4… if it hadn’t hit that high on the stands it would have still have most likely ended up in the same place. Same said if it had hit the hill… it slopes severely right to where his ball ended up.

    I was very surprised the bamboo thicket wasn’t marked as a hazard… it certainly looks like a bog down there.

    Anyways his ball was left and going letter… he didn’t get a bad break.

  5. Pingback: The 2012 Masters champion could have easily been a different lefty « wgtgolf

  6. Pingback: The 2012 Masters champion could have easily been a different lefty | Augusta Blog

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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Podcasts

TG2: What’s the most annoying breach of golf etiquette?

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What’s the one breach of golf etiquette that gets under your skin more than anything else? Equipment expert Brian Knudson and GolfWRX Editor Andrew Tursky discuss what drives them crazy. Also, Knudson talks about his first round with new irons and a new shaft in his driver.

Follow @tg2wrx on Instagram to enter the Bettinardi inovai 5.0 center-shaft putter giveaway.

Listen to the full podcast below on SoundCloud, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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