It was big news in the golf instruction industry when Phil Mickelson decided to part ways with long-time coach Butch Harmon and hired Andrew Getson to take over. Mickelson was not exactly performing poorly by normal Tour standards, as he made 16 out of 19 cuts and finished 48th in Adjusted Scoring Average for the season. But Mickelson’s seasons are judged by victories and performance in the majors, and Phil may have felt that there was a need to change after two winless seasons.

As a golf statistician, I wanted to look at Phil’s performance from this past season along with his performance in his most recent “big” season, 2013, when he won the British Open, finished 12th in Adjusted Scoring Average and earned nearly $5.5 million. I would assume that performance in 2013 is something that Phil wants to get back to.

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While the two most important metrics in the chart above are Par-4 Scoring Average and Bogey Rate, it’s always good to look at all of the metrics to help paint a more clear picture of what is going on with the golfer’s game. In Phil’s case, the drop-off in Par-4 Scoring Average and Bogey rate is dramatic and needs to be addressed.

For most of Phil’s career, he’s been a great iron player and a weak driver of the ball with fantastic ability to get up-and-down. So I would immediately wonder how his typical game is playing a factor in this decline in performance. The silver lining in all of this, however, is that he can still make a lot of birdies.

DRIVING DATA

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The driving metrics are interesting because the only sub-category of metrics that Phil was better in this season was driving distance. He ended up 74th in Driving Effectiveness, however, the main reason being is that Mickelson ranked third in terms of driving difficulty schedule. I have found it easy for a Tour player to fall in the trap of thinking he is not performing well in a certain area of the game when the reality is that the difficulty has amplified. He can actually be doing well in terms of his performance versus the rest of the field.

For instance, TPC Summerlin is one of the most difficult courses to hit short-game shots (inside 30 yards) on the entire Tour schedule. Thus, I remind my clients to not get too down on themselves if they are not hitting their short-game shots close. The make percentage on the greens is higher, too, so they can save par anyway. This may have been a problem for Phil. He may have felt that his driving performance was not improving, but in reality the conditions and course designs were more difficult than they have been in the past.

APPROACH SHOT DATA

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Iron play has usually been Phil’s greatest strength, and it was on display in the 2013 season. It is becoming a weakness now, however. The drop-off is larger from 100-150 yards, but the smart move would be to work on his performance from 175-225 yards, because that will have a bigger influence on lowering his scores.

And just so we can make sure that his drop in iron play is not due to missing more fairways, here is his performance from the fairway versus the rough.

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Also, there was a new metric that I started to record this year: Scoring Average on Dogleg Left Holes versus Dogleg Right Holes versus Straight-Away Par-4’s (adjusted based on hole difficulty).

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I find these metrics interesting. Phil’s overall driving has improved, but while he hits a ball that curves from right-to-left his performance on the DogLeg left Par-4’s is much worse.

While I am in the initial stages of studying the doglegs versus the straight-away par-4’s, the initial analysis shows that more of the very long Par-4’s (460+ yards) tend to be DogLeg left holes. With Phil’s performance from 150-225 yards regressing, that may explain why he has struggled on the dogleg left par-4’s this past season. And that regression on longer approach shots would help explain his struggles on the par-3’s, as par-3 play is one part iron play, one part short game and one part putting outside 20-feet.

SHORT GAME DATA

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Phil’s Total Short Game performance has regressed mainly because he has regressed most from the most important distance, 10-20 yards. This would play a bigger factor in his struggles on the Par-3’s and his ability to avoid bogeys on the Par-4’s. Essentially, he is not hitting as many GIR because of his iron play, and cannot hit his short game shots close enough to put himself in good position to save par.

PUTTING DATA

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Phil still putted well in 2015, so I don’t think that is a big issue. In fact, the history on Tour shows he was not likely to sustain his putting from outside 15-feet regardless of what he did after the 2013 season.

I expect Phil to continue to work on his driving, which is not necessarily a bad idea. However, he made nearly $5.5 million and won a major while driving the ball poorly in 2013. I think the better move is to focus on getting his iron play back, particularly from 150-225 yards, and see if they can regain his old short game form.

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22 COMMENTS

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  1. Great article. Another good read from Rich! Really interested to see the findings on dog legs. I’m thinking that you may see better scoring with players that shape the ball against the shape of the hole. Ie misses will more likely be on the ‘far side’ of the dog leg!

  2. […] Why Phil Mickelson wants to switch from Butch Harmon to Andrew Getson Many people questioned whether Phil should be firing one of the best coaches in the world, but by looking at his stats one can see why he’s looking for answers he might not be getting from Butch. Let’s compare Phil’s great 2013 season to 2014/15… Here are a few key stats broken down very well by Golfwrx in this article […]

  3. I enjoyed the analysis! It is very interesting to see stuff like this and number do not lie. I wonder how much is rheumatoid arthritis has played into his ability to be able to practice and play as often as he would like? I would assume that someone with his condition has good and bad days.

  4. Bomb-and-Gouge is a dead strategy, Phil. The wear from it has probably given you poor feel, hence the poor short game.

    Put the weeny away and just start hitting fairways and greens. And learn a genuine smile.

  5. Phil won $5.5 million in 2013 based largely on wins at the Scottish Open, Open Championship and a second place finish in the US Open. The keys to his fine play in those three tournaments were Phil’s use of the mini driver off the tee, and fantastic wedge play.

    The mini driver and excellent wedge play are really all you need to know about the keys to Phil’s ability to win another major.

    • Greg V –

      I don’t have the data for those specific events because 2 are majors and the other is the Scottish Open which does not count towards those $5.5 million in earnings (PGA Tour only). You will generally find that in the Majors, shots from 175-250 yards matter most if you want to segment them. Driving is typically more important at the US Open than at the British Open. But, wedge play rarely makes a substantial impact. I think from 2013 we can see how elite Phil’s iron play was and I would imagine that it carried over to the British, Scottish and US Opens. In Phil’s years using the mini-driver, his driving still wasn’t very effective.

  6. While I understand why Phil had to change instructors, he has to accept the fact that he’s not the young gun as he once was in the late 90s and early 2000s (Jordan, Rory, Jason and Dustin have that torch now) and his career is on the downswing. He’ll have to accept 10 ten finishes at best while he is old enough for the Champions tour.

  7. I do think we’ve all been waiting for the other shoe to drop with the RA and it’s effect on his game. And of course his age can’t be overlooked, although based on his driving distance he’s still plenty competitive athletically. Really though, looking at those stats, doesn’t just look like someone who hasn’t been playing as much golf? It really all looks like just an overall decline in sharpness due to fewer reps in the practice area. It’s always seemed to me that his golf game kept his interest much longer than most of the top money winners in the era of instant-millionaire golf, but it’s only natural to slow down a bit when life is frankly pretty damn good by all appearances. And with that much money on the table, the young guys are now grinding harder than ever to get there.

    • Psoriatic Arthritis, not Rheumatoid, but very similar autoimmune disorder. Bottom line is the body’s immune system is in overdrive and attacking it’s own tissues. And his age too – and family. I think he still has drive but those issues are all in contention with one another.

      • Good points – and of course there’s also the known link between the disease and depression. Who knows what all he has going on behind the scenes, but I think you’re very right, it goes well beyond swing mechanics.

  8. Cool article with some valid points. I would say, though, that Phil’s illness has a lot to do with his performance. My wife is on a similar medicine for the same rheumatological disorder (psoriatic arthritis is a rheum-based disease). Golf is a sport where your performance/score can teeter between excellent and marginal based on such tiny variables as what you had for dinner the night before or if unknowingly became a touch dehydrated mid-round. Taking these biologic drugs wreaks havoc on the body and the side effect list is SCARY to read. They work by degrading your immune system so your body isn’t attacking itself. Even athletic individuals like Phil and to a large degree my wife, who runs marathons, are susceptible to the negative effects. And on Tour where the difference between making the cut and not can come down to a lie situation on the edge of a fairway, your whole body condition matters. Phil had HUGE success with Butch. What’s new? Phil’s health.

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