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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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
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.
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.