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New coach, new swing, new era of success for Phil Mickelson?

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It has been two years and seven months since Phil Mickelson’s last victory. That was the 2013 British Open, and since that day at Muirfield, much like one of his spinning wedge shots, Mickelson’s game has gone in reverse. At 45 years of age, he is at the point in his career where the next five years will be crucial in the development of his legacy. He is already held in the highest esteem by fans and peers alike, and one or two more majors and a handful more PGA Tour victories would elevate him to the absolute elite echelons of the game.

As the sun beamed down on a magnificent Pebble Beach this weekend, Mickelson seemed primed to pick up the first of those wins under the tutelage of new swing coach Andrew Getson. He entered the final round holding a two-shot lead with the 43rd PGA Tour win of his career in his grasp. It was Phil’s 50th start since his last victory. It would be the acid test for his new swing, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. A missed 5-foot putt on the last hole prevented Phil from joining Vaughn Taylor in a playoff.

During the early stages of Phil’s changes, when playing under pressure, it will be so easy for him to subconsciously revert to his old swing. This was evident on numerous wayward iron shots on the back nine on Sunday. In times of difficulty, it becomes human nature to default back to something more familiar to make us feel comfortable. This level of comfort needs to be reached in order for the swing transition to be completed fully. I liken it to any kind of relationship. It takes a while to build trust. Once this is built, it becomes natural for that trust to become unconditional. The more times Phil is toward the top of leaderboards, the more comfortable he will be with his changes. A win will go a long way to accelerating the level of confidence he has in his new swing.

It is his relentless pursuit of the U.S. Open title that has influenced his switch of coach. In November 2015, he ended his eight-year relationship with Butch Harmon, and as successful as it was, eight years can be a long time in any relationship. The danger of losing the chemistry and stagnating is a very real prospect, especially in professional sport. It is why we see what I call the “revolving door culture” at sports clubs. Head coaches are regularly hired and fired to ensure fresh ideas are brought to the table in an attempt to remain successful. Also, after going so long without a win, golfers can begin to lose trust in their game, which could be a reason for his switch to Getson, an Australian swing guru.

In professional golf, it is essential for players to compensate for the wear and tear on their bodies as they reach their twilight years. Ageing professionals such as Mickelson not only have to find new ways to compete, but must also gain some sort of competitive edge in order to continue their winning ways. As a former professional golfer who competed on mini tours across the South Eastern United States, I can identify with how a change of coach can induce an internal belief that can lead to better things.

Like a honeymoon period with a new putter, a new coach can have the same psychological effect. One of the main reasons PGA Tour players in the past have opted for Getson as their coach is the fact he has played professional golf himself. PGA Tour winner Kevin Streelman says he often goes to Getson for advice.

“What I love about him is that he’s played professionally, so he gets the playing side of it,’’ Streelman said.

This can be just as crucial as the technical aspects of the swing. Mickelson confirmed to Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte that he had been in discussion with Getson since November. He said the talks were primarily focused on his posture. A more upright, athletic posture will enable Phil to get the club in a better position at the top of the swing and in turn create a more compact movement when returning the club to the ball — something all tour pros strive for. In doing this, his swing will become tighter and closer to his body, with less moving parts.

The key for Phil is to achieve all of this while retaining his ability to get the ball in the hole using his most natural of short-game actions. There is a sense this year that he knows he needs to increase the accuracy of his drives and keep the ball in play more often, which is essential at any U.S. Open venue.

There will be two key issues Mickelson and Getson need to focus on to achieve the overall goal — to get the club on plane more and to keep the club in front of him on his downswing. The idea is to prevent the club from getting stuck behind the body, causing the hands to be much more active than necessary, resulting in more inconsistent, errant shots. Speaking to Golf Channel’s Steve Sands last month, Mickelson said, “I feel like I am steeper on the backswing and flatter on the downswing.” This allows his body and hands to turn through in unison. He then went on to describe how his more compact motion makes his ball-striking more consistent, saying, “I don’t have to use any hand action to square the face.”

Zero wins and only four top 10s in the past two seasons are statistics that highlight his need for a change, and prompted the fresh approach in the coaching department. After watching Phil in the early stages of his swing changes, the thing that is most impressive is his new found tempo. With his new plane of swing, he can generate just as much power as he had before but in a more graceful movement — with his body and shoulder turn, rather than lashing at the golf ball with his hands. The more he can repeat this motion both on the range and in tournament play, the more he will trust the outcome, and the less likely he will be to subconsciously revert to his old habits.

Although Phil’s swing betrayed him down the stretch at Pebble Beach, there are many positives he can take from the week. Not only did his swing look much tighter and his ball flight seem far more controlled, but his putting looked very solid too. His speed control on Pebble’s notoriously tricky greens was perfect all week, and he holed an uncanny amount of mid-range putts. He had 21 putts on Saturday, something he didn’t manage in the whole of 2015. If he can keep this level of performance around the greens, and combine it with more consistency off the tee, Phil will always shoot low numbers.

In four starts this year, Mickelson has a second, a T3 and a T11. These results should give him the belief that the changes he is in the process of making are conducive with winning golf tournaments. It is vital that Phil remains patient and keeps working on his new swing and performing drills on the range until it is engrained in his muscle memory. Once this is achieved, we can assume the transition is complete, and expect the victories to begin to flow. One thing’s for sure, when Phil is involved, it will always be one heck of a ride!

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Antony Martin is a 31-year-old freelance sports writer, specializing in golf. He was born in England and realized his dream of playing professional golf in 2003, when he moved to Orlando, Fla. He competed on various mini tours, winning three times. He now lives in England, just outside of London, and is still a keen golfer, maintaining a handicap of +1. He spends his time writing and reporting on golf events, while he is also a regular contributor to a soccer website.

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Robert Hamilton-Bruce

    Feb 19, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    It was a shame Phil didn’t get the job done on Sunday, but I agree I think 2016 could be his year

  2. chip

    Feb 16, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    ooffa..LOL LOL LOL

    21 putts on saturday, and you think he needs a new putting coach, that actually made me laugh out loud…CHUMP!!

    Great article, and well written. I have been a huge fan of Phil since I was a kid, he is as much of a gentleman as he is a great golfer. Best of luck for 2016 Phil!!!

  3. ooffa

    Feb 16, 2016 at 11:53 am

    He needs a new putting coach and a new gastroenterology doctor. You know, to help with his choking.

    • Jaz

      Feb 16, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Ooffa, that actually made me LOL LOL LOL
      21 putts on Saturday and you think he needs a new putting coach..what a CHUMP!!
      Great article, and well written. I have been a huge fan of Phil’s since I was a kid, and he is as much of a gentleman as he is a great golfer. Best of luck for 2016 Phil!!!

  4. Jaz

    Feb 16, 2016 at 3:30 am

    I recognize the subtle changes / and would love to see Phil complete the grand slam!! Great work buddy

  5. Alan D'Arcy

    Feb 16, 2016 at 2:56 am

    Amazing article, thoroughly enjoyed reading it… you clearly know your stuff !!!! thanks Antony from England !! 🙂

  6. Fahgdat

    Feb 15, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    I hope he wins the US Open this year

  7. Dave

    Feb 15, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    I think his Saturday round was especially telling. 9 gir, shoots 66, if I’m not mistaken. Uncanny short game, missed one putt inside 10 feet for tourney, again if I’m not mistaken. That usually doesn’t translate to closing Sunday as pressure builds…my 2 cents…

  8. gvogel

    Feb 15, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    New coach, new swing, new era of success? Nope.
    Funny, the swing I saw on Sunday looked just like the one I’ve seen before – way past parallel, and prone to problems.

    I liked Phil the best when he went with the mini driver. It kept him closer to the fairway, and allowed his superlative short game to win for him. Phil winning with a super refined golf swing ( like Justin Rose?) – ain’t going to happen.

    • MetalWood

      Feb 15, 2016 at 9:56 pm

      I agree! At the top of his swing, he’s all over the place. Wonder why his coach doesn’t shorten his swing?

      • Fahgdat

        Feb 15, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        Because that’s his natural position that he’s had for 30 years. Why change it if it helps him turn.

    • Josh

      Feb 16, 2016 at 6:12 am

      That is what the article is saying, that Sunday saw him reverting to his old swing under pressure and gave him problems. I doubt he will ever have a super-refined swing, but he is clearly striving to make his action more consistent, keep the ball in play more and give himself a chance to score with his short game.

  9. Scooter McGavin

    Feb 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    I’m confused. He’s got over 50 wins and 5 majors, yet he still needs a few more in order to be part of the “elite echelons”? Don’t get me wrong, I actually can’t stand Phil, but isn’t he already at that level?

    • Oliver Simpson

      Feb 16, 2016 at 6:43 am

      I get what the author is saying- Phil has only won 5 majors, which is obviously a magnificent achievement but doesn’t even put him in the top ten all time for major winners. He is already an elite player, goes without saying, but I think that US open would put him to an even higher level!

      Also he’s only won 42 PGA tour events, not over 50, as the article states!

      Good luck Phil, we’re rooting for you!

      • MarkB A

        Feb 16, 2016 at 11:50 pm

        Phil is also 45 years old with a very serious form of arthritis. I am amazed he is still playing. The medicine probably helps but only so much. Golfers need to be 100% healthy to play at that level and Phil is still playing at that level. Hats off to Vaughn Taylor for grinding and hanging in there all those years. I would love to see Phil win another Masters this year and the US Open plus maybe another Open too.

  10. Bobby Z

    Feb 15, 2016 at 6:12 pm

    GO PHIL!! enjoyable read !

  11. Oliver Simpson

    Feb 15, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Being a huge Lefty fan it’s great to see Phil back to his best. A close shave this week and a shame he couldn’t convert, I’m sure it won’t be long though!

    A great read and superb analysis of Phil’s swing, especially coming from someone who knows what they’re talking about! Look forward to reading the next one!

  12. Necky

    Feb 15, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Wow what a read – you know your stuff! More commentary like this please!

  13. Kenny

    Feb 15, 2016 at 4:33 pm

    Nice write-up man keep them coming!

  14. Robert Hamilton-Bruce

    Feb 15, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this article, very informative and easy to read. Great stuff. Go Phil!

  15. Georgia Arkell

    Feb 15, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    Fantastic article. Thrilling read. Can’t wait to read more of your work.

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with the one, the only, the legend Steve Elkington.

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

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The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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