You can wear out a dictionary looking for adjectives that describe Phil Mickelson. Mesmerizing. Galvanizing. Polarizing. Agonizing. But he will never be accused of being boring.
With 42 PGA Tour wins and five majors to his credit, Mickelson is one of the most accomplished and most popular golfers ever to play. The soon to be 47-year-old Hall of Famer (his birthday falls during this year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills) is still contending on a Tour that is increasingly dominated by players young enough to be his son.
Mickelson sat down with GolfWRX for a little one on one during his stop to promote The Greenbrier Classic. The July PGA Tour event is making its return after a one-year hiatus due to a catastrophic flood that left the course and the community at large devastated. In the Q&A, Mickelson talks about his commitment to The Greenbrier, his family, and his quest for the final leg of golf’s career Grand Slam.
Michael Williams: So let’s start off with talking about The Greenbrier and this tournament. What’s special about this place, and what’s special about this tournament?
Phil Mickelson: The tournament itself is being played on one of the classic great golf courses (The Old White Course), so right there it’s got a unique catch. But what makes the Greenbrier so great, whether you’re a PGA Tour pro or whether you’re somebody from the East Coast bringing your family down here for a vacation or for the tournament, is this. The greatest moments in life are those spontaneous moments that you spend with your family, and the Greenbrier provides more spontaneous fun moments for a family than anywhere. There’s so many things to do here, from fly fishing and golf and tennis and all these fun things, that you end up having moments, having memories, that last a lifetime. And they’re formed here because of all the activities you can do together as a family.
And you’ve been a big supporter of this. Do you have a house here?
We have a lot, and we’re building a home. This is a place where we want to spend time with not just our kids now, who are in high school, but ultimately our grandkids in a short time. This is a place where, again, you want to have those family moments.
Let’s talk a little bit about you and how you’re playing this year. Do you feel like you’re close to winning? If so, how close?
Well, the reason I feel like it’s close is that I’ve played at a very consistent level. I’ve played 14 events. I’ve made all 14 cuts, but I’ve only had a few top-10 finishes, and I’ve had almost all top-30 finishes, which means that I’m right there on the precipice of being in contention and winning, but I’m not quite putting it all together. One area has been lacking each week, whether it’s driving the ball and iron shots have been great but I haven’t putted well, like the last weekend at the Memorial. Or I’m putting great, but I hit a couple of stray tee shots or what have you. I haven’t put it all together in one week. But I’ve actually been enjoying this challenge. I’m playing better than I have in the last three or four years, even though I haven’t won in the last three or four years, and I know that it’s close. I know what it feels like to win. I know what my game needs to be for me to win. I’m playing at that level, but it’s that last little piece of putting it all together for a week, and I’m actually enjoying the challenge of doing that.
Do you feel like a player has to play better than he used to if he wants to win on Tour? Do you absolutely have to be on top of your game to win?
I think so, because the players today have such length and power and the ability to dominate a golf course that they end up making a lot of birdies. So out of all these 30, 40 young kids that hit the ball a mile and make a lot of birdies, somebody’s going to get hot that week, and so that somebody needs to be me to keep up pace. You can’t get by just hanging in there. You have to go attack the golf course and dominate it if you’re going to win.
You were diagnosed in 2010 with psoriatic arthritis. How has that changed your approach to the game and to life?
Yes, I was diagnosed in 2010, and it was a big change. But it forced me to take responsibility for my health and my fitness. I’m down now 25 pounds from my peak. I don’t eat a lot of the fast food and sugar that I used to eat. I drink lots of water instead of soda. All of that helps me to manage the condition. When I started out, I was being treated once a week and now it’s down to once a month. I feel great, and long term I don’t think the condition is going to affect what I accomplish on the course. All in all, being diagnosed was kind of a blessing in disguise.
You have not been ranked, I don’t believe, a single week as No. 1 (in the Official World Golf Rankings) in your career.
But you have balance in your life. This whole decision about — and we in the media have been over it many times with you — not attending the U.S. Open this year for your daughter’s graduation is about that balance. So you don’t have the one thing, but you do have the other thing. Was being No. 1 ever a specific goal for you?
What would you have done different to make that happen?
Of course it was a goal, and I had an opportunity there a couple of times, when had I won that particular week or whatnot, where I could’ve done it and I just didn’t. But that’s not the end-all of life. I’ve had a pretty good career.
“Pretty good” is one way to put it.
I just happened to play against the greatest player of all time, and I have fallen short on that front. If you compare my career to Tiger, it’s a failure, but if you compare it to just about anybody else, it’s a success. More than that, though, I love what I do. I love who I do it with, the people I get to share it with, and the time I’ve had playing this great game. So I wouldn’t change anything about it.
So you’re a pretty smart guy and a pretty personable guy, and it seems like these days smart, personable guys, including our friend (Greenbrier Resort owner and West Virginia Governor) Jim Justice seem to run for political office. Any of that in your future?
No, it’s not for me, and the reason is all the things that occur in politics — there’s a lot of dinners, there’s a lot of functions to go to — are things that I don’t enjoy. What I do enjoy is playing golf, and I do enjoy being outside. I enjoy spending time with family. I enjoy spending time with friends. What I don’t enjoy doing is multiple dinners and functions and congregations and meetings and so forth. That’s not what I enjoy. I grew up on a golf course. I grew up outside. That’s what I enjoy and those types of interactions. So at this point in my life, I’m fortunate enough to do things that I do enjoy and not that I don’t.
Now, I have a lot of respect for Mr. Justice, and the reason I have such respect for him is that he’s getting nothing out of this politically. Becoming a governor does nothing for him. He has a great quality of life. He’s a billionaire. He’s run multiple companies. He’s doing it because he genuinely wants to help the lives of West Virginians. He’s doing it because he has the knowledge base from his past business experience to turn a state around and run it properly. Very few politicians have any type of business acumen.
In Singapore, you have to own and operate a business for 10 years before you’re allowed into politics, but that’s not the case here in the U.S. People get into politics without ever doing anything, and so they don’t know how to run a business. A government, whether it’s a state or the United States government, is one of the biggest businesses, and Jim Justice has that type of experience to do that. For him to run for office, to become governor, there is no self-motivation here. He gets nothing out of that, other than, because his heart is so big, he wants to help West Virginians have a better quality of life, have better jobs, have better healthcare, have better opportunities, and I just have the ultimate respect for somebody like that.
They’re gonna take you away from me in about one minute, so let me get two quick questions in. With you not in the field, do you feel comfortable naming a favorite, your favorite to win?
I think Bubba Watson’s gonna be a huge favorite because he lives here, and I think that having that, even though the course is pretty…
I meant the U.S. Open, not the Greenbrier Classic!
Oh, the U.S. Open.
I don’t know who to pick for the U.S. Open because I have not been to Erin Hills. I don’t know who a favorite is. It favors kind of the hot hand, the hot player, I would guess, would be in contention, but I don’t know who I would end up picking.
I played it. I didn’t do well.
No, but you’re not even in the field. You’re like me. You can’t win if you don’t play.
Yeah, I missed the qualifier. Last question. I always ask this question of all-time greats and I get some surprising answers. What would you rather win the Grand Slam of golf, an Oscar, the Nobel Prize, or a $50 million lottery?
Well, the only one that is appealing to me at all is the Grand Slam of Golf, and I’m one win away with the U.S. Open. That’s the only thing that, out of the things that you named, that is something that is appealing to me.
Go out and get her. I know we won’t see you in the U.S. Open this year, but we look forward to seeing you out there for many others.
Fantasy Preview: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational
Under a new name, but a very familiar setting, the Fort Worth Championship gets underway this week. Colonial Country Club will host, and it’s an event that has attracted some big names to compete in the final stop of the Texas swing. The top two ranked Europeans, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose are in the field, as are Americans Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler.
Colonial is a tricky course with narrow tree-lined fairways that are imperative to hit. Distance off the tee holds no real advantage this week with approach play being pivotal. Approach shots will be made more difficult this week than usual by the greens at Colonial, which are some of the smallest on the PGA Tour. Last year, Kevin Kisner held off Spieth, Rahm, and O’Hair to post 10-under par and take the title by a one-stroke margin.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Jordan Spieth 9/1
- Jon Rahm 14/1
- Justin Rose 18/1
- Webb Simpson 18/1
- Rickie Fowler 20/1
- Jimmy Walker 28/1
- Adam Scott 28/1
Last week, Jordan Spieth (9/1, DK Price $11,700) went off at the Byron Nelson as the prohibitive 5/1 favorite. Every man and his dog seemed to be on him, and after Spieth spoke to the media about how he felt he had a distinct advantage at a course where he is a member, it was really no surprise. Comments like this from Spieth at the Byron Nelson are not new. When the event was held at TPC Four Seasons, Spieth often made similar comments. The result? He flopped, just as he did last week at Trinity Forest. Spieth’s best finish at the Byron Nelson in his career is T-16. The reason for this, I believe, is the expectations he has put on himself at this event for years.
Switch to Colonial, and the difference is considerable. Spieth’s worst finish here is T-14. In his last three visits, he has finished second, first and second. While Spieth may believe that he should win the Byron Nelson whenever he tees it up there, the evidence suggests that his love affair is with Colonial. The statistic that truly emphasizes his prowess at Colonial, though, is his Strokes Gained-Total at the course. Since 2013, Spieth has a ridiculous Strokes Gained-Total of more than +55 on the course, almost double that of Kisner in second place.
Spieth’s long game all year has been consistently good. Over his previous 24 rounds, he ranks first in this field for Strokes Gained-Tee to Green, second for Ball Striking, and first for Strokes Gained-Total. On the other hand, his putting is awful at the moment. He had yet another dreadful performance on the greens at Trinity Forest, but he was also putting nowhere near his best coming into Colonial last year. In 2017, he had dropped strokes on the greens in his previous two events, missing the cut on both occasions, yet he finished seventh in Strokes Gained-Putting at Colonial on his way to a runner-up finish. His record is too good at this course for Spieth to be 9/1, and he can ignite his 2018 season in his home state this week.
Emiliano Grillo’s (50/1, DK Price $8,600) only missed cut in 2018 came at the team event in New Orleans, and he arrives this week at a course ideally suited to the Argentine’s game. Grillo performed well here in 2017, recording a top-25 finish. His form in 2018 leads me to believe he can improve on that this year.
As a second-shot golf course, Colonial sets up beautifully for the strengths of Grillo’s game. Over his previous 12 rounds, Grillo ranks first in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, second in Ball Striking, third in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and eighth in Strokes Gained-Total. The Argentine also plays short golf courses excellently. Over his last 50 rounds, Grillo is ranked ninth for Strokes Gained-Total on courses measuring 7,200 yards or less. Colonial is right on that number, and Grillo looks undervalued to continue his consistent season on a course that suits him very well.
Another man enjoying a consistent 2018 is Adam Hadwin (66/1, DK Price $7,600), who has yet to miss a cut this season. The Canadian is enjoying an excellent run of form with five top-25 finishes from his last six stroke-play events. Hadwin is another man whose game is tailor made for Colonial. His accurate iron play and solid putting is a recipe for success here, and he has proven that by making the cut in all three of his starts at Colonial, finishing in the top-25 twice.
Hadwin is coming off his worst performance of 2018 at The Players Championship, but it was an anomaly you can chalk up to a rare poor week around the greens (he was seventh-to-last in Strokes Gained-Around the Green for the week). In his previous seven starts, Hadwin had a positive strokes gained total in this category each time. Over his last 24 rounds, Hadwin ranks seventh in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 15th in Ball Striking, and ninth in Strokes Gained-Putting. He looks to have an excellent opportunity to improve on his solid record at Colonial this week.
Finally, as far as outsiders go, I like the look of Sean O’Hair (175/1, DK Price $7,100) at what is a juicy price. One of last year’s runners-up, his number is far too big this week. He has had some excellent performances so far in 2018. In fact, in his previous six starts, O’Hair has made five cuts and has notched three top-15 finishes, including his runner-up finish at the Valero Texas Open. The Texan has made three of his last four cuts at Colonial, and he looks to be an excellent pick on DraftKings at a low price.
- Jordan Spieth 9/1, DK Price $11,700
- Emiliano Grillo 50/1, DK Price $8.600
- Adam Hadwin 66/1, DK Price $7,600
- Sean O’Hair 175/1, DK Price $7,100
Pick three golfers to build the ultimate scramble team. Who you got?
It’s officially scramble season. Whether it’s a corporate outing or charity event, surely you’ve either been invited to play in or have already played in a scramble this year.
If you don’t know the rules of the scramble format, here’s how it works: All four golfers hit their drives, then the group elects the best shot. From there, all four golfers hit the shot, and the best of the bunch is chosen once again. The hole continues in this fashion until the golf ball is holed.
The best scramble players are those who hit the ball really far and/or stick it close with the irons and/or hole a lot of putts. The point is to make as many birdies and eagles as possible.
With this in mind, inside GolfWRX Headquarters, we got to discussing who would be on the ultimate scramble team. Obviously, Tiger-Jack-Daly was brought up immediately, so there needed to be a caveat to make it more challenging.
Thus, the following hypothetical was born. We assigned each golfer below a dollar value, and said that we had to build a three player scramble team (plus yourself) for $8 or less.
Here are the answers from the content team here at GolfWRX:
Tiger Woods ($5): This is obvious. From a scramble standpoint, Tiger gives you everything you want: Long, accurate, and strategic off the tee (in his prime). Woods, sets the team up for optimal approach shots (he was pretty good at those too)…and of course, arguably the greatest pressure putter of all time.
David Duval ($2): I’m thinking of Double D’s machine-like approach play in his prime. Tour-leader in GIR in 1999, and 26th in driving accuracy that year, Duval ought to stick second shots when TW doesn’t and is an asset off the tee.
Corey Pavin ($1): A superb putter and dogged competitor, Pavin’s a great value at $1. Ryder Cup moxy. Plus, he’ll always give you a ball in the fairway off the tee (albeit a short one), much needed in scramble play.
Rory McIlroy ($4): I am willing to bet their are only a handful of par 5’s in the world that he can’t hit in in two shots. You need a guy who can flat out overpower a course and put you in short iron situations on every hole. His iron play is a thing of beauty, with a high trajectory that makes going after any sucker pin a possibility.
Jordan Spieth ($3): Was there a guy who putted from mid-range better than him just a couple years ago? If there was, he isn’t on this list. Scrambles need a guy who can drain everything on the green and after watching 3 putts to get the read, he won’t miss. His solid wedge game will also help us get up and down from those short yardages on the Par 4’s.
Corey Pavin ($1): Fear the STACHE!! The former Ryder Cup captain will keep the whole team playing their best and motivated to make birdies and eagles. If we have 228 yards to the flag we know he is pulling that 4 wood out and giving us a short putt for birdie. He will of course be our safety net, hitting the “safe shot,” allowing the rest of us to get aggressive!
Dustin Johnson ($4) – Bombmeister!!!
Lee Trevino ($2) — Funny as hell (and I speak Mexican).
Sergio Garcia ($1) – The greatest iron player (I speak Spanish, too).
Dustin Johnson ($4)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Lee Trevino ($2)
DJ is longer than I-10, Seve can dig it out of the woods, and Trevino can shape it into any pin.
Dustin Johnson ($4)
Jordan Spieth ($2)
Anthony Kim ($1)
Are all the old timers gonna be mad at me for taking young guys? Doesn’t matter. DJ has to be the best driver ever, as long as he’s hitting that butter cut. With Jordan, it’s hard to tell whether he’s better with his irons or with his putter — remember, we’re talking Jordan in his prime, not the guy who misses putts from 8 inches. Then, Anthony Kim has to be on the team in case the alcohol gets going since, you know, it’s a scramble; remember when he was out all night (allegedly) before the Presidents Cup and still won his match? I need that kind of ability on my squad. Plus AK will get us in the fairway when me, DJ and Spieth each inevitably hit it sideways.
Tiger Woods ($5)
Seve Ballesteros ($2)
Corey Pavin ($1)
Tiger is a no-brainer. Seve is maybe the most creative player ever and would enjoy playing HORSE with Tiger. Pavin is the only $1 player who wouldn’t be scared stiff to be paired with the first two.
Tiger Woods ($5): His Mind/Overall Game
Seve Ballesteros ($2): His creativity/fire in a team format/inside 100
Anthony Kim ($1): Team swagger/he’s streaky/will hit fairways under the gun.
A scramble requires 3 things: Power, Putting and Momentum. These 3 guys as a team complete the whole package. Tiger is a one man scramble team but will get himself in trouble, which is where Seve comes in. In the case where the momentum is going forward like a freight train, nobody rattles a cage into the zone better than AK. It’s the perfect team and the team I’d want out there if my life was on the line. I’d trust my kids with this team.
Who would you pick on your team, and why? See what GolfWRX Members are saying in the forums.
Is equipment really to blame for the distance problem in golf?
It’s 2018, we’re more than a quarter of the way through Major Season, and there are 58 players on the PGA Tour averaging over 300 yards off the tee. Trey Mullinax is leading the PGA Tour through the Wells Fargo Championship with an average driving distance of 320 yards. Much discussion has been had about the difficulty such averages are placing on the golf courses across the country. Sewn into the fabric of the distance discussion are suggestions by current and past giants of the game to roll back the golf ball.
In a single segment on an episode of Live From The Masters, Brandel Chamblee said, “There’s a correlation from when the ProV1 was introduced and driving distance spiked,” followed a few minutes later by this: “The equipment isn’t the source of the distance, it’s the athletes.”
So which is it? Does it have to be one or the other? Is there a problem at all?
Several things of interest happened on the PGA Tour in the early 2000s, most of which were entirely driven by the single most dominant athlete of the last 30. First, we saw Tiger Woods win four consecutive majors, the first and only person to do that in the modern era of what are now considered the majors. Second, that same athlete drew enough eyeballs so that Tim Finchem could exponentially increase the prize money golfers were playing for each week. Third, but often the most overlooked, Tiger Woods ushered in fitness to the mainstream of golf. Tiger took what Gary Player and Greg Norman had preached their whole careers and amped it up like he did everything else.
In 1980, Dan Pohl was the longest player on the PGA Tour. He averaged 274 yards off the tee with a 5-foot, 11-inch and 175-pound frame. By 2000, the average distance for all players on the PGA Tour was 274 yards. The leader of the pack that year was John Daly, who was the only man to average over 300 yards. Tiger Woods came in right behind him at 298 yards.
Analysis of the driving distance stats on the PGA Tour since 1980 show a few important statistics: Over the last 38 seasons, the average driving distance for all players on the PGA Tour has increased an average of 1.1 yards per year. When depicted on a graph, it looks like this:
The disparity between the shortest and the longest hitter on the PGA Tour has increased 0.53 yards per year, which means the longest hitters are increasing the gap between themselves and the shortest hitters. The disparity chart fluctuates considerably more than the average distance chart, but the increase from 1980 to 2018 is staggering.
In 1980, there was 35.6 yards between Dan Pohl (longest) and Michael Brannan (shortest – driving distance 238.7 yards). In 2018, the difference between Trey Mullinax and Ken Duke is 55.9 yards. Another point to consider is that in 1980, Michael Brannan was 25. Ken Duke is currently 49 years of age.
The question has not been, “Is there a distance problem?” It’s been, “How do we solve the distance problem?” The data is clear that distance has increased — not so much at an exponential rate, but at a consistent clip over the last four decades — and also that equipment is only a fraction of the equation.
Jack Nicklaus was over-the-hill in 1986 when he won the Masters. It came completely out of nowhere. Players in past decades didn’t hit their prime until they were in their early thirties, and then it was gone by their early forties. Today, it’s routine for players to continue playing until they are over 50 on the PGA Tour. In 2017, Steve Stricker joined the PGA Tour Champions. In 2016, he averaged 278 yards off the tee on the PGA Tour. With that number, he’d have topped the charts in 1980 by nearly four yards.
If equipment was the only reason distance had increased, then the disparity between the longest and shortest hitters would have decreased. If it was all equipment, then Ken Duke should be averaging something more like 280 yards instead of 266.
There are several things at play. First and foremost, golfers are simply better athletes these days. That’s not to say that the players of yesteryear weren’t good athletes, but the best athletes on the planet forty years ago didn’t play golf; they played football and basketball and baseball. Equipment definitely helped those super athletes hit the ball straighter, but the power is organic.
The other thing to consider is that the total tournament purse for the 1980 Tour Championship was $440,000 ($1,370,833 in today’s dollars). The winner’s share for an opposite-field event, such as the one played in Puerto Rico this year, is over $1 million. Along with the fitness era, Tiger Woods ushered in the era of huge paydays for golfers. This year, the U.S. Open prize purse will be $12 milion with $2.1 million of that going to the winner. If you’re a super athlete with the skills to be a golfer, it makes good business sense to go into golf these days. That wasn’t the case four decades ago.
Sure, equipment has something to do with the distance boom, but the core of the increase is about the athletes themselves. Let’s start giving credit where credit is due.
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