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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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The 19th Hole (Ep. 165): One-on-one with Shane Bacon

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Host Michael Williams talks with the co-host of the Golf Channel’s Golf Today about the Open Championship and Collin Morikawa’s place in the history books.

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What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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