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Opinion & Analysis

Ways to Win: Focused Phil does anything but flop at the PGA Championship

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That was fun. Through 55 holes, it looked like Brooks Koepka was ready to return from injury and establish his dominance with three wins in four years at the PGA Championship. Instead, his putter went dead cold and Phil Mickelson did the improbable.

Despite having poor form in recent weeks, Mickelson felt like he was on the verge of a breakthrough. He spent much of his recent practice working on focus. Staying present in the moment. In the end, golf is a mental game where a single uncommitted swing or distraction can lead to disaster and cost a tournament. There is no doubting Mickelson’s tremendous talent, but he is notorious for losing focus at the worst possible moment. Not this time. Between his practice and timely advice from his brother and caddie, he was able to remain dialed in down the stretch and outlast a star-studded leaderboard to win the PGA Championship at 50 years old. Incredible.

So, how did he do it? Well first, he hit bombs.

Mickelson has been all over social media discussing his “hellacious seeds” and “bombs.” Over the past several years, he put in a tremendous amount of work to go from average in terms of swing speed on the PGA Tour to fast. All of this at 50 years old. While this has separated him from fields on the Champions Tour, it has been difficult for Mickelson to keep it in play on the PGA Tour. Not this week. Mickelson may have only finished 29th in terms of strokes gained: driving this week, but he kept the ball in play and gave himself chances to hit the green. On a difficult, windy Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, that is more than many can say. In fact, he hit the longest drive of the day on hole 16 on Sunday. Take that Bryson. Using V1 Game’s driving distance analysis, Mickelson averaged over 300 yards across all drives for the week. This allowed him to dismantle the par 5s, which were critical to getting his overall score under par.

Mickelson did most of his damage on the front nine and in particular, holes two and seven above where he was 7 under for the week. V1 Game’s Hole History view gives a Shotlink-like view of how he played the two holes. Long drives in the fairway allowed him to be aggressive into the greens with easy chips or two-putt birdies. At a course as difficult as Kiawah, you have to birdie the holes you’re supposed to to give room for mistakes on the more difficult holes. Typically, the winner of each PGA Tour event makes very few mistakes. However, at Kiawah, mistakes were unavoidable. Between narrow fairways, wind, and difficult conditions, the week was more like a U.S. Open than a PGA Championship. Mickelson made mistakes, but he was able to minimize them with his amazing short game and tremendous lag putting.

The Virtual Coach in V1 Game details the mistakes Mickelson made throughout the week. Despite playing well all week, when the pressure was ratcheted up on Sunday there were more mistakes. Still, Mickelson did a great job of turning doubles into bogeys to minimize the damage. He was off to a shaky start on Sunday. He 3-putted the first hole and took 4 to get down from just 36 yards on the third hole. Around that time, his brother Tim told him to start committing to shots if he wanted to win. Mickelson was able to do that and didn’t make another mistake until the 13th hole by which time he had a five-stroke lead. Sometimes golf is a game of survival.

Not enough will be said about Mickelson’s putting this week. Phil is notorious for struggling with the short ones in pressure situations, and one observation from tracking his rounds — his lag putting was phenomenal. He consistently left himself inside two feet for his clean-up. This takes a tremendous amount of pressure off the putter when nerves are at an all-time high. This may not show up from a strokes gained perspective where you are rewarded for making longer putts, but not missing short ones is important as this was the downfall of both Louis Oosthuizen and Koepka. Mickelson may have finished 37th in strokes gained: putting for the week, but he made it easy for himself on the greens. So, if he finished in the 30s for driving and putting, how did he win the golf tournament?

If Mickelson is known for anything, it’s his prolific short game. He certainly shined when it mattered, gaining strokes on all four days around the green. He finished 18th for the week in strokes gained: short and made critical up and down time and again to minimize big numbers and save par. However, Mickelson truly separated himself with his strokes gained: approach gaining 4.4 strokes on the field with his irons and finishing fifth in the field. Add it all up and Phil is the winner in strokes gained: total and gets the Wanamaker.

It was a brilliant display of golf and focus. The scene at 18 was incredible as the crowd chanted “Lefty” and circled the green to watch the historic moment as the oldest man to ever win a major championship tapped in the final putt. Mickelson was focused. Golf is a mental game after all. The golf course was difficult and he played it better than anyone else.

Mickelson knew what he needed to work on these last several years to stay at the top of the game and has been able to do it through not just working on speed and hitting bombs, but improving his mental game along the way. V1 Game can help you understand what you need to work on to get better at any age and any skill level. Mickelson’s performance was inspiring as is his desire to use every tool available to get better. It was interesting late on Saturday to listen to both Oosthuizen and Koepka discuss their play. Louis was frustrated with his ballstriking, despite leading the field on Saturday in strokes gained: tee to green. It was his putter that was letting him down. Koepka complained about his putting after a late short miss when his iron play was below average for him. Even the best in the game can be confused on which area of their game is impacting their score. Strokes gained and V1 Game take the mystery out of game improvement. Whether you’re a young gun or closer to the Champions Tour, advanced analysis from V1 Game can get you following in Mickelson’s footsteps. What a great game golf is.

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  1. Bro D

    May 26, 2021 at 9:30 am

    “This may not show up from a strokes gained perspective where you are rewarded for making longer putts, but not missing short ones…”

    To say that Phil’s lag putting is not sufficiently rewarded by strokes gained is simply not correct. For example, if Phill is 60-feet from the hole, and the field average from that distance is 2.2 putts to hole out. Whether he cozies it up to 2-feet for an easy tap in, or leaves himself a tough 8-footer that he makes, his strokes gained on that hole is going to be 0.2 – period.

    There is no reward or penalty for ‘how’ he putted this week, it just is what it is when it comes to strokes gained. In other words, he wasn’t penalized for lagging it to tap-in distances, he gained shots by hitting the really good lag putt to begin with!

  2. Caroylyn

    May 25, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    Pretty sad not one pro (for sure not Phil) would have shot under par without the GREENS BOOK…Sam Sneed, Ben Hogan etc. laughing there butts off looking at the pros of today needing a map to get the ball in the hole….

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Opinion & Analysis

U.S. Open qualifying and learning from a “bad” round

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On May 10, I competed in a local qualifier for the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. The local qualifier was held at Barton Hills Country Club in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

You can watch every single shot in the video below.

Spoiler alert, I ended up having one of those disaster type of rounds with an 85 that was good for a missed cut and T-63rd out of 69th place finish. But rather than spending too much time crying over spilled milk, I decided to use it as an opportunity to not only learn something for myself as a pro but also to demonstrate for you some ways in which you might go about holistically analyzing rounds for your own future improvement.

Perspective & confidence

To start, remember to still pat yourself on the back and have some perspective.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, then to take rank with those poor spirits, who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” -Unknown

A friend sent me that after my round. Good friend.

Personally, I’ve shot tournament rounds in the 60s. So, an 85 for me at my level feels terrible. Feeling upset, angry, disappointed, frustrated, etc., can happen, but remember it’s important to be a good friend to yourself and do what you can to keep your confidence and attitude up and in a positive place.

If I step back from it all and look from a higher perspective, there are a few little things I can tell myself right off the bat to help me feel better about what happened.

  • In nearly every professional tournament, someone typically shoots in the 80s. Bad rounds happen to everyone. Even world-class players are not exempt.
  • I had a spell during COVID-19 where I didn’t pick up my clubs for about 6 months, and I hadn’t competed in a tournament for nine months. If tournament and general rust is a thing, this could have been a factor in my performance.
  • The conditions were very difficult. We had a 90-minute frost delay, it felt cold, the wind was gusting higher than in the forecast, and the course setup was challenging, with 6 pins cut only 4 paces from the edge of greens (which can lead to a lot of short-sided shots for those that are too aggressive). Normally, a 70 or better would get you through a local qualifier. In this case, no one in the entire field of pros and elite amateurs broke par. In fact, par 70 was the medalist. It was a tough day, and scores were high for everyone, not just me.
  • Unfortunately, most golfers will never break 90. Higher skilled players can do good to remember that. I’m reminded of seeing fellow pros on TV who hang their head on an approach shot but the ball still lands on the green and close to the flag, something that most people would be incredibly happy about.
  • Forgive and forget fast: It’s just a game and we are all lucky to be playing it!
  • “Fail” videos can be entertaining for others to watch!
  • Once you find ways to get a little personal perspective, it can be easier to look back at the round objectively and look for actionable items to take going forward to next time.

If you don’t have full round video like what I have above, you can still just think back about the round later that day or the next day or once you’ve calmed down and can assess what happened more clearly.

Anyway, here are a handful of things I’d tell myself in post-round analysis.

Pre-round

For the most part, I did a pretty good job with my pre-round work.

My bag had appropriate distance gapping between clubs, I had a good practice round (and holed out three times during the round), I slept okay the night before, I got to the course with plenty of time to spare to get ready and warm up, I was hydrated, I dressed warm enough for the cold, etc.

There’s not too much I’d change about what I did pre-round except for just getting in more practice/training.

For example, I had only hit balls for an hour a couple days a week indoors in March, and I chipped/putted a little plus played a few rounds in April. Despite not playing much, I was still shooting in the 70s and figured if I had a good day, I might still get through.

Still, more practice would likely have helped me shoot lower. That will be much easier once I decide on a good home golf base, now that my wife and I are getting settled in after our move from DC to Detroit last Halloween.

Off the tee

As you can see, I hit 11/14 (78.6 percent) fairways, which is much better than the PGA Tour average of 59.8 percent. On the three I missed, I was just off the fairway, and I was still in decent position with a clear shot to the green. So, my accuracy and target selection based on my personal shot dispersion patterns were fine.

You can’t tell from the video, but I will let you know that distance-wise I’ve been averaging about 106 or 107 mph with a driver on the course lately. That’s fast enough to compete professionally, albeit on the lower end of tour pro speed, but as someone who has competed and won events and qualifiers in professional long drive with peak speeds in the low 140s, I know there is a lot to gain by hitting longer again.

But how?

My drivers and ball are fine. I’ve tested those and more distance will not likely come from swapping those out.

However, I hadn’t been in the gym for 15 months prior to COVID-19 to do swing speed training. Granted there are some things one can do at home — peruse my articles here on GolfWRX for more about swing speed training, or visit Swing Man Golf — but quite frankly, I just wasn’t getting in the necessary training to swing fast enough for distance to be an advantage like it’s been for me previously.

That’s something anyone can change easily, though, including myself. It’s just a matter of some elbow grease and getting in some smart and consistent swing speed training — and you don’t have to put on 40 pounds to do it!

Technique-wise, I had been experimenting around with several things. Although I’ve shot well with minimal practice doing those things previously, going forward I do want to make some tweaks to get back closer to more of my old Mike Austin-style swing.

Without getting into too much detail, at a high level that would include:

  • Changing my grip back
  • Narrowing up my stance a bit
  • Keep my head from drifting around so much
  • Making a longer backswing
  • Leveraging more leg power through my skeletal joints
  • Using more of a rock-skipping “wind up and throw” type swing motion
  • Bringing back a bit more calm in to my game and what my wife described in my old swing as “fierce grace”

Approach shots

Despite hitting tons of fairways, I only hit 5/18 (27.8 percent) greens. That’s terrible by pro standards and nowhere near the 63.9 percent PGA Tour average. I’ve previously hit all 18 greens before.

So, what happened and how do I get those percentages back up?

Strategically, I think I did well. I chose smart targets based on my usual dispersions and only once did I deviate and not trust myself (watch the 15th hole in which 6-iron to the middle was the right play for a dangerous back flag but I greedily hit 5-iron and went long and got short-sided in the back bunker). Aside from that, unfortunately, I was just hitting it so much worse than my typical large sample dispersions that I kept getting short-sided anyway and was otherwise missing in the wrong spots far too much to score low.

As per above off the tee, more distance (and accuracy) from technique and swing speed training will also help my approaches. I’ve experimented playing as the bomb and gouger as well as the shorter accuracy type player. I can tell you from experience that it’s much easier to shoot lower scores when you’ve got power in your bag. Plus, it’s just fun to hit bombs.

Equipment-wise, I have a consistency advantage playing Sterling Irons single-length irons. However, I know from testing that for me I get tighter iron shot dispersions with Project X LZ shafts vs the Wishon Golf S2S Stepless shaft I currently have in my iron heads. I’ve been waiting to swap those out until we move forward with the second generation of Sterling Irons, though. Reach out to me if you are an interested investor.

Around the greens

Pros make 95 percent from three feet and that drops off sharply to 50 percent at around eight feet. So, it’s important to miss in smart spots to be able to hit shots around the greens close to save pars.

My bunker play was solid (watch holes 10, 12 and 15), save the one shot on the 5th hole that I hit a little too far behind the ball and left short. I was just in difficult locations that anyone would’ve had trouble getting up and down. Normally being short sided might come from too aggressive of approach shots, but that wasn’t the case today except that 5-iron approach on 15.

With chipping, I had some difficult lies (which are just part of the game) and was short sided quite a bit as mentioned.

Technically, I noticed I was sometimes “hitting” at my chips a bit. When you instead take a longer swing relying more on gravity and less on human effort, the distance control on feel shots is much more consistent day to day and week to week. That’s easy enough to work on.

I also wasn’t feeling the sharpest, which again could simply come down to just settling on a home course and getting in more practice.

Putting

Normally, I’m as good as anyone on lag putts.

But like my chips around the green, I saw I was “hitting” at some of the putts. As I said, that throws off distance control and consistency.

Getting some work in on being more pendular, per my usual, should take care of those things.

With my putter and ball, I’ve tested both of those and I’m fine in both cases.

Other

Aside from that, I did notice a couple other things I’d tell myself to change.

First, I’d say to drop about 15 pounds. Over my career, I’ve weighed anywhere from about 202 to 236. Currently, I’m sitting close to 230. I know from experience that, although I am healthy where I am, I still like it best when I’m around 210-215 and 13 percent body fat.

Getting back to that is as simple as a sustained caloric cut while keeping up my protein for a little over a month, but that’s easier said than done to commit to doing. I don’t know of anyone that likes doing fat weight cuts!

Lastly, my outfits could use a little work. I forgot to clean up my shoes and I thought they looked a little dirty on camera. I’ve also done focus group color testing and know that dressing entirely in dusty soft autumn colors (cardinal red, burnt orange, olive green, teal blue, turquoise, etc.) work best for me, and black doesn’t really do me any favors. Time to get rid of those old cold weather golf clothes!

Of course, I can perform well without changing either of those things (fat weight or outfits). However, there’s also something to be said about performing better when you are feeling confident and good about oneself.

Okay, hope that gives you a quick sample of helpful things to consider using for analyzing your own performances!

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: An ode to fathers

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I write this as I watch the final round of the U.S. Open and think of all the fathers on this day dedicated to them. Though I have certainly seen my share of ups and downs, trials and tribulations, probably the only real regret of my life is never having had children. Unlike most of you, this day passes as just another Sunday for me, for the most part.

But every Father’s Day, I do reflect on the wonderful relationship I had with my own father, who left this world way too soon when I was only 27, and he was just shy of his 63rd birthday. My pain is that I never got a chance to say goodbye, to have one last visit and tap his wisdom and guidance. But I think often about the lessons he dealt with humor, compassion, and his own way of telling stories.

When I rebelled against going to the Methodist church with my mother and brother, my Dad took over my spiritual upbringing and took me on Sunday morning rides through the country where he would share his love of and respect for all of God’s creations and his own “country wisdom” on how our lives are affected and guided by our faith every day.

As I grew up from a young boy, he shared his love of the outdoors – hunting and fishing – and of course, golf. He was mostly a self-taught scratch player, by the way, but I’ll get back to that.

His mantra for what happens after any hunting or fishing trip was simple. Care for your gear first, your game second, and yourself last. To this day, the first thing after any session in the bird field or day on the water is to thoroughly clean my guns, fishing gear, and/or boat. Though we never had hunting dogs, I have added caring for my Labrador retrievers into that “gear” mix, though they are much more important than any hardware.

I can still recall many wonderful moments at my father’s side while he re-built and cleaned fishing reels and shotguns, and reloaded rifle ammunition. He always took the time to explain the “why” as well as the “what” and “how.” We evolved that process to him watching me do those things, while he offered his “pearls of wisdom.”

And my Dad instilled in me his love for golf. I know it would have made him proud that I have been able to spend my entire life working in the equipment industry and writing this blog. Many years after his memorial service, I ran into an old high school golf team-mate and we were talking about how much I missed my Dad (we all did, as he was kind of the de facto coach of our golf team), and how I wished he could have known how I’ve made golf my livelihood as well as played the game at a level he would admire.

It still brings tears to my eyes when I can so clearly see Andy simply replying, “He knows.”

As I have gone through a life intertwined with this wonderful game, I recall so many of his lessons. It’s still important to me to be able to hit the golf shots I know and to keep my ballstriking as sharp as possible. I thought I would share some of those little “pearls” with you this week.

“That’s three of them and one of those” — He always said that after saving a rather ugly par with a great putt. Dad was an excellent putter and had this old Spalding mallet putter that earned the nickname “Mandrake,” after a well-known magician of the 1930s and 40s.

“It isn’t how, it’s how many” — Dad was all about scoring and a super competitor. While I was trying to beat the game into submission with ballstriking prowess, he constantly encouraged me to spend equal time on the short game and putting. “The hole, son, the hole.” That was how he put it. It’s all about getting the ball in the hole by any means you can.

And my favorite: “There’s nothing wrong with your game another five thousand practice balls won’t fix” — He actually played an exhibition match with Ben Hogan in the late 1930s and shared his unbridled appreciation for Mr. Hogan with me. I think that is where that encouragement came from.

There were so many other things my father gave me, but those are the ones I wanted to share with you all today.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad — and to all you fathers out there.

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: Club changes at the Invitational

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Played in a club invitational and had to make a few club changes during last week’s Invitational that I played in. The driver was really good until it wasn’t, then had to bring in a reliever to finish the tournament. Each morning I was the guy on the range with multiple drivers as you would expect!

 

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