Todd Warshaw/Getty Images
By Tod Leonard
Phil Mickelson insists a new, softer shaft in his driver will help him hit more fairways.
Here’s one more reason to scrutinize The Match: Champions for Charity on Sunday: Phil Mickelson contends he’s found a way to be more accurate with his driver.
Yep, stop us if you’ve heard this before. It seems like every January Lefty arrives in La Quinta for his season opener and has some new-found swing key or equipment change that is going to magically—finally!—help him find more fairways. Then he continues to spray it all over the yard while leaning on his magnificent short game to save him.
Who knows how many more tournaments-—more critically, majors-—Mickelson could have captured if could stay out of the trees, rough and the occasional hospitality tent.
The stats don’t lie, not do they change all that much. On average per year, Mickelson hits just more than half the fairways. His accuracy standing on the PGA Tour the last five years: 161st, 163rd, 162nd, 189th and 185th. This year, he’s 182nd while actually having improved to 56.23 percent.
Also, remember Phil’s play was decidedly mediocre thus far in 2020: four missed cuts to go with a solo third at Pebble Beach that saw him contend, only to shoot 74 on Sunday.
The downtime during the halt to Tour competition during the coronavirus outbreak has apparently given Phil more time to tinker and to contend that he’s found an answer. (Of course, to the discerning eye, this does come along at the same time as an entertaining new commercial about the Callaway Mavrik driver that will debut during the Match.)
“I have been working hard on my driver,” Mickelson said on a new Callaway podcast that debuted on Friday. “I’m really excited about the changes I made.”
Phil said he’s made an undisclosed change in his setup, while also switching to an altered head and softer shaft in his driver. He said the shaft will allow him to square the face better. “I don’t have to use my hands as much,” Mickelson contended.
He says the change means he can avoid the dreaded bad miss left that has plagued him.
“My miss isn’t left anymore,” he said. “It’s actually right, if anything, which is going to take some getting used to.”
He added, “I like to play with swinging the head freely and not thinking about position. Those changes are allowing me to drive it much straighter.”
Some proof should come at Medalist on Sunday, when Mickelson pairs with Tom Brady in the match against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning. While the front nine is best ball, the back is modified alternate shot, with each team choosing a best drive and alternating on swings from there.
Where it could get sticky for Mickelson: Apparently, Brady isn’t anymore accurate that he is.
“He drives it with the accuracy of an 18-handicap,” Lefty said on the podcast of Brady, who’s listed as an 8-handicap. “He has the potential to miss big with the big clubs.”
But, Mickelson contends, Brady is an excellent putter. And there’s where strategy will come into play in the match. They may end up taking more of Brady’s drives on the back, however wayward, so that Phil can possibly set him up with a birdie putt. If Brady’s hitting approaches, they’ll likely need all of Mickelson’s short-game wizardry.
Following up on some needling earlier in the week, Mickelson reiterated on the podcast that he feels like he has “nothing to lose” in going up against Woods on his home course.
“To me, it’s funny,” Mickelson said in a light-hearted tone. “We wanted to hold this at another site, but Tiger insisted we go to his home course. I understand why. He wants every advantage possible. He takes the lower handicap, Peyton Manning, who is a 4. He gives me the one that’s an 8. He insisted we go to his home course. I love that about him. I respect that about him, that he’s looking for every little edge.
“From my point of view, I’m the defending champion. I have the belt to prove it. … I’m going to his place. Everyone expects him to come back and win. He supposedly has the better partner than me, game-wise. Tom and I are going down there with nothing to lose; we can freewheel it, play well, and have the ability to give him a bad memory at his home course.”