Last Friday afternoon at Torrey Pines, less than 30 minutes after his truncated appearance in his hometown Farmers Insurance Open had ended with a missed cut, Phil Mickelson went to work on the practice tee – again.
Fit, trim and eager for another new golf year, Mickelson found himself searching for something positive to pack into his luggage for the long trip to Saudi Arabia to play in the European Tour event this week.
More on that in a moment.
Mickelson had called an emergency session with swing coach Andrew Getson at what could have been happy hour. But two starts into 2020, Mickelson had missed two cuts, the first time in his professional career he’s failed to make the weekend in his first two events of the year.
In Friday’s second round on Torrey’s North Course, Mickelson had hit just two fairways. He hit just seven over two days but still managed to shoot 1-over par, two strokes higher than he needed to play Saturday and Sunday.
Watching Mickelson hit driver after driver Friday afternoon, it was obvious he couldn’t be sure where his tee shots were heading. He hit a handful of big slices and, at one point, pulled a tee shot so badly that it needed the tall netting on the outside of the range to keep the practice ball out of the busy road nearby.
” … so to miss two cuts, it looks like I’m playing like I did last year but I’m just not. I know I’m playing better but I’m not off to a great start. I’ll get it turned around.” – Phil Mickelson
Mickelson and Getson had met at 7 a.m. that morning at another golf course for a prep session but it hadn’t been enough. Knowing Getson wasn’t going to Saudi Arabia, Mickelson opted to work overtime.
By the time he finished and stopped for a moment to talk with a few reporters who had waited him out, the Mickelson sparkle was missing.
“I wanted to get it ironed out. I had been playing really well coming into the start of the season so to miss two cuts, it looks like I’m playing like I did last year but I’m just not. I know I’m playing better but I’m not off to a great start. I’ll get it turned around,” Mickelson said.
It’s not that bad, Mickelson said, but missing fairways at Torrey Pines, where the rough is deep, dense and damp, can be a confidence wrecker. He thought the consistency problems that hounded him much of last year were behind him.
“I’m not overly discouraged. Just a little surprised I missed the cut. I thought I was going to have a good week,” said Mickelson, who pointed to two short putts he missed as confidence killers.
Over the past few years, Mickelson has talked excitedly about the arrival of a new year, acknowledging the difficulty he has in sustaining his excitement and focus over the latter part of the golf year.
Last February, he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for the fifth time, but nothing much happened from there. He played four fall events and didn’t finish better than T28 at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
Now two missed cuts.
It’s an admittedly small sample size – six starts – but Mickelson ranks 199th in driving accuracy and 200th in strokes gained putting. It doesn’t take a numbers whiz to know those are some bad integers.
Mickelson isn’t making it easy on himself, flying to Saudi Arabia for a one-off appearance in the second-year European Tour event in a place where the political backdrop is difficult to ignore. He’s not the only American player – Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed are also playing there – but even if it comes with a seven-figure appearance fee, it’s a very long way for a soon-to-be 50-year old to go knowing he’s due back at Pebble Beach to defend his title next week.
The fact Mickelson has been a fixture at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and is skipping it to play in Saudi Arabia isn’t a good look, no matter how he spins it.
It could be the third of five straight starts for Mickelson, who is considering adding the Genesis Invitational near Los Angeles to his schedule because he wants “some good finishes.” He is not qualified for the WGC-Mexico Championship after the Genesis Invitational because, in part, he now ranks 86th in the world.
Have we seen the last of Mickelson as a contender on the PGA Tour?
Mickelson’s best golf years are behind him, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him.
He’s too good and too proud to surrender. Maybe he needs to focus less on hitting bombs and more on hitting fairways, but Mickelson has always had a preoccupation with distance. He could look at how Tiger Woods has recalibrated his swing and shown that being the longest isn’t critical to success.
With his 50th birthday coming during U.S. Open week in June, Mickelson is already being asked whether he will play the PGA Tour Champions. As expected, he brushes it off, saying he will see where his game is this summer, but his goals include playing himself onto one more Ryder Cup team.
That’s a giant challenge given his form over the past few months, but Mickelson loves challenges, even if it means racing against time.
Mickelson’s best golf years are behind him, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of him. But first, he needs to find what’s gone missing.
There wasn’t much light for Phil Mickelson at Torrey Pines, where he missed the cut for the second time this year. Photo: Donald Miralle, Getty Images
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