It’s been nearly four years since Phil Mickelson last won a golf tournament, but that doesn’t mean the 46-year-old five-time major winner has reached the end of the line.
“I know what I’m trying to do, and when I do it, I’m able to execute and play golf at the level I want,” Mickelson said in his 25th season on the PGA Tour.
Mickelson hasn’t won since the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. He’s finished second in each major since (2014 PGA, 2015 Masters, 2016 British) except the one major he’s finished second in six times (U.S. Open).
Coming into his favorite tournament on his favorite course the same age as Jack Nicklaus was when he won the Masters in 1986, Mickelson should be considered a threat to win a fourth green jacket along with favorites less than half his age.
He’ll be even more motivated after missing the cut for the second time in his last three Masters starts a year ago. He went 9-over in a 10-hole stretch from No. 7 to No. 16 and shot 79 on Friday to miss the cut by one stroke.
“I don’t know how to explain it, I just threw away a lot of shots,” he said before leaving early for only the third time in 24 Masters dating back to 1991. “I just made a lot of poor shots in the wrong spot. This is the worst I’ve managed myself around this golf course. I don’t know what to say. It’s disappointing. I love this tournament so much, and I’ve been playing so well, to come in and make some of those mistakes and the doubles and stuff that I made today is very disappointing. So, that’s about it.”
Mickelson’s uncharacteristic meltdown began on No. 7, where his wedge from 119 yards came up short in the bunker and he failed to get out to make double. He then missed a 3-footer on 8 and unraveled a bit. His demise was capped by a pair of water balls that led to doubles on both 15 and 16.
“The guys that played well got rewarded and the guys who did dumb stuff like I did shot a big number,” he said. “So it happens. I could pull 10 shots that were just … I should be right in the tournament, and I’m not because you just can’t play golf at this level making those mistakes.”
Mickelson didn’t get the offseason preparation he wanted because of a pair of hernia surgeries that cut short his usual workout regimen. His play in seven 2017 starts has been fair, though somewhat erratic.
“It’s encouraging in some areas, discouraging in others,” he said. “The areas that I usually excel at – which are lag putting, basic chips, easy chips – I’m throwing a lot of shots away that I shouldn’t be throwing away. I’m doing the hard things well but the easy things I’m not doing so well, so I’ll have to work on that.”
Mickelson is sporting a new brand logo with a silhouette of his famous 12-inch leap from his first major win at the 2004 Masters. He said it’s for an upcoming project he’s not ready to unveil, but he couldn’t wait to wear it on his shirts.
“Every time I look at it, it reminds me of one of the most exciting and biggest points in my career,” he said. “So it’s a very uplifting thing for me every time I see it. It’s fun to have it on my chest.”
It might seem like a surprise that Mickelson remains a relevant competitor in golf 13 years since his breakthrough major win while his perceived rival Tiger Woods has been derailed by injuries despite being five years younger. But Mickelson attributes his sustained presence to his fitness regimen and his swing.
His workout plan designed by trainer Sean Cochran focuses on “building the stabilizing muscles rather than building up just the big muscles. So the support around my knees, around my spine, around my shoulders – all the areas that first commonly get injured – are much stronger.”
His swing takes the pressure off his back by “using the leverage and motion to create speed rather than a violent, brutal force while isolating a couple of joints.”
It adds up to Mickelson’s being a continued factor on tour, in majors and team events such as the Ryder Cup well after his prime. While he hasn’t added to his win total in nearly four years, he remains one of the game’s biggest figures.
“I think that last year was a good year for a number of reasons,” he said. “Even though I didn’t win, the performance at the British Open, the play at the Ryder Cup … I came close in a few other tournaments. But what really was exciting was the foundation I kind of built last year is carrying over to this year and hopefully I’ll get my feel, my touch will be sharp and I’ll shoot some low scores and hopefully get on top of that leaderboard again.”