Dave Pelz on his new book and why 2013 might be Phil Mickelson’s best season ever

Dave Pelz Putting Games
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Phil Mickelson and Dave Pelz at the 2008 British Open.

How do the learning aids work?
The devices are using these tiny little things called accelerometers and gyroscopes so you can put a little device on the bottom of your putter or you can put the ball on a plate and hit the ball and the device will measure what the ball is actually doing. That means I know if you've hit the ball on the heel or toe of your putter, and I can teach you to hit it solid. I know if your face is open or closed, and I can teach you to not to hit it offline. I can show you how your putt would roll on any green so you can practice that indoors even without a good carpet. Golfers can truly, honest to God, improve their putting indoors over the winter. That's what this book is all about.

Do you use any of these games with Phil Mickelson?
Yes, he's been using the Putting Tutor for several years. In fact, all of the games are used in my school and I've been using them for years. It's not like they're new and they might work or they might not. They're all proven to work. The games were developed to help my students. What's new is the devices to help you measure these things indoors without being on a putting green. And that's the key to this book. That you can do it at home with your kids. And you don't have to go anywhere after work.

You started teaching Mickelson in late 2003 when he was already one of the all-time great short-game players. So what exactly do you teach Mickelson?
[Laughs] It's really interesting. Honestly, I've probably learned more from Phil than he's learned from me. Starting in January, it will be my 10th year with Phil, and he's just a fabulous student and a friend. And of course a great, great player. Over these nine years, what I've tried to do is measure where he's losing most of his strokes and where he could improve. It turns out that he was a great short-game player before I ever met him, so I don't take any credit for that. But what I found out is that he didn't hit the easy shots much better than the rest of the players.

He is by far the best difficult-short-game executioner that I've ever seen and that I think has ever played the game. He can hit the hard shots better than anyone has ever hit them before. Now give him an a easy little chip shot that's just a 10-yard carry onto a green with 30 feet of green space and he just almost doesn't open his eyes. He doesn't pay attention to it. That's one of the first things we found out. We need to get him to focus and try to make the shot, and he actually makes a lot more than he used to because now when there's an easy one, he's got the mental attitude that "I'm going to try to make this" instead of not paying attention to it. We're trying to challenge him. And we've learned that if we go to a major early and we play practice rounds, we can find some areas of the course that are going to challenge his short game that he hasn't been tuned up on, and we tune him up. I'm more of a tuning-up coach and a fine-detail coach. I'm not teaching him fundamentals. He knows the fundamentals of the short game. He knows the fundamentals of putting.

Where's Mickelson's game at right now?
This year you may have noticed he was experimenting with his putting. He's been doing this because his short game is the best in the world and it's the best it's ever been, and his driving is better than it's ever been. It's not the best in the world yet, but it's pretty long and it's reasonably straight. So his ballstriking is the best it's ever been and his short game is the best it's ever been. But his putting wasn't up to standard this year. One time he was playing with Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele and he was hitting the ball better than either one of them for 36 holes and they dusted him. That really made him mad and he started messing with the belly putter and the long putter and experimenting to see if we could find any way that he can improve and get his putting up to the level of everything else. If he can get that next year better than it's ever been then he will have the best year of his career.

What's the most amazing shot you've ever seen?
I saw him lay the ball against the far edge of the bunker -- imagine the bunker's like a bowl and the ball is on the upslope on the far side. He's got a downhill lie to an elevated green and there's just no way to hit the shot. So he turns around with his back to the hole and swings the other way and hits it back over his own head. He did three shots. One went in the hole, one was about four feet from the hole and the other was 15 feet from the hole. I went over there and tried that for an hour and I couldn't get one on the green. He's got great hands and he's very athletically gifted, but he also works very hard. His short game has improved in the last 10 years. He's better now and he gets up and down a higher percentage of the time and he's even better at the harder shots. We practice a lot. He is not a lazy man. He's had some problems the last couple years because of psoriatic arthritis. He's taken some medication that has made it more difficult for him to practice as much as he wants to. But he's actually getting that under control and this year I think he's started hitting it better than he's ever hit and I know his short game is better, we measured that. So he's really doing great. If he can get his putting going, even at his age -- he's not old but he's in his 40s -- I think he's going to have the year of his career.


 

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