As we begin the push toward Oakmont and the U.S. Open in June, the biggest story on the PGA Tour is the success Phil Mickelson and his new coach, Butch Harmon, are enjoying. In Mickelson's first three starts since announcing that Harmon has become a part of Team Mickelson, Lefty has a pair of 3rd-place finishes and a win at the Players a tournament that features one of the strongest fields we'll see all year.
To the uneducated eye, it will appear that the only thing that has happened is a shortening of Mickelson's backswing. That is a very simplistic view. Lengthening or shortening the golf swing directly is one of the more difficult changes to make because of the tremendous impact it has on timing. However, when done as a byproduct of other fundamentals, it is much easier. That is what happened in Mickelson's case. Improved balance at address (less weight toward the toes) improves stability in the left leg (the knee is staying flexed better) and an improved hip turn (more level and less tilted) has resulted in a swing shape change (less lifted and more around) and presto! The swing is shorter.
From what I see, Harmon has Mickelson moving in the right direction. In just a few weeks, Mickelson's swing seems tighter and more controlled and his ball striking looks stronger. And when Phil finds fairways, he is usually in the hunt for a win.
Changing coaches is not something the elite pros do often. That said, Tiger Woods has had two coaches as a professional (Butch Harmon and Hank Haney) and Mickelson is now on his third (Dean Reinmuth, Rick Smith and Harmon).
In my opinion, there is a half-life in the relationship between any student and teacher, and when things get stale or a player thinks he's heard everything a teacher has to say, a change can re-energize and motivate a golfer. Remember! Phil made this change and would definitely feel the pressure if it didn't result in improvement. That pressure, plus this quick success has made him even more eager to work hard and improve. I think Mickelson has the potential to have a monster year in 2007 and contend for the U.S. Open championship. And one year after Winged Foot, wouldn't that be just like Phil?