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?
FedEx Cup Follies
So far this season we have seen Paul Goydos, Charley Hoffman, Aaron Baddeley, Mark Calcavecchia, Boo Weekley and Scott Verplank all win PGA Tour events.
Don't get me wrong, each of these guys can play and deserved to win, but one of the selling points of the FedEx Cup was it would encourage better players to compete more often. It's failed in that mission. The allure of FedEx Cup points has not persuaded the game's best players to adjust their schedules; if anything, they have taken it easy in anticipation of a big push between the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Tour Championship itself. And that has opened the door for more and more players to not only get Top 10s, but also compete for wins.
The FedEx Cup has also created a greater separation between the Have's and the Have Not's amongst the tournaments. It was announced in April that the Masters will extend an invitation into the 2008 tournament to all winners of FedEx Cup events starting with this season's Verizon Heritage. Tournaments that are not a part of the FedEx Cup schedulewhich is everything after the Tour Championship, which concludes September 16thwon't have that carrot to dangle in front of players who will not have qualified yet.
The new drainage system at TPC Sawgrass was installed in order to let the course play firmer and faster. Harder fairways give shorter hitters added length on their tee shots and force longer hitters to work the ball more or risk hitting through fairways and into the rough.
But another way to bring more players into contention is the stop hiding the pins so deeply in the corners of the greens. Impossibly difficult pin locations create boring golf. Everyone plays away from the hole and we are left "in the land of the 25-foot birdie putt." Mix it up with the pin placements. Let the player hitting a 6-iron have a chance to hit it inside the player who's hitting a 9-iron once in a while. But that can't happen if every hole is 6 feet behind a huge bunker.