CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — Phil Mickelson got lost on his way to the putting green.
Instead of a quick stroll through the roped-off path, he found himself stuck in a sea of fans, all thrilled to see him at the PGA Championship. He hasn’t been around much this summer, with his wife and mother’s health taking precedence over golf.
If the agility he showed by climbing over a waist-high fence is any indication, though, he hasn’t lost any of his moves.
“I’m excited to play golf. I’m fresh, ready to go,” Mickelson said Wednesday after a practice round. “I feel a sense of relief knowing that long term, both my mom and Amy are going to be fine, and I’m excited about working on my golf game and trying to compete here these next few weeks.”
Mickelson did play last week, finishing well behind Tiger Woods at Bridgestone. That he was rusty was understandable. After his emotional run at the U.S. Open ended in a disappointing tie for second, he took six weeks off to be with Amy, who was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this summer.
While his wife was getting ready to have surgery July 1, Mickelson’s mother also was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m excited that or relieved that long term we believe everything’s going to be fine. But, still, as we go through it it’s day-to-day. You have good days and you have bad days,” he said. “The big picture, we’ve been fortunate, and because of that it makes it easier to be practicing when I’m actually at the course.”
Mickelson said he felt he played better last week than his scores reflected. After opening 70-69, he shot 75-73 on the weekend. The biggest problem was his short game, where timing and feel is everything. But he knew where the problems were, and spent the last few days fine-tuning.
He also had swing coach Butch Harmon with him for all 18 holes of his practice round Wednesday.
“That was very beneficial to make sure that the swing is on track. The setup is correct and the path and everything is where we want it,” he said. “So I feel like that’s coming around, and like I said, I’m excited to get started tomorrow.”
Mickelson finished tied for 34th in 2002, the last time the PGA was at Hazeltine. But the golf course has been super-sized since then – it’s a monstrous 7,674 yards, the longest in major championship history – and the changes should play to Lefty’s strengths. There are three par 5s at 600 yards or longer, and Mickelson is one of the few players for whom they won’t be out of reach.
He’s not a fan of the 633-yard third hole, saying there’s just no reward anywhere on it. His favorite is No. 13, where the tee box has been moved back to make it a 248-yard par 3.
“It falls into my strategy or belief that the tour, the tournaments, should make the hard holes harder and the easy holes easier, because people want to see birdies and they want to see bogeys,” Mickelson said. “That gives the better players a chance to make up ground to separate themselves through making par.”
If he happens to run into trouble, Mickelson still has that nifty 19-degree hybrid in his bag. He used it for the first time at the U.S. Open, and it got him out of rough so deep he could barely see the ball.
“It’s performed very well out of this rough, and I expect to be able to recover because of that club if I were to miss some fairways. Which, although I’m never planning on doing, I usually seem to miss a few,” Mickelson said, smiling.