Johnny Miller: How to Learn From Phil Mickelson’s Flaws

October 30, 2014

I’ve covered Phil Mickelson’s entire career, from his 1990 U.S. Amateur win through this year’s Ryder Cup. Lefty, in a word? Amazing. What I love most about Phil is that you can’t predict what he’s going to do. He makes you wonder, “Will he shoot 62, or balloon to a 76?” The fact that he can go ultralow at a moment’s notice adds to his living-legend status. There’s nobody like him.

If it weren’t for Tiger Woods, Phil would have been The Man for the past two decades. He has bagged 42 PGA Tour wins, which puts him on the cusp of passing Walter Hagen, who had 45. Walter Hagen! And if he’d converted a chunk of his 14 top-3 finishes in majors into victories, we’d be talking about Phil—not Tiger—chasing Nicklaus’s record for major wins.

I rarely talk about coaching players, but I would’ve loved a crack at teaching Mickelson. Let’s start with the obvious: His driving is erratic. It was erratic when he won a Tour event as a boyish 20-year-old undergrad at Arizona State, and it was erratic when he finished runner-up to Rory McIlroy at this year’s PGA Championship. In 2014, Phil hit just over half his fairways—58 percent, to be exact, to finish 140th in driving accuracy.

I see two major flaws in Phil’s driver swing, and these have combined to make it tough for him to square the clubface at impact (so listen up, slicers!). The first is that he takes the club too far past parallel at the top of his backswing. Yeah, I know Bubba Watson swings past parallel, too, but Bubba holds the face fairly square at the top, while Phil lets it turn a bit. So for Lefty it’s a double-whammy of too long and too open. Phil’s second driving flaw? He transitions from his too-long backswing to a very narrow downswing. And I mean narrow. Notice in the sequence (above) how close the shaft gets to the back of his neck starting down. That’s crazy! From there, he has to play “catch up” with the clubhead all the way to impact. He often loses this game and hits a big block left.

I’d like to see him—and you—swing just short of parallel for more control, and to start down with the hands as far away from the head as possible. Great drivers make a big circle with their hands on the downswing, not a small one. This full extension, with the hands away from the head, ramps up the power while keeping the club on plane, and this lets you hit it far and straight.

It’s been an amazing ride for Phil. With two tweaks to his driver swing, it could have been the greatest ever.

Three Other Players I’d Like to Fix

1 BUBBA WATSON: He needs to stop curving the ball so much with his irons and wedges. I like the creativity, but you should never play a shot that gets you in trouble if you hit it straight.

2 DUSTIN JOHNSON: He’s got the best golf body the game has ever seen. He just needs a push. My advice? Get mad about not winning, Dustin! Trust me: Money’s good, but trophies are better.

3 ADAM SCOTT: I wouldn’t touch his gorgeous swing. I’d just show him old footage of Phil taking poor risks. Roll the dice, Adam, but choose wisely.