PHIL'S SCORING SECRET No. 1:
Trade yards for accuracy
Remember when Phil carried two drivers? During most of 2013 he left his driver completely out of the bag, opting for a Callaway driver/hybrid prototype dubbed "Phrankenwood" or going solely with his standard X Hot 3Deep 3-wood. Smart choice by Phil, even if these higher-lofted tee-box alternatives cost him a few yards because he was prone to hanging back on his left side and trying to "work" the ball into the air with his lower-lofted drivers. With the Phrankenwood and 3-wood, he had an easier time moving to his right foot and made a more level swing through the ball.
Phil has always been a little shaky off the tee. It cost him most dearly at the 2006 U.S. Open when, with a one-stroke lead, he sliced his drive into a hospitality tent on the 72nd hole en route to a closing double-bogey. This year, he was dead straight by Mickelson standards, hitting the highest percentage of fairways since 2004 and — no surprise — the highest percentage of greens since 2006. And his 116.3 mph average swing speed still beat more than 100 Tour players.
Find your driver and swing smoother
If you're higher than a single-digit handicap, your driver should feature at least 10.5 degrees of loft — end of discussion. To put this extra loft to use, make sure you smoothly shift your hips toward the target as you start your downswing, then rotate them out of the way as you near impact, just as Phil does with Phrankenwood. Don't hang back over your right foot! Trust the club's loft and swing all the way through.
HIT A FASTBALL
Nix your "hang-back" for a smoother swing and straighter drives.
1. Address a teed ball as you normally would, then move your left foot toward your right so that your feet touch. Swing to the top.
2. As you start down, step forward with your left foot and plant it into the ground in its standard address position, as though you're hitting a waist-high fastball.
3. The step helps get your hips and weight correctly moving toward the target at the start of your downswing. Rotate through the ball, then watch it fly high, deep and straight.
Not since 2004 — when he finally won his first major, at Augusta — has Phil Mickelson given us a better season than the body of work he put together in 2013. Not only did he come within an eyelash of shooting 59 en route to winning in Phoenix, he also rebounded from yet another U.S. Open heart-break [on his 43rd birthday, no less] to win back-to-back events in Scotland, including the British Open. That Sunday at Muirfield, after 70 conservative holes, he unleashed classic, go-for-broke Lefty with a birdie-birdie finish.
At an age when most players start to sputter, how did Mickelson play some of the best golf of his Hall of Fame career? He adapted. By making small adjustments to his long game and putting while staying true to the fundamentals that made him a winner, Mickelson eliminated many of the mistakes that have thwarted his talent. Try his new tee-to-green scoring secrets, and you too can enjoy a season for the ages.
PHIL'S SCORING SECRET No. 2
Stay true to your swing
Many argue that Mickelson's swing is too long and loose. He has experimented with shortening it over the years, but this season Mickelson was as long and loose as ever. It fits him. The difference between Lefty's long-and-loose swing and most weekend players'? He knows how to release the club through impact. Phil is a master at letting the club rotate freely through the ball and into his forward-swing, and doing it with zero "hold back." Most everyday players tend to hold the clubface square through impact and steer the face down the target line. This leads to chicken-winging [a bent left arm] and a major loss of swing speed.
Use length to add speed
Make your backswing as long as you comfortably can. [Yep, you heard right.] Turn your torso and your hips if you have to. It's the easiest way to add energy to your swing, and you're probably not flexible enough to coil your upper body against your lower like most pros do. However, it's critical that you copy Phil's aggressive release, so that the club works up and to the left of the target instead of at the target after impact.
DRILL: REHEARSE YOUR RELEASE
Grooving proper hand and forearm rotation through the ball — for more speed through impact — is easy!
1. With your feet close together, make a half swing with your 7-iron. Hinge your wrists and rotate your forearms so that the toe of the clubface points to the sky and the back of your left hand points away from you.
2. Pivot through and begin releasing the hinge in your wrists so that at impact, the butt of the club points at the inside of your left thigh.
3. Time to turn it on! Rehinge your wrists and rotate your forearms until the back of your left hand and the clubface point behind you. The ball should fly straight and approximately 25 yards.
PHIL'S SCORING SECRET No. 3
Strive to be a perfect putter
Phil has gone on record: He has a putting secret, but he's not giving it up. "I ended up having conversations with eight of the best putters I've seen, and I took notes," he said at the Barclays this year. "And there's one thing that they all said that's the same. That's my secret."
Whatever the secret is, it's working. For the first time in his 22-year career, Mickelson led the PGA Tour in putting average [putts per green in regulation]. My take? His secret may have something to do with the fact that at address, he isn't forward-pressing the shaft and delofting the putterface as much as he used to. Also, Phil uses a jumbo-size grip, and fatter grips tend to eliminate excessive hand action and require less grip pressure, both of which can heighten your awareness and control of the putterface.
Borrow moves and visualize the roll
Mickelson seeks out the best putters to learn from, which is an excellent lesson: Don't let pride get in the way of improvement. If someone in your regular foursome putts the lights out, treat him or her to a beverage and pick their brain, then head to the practice green. And don't focus solely on your stroke. Elite putters like Mickelson spend more time visualizing putts than grooving perfect mechanics, because the mechanics are already there. Even though your stroke or rhythm may be a little off here and there, picturing the ball's expected roll clearly in your mind's eye is always step one to putting success.
DRILL: "FILM" YOUR PUTTS
At address, you're looking at the ball, not the target, so it's crucial to get a clear image of what you're trying to accomplish as you stand over the putt. When making your reads, don't merely pick out a line. See the ball roll from start to finish and create a "video" of the putt in your mind. Keep the video fresh when setting up, and then run it just before you start back. Let your stroke respond to what you see in the video.
PHIL'S SCORING SECRET No. 4
Turn chips into scoring shots
Whether or not the stats always agree, Mickelson is one of the best short-game players golf has ever seen. [For a jaw-dropping glimpse of what he can do, check this out.] Superb touch is largely why he's able to create a wide variety of short shots and stop them near the cup, but soft hands aren't much help without proper fundamentals. Phil's mechanics are perfect, and his 2013 technique is pretty much the same as it was in his rookie year of 1992. He's a proponent of what he calls "hinge-and-hold" chipping, and unlike his putting "secret," he's discussed this method in various books and DVDs. Phil is adamant that hinging and holding is the only way to consistently hit solid chips, and I agree. I haven't missed a Masters in ages. I watch Lefty practice chipping every April, and I've never seen him catch one thin or fat, even on Augusta's tight, perfectly manicured lies.
Hinge and hold for tighter chips
It takes years of practice to pull off some of the short-game shots that have defined Mickelson's career, but the hinge-and-hold technique is simple to learn and works for most chipping situations. Plus, it makes it impossible for the clubhead to pass your hands, which is the No. 1 chipping mistake among recreational players. Here's how it works, in two easy steps.
1. Set up with your feet about six to eight inches apart, and instead of only swinging your arms back, bend your wrists and hinge the club up. Let your arms swing back a little in response to the momentum created by the hinge, and allow your body to pivot slightly to the right.
2. Turn your body toward your front foot while accelerating the clubhead through the ball. Critical: Maintain as much of the hinge you created in your backswing as possible. If you keep your left hand moving toward the target, you'll correctly hold your release. Control distance with the length of your arm swing.
PHIL'S SCORING SECRET No. 5
Play for the thrill of it
Phil Mickelson is a wealthy golfer [more than $73 million in career earnings, second only to Tiger], but he doesn't necessarily play for money. He plays to win. Phil's only concern is finishing on top — and having a whole lot of fun while doing it. That's why we see Phil take so many chances. While the announcers in the booth [and some fans] scratch their heads when Phil pulls out driver from the the fairway, or tries to draw a 4-iron around a tree to a tucked pin, Mickelson knows that reward can't come without risk. It's why he's so streaky. It's why he's thrilling to watch. ["Will he go for the green in two or won't he?"] And it's why he's ninth all time in official PGA Tour wins [42 … and counting.]
Take some chances
With his near-miss at Merion this year, Mickelson now has the same number of runner-up finishes in majors [eight] as Greg Norman. But Phil will keep being Phil, taking risky swings until he hangs up his spikes. While you shouldn't attempt every shot that Lefty does, you should copy his style by approaching each shot without fear. That par-3 tee shot over water? Forget about it! If it ends up there, it ends up there.
There are two ways to eradicate fear. First, visualize sucess at the start. Don't picture the ball going kerplunk in the hazard. See it land safely on the green. Clutch players like Phil picture only the ideal outcome. Second, develop a pre-shot routine and stick with it. A good pre-shot routine is like being in a quiet room, where pressure can't get to you. Make it simple: Pick your target, see the shot, and swing. Perform it on the range, then take that same routine to the first tee.
More Phil: Phil Mickelson is Golf Magazine's Player of the Year | The 100 Greatest Phil Mickelson Photos | What Makes Phil Tick? | Bones on Phil's Best Shots of 2013 | Gary Player on POY: It's Phil, Barely | Phil Phanatics: The People Behind the People's Champion | Phil's Phrankenwood: It's Alive!