Mickelson Considered 'Nervous' to Begin 2016 Season
By Will Gray
Amateurs and hackers alike, take note: even the best in the game get nervous. Phil Mickelson failed to win last year on Tour, and he did not advance to the Tour Championship for the second straight season. As he looks to make his first start since the Presidents Cup at next week's CareerBuilder Challenge, the 46-year-old admitted that there are still some butterflies to battle heading into his season debut.
"My last two years have been disappointing to me, and I want to make this upcoming year one of the best years possible," Mickelson said Wednesday on "Morning Drive." "I'm optimistic, but I'm also nervous because it's been a little while since I've played to the level I expect to."
There is a lot to focus on this year. In addition to the Masters at it's normal Augusta National grounds, the U.S. Open will take place at Oakmont Country Club, the Open Championship at Royal Troon and the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, where Mickelson won in 2005. Also part of a crowded scheduled are the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National and golf's return to the Olympics in Rio.
Mickelson hasn't won since the 2013 Open Championship, and that drought in part led him to make a coaching change last fall. Lefty split with longtime instructor Butch Harmon, instead tabbing Australian instructor Andrew Getson as the man to help get him back on track. Based on Mickelson's comments, one area of off-season focus is clearly evident.
"When I analyze it and look objectively, my swing plane has not been what I need it to be," he said. "I've been having to save so many shots at impact with my hands, and if I can get my swing back on plane, and have very little adjustments at impact, then my feel, and my touch, and my shot-making ability will hopefully come back."
Another area that has received attention from Mickelson in recent months has been the stat sheet, and specifically par-4 scoring. He finished 114th on Tour last season in that category, a significant decline after finishing 24th in par-4 scoring in 2014 and 27th in 2013. He noted that par-4 birdie percentage is a statistic that "means the most" to him when evaluating his overall play.
"It's telling me that I'm getting the ball in play, or close enough to the green to where I can make birdies," he said. "So leading in par-4 birdies is I think one of the most important statistics, because we also have so many of them throughout a round, and that has been not the strength that it usually is in my career."
After his appearance in Palm Springs, Mickelson's West Coast swing is also slated to include stops at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in upcoming weeks. Despite the early-season jitters, he remains optimistic that a new year and a new instructor will mark a turnaround in his performance.
"I'm hopeful that this off-season, the work I've put in, will get my swing back on the plane that it has been in the past," he said, "and allow me to hit the shots I've been able to hit as I did in the past."