Still riding an emotional high from the USA’s triumph in the Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson was in good spirits ahead of Thursday’s start of the PGA Tour’s 2016-17 wraparound season.
Even if he got such a short break.
“Well, after five solid days off, it’s exciting to start the year,” Mickelson deadpanned Wednesday at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif., home to the season-opening Safeway Open. “There was such a closeness and unity on this team and such support from each other that it helped bring out some of our best golf. We had this emotional experience that we shared that is kind of a common bond that builds relationships that last a career, a lifetime.”
Meeting with reporters before his pro-am obligation, Mickelson spent much of his time talking about the 17-11 rout of Europe at Hazeltine National in Minnesota that ended Oct. 2. Mickelson, who put his neck on the line as a task force was created and then a committee sustained in an effort to turn the tide against the USA’s rivals from across the pond, responded on the course as well, going 2-1-1.
While the USA’s victory didn’t go into his personal win column, where his 42 PGA Tour victories rank ninth all time, it did temper frustration from a third consecutive winless season. Although Mickelson hasn’t won since the 2013 British Open — for further context, consider that Tiger Woods has won a Tour event since then — Lefty had six top-10s last season, three of them being runner-up showings, and 13 top-25s in 22 starts.
In many ways, his singles match against Sergio Garcia in the Ryder Cup encapsulated Mickelson’s year. In often-spectacular fashion, he made 10 birdies and didn’t win. Yes, he didn’t lose — the two halved as Garcia made nine birdies — and Mickelson was thwarted from victory by outstanding play.
The same thing happened in the British Open, where he shot a final-round, bogey-free 65 but lost to Henrik Stenson’s record-breaking 62. And there was his finish at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he missed a 4-footer on the 72nd hole to miss a playoff by one. And he was runner-up in the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
As he often said during the season, he was close to putting everything together. At times he did, only to be beaten. But as each tournament passed, Mickelson was pressed to remain his forever optimistic self.
Especially when he said he’s in some of the best shape of his life. After this week, Mickelson is going to take an extended offseason, and he’s not expected to play again until 2017. During this time, however, he will concentrate his offseason work on the range on one club — his driver.
“I have one goal this offseason. I started doing it last week. My goal is to address my driving,” he said. “I feel like from the irons on in after the drive, my game is as good or better than just about anybody in the world, but off the tee I’m playing from such a disadvantage that I have to fix that.
“Now, I addressed my putting a few years ago, and my putting’s been astounding for me ever since. Now I’ve got to do that with the driver. So I started a biomechanics deal in looking at where I go wrong. … I’m able to hit long irons, mid-irons, short irons very effectively. When I get to driver, something goes off, my leg action isn’t quite right. I have a couple of issues that I’ve got to address, and identifying it is the first part.
“I think we have an idea of what that is for the first time in a while. If I can fix my driving and drive it effectively, I’m very confident in my abilities thereafter so it should hopefully be a good year.”
He’d like nothing more this week than to take momentum into the offseason.
“I’m still on an emotional high, and even though I’ve been running around this last week, my energy level is up and I’m optimistic about having a good week,” Mickelson said. “I love the golf course and the feel. It’s in California and I’m excited to play.”