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As Mickelson Showed, Success in Golf Is Measured by Space Between Ears

Peter Harris

Peter Harris

What an amazing British Open victory by Phil Mickelson. Links golf is incredibly exciting to watch with the wind, ground contours, odd bounces and firm ground to golf the ball. There is no denying what we witnessed on the most spectacular final rounds in golfing history. So how did Phil do it?

I looked up my golf mental coach, David MacKenzie, from Washington, D.C., and his Golf State of Mind coaching to see what his views were of Phil’s score of 66 in the final round on such a tough course. Here’s what I learned from David about Phil’s mental approach that helped win the Claret Jug:

Phil played fearlessly. To play your best, we have to play without fear. There was no doubt in his mind about the type of shot he was about to play. Phil mentioned picking “his spot,” meaning he had a clearly defined target and shot shape, and that’s what he committed to. Once his mind was set, he wasn’t thinking about what might happen or fearing if he hit into the deep rough or pot bunkers. He was thinking positively on what he desired.

The lesson from Phil? Pick your target, see your shot and swing aggressively, as many of us try to steer our shots when we are forced to execute and avoid trouble.

Phil stayed in the present. The only way to birdie four of the last six holes, on such a brutally difficult course like Muirfield, is if you are anywhere but in the present moment and playing one shot at a time. He wasn’t thinking about the future or the what-ifs earlier in the round or his four-putt earlier in the week. Our best golf is played when we are totally absorbed in the shot we are about to hit and not when sulking about past mis-hits or worried about future results that may or may not happen.

Phil relaxed between shots. Somehow, Phil always looks as if he’s enjoying himself out there and has the ability to switch his mind off between shots. After all, why get upset? Golf is only a game, and negativity affects our swing and mind and results in more bad shots and then more negativity. Remember to enjoy the people you’re playing with and be a playing partner for them to enjoy to.

Phil took calculated risks. In his post-round interview, he described where all the trouble was on the final holes in a level of detail that confirmed he had great course strategy. Phil thought through every option of each shot before he hit it.

What can we learn? We need to know our distances and think about the consequences as we are deciding what shot to hit. Where is the one spot we can’t hit it? On what side of the green is the pin cut? Do we try to hit a hybrid out of the rough when a safe shot with a 7-iron is just as good? This is not negative thinking and is done before we address the ball. It’s called playing smart.

Phil’s mental performance was truly amazing and something we can all learn from and apply to our own games. It’s taken Phil 20 years to figure out how to play winning golf at the British Open. Let’s learn from Phil and at least begin to think like champions.

Peter Harris is director of golf at the Fore-U Golf Center in West Lebanon. His column will appear regularly on the VALLEY NEWS recreation page during the playing season.