It amazes me, the outpouring of sentiment towards Phil Mickelson after his sixth (count ‘em, 6!) runner-up finish at last month’s U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club. Our teaching Professional at Quail Ridge, Mr. Ballew, 80, looked like a car had struck his dog when he came to the course on Monday morning; I thought he might start crying in front of me. Mickelson is rumored to be one of the least-liked players on tour, yet his public reputation is staggeringly pristine. Maybe it’s the doe-eyed, awe-shucks demeanor, or maybe the go-for-broke, hair-on-fire way he plays the game that people are drawn to. It certainly didn’t hurt that Tiger Woods fell from golf Heaven and is now in a self-induced Purgatory. Mickelson is the white knight to Tiger’s whipping boy persona these days. All I know is a well-to-do kid from California who went to an excellent college, married a beautiful girl, had a beautiful family, and makes more endorsements than almost any other player on the PGA tour, has become the people’s champion. I don’t begrudge him any of it. It certainly isn’t Phil’s fault that he comes from a good family and has worked hard on and off the course to succeed. It just consistently amazes me that that translates with everyday people. Arnold Palmer was a farm boy, swashbuckler, with a hard jaw. He willed his way to major championships with a makeshift swing. Palmer’s story (true or embellished) is one of American comeuppance: the rural kid who took America by storm with a perfect smile and outgoing personality. Palmer has been said to be to Mickelson what Jack Nicklaus is to Tiger Woods: the people’s champion versus the socially awkward and reclusive best player in the world. Yet Tiger still draws a bigger crowd due to his pure golf ability and racial benchmarks (doing what no other golfer, let alone bi-racial golfer, has ever done).
It will be fascinating how this soap opera plays out. Does Tiger regain a level of success? Does Phil decide against a longer career once he can no longer play the aggressive way he always has? Does Phil reinvent his play as he gets older? Of course, those are all questions of golf achievement. One thing that is unlikely to change in the near future is Phil’s ownership of golf fans.
That is until wee lads McIlroy and Fowler take over.
July Golf Mailbag
“I have a hard time taking my time while putting. Who wants to bend down once or twice, judge the line and speed and then concentrate on hitting it right? I just get up and hit the damn thing!”–Ashley M. Alto, Mich.
I’d like to play in the grouping behind you, Ashley – for a few reasons [wry smile]. While just hitting the damn thing may not do much for your score, it at least keeps things moving. I think of putting this way, for what it’s worth: there is no need to take two minutes over every putt. You should feel comfortable over a putt before hitting it but that shouldn’t take more than 30 to 45 seconds. The key is doing all your pre-shot study while your playing partners are hitting their own shots. You don’t need to rush through the golf course as long as you’re consistently moving forward. Drive your cart to your shot while your partner is preparing their shot. Jump in the cart with your golf clubs and place them back in your bag when you pull your next club. As for putting, give yourself five minutes to hit 10 to 20 putts on the practice green. Concentrating on the slope and speed of the practice green will help you have more confidence when you get to the greens on the course. Different routines work for different people. Just focus on squaring yourself to your line and maintaining a soft grip throughout your putt. After that, feel free to just hit the damn thing!
“What aspect of golf turns people into club-throwing, club-breaking, booze-guzzling, pee-anywhere-I-want to, drive-my-cart-anyway-I-damn-well-please assheads?”–Damian S. Hell, Mich
Thank you for writing in, Damian! Ok, actually, wrote this one. But Damian (myself) brings up a great question. Different courses have different policies on people turning into Mardi Gras participants on the course. I get the argument that you’ve paid for a round and you want to enjoy your time. I’m all about having a good time at the course. But the 72-year-old woman behind you also paid to play the course and she’ll putt better without a traveling circus going on 100 yards away. Again, eat drink and be merry at the golf course – just remember: you aren’t on a desert island. Your $30 round doesn’t entitle you to a P Diddy yacht excursion; a little self-awareness would be appreciated by other golfers and the poor ranger who has to tell you to put your pants back on while he makes $6 an hour.
“What is the proper amount of time [to play] nine and eighteen holes?”–Brian R. Rockford, Mich.
Thank the beautiful eight-pound six-ounce baby Jesus for your question. The PGA of America just introduced it’s “Play it Forward” campaign to try to quicken golf rounds that are increasingly becoming a half-day excursion. Play it Forward is the suggestion to play a tee box one forward from where you ordinarily would. However, picking a proper tee box is the tip of the iceberg on modern slow play. Like I mentioned earlier, there is no need to rush while you play; you paid good money to be out there, but taking a meeting at each ball on each shot is unnecessary. Have conversations on the way to and from golf shots and to and from each hole. Decide to walk for a round so that you’ll have additional time to interact. Just keep it moving forward. Once arriving at an approach shot or green save the interaction for minutes later – after you finish the hole. Obviously you don’t have to stop interacting – give Bob or Josie some shit for having such an awful putting stroke – just keep the longwinded stuff for the walk or ride between shots.
“I’m a golf course superintendent (full disclosure: Tim is Quail Ridge’s superintendent). I don’t have a question – just tell people about proper divot repair.”–Tim T. Ada, Mich.
What a coincidence! The superintendent from my course sent me a golf….uh, question. Well whatever, I’d be more than happy to talk about this as it benefits all golfers. Repairing divots is twofold: if you take what’s commonly referred to as a “gopher pellet,” a deep divot that takes a piece of turf large enough to be in one piece, replace it as best you can by placing the piece in its original spot. The second divot is the kind that is shallow and usually explodes into several pieces. Most courses now provide sand bottles on the side of carts. Ideally one should try to replace a divot with the sod piece taken on the swing, however if it’s in 1,000 pieces, throw the sand in the divot. Sand is easier to hit off for the next person and it helps the spot regrow quickly.
“What is the mental approach to playing golf?”–Luke (age 12), Junior golfer from St. Paul the Apostle school, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Luke asked this question in our clubhouse during a summer clinic put on by Coach Kim from Catholic Central High School. Luke and his friends tried to come up with questions for 10 minutes with results ranging from “What is the most important swing in golf?” to “What should be your favorite club?” Then Luke stopped us all in our tracks by thoughtfully and eloquently asking that. We collectively and silently responded with faces that read “where did that come from?”
Here’s my answer, Sir Luke (the Wise): golf is a game. Games can be used in hundreds of ways including leisure, friendly competition and spectacle (Mickelson’s 5-iron at the Masters out of the pine straw comes to mind, or Tiger’s former ability to make every pressure putt.) My advice to you, Luke, is to never take golf too seriously. If you want to compete, there is a way to do so without placing too much pressure on yourself and still enjoying it. In fact, if you master the art of pacing your thoughts and breaths and not overreacting to good or bad shots, you’ll have a leg-up on all the other high school golfers out there. But this doesn’t come from simple perspective. Practicing your golf swing and short game creates confidence in your ability and gives you the ability to overcome bad shots. If you like golf, do it as best you can, but never take it too seriously. Like anything else in life, graciousness and kindness will get you far with others and your own self-confidence. It will also place golf, a game, in the proper mental space. Thanks for your question. You’ve got a bright future.
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