Mickelson not willing to let go of elite standing

Phil Mickelson changes his club selection with his caddy Tim Mickelson on the 12th tee during his practice round for the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Augusta.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
Phil Mickelson changes his club selection with his caddy Tim Mickelson on the 12th tee during his practice round for the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, in Augusta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The adhesive bandages on Phil Mickelson’s left thumb and index finger were either a clear indication that the three-time Masters champion isn’t quite ready to surrender to Father Time or the result of his latest product endorsement deal.

This time it was just a couple of innocent ouchies.

The left-hander, who will make his 29th tournament appearance this week, is still willing to grind away on the practice range and look for answers that are tougher to find and solutions that are more difficult to dial in. The bandages were actually a badge of honor from his pre-tournament preparation.

Mickelson arrived at Augusta National on Sunday and dutifully went to the practice range. There he hit balls for about three hours – thus the need to take care of the calluses and split skin – before hitting the putting green for a couple of hours. From there it was onto a practice round on a course he knows better than nearly anyone in the field.

“I love coming back here and my game, I think it feels better than the scores have been, but I’ve got work to do,” Mickelson said. “It’s been a fun challenge for me to get back to playing at a high level.”

Mickelson, who turns 51 in June, still has the drive to compete with the top names in the game. But he’s learning first-hand, as did Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and even Tiger Woods, that it’s a younger man’s game. Still, Mickelson is willing to put in the time and effort necessary to try to stick with the kids as long as he can before moseying over to the PGA Tour Champions where the courses are shorter and the hole locations easier to reach.

“That’s what drives me and motivates me,” Mickelson said. “I still want to have that challenge in my life because it brings the best out of me.”

As he candidly admitted, the results have not been great. Mickelson has fallen to No. 155 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He has played 11 events in the 2020-21 season and has made the cut only six times. His best finish is a tie for 25th at the Honda Classic. Only six of his 34 rounds have been in the 60s and he made a 10 last week at the Valero Texas Open.

Mickelson’s last win, the 44th of his career, came at Pebble Beach in 2019. It’s been an incredibly rough stretch for a player with Mickelson’s legacy of success.

“I had some work to do to make sure that I had the setup in the bag that I wanted and that when I practiced this week, that I was working with the right clubs,” Mickelson said. “That I wasn’t searching for things, that everything was dialed in.”

Mickelson said he’s made progress, even though his game hasn’t returned to the level he expects it to be – at least not yet.

“Again, I actually enjoy the challenge of getting my game back, because there’s really nothing physically holding me back from playing at the highest level, but mentally I’ve got to be sharper,” he said. “And I’m working on that and I’m enjoying the challenge of playing at the highest level.”

Mickelson has the right to be optimistic this week. He’s won the tournament three times (2004, 2006 and 2010), has nine top-three finishes, 11 top-five finishes, 25 top-15 finishes and 19 top-25 finishes. He’s become one of those players who could seemingly roll out of bed and throw a 60-something on the scoreboard – something he’s done 32 times in 106 rounds.

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