AUGUSTA, Ga. – There’s been breathless debate about which nuclear driver Bryson DeChambeau will put in play this week at the Masters, but Phil Mickelson has been pushing the boundaries of distance for at least a month.
He just hasn’t enjoyed as much success, at least on the PGA Tour.
Using a 47 1/2-inch driver – just under the maximum allowed under the Rules of Golf – Mickelson has been trying to maximize his speed and distance this fall. Though he’s 2-for-2 on the PGA Tour Champions, he’s struggled against PGA Tour players and on courses that penalize big misses.
Through four events this fall Mickelson has hit just 36 percent of the fairways, which rank him 280th on Tour. He’s finished nearly last in the strokes gained: off the tee statistic each of his past two starts. He finished 25 shots behind Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship, and last week, in Houston, he shot 9 over par to badly miss the cut.
Still, Mickelson remains undeterred, for two reasons.
The first: “Ultimately, it might be five years, 10 years, 15 years, but every driver will be standard at 48 inches, and then you’ll have a weak driver – kind of a 2-wood, which is what I’ve gone to now. For me, it’s actually really good in that I’ve always used length of swing and leverage to create speed, rather than a violent, physical, rotational force. I’ve actually quieted my body down a little bit as I try to create more speed with a bigger, longer arc. So transitioning to a longer driver is not that much more difficult because it’s just a timing issue.”
The second part of the equation is that Mickelson believes distance and an aggressive style of play will pay off this week at Augusta National. Already softened by agronomic conditions in the fall, the course should play even softer with rain (occasionally heavy) expected each of the next five days. Without patrons, there’ll be more space for Mickelson to explore if he hits it off-line. Slower, softer fairways and a thicker second cut should also keep some balls from trundling into the trees and pine straw.
“This course, I think, gives me as good a chance as any golf course,” he said, “and I just need to play it aggressively and execute.”