Mickelson relishing links test overseas
INVERNESS, Scotland — If the wind is howling and the rain's pouring during the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, expect Phil Mickelson to be wearing a broad grin on his face.
By his own admission, Mickelson has started to embrace the challenge of being a "bad-weather player." It makes the British Open the ideal tournament for the American.
Mickelson says "I don't know where that happened along the way, whether it was last year or whether it was five, 10 years ago." But he says he started "to really enjoy the tough weather conditions and I hope that it's that way next week, too."
The good news for Mickelson is that the long-range forecast is for Britain's terrible weather of late to continue into next week.
Mickelson tied for second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St. George's at the 2011 British Open, his best finish at the year's third major.
That tournament was beset by rain and gusting winds off the southwest coast, forcing players to don oven-style mitts between shots and huddle under flapping umbrellas at times.
The extreme conditions were too much for then-U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who slumped away from a soggy Sandwich bemoaning his luck at playing successive rounds in the worst of the weather and saying "there's no point in changing your game for one week a year."
That's exactly what Mickelson has done. Well, maybe two weeks a year if you count his regular appearances at the Scottish Open, the precursor to the British Open.
He is there again this week, displaying his repertoire of links-style shots. The wind wasn't hostile for a change but he was preparing for next week nonetheless.
Some of his low irons on the par 5s and long par 4s were driven no more than head-high. He also produced some neat bump-and-run approach shots across the undulating links fairways.
He shot an 8-under 64 in the second round to put him in contention for the weekend and was clearly in his element, despite his poor play in his last three tournaments — where he failed to break par or 70 in seven rounds.
"My mindset has really evolved a lot over the last decade or two," Mickelson said. "I've learned to get the ball on the ground quick and that's made playing in the bad weather so much easier because the ground then affects the ball, as opposed to the air.
"That makes it easier to not have the misses be so big. So I've really enjoyed learning a few shots off the tee."
The last British Open at Royal Lytham was in 2001. It was won by David Duval and Mickelson tied for 30th.
"I thought it was a wonderful course," the 16th-ranked Mickelson said. "It was a tough driving course, there were a lot of irons off the tee and a lot of bunkers to avoid."
A couple of years later, he and coach Dave Pelz started really tackling how best to deal with the conditions so often seen on links courses and so rarely seen on American-style parkland courses.
"We spent some time working on some low shots, working on a couple of different tee shots to get the ball on the ground and to get the ball in play," he said. "Consequently, I have not been having as big misses off the tee as I had earlier in my career where I was playing the ball through the air and letting the crosswinds take it."
Mickelson demonstrated his intention to finally get his hands on the claret jug — and win the fifth major of his illustrious career — by cutting short a family vacation in Italy this week to play in the Scottish Open and attempt to shake off some rust.
If the weather turns sour in northern England next week, it may prove an inspired move.