By Dave Seanor and Jeff Rude
Two days before Round 1 of the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson said contending in majors is so mentally and physically draining that “come Monday morning, I usually try to stay in bed for three or four days, just to try to recover from it and relax.”
Apparently his final-hole fiasco at Winged Foot took more out of him than usual. On June 23, five days after he made double bogey at the 72nd hole and lost to Geoff Ogilvy, Mickelson begged off competing
in the ING Par-3 Shootout held June 26-27 at the Treetops Resort in northern Michigan.
“(The Shootout) is always about having fun, and I didn’t think it was fair to the event to act like I could have a lot of fun right now,” Mickelson said in a statement.
Mickelson is a part owner of Treetops, and his swing coach, Rick Smith, is the resort’s managing partner. Mickelson had competed in the first seven Shootouts there.
Because of its remote location, minimal media coverage and limited galleries, the event typically is a laid-back affair. Not low key enough, however, to lure Mickelson out of a post-Open funk.
The last hole at Winged Foot provided a snapshot of what stress can do to elite golfers. Ogilvy won after getting up-and-down for par from 30 yards. He was the fortunate one. Jim Furyk had difficulty putting the putter behind the ball on that green. Colin Montgomerie hit a rare poor iron shot from a perfect position after indecision over club selection. And Mickelson sliced a drive far left for the second hole in a
row, then overcut a risky approach into a tree.
Roger Fredericks, a golf fitness expert who serves as La Costa Resort and Spa’s director of instruction, said those were physical and mental mistakes because the body and mind work together.
“When the muscles are tired, weak or out of shape, oxygen supply doesn’t get to the brain,” said Fredericks, whose clientele of about 60 touring pros includes Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. “When the hips get too tight under pressure, a player’s shoulders get rounded and slumped. Phil at the end of the Open was slouching big time, over the ball and walking.
His head wasn’t as tall and his shoulders weren’t as far back.
“The bottom line is, when muscles get tired by being out of shape or being stressed, they stop functioning. The body slumps and slouches forward, you see rounded shoulders, blood supply doesn’t go to the brain as well and a person gets tired and can’t think as clearly.”
Fredericks said Open stress is the main cause of fatigue. Players were under heavy pressure to hit fairways, save pars and then try to win at the end.
“No matter who you are, on the last hole of a U.S. Open you are going to be stressed out,” Fredericks said. “Now if Phil were in better shape and stronger and had better posture, would he have handled it better? I don’t know.
“But a person who is more fit will have a better chance of handling pressure better.”
Other fitness experts said being in shape not only helps concentration under stress, it gives a player the mental edge of knowing he’ll be stronger longer.
“If the work hasn’t been done and they don’t have confidence in it, it can creep in and show,” said Jeff Banaszak, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with several PGA Tour players.
But the best golfer isn’t always the most chiseled guy, of course. Golf champions aren’t always cut. Craig Stadler is one example. On the flip side, David Duval was very fit early this decade but his body broke down. In other words, looks can be deceiving.
“Just because a guy doesn’t look fit doesn’t mean he’s not fit for his job,” Banaszak said. “Golf fitness is different than NBA or NFL fitness.”
Mickelson was joined at Winged Foot by his regular trainer, Sean Cochran. But more public attention was given to his course preparation.
“I know his trainer, and they work hard together,” said Chris Noss, a strength and conditioning coach whose Tour clients include Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Stephen Ames.
Noss also knows the value of being in shape.
“A stressful situation can fatigue a golfer more than working out in the gym,” he said. “Being in good shape and eating correctly will get you through stress better. Being in shape helps you function at a higher level for a longer period of time.”
Dr. Darrell Wehrend, a chiropractor and certified golf fitness specialist, said physical conditioning might have contributed to late Open mistakes but the problems were mainly mental. That said, he added that pros are “crazy” not to work with a trainer to get an edge and feel better.
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” said Wehrend, quoting legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. “The more fatigued a person is, the more likely he’ll make a poor swing or poor decision.”