LUSS, Scotland – Phil Mickelson is hooked on speed – swing speed, that is.
Get ready for the left-hander to unleash a number of colossal drives in the Barclays Scottish Open at Loch Lomond this week.
Course: Loch Lomond Golf Club (7,149 yards, par 71), Luss, Scotland.
Purse: $4.53 million. Winner’s share: $754,500.
TV: Golf Channel (Thu.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 6:30-9:30 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 7-9:30 p.m.).
Last year: Germany’s Martin Kaymer won for the second straight week, edging Raphael Jacquelin and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano by two strokes. Kaymer won the French Open in a playoff the previous week.
Mickelson’s never been short off the tee. In fact, he’s one of the longest drivers on the PGA Tour. He ranks sixth in driving distance, at 300.3 yards.
He’s looking to get even longer this week – not so much to win the Scottish Open, but with an eye on next week’s Open Championship at St. Andrews.
Phil Mickelson – It goes without saying he’ll get huge galleries, especially if he’s going to be hitting monster drives.
Martin Laird – Speaking of long hitters, the PGA-Tour based Scot contended here last year before finishing 10th.
Martin Kaymer – The defending champion is a man in form. The German played well in France last week, finishing T-6.
Graeme McDowell – He’s competing for the first time since winning the U.S. Open. He says his head is not all there after all the celebrating, so it will be interesting to see how the Northern Irishman fares this week.
Jin Jeong – The South Korean is playing with the big boys now, courtesy of winning the British Amateur at Muirfield. How will he do on a course as diametrically different to the one where he won the oldest national amateur championship?
There are many ways to play the Old Course, but Mickelson is hoping to take Route 1 to success. He’s going to unleash the big dog as much as possible next week.
“After playing St. Andrews a number of times over the years, I feel as though it’s a very playable golf course,” Mickelson said. “You don’t have to strike it perfectly. You have enough room to play off the tee, and you have opportunities and options on every hole.
“One of the things that I think gives a player a great advantage, and I’ve seen it in the three Opens I’ve played (at St. Andrews) – Tiger has won and John Daly the third – is that length is a factor. The further you’re able to carry the ball, the more bunkers you are able to eliminate.”
That’s why Mickelson has changed his practice regime to try and hit the ball farther.
“One of the things I’ve been working on in preparation for St. Andrews is trying to swing the club head faster because I feel like driver is going to be the key club there.
“I will be swinging much harder at the golf ball than I would normally in a number of Open Championships where you’re trying to keep the ball in a tighter fairway.”
Mickelson is hoping this ploy will finally end his Open Championship hoodoo. The world No. 2 has won the Masters three times, won the PGA Championship once and contended in the U.S. Open. The Open Championship remains the one major he has yet to be a factor.
Mickelson’s record in the Open Championship is nothing to write home about. Third place at Royal Troon in 2004 is his best return in 16 appearances. He points to two reasons for the poor showings.
“Early in my career, I didn’t have the best technique for controlling the ball in the wind. I was coming in too steep, putting too much spin on the ball. Even when I would hit it low, it would have too much spin.
“Taking the spin off the golf ball has been a big part of my improvement in the wind. I feel like from 2004, Troon, was really the first time where I keyed into this.”
He also has struggled with the shortest club in the bag. Known for having a sublime touch with the putter, that hasn’t been manifest on traditional links.
“The thing that I’ve actually struggled most with over here has actually been the greens. There are a lot of fescues on the greens. It’s a stronger blade of grass, and I just haven’t adjusted properly.
“If I can change that, I should be able to contend.”
Mickelson’s preoccupation with next week is not surprising. Most players at Loch Lomond will be using this event to get their games in shape for the third major of the year.
That doesn’t stop them from toeing the party line and saying the right things, as Mickelson did here.
“I think the best way to get in playing condition for the Open is to play well, get into contention and compete on Sunday for the title here. Having lost a couple of times in close matches here, I would like to win this tournament. Plus with my special relationship with Barclays (one of his sponsors), it would mean a lot to me to win here.”
Maybe, but winning next week at St. Andrews would mean so much more.