NORTON, Mass. – Phil Mickelson is the latest to heed the rising chant in golf: “Go long, my friend.”
One week after struggling on the greens at The Barclays and in the throes of a lengthy stretch of pedestrian results – at least by his standards – Mickelson set out on this morning’s pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship with a belly-putter in his bag.
Philly Mick, arguably the most proficient player of his generation not named Tiger Woods and owner of the silkiest and smoothest putting stroke around using a belly putter?
“Never thought I’d see the day,” Nick Watney said.
“I might have to see it to believe it,” Adam Scott added.
Well, seeing was believing for an 18-hole pro-am at TPC Boston. But will it be in use for Friday’s first round?
“Probably,” Mickelson said. “I was a little shady with it on the front nine, but a little bit better on the back.”
Mickelson conceded it’s all about baby steps right now, given that he just put his hands on the putter Monday. He doesn’t deny that he made the decision in a clean and simply manner, after having played the first two rounds of last week’s Barclays with PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley.
Basically, Mickelson told Callaway, “I’ll have what he has.”
“You can always learn and (Bradley) putts it extremely well and it rolls so nicely off his face,” Mickelson said. “So I was asking him questions throughout the round last week.”
Saturday night of the final round, Mickelson told Odyssey’s Austie Rollinson to make him a lefthanded replica of what Bradley uses – the Sabertooth – even down to the 45 1/2-inch shaft. The only difference being “I like the White Hot XG insert, (Bradley) has the regular White Hot insert,” Mickelson said.
To get himself acclimated, the lefthander said he’s talked frequently with Bradley over the phone.
“I didn’t have any idea about the idiosyncrasies of (the belly putter),” Mickelson said. “I’ve been talking to him (about) ball position, set-up, and so forth.”
Mickelson wasn’t about to say he was a convert, only that it’s all about putting up better scores.
“It’s awkward to me, but so many guys have had success with it, I thought I’d give it a try. Look, I don’t mind trying new things. I’ve hit two drivers (in the Masters) and no drivers in the (U.S.) Open I don’t mind trying something different. We’ll see.”
Strangely, Bradley putted poorly at Plainfield Country Club and missed the cut, but perhaps more fresh on Mickelson’s mind is the fact his fellow Gaylord Sports stablemate was a demon on the greens in winning the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.
Rumors had been swirling for a few days that Mickelson would put the long putter in play, but it still had to be seen to be believed.
“What’s the world coming to?” Mike “Fluff” Cowan said with a laugh when Mickelson’s caddie, Jim Mackay, plopped Mickelson’s bag down at the putting green. It wasn’t yet 6:30 in the morning, but the lefthander was on site for his 6:50 a.m. pro-am time.
Cowan’s man, Jim Furyk, stopped by, peered in and pulled Mickelson Odyssey putter. He rolled a few lefthanded, then held it up to compare it to his long putter, also an Odyssey. Mickelson’s putter is a few inches shorter than Furyk’s 47-inch putter, but the fact that the heralded lefthander is contemplating a switch (he still had standard short putter in the bag) doesn’t surprise many within PGA Tour circles.
Just a short while ago, Furyk revealed that it was Bradley whose brain he picked when it came time to deciding on how to go about changing to the long putter. Some feel Mickelson will benefit from Bradley’s guidance.
“I think it will help him, especially on the short putts, because he misses a lot of short ones,” said a caddie who was standing nearby and watched Mickelson roll a half-dozen putts.
When Bradley became the first to win a major championship with a long putter and the third straight player to win a PGA Tour tournament (following Adam Scott at Bridgestone and Webb Simpson at Wyndham), the craze intensified. Purists dislike the long putter, especially those who anchor it to their body, but there is nothing in the Rules of Golf against it and players since the days of Old Tom Morris have famously tried anything to improve.
Mickelson surely needs improving, too, when on the greens. Presently he ranks 89th in the “total putting” category, but alarmingly he ranks T-133 when it comes to converting putts from 4 feet.