New knees help 'Bones' keep pace with Mickelson

New knees help 'Bones' keep pace with Mickelson

PGA Show

New knees help 'Bones' keep pace with Mickelson

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay, together again Torrey Pines? Why, those two together in these parts are as common as cool mornings, crashing surf and the omnipresent paragliders that pop in and out along the Pacific cliffs.

This week marks Mickelson’s 28th start in his hometown tournament. He’ll tee off alongside Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, two teammates from his victorious U.S. Ryder Cup team, at 12:40 p.m. ET on the North Course.

Mackay, 51, has been by Mickelson’s side for all but three of those Torrey starts, carrying for him here for the first time in 1993, when Mickelson won the first of his three titles here. So Phil and Bones together again at Torrey is a familiar storyline. This time around, it has taken a good deal of hard work and rehab just to get the two of them here.

Mickelson, a three-time champion at the Farmers Insurance Open, which begins today at Torrey Pines’ North and South layouts, had two sports hernia surgeries in the offseason. He played surprisingly well in an earlier-than-expected comeback start last week at CareerBuilder, tying for 21st.

He said he doesn’t expect to be 100 percent until next week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

As for Mickelson’s trusty sidekick? Well, he has dark six-inch scars bisecting each of his kneecaps, his badges for undergoing double knee replacement in his offseason.

Mackay said Wednesday after the Farmers pro-am that he would not have been able to perform his job this season had he not decided to get both knees replaced in October (by sheer coincidence, he and Mickelson underwent operations on the same day, Oct. 19; Mickelson even phoned Mackay’s surgeon, Dr. Ted Firestone, a fellow member at Whisper Rock, the day before the surgery to say, “Man, I need you at your best!”).

Mackay’s breaking point came about a year ago, when Mickelson had three minutes to go before a tee time at Pebble Beach and asked Mackay if he could run to the car to change out a club. It was torture. That was the moment that he could no longer ignore his aching knees. He said once he got into surgery, his doctor deemed his knees to be in worse shape than either knew. His knees were a disaster waiting to happen.

“Sunday at Pebble,” Mackay said, “I ran and I thought my legs were going to fall off. At that point, it was like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ ”

And so he opted for surgery in October, just a few days after Mickelson tied for eighth at the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif. Mackay was on his feet the day after he received his two new titanium knees (“I have some TSA issues at the airport,” he joked), then spent a few weeks on a walker, and then a cane. He played his first round of golf seven weeks after his surgery.

All the while Mackay recovered, his thoughts were on joining his man on the West Coast, which for years has been Mickelson’s playground. The start at CareerBuilder in Palm Springs last week was somewhat unexpected, and ahead of schedule, but Mickelson played decently and Mackay survived his 72-hole walk.

Mackay hadn’t walked with a bag on his shoulder until he got to Palm Springs from home in Arizona, and this week marks the second of what will be four consecutive starts.

“I knew I was going to be a little sore once I got out here,” Mackay said. “The good thing about last week (at CareerBuilder) is that you play with amateurs for three rounds, and that slows things down. I’m not setting any speed records right now.”

Beyond getting back to full speed physically, Mickelson and Mackay have some things to sort out at Torrey Pines, a course that Mickelson has been playing for most of his 46 years, having grown up nearby.

He has won three times at Torrey, but not since 2001, and not since significant renovations were done in preparation of the South Course getting the U.S. Open in 2008. This week, Mickelson also encounters a newly renovated North Course, which increased length, added contours to greens and generally made an easy track tougher.

After finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson in 2011, Mickelson has not played well at Torrey. His best finish in his last five starts is a tie for 51st; three times he missed the cut and once he withdrew.

“All the local knowledge I had acquired in the years of junior golf and high school golf coming out to Torrey went out the window when it got redesigned, and I haven’t quite learned it,” Mickelson said Wednesday afternoon. “However, I came close a couple of years, I’ve had some success there and I think that there’s one more in me out here.”

He is seeking his first victory since the 2013 British Open, and though he didn’t win last season, he found many positives in his play. There’s a new comfort level in a more consistent swing plane under the eye of instructor Andrew Getson. Mickelson had a terrific run at Troon, finishing second in the Open Championship to a hotter Henrik Stenson, and grabbed some late-season momentum when the U.S. captured the Ryder Cup for the first time since 2008.

As for Mackay, he’s happy to be back to work. He’s an ironman, and he doesn’t like missing starts. He and Mickelson have been together since the summer of 1992, and they’ve formed a powerful – and successful – pair. Mackay has been on the bag for 41 of Mickelson’s 42 PGA Tour victories.

Though he’s still on the mend, Mackay says his knees already hurt less than they did a year ago, so that alone puts him “ahead of the game.”

“And it’s only going to get better,” he said. “Of course, soupy conditions like this doesn’t help, and last week (in Palm Springs) the weather wasn’t as great as I would have liked, but it’s only going to get better. So I’m excited to be out here.

“The thought of missing work, for me … I didn’t enjoy thinking about not being here for the last couple of weeks. I didn’t like that.”

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