2002: Plan for Lefty: Not to be so hefty

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Though there have been a thousand or so infomercials on the subject, Phil Mickelson, at 32, has discovered abs. As you know, he has been a little puffy, and now he’s doing something about it, like bending. It’s to the point he talks about core more than COR when discussing driver speed.

The new Titleist Pro V1x 332 isn’t the only ball Mickelson talks of using. That ball helps with COR. Then there’s his big physioball, designed to aid core strength. And there’s his medicine ball, which helps develop core speed.

All of which means Lefty’s stomach might be the hottest new story on the PGA Tour, where a fitness frenzy cuts to, say, the core of its being.

The contemporary Tour, of course, is something of a Beast Corps. Players keep getting longer off the tee and stronger in the body. A player without a personal trainer these days stands out more than Jesper’s cap.

Once-skinny Tiger Woods now has upper arms roughly the diameter of a telephone pole. Heavy lifter David Duval looks more like Arnold Schwarzenegger than Palmer. And now Lefty, a one-time Dough Boy for reasons other than legal tender, has a trainer, takes supplements and says he works out every day.

In other words, Ernie Els, among elite players, might be the only beer drinker left. But then he won the first two Tour events of 2003, a serious salute to 12-ounce curls.

The upshot in Mickelson’s case is that he’s longer off the tee – he estimates 15 to 20 yards – thanks to more rotational speed and strength, the new Pro V1x ball and a new Titleist 983K driver with a larger sweet spot and maxed-out COR. Not only that, he can kick sand in Skip Kendall’s face.

“We’re learning biomechanically the downswing is started by the core muscles,” Mickelson said.

Rick Smith, Mickelson’s swing guru, took a look recently and opened his eyes widely. He also squinted into the distance.

“It’s amazing what I’ve seen,” Smith said. “I can’t believe how far he’s hitting some shots. He’s outrageously long. His core rotates so fast now, he has to work on keeping his arms in front of his body. I’ve never seen it move that fast.”

Though Mickelson says he won’t be a “workout junkie,” he also says he hasn’t missed a day since joining forces with trainer Sean Cochran last fall.

Finally he’s using the exercise room in his house for things other than dust gathering. He says he’s motivated to get stronger for competitive and quality-of-life reasons. He says he wants to lessen the chance of injury and decrease the aging process. He says he wants to improve endurance.

He wants to do all that without oiling up and shaving his body.

“With all these young guys coming up who hit it a mile, you need to get stronger and go after it (swing hard) and take advantage of the (club and ball) technology,” Mickelson said. “I think driving it longer will allow me to win tournaments and achieve goals.”

Like win a you-know-what.

Like get a green jacket if not a green belt.

Mickelson’s workouts with Cochran, a second-degree black belt, usually end with about 20 minutes of martial arts. The innately curious southpaw said he first became intrigued with martial arts a few years ago when friend Bill Macatee, the broadcaster, introduced him to magaw, an Israeli self-defense.

On the other hand, it is not known how Mickelson became something of an expert on fat. A guess is that it started with a mirror.

“I’ll always be – I will always have fat on me,” Mickelson said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. Just genetics.”

With that, he launched into a scientific explanation of two different kinds of fat. In short, he has the bad kind. So when talking about the proud father of two girls, go easy on the derisive Puffy Daddy stuff.

“I’ve got subcutaneous fat,” he said. “And most people who are ripped have visceral fat. There’s nothing I can do about it. It just lies underneath the skin as opposed to under the muscle. As long as I feel better and get stronger, then I can’t really worry about body fat.”

Though he’s stronger, he has yet to lose weight. In fact, his plan is to put some on before taking it off.

“I want to build up more muscle mass,” he said. “Then it burns more calories, and it’ll make it easier to lose fat.”

Fatty Mick to Fitty Mick.

So far, so good, off course and on.

After a rusty 69 to open the annual Phoenix Open birdiefest, Mickelson shot 67-67-64 and tied for ninth. “I was very pleased with the way I started to progress as the week wore on,” he said.

His stretch of six starts in seven weeks will continue with his defense at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Because Baby No. 3 is due in mid-March, he won’t play at least the final three stops on the Florida swing, including The Players Championship.

He hopes to return at the BellSouth Classic. That would be a tuneup for the Masters, a core event.

At Augusta, especially, he’d rather be like Jack Nicklaus than Jack LaLanne.

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