Don't flip, Mickelson says: Game's not a flop

Phil Mickelson speaks Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., leading up to this week's PGA Tour's 2014 Players Championship.

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Phil Mickelson showed up sporting shorts and flip-flops at his press conference. All that was missing were a pair of sunglasses. Those likely would be of the rose-tinted variety because to hear Mickelson tell it, all is well with his game. The Big Lefty was in such a jovial mood that during his Tuesday practice round he flipped around to the right side and attempted to hit a tee shot onto the 17th hole's island green at TPC Sawgrass.

"I wasn't very successful in my attempts, but we had some fun flipping clubs around and trying to hit it the other way," Mickelson said.

The bigger question is can he flip around a season that has been a flop so far. Mickelson is winless since the Open Championship in July, has zero top-10s, had the weekend off at the Masters in April and hasn’t even posted consecutive rounds in the 60s on the PGA Tour this season. So what’s wrong with Mickelson? Everyone seems to have an opinion.

“I just can’t believe how inconsistent Phil has been this year with the putter,” NBC’s Mark Rolfing said.

“His backswing is too flat and his downswing is too steep,” Hall of Famer Nick Faldo added.

“He's gotten a little crouchy in his setup and he's a little slaggy in his downswing and he gets over the ball a little bit,” Brandel Chamblee said.

Mickelson, on the other hand, painted a much prettier picture. His closing 76 at the Wells Fargo Championship? His T-11 finish was his best result of the year. The fact that he’s hitting just 56 percent of fairways this season? Well, he led the field in greens in regulations last week, and arrives at TPC Sawgrass, where he won in 2007, with momentum.

“For me, I need to get in contention to kind of build my confidence because the early part of the year I haven’t had that experience, and it showed in my performance on Sunday,” he said.

Despite his struggles, Mickelson isn’t lacking in confidence in his game.

“The parts of the game feel better to me than they’ve ever been,” he said. “I feel like I’m driving the ball longer and straighter than I have in years. I feel like my long iron play has been better than it’s ever been. I feel like my short iron play has been sharp. I feel good with the putter.”

The numbers tell a different story. Mickelson ranks T-74 in driving distance at nearly 291 yards, nearly 25 yards less than Bubba Watson. (Five years ago, Mickelson ranked 13th in driving distance and averaged 300 yards.) But, of course, Mickelson had an explanation for that.

“Early on, I wasn’t healthy, wasn’t able to go at the ball with the right amount of speed, which is going to also not just affect my driving, but also affect my distance control because I don’t know exactly what speed I’m going through impact,” he said.

As for ranking 158th on Tour in fairways hit, Mickelson noted, “My misses have been better than they’ve been in a long time.”

Take Charlotte, for instance, where the fairways are tight, firm and angled.

“You’d rather be in the rough than in the fairway 40 yards back,” he said. “Stats can be a little bit misleading.”

Mickelson did concede that his putter has run hot and cold this year. After spending time on the practice green with Dave Stockton on Monday, Mickelson blamed a weak grip for causing him to block some putts.

“It was a pretty simple fix,” he said.

Whether it translates this week or perhaps next month at the U.S. Open, only time will tell. Mickelson tees off at 8:49 a.m. Thursday with Dustin Johnson and Sergio Garcia.

Confidence is knowing your best golf is still to come.

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