If you want to watch Phil Mickelson this week, it's time to stay up late or get up early. He and Rory McIlroy are both at the Abu Dhabi HSBC with television times starting at 4 a.m. ET on Golf Channel.
Mickelson seemed more than ready to test out his new driver, the club he hopes will allow him to win the U.S. Open. The Alpha Driver, a part of the Big Bertha line, won't be in shops until February, but of course, Mickelson has it now. His is a 9-degree loft. He thinks it's a career changer and could give him his best season ever.
"As I look back on 2013, I played some of my best golf and had some huge breakthroughs, but I did most of it without a driver," he explained. He used a 3-wood, not always, but often. "This year, we have the best driver I've ever hit that lowers my pin rate just like my 3-wood."
The reason is that in the past, he said he had to change his swing to hit driver. With the Alpha Big Bertha, he can use the same swing for his driver that he uses with his irons. Also, this driver gives him a lower spin rate than he has had in the past.
"I spin the ball more than anybody, and so what happens is, they end up giving me a driver with [6.5, seven] degrees of loft to knock that spin off," he said about the drivers he has used previously. "Now what we did instead is I've got a driver with [9.5], 10 degrees of loft, that they have this gravity core that lowers the centre of gravity and knocks off the spin."
He says it's longer and straighter than he has been with the beloved 3-wood from 2013.
"It's a whole different weapon in my arsenal now," he added. "If I drive the ball well, like I have been in practice and I have been this [offseason], heading into this 2014 season, [this] could be the best year of my career for that simple reason."
Mickelson's 2013 was a season of highs and lows and highs. The high of nearly shooting 59 to win in Phoenix, the low of not winning a U.S. Open for the sixth time, the high of winning the British Open.
He did his own recap.
"Last year was a great year for me because of the breakthrough in winning The Open Championship. That was the highlight of my year certainly, and the tournament that was the most challenging throughout my career to play well in," Mickelson self-analyzed.
"The one tournament that's been holding me back from the career Grand Slam now is the tournament that I've played very well in for many years, the U.S. Open, with six seconds, and I'm confident that I'll have many other chances to win that tournament. I hope to break through and get that career Grand Slam."
Mickelson fans certainly hope it will happen at Pinehurst. But to get there, he has to start the season. He has chosen to begin in Abu Dhabi for a couple of reasons: the good weather and a golf course that allows him to identify the state of his game right now, to find out what he needs to work on.
He will also play several times on the West Coast for a different reason.
"It's important to start the year right and get in contention, because you don't want to be in the final group Sunday of a major championship having not been in that position earlier in the year," he explained. "The pressure is difficult and you need to be able to have confidence and experience dealing with that."
In other words, he doesn't want to be rusty come Sunday at Augusta or Pinehurst or anywhere else. For that reason, he will play the week prior to all majors and will play the two weeks prior to the U.S. Open.
The challenge will be the end-of-season schedule. He said playing nine out of 11 weeks caused his performance to suffer.
"I need to be aware of that," he said regarding his plans for 2014. "I don't anticipate many changes the first six, seven months of the year where I'm getting ready for the majors." But he will give some thought to the end of the season.
"I have to make some adjustments," he added.
One way he is able to get away and relax, perhaps a little more than younger guys like Rory McIlroy, is that he doesn't participate in social media.
"I need to get away and have some time [with] just my family," he explained. "I just like keeping it private, and it's been great for me to be able to come out on Tour and play competitive golf and accept the fact that we're in the public eye there, but also to have an opportunity to get away and have downtime."
He said in the two-month offseason, he and his family went skiing and had excellent vacation time. "I need that to get rejuvenated and excited," he added. "I think, for me personally, staying out of social media has been a real benefit. But I also understand how powerful and what a great thing it can be for players."
Mickelson will play this week, followed by the Farmer's Insurance Open, the Waste Management Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach before taking a break.
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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