Pain-Free Phil Mickelson Regains Clubhead Speed, Is Ready for Masters

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IApril 8, 2015

USA Today

Phil Mickelson gave up some new information this week about his game in recent months and about how he views the Masters.

"When I started last year, I was a little hurt, and my speed wasn't where it needed to be," he said. "My back was aching and consequently it led to a terrible year."

It also meant that he couldn't practice as much as he wanted to. The condition has plagued him for the last 12 to 18 months. Finally, he is better.

"I had a great offseason, and I'm in the best shape that I've been in. I'm able to swing the club fast again and practice without any discomfort, pain," he added. "So I feel like I've been able to put in the work and the time to get my game back."

HUMBLE, TX - APRIL 04:  Phil Mickelson hits an approach shot during the third round of the Shell Houston Open at the Golf Club of Houston on April 4, 2015 in Humble, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

It began to show in San Antonio and Houston, but still, his best finish in 2015 has been a tie for 17th. He missed the cut in Phoenix and San Diego, two of his favorite places to play, places where he has lived and has a built-in fanbase.

"I really thought I would start the year out on fire, and it couldn't have been further from that," he admitted.

He said he could see improvement in San Antonio and Houston because he made a lot of birdies. He also made errors but said the key for him is that he has to make the birdies.

"Now that I'm starting to do that, the game feels like it's coming around," he explained. He just doesn't know if it's going to be in time for him to succeed at Augusta National.

"I just haven't played with that drive to make a lot of birdies, you know, for a while. And I'm starting to feel that come back. It needs to be back for this week, and we'll see."

The way he got his clubhead speed back was by doing drills similar to what baseball players do to increase throwing speed and what quarterbacks do to throw harder. They use weighted balls. Mickelson said the training method has been used by Tom House, a former MLB pitcher currently known best for being Tom Brady's quarterback guru.

The key was that Mickelson had to be strong enough and stable enough to do the drills. With his back bothering him last season, it would have been hard to do them.

"You have to retrain your muscles to swing it faster and you do that by overload‑underload," he said. "You take a 20 percent heavier driver and swing it as fast as you can, hit balls as hard as you can. Take a driver that's 20 percent lighter than a normal driver and swing that as hard as you can, and then you take a normal driver and swing that as hard as you can."

Eventually, swing speed improves. 

While Mickelson's comfort level at Augusta National is high, he doesn't know what to expect from his game.

"I always feel it's best to come into this tournament with having won some events, having been in contention," he said. "If I do play well, and I believe I will these first few rounds, I will be feeling a lot of pressure as we head into the weekend. But that's the feeling that I crave."

Phil The Thrill. It sounds like he's back.

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07:  Phil Mickelson of the United States plays a pitch shot during a practice round prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Ima
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Mickelson also revealed the hole that's been his biggest nemesis over the years. It's the 15th, a par five with water in front of and behind the green.

"In 2004, I won the Masters, and the only change that I made was mentally approaching the 15th hole," he explained. "The 15th hole had cost me numerous times throughout my career, making sixes and sevens on that hole, and I finally accepted the fact that par is OK."

He's no longer greedy in terms of his score there.

"If I make one or two birdies and play that hole one or two under par, that's great. That's good enough to win this golf tournament," he said. "But what's not good enough is making the catastrophic mistake."

He said too often he has made a bogey or double.

"That's the one that comes up and can bite you if you get a little bit too aggressive and try to make a four.  You can play the hole aggressively, go for a two, miss it long over the green, and you can still be looking at six or seven."

It's also three holes from the finish and is the last great chance golfers have for a birdie to catch the leaders. He said his key is not to press on the hole and make sure he leaves the green with no worse than par.  

What Mickelson said he has learned is that he doesn't have to play perfect golf to be successful at the Masters. That allows him to be more relaxed.

"Even though I may not have my best stuff on any given day, I still feel like I can shoot in the 60s and I still feel like I can make pars and birdie some holes to shoot a decent number," he said. But then he added that it's not a course where a lot of low scores are shot, particularly after the changes to lengthen holes and narrow the fairways.

"I'm hopeful that I've got plenty of time to get my game sharp and ready for the first round," he explained. "I don't feel like it needs a lot of work like it did last year. Last year I felt like there wasn't enough time to get ready for Thursday."

AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 07:  Phil Mickelson of the United States speaks to the media during a practice round prior to the start of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Im
David Cannon/Getty Images

It's often been said that Mickelson changes when he drives into Magnolia Lane. He admitted it is true.

"It gives me a new energy. It's exciting. And I think that that energy helps me work hard, play hard and focus better and play my best."

There are all kinds of emotions for him associated with Augusta National and the Masters tournament.

"The greatest feeling is making the turn Sunday afternoon, being within striking distance, hopefully within two shots of the lead; knowing that you've got that nine holes left," he explained. "But playing that back nine with a chance to win on Sunday, it really is the greatest feeling. It's what we dream about as kids and want to experience. And it is nerve‑wracking, but in a good way."

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the PGA Tour, USGA, Augusta National GC, R&A or PGA of America.