By Dan Reardon
Phil Mickelson — by his standards — has struggled since turning 40. He has one major win — the 2013 Open — and three additional Tour wins. In his last 93 starts, covering four years, he has gone winless. In comparison, Vijay Singh, also a multiple-major winner, has recorded 22 Tour wins after turning 40.
Although Mickelson has rarely referenced his diagnosed arthritic condition as an explanation for his winless drought, one always assumed health played a role in his shutout streak.
In recent weeks, the left-hander has spoken somewhat openly about a malaise that has troubled his performance. After missing the cut at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, he detailed a mental lack of focus that had been drifting into his rounds.
“Like I say, it’s more not controlling my thoughts. So if I have a short putt, it’s not a technical issue, I’m just not seeing the ball go in and staying committed. I’m just losing focus on every shot.
I don’t feel like I did two years ago where I’m searching for my game or I’m trying to find it or trying to strike it well. I have great practice sessions. Drove it fine. Just not real focused when I’m out there.”
Amidst trying to find himself on the golf course, he was waging a second battle — trying to find a way onto the Presidents Cup team. Documenting a career that has put him among the elite of the game is his current streak of being a part of every Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup team dating back to 1994. Barring a win in the FedExCup series, his best opportunity was to convince Presidents team captain, Steve Stricker, that his game was solid and his presence in the room would justify a 23rd straight start on one of the two Cup’s teams.
Following the PGA Championship missed cut, Mickelson sought help for a condition he could no longer ignore.
“It just wasn’t getting better. It was getting worse. I felt like — this was something I had never dealt with before, so I felt like it might be a little bit more than just trying to will it away. And so after the PGA, I went and addressed it and met with the doctor that helped me get through some of the arthritis conditions I had years ago — and, well, I still have them, but deal with it,” he said early in the Boston event.
“He seemed to have found something… this is the best energy I’ve had throughout the round and the best focus; the first time I’ve been able to visualize. My short game has been very disappointing, and I haven’t been able to visualize the shot I’ve been trying to hit. And today, and for probably the last few days, I’ve been able to see the shot again. And so it was a good day.”
For Mickelson, the realization was what he was facing traced back further than he was willing to admit to himself. “As I look back on it, it goes back to, I would say off and on the last few years, if I look as far back as I want, or as I remember this happening.”
“But specifically, the last six to eight months, it’s been very difficult for me. It’s been very frustrating to not be able to practice or visualize or see a shot or have that energy level. This last week or two has been a nice step up.”
Over four days at Boston, he sent a message to Captain Stricker with four rounds in the 60s and a tie for sixth. And perhaps, buoyed by the performance, he elaborated afterwards on his symptoms and the solution.
“I guess the greatest example or the best example I can think of is when you’re really tired, after a while, you’ve worked however long and you just go lie down, and you just can’t get out of bed for a day or two. I have been in bed for days this year, I mean, multiple days, just with fatigue. Three or four days at a time, I can’t get out of bed, and that’s not normal. But I finally just — finally kind of figured it out and I’m back on the right back. This is a great first start.”
A player known for his bravado on the course, Mickelson sounded a tone coming out of Boston more reminiscent of the younger Phil. “It’s really not that big a deal as far as there’s no medication — well, there is a little bit, but more natural stuff and change in diet. He said it would take about a week to notice, and certainly after a week, I noticed a difference, and I felt a lot better.”
“Hopefully this will continue an upward trend. It was a good start this week, and next week I’ll get back and see how I feel after working out and playing and practicing and so forth.”
“But I feel a lot better, so this is — whether I make the team or not, whether I get to THE TOUR Championship or not, I feel like I’m on the right track finally and finally figured out what has been — I’ve been complaining about for some time now, and I finally feel like I’m on the right track to solving that.”
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.