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Monday, 15 February 2016

Just How Good is Phil's Short Game?

Phil Mickelson certainly provided us with some drama again on Sunday at Pebble Beach.  After a miserable start to his round that had to have anyone who'd put a few quid on him to win shaking their heads, Phil birdied sixteen and seventeen, and suddenly we were starting to believe again.

All Phil needed was a birdie on eighteen to secure a playoff with Vaughn Taylor.  Did I just say "all Phil needed"?  Of course, a birdie on eighteen at Pebble Beach is no gimmee.  But Phil, after flirting with the tree on the right with his tee shot, played a nice second to the front edge of the green, leaving himself a pitch that the announcers felt he should get up and down about 75 percent of the time.  Gary McCord felt that, given ten tries, Phil should actuually hole the pitch twice.  It was not a tough up and down for someone with Phil's talent.

We all know what happened.  Phil hit a very average pitch, leaving himself about five feet, and missed the putt.  It happens.  It's called golf, because all the other four-letter words were taken.  And really, who could be unhappy to see Vaughn Taylor get the win?  I guess only the folks who lost money betting on Phil.

But this all got me thinking.  Everyone talks about what a fabulous shortgame Phil possesses.  So, just how good, statistically, is Phil's shortgame?  I decided to take a look at the official PGA tour stats for the past five years to see for myself.  In total scrambling from 2010 to 2015, Phil ranked 31st, 17th, 16th, 78th, 20th, and 84th.  In getting it up and down from less than 10 yards, Phil ranked 143rd, 72nd, 47th, 74th, 14th, and 140th.  His numbers from the sand are not particularly impressive either.

Phil does not possess the best shortgame.  He has an impressive repetoire.  He loves to hit fancy, spinning shots.  He loves to use his considerable imagination.  He's fun to watch, and he often hits magnificent shots.  He also manages, more often than he perhaps should, to look like a bum when he tries and fails to pull off a fancy shot when a simple shot would have sufficed.

Phil is the same with his long game.  He loves to hit the perfect shot.  He often hits risky shots.  The payoff is sometimes huge, but the downside is that he is sometimes forced to accept bitter defeat as a result of not playing a little more conservatively.  That is who Phil is.  He's a flashy player.  He loves to gamble.  He isn't called Phil the Thrill for nothing.  He is comfortable playing that way.  He can accept the bad with the good.  He will never change.  And I don't think anyone really wants him to change.  He just wouldn't be Phil. 

He's got himself a new swing instructor.  I'm not sure whether he still works with Dave Peltz on his short game, but I know Harvey Penick would have told Phil, "If you have to pick a flavour for your shots, make it plain, old, reliable vanilla."  Bobby Jones would have said pretty much the same thing.  

It's been a wild ride with Phil.  But, at 45, he's still got some fire in his belly and some swagger.  He may not have the most reliable short, or long, game, but when he's firing on all cylinders, he's still awfully impressive.