In the beginning it looked like a dream pairing. Butch Harmon took over as Phil Mickelson’s swing coach just before the 2007 PLAYERS, which Mickelson promptly won with the best driving performance of his career.
Onward and upward. Look out Tiger, your rival has arrived. Two years later Mickelson has managed to win four more regular tour events in 39 starts. But in the majors he lusts for, he’s 0 for 7, and has never been a factor.
Still, he and Harmon keep insisting they are close, just like Tiger did back in 2004 when he joined forces with Hank Haney. The skeptics in the media questioned Tiger’s decision to change his swing, but he proved them wrong starting a year later with his win at the 2005 Masters.
Mickelson and Harmon believe Phil is just about “there”, but there is little evidence of success with the driver, the club Harmon was hired to straighten out. So far this year Mickelson ranks 174th in fairways hit at 51%, and that includes a lot of 3 woods as we saw him hit at Riviera. With the big stick his percentage is probably under 40%.
In a piece by superb golf writer Thomas Bonk yesterday, the two talked about Mickelson’s progress. According to Bonk, “The Harmon plan is to take the right side of the fairway out of the equation — in lefty Mickelson’s case to guard against a hook.” Harmon said, “Phil can stand there and know it’s not gonna go right. By Augusta, he should be right on track.”
“It felt great to be able to pull through and still find a way to win,” said Mickelson about his win at Riviera. “I think that it’s also kind of a platform for me to hopefully get better for Augusta. I feel like I’m getting better each day.”
Harmon is intent on building the anti hook swing, but left is not so great either. Left lost lefty the 2006 US Open and it all but ended his 2009 bid on the 15th hole at the Accenture when his tee shot found the desert. Left also put him in the trees at the 2008 Colonial on the final hole, from which place he made that miraculous birdie to win by a shot.
No, left is no panacea as most courses are built with as much trouble to the left as the right. Take Augusta National, for example. At the birdieable par fives, wide left is in trees and possibly in a creek on 2. Left is in the forest on 8, in the creek or forest on 13, and behind the trees with no shot at the green on 15. Great. So lefty’s eliminated right, but his wide lefts could kill his chances at Augusta.
With all of his talent, Mickelson should have his new swing down by now and be contending for majors. The Masters should be Harmon’s final exam. I for one hope Phil’s game comes together and he drives it like Jack Nicklaus in his prime. However, if Mickelson hits it poorly off the tee and fails to contend, this pairing needs to be put to rest. But that won’t happen because Harmon has a huge ego, as a great teacher must, so he’s not about to admit defeat. And Phil’s a nice guy who hates to fire people.
So the experiment will go on. And as it does Mickelson, who remains stuck on three majors, is losing his big chance to make a Lee Trevino or Tom Watson like run of major titles that would cut into Tiger’s take and elevate him into golf’s super elite.