Swing change and secret putting style make Mickelson positively dangerous
PHIL MICKELSON has a "hate-love relationship" with links golf, confessing: "I used to hate it and now I love it!"
Playing in seaside breezes used feel so alien to this American icon that he viewed the British Open with dread.
Yet Mickelson is surrounded by an aura of confidence at Muirfield after consummating his relationship with links golf in victory at last Sunday's Scottish Open, albeit on the wide-open spaces of Castle Stuart.
There are two reasons why Mickelson, who tees it up with Rory McIlroy in the first two rounds here, fancies his chances of lifting the Claret Jug.
The first stretches back to 2004, when coach Dave Pelz helped him launch his ball below crosswinds which used blow it off course and into deep trouble.
The second is a mystery putting fix which Mickelson believes has given him the ability to hole out more consistently on "these greens with all their subtle little nuances and rolls and (across) the strong blades of fescue grasses.
"You've seen me try the belly putter and you've seen me try different grips and I finally believe I've kind of found the secret to my own putting and what I need to do to putt well," insisted Mickelson.
"I'm not going to discuss it," he added. "I feel I've really keyed in on something and I don't really want to share it."
However, Mickelson was happy to discuss the swing change which "makes it much easier to get the ball into play off the tee.
"I'd fight the thick, heavy air. I'd fight the wind off the tee, but since Troon in 2004, it feels much easier for me to get it onto the fairway and into play," explained the 43-year-old, playing his 20th British Open this week.
"It really changed for me when Dave Pelz and I spent some time over here in 2004 and developed a shot that got rid of the big misses.
"It's this low little scooting shot. I'm just swinging it almost at half pace and trying to take the spin and speed off it. The miss is not anywhere near as drastic because it's not ever up in the wind."
Mickelson's first taste of links golf came at the 1991 Walker Cup in Portmarnock, where, at age 21, he won three out of four points in a 14-10 victory by the US, his only defeat coming at the hands of Paul McGinley and Liam White in the foursomes.
He waited until 2004 for his first top-10 finish at the British Open in a tie for third behind Todd Hamilton.
The other was tie for second behind Darren Clarke in 2011.
Mickelson believes Royal Troon and Muirfield "offer me the two best chances of winning because they're the two courses where I feel most comfortable hitting the shots needed".
He then signalled his confidence with these parting words.
"It's difficult to win the week before a Major and then follow up winning the next Sunday," he said, adding with a mischievous grin: "But then again, who was the last person to do it? You're looking at him!"
That was in 2006, when Mickelson won the Masters seven days after finishing first at Bell South. In this mood, he's positively dangerous.