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How Phil Tamed Father Time

On Sunday, 50 year old Phil Mickelson made history by becoming the oldest player to win a golf major.  He didn’t just defy age last week, he defied his recent form.  According to stat-savant Justin Ray (a must-follow on Twitter), Phil had – by far – his best ball-striking week of the season.

So how does a golfer jump from 176th to 1st in ball-striking for a week?  Here are a few things that stood out to us.

1. HIT BOMBS

At over 7,800 yards, the Ocean Course is the longest layout in major championship history.  Though it was never tipped out during the tournament, the length of the course magnified the importance of maximizing distance, especially off the tee.

We discussed why distance matters in a recent blog, but observing Phil’s mechanics can also provide insight into HOW to create more speed in your swing.  One of the hallmarks of the biggest hitters in golf is that they maximize the length of their backswing.  By taking a longer backswing (specifically, their hand path), a golfer has more “time” to apply force to the club.  This results in a faster clubhead speed and, hopefully, more distance (if you want to read more about the science behind this, check out the recent research from our advisor Dr. Sasho MacKenzie).

One of the easiest ways to increase the length of your backswing is to lift your lead heel.  This move has been a signature of Phil’s throughout his career and is a key to his ability to keep up with the most powerful golfers in the world.  

Here’s a quick video from Mark Blackburn sharing how adopting elements of long drive technique – such as lifting the lead heel – can help a golfer create more speed.

2. MANAGE LAUNCH ANGLE AND APEX

Aside from Phil Mickelson, one of the big stars of the championship was the wind.  Gusting at 20 mph throughout the week, the wind was probably the most important consideration on every shot.  Not surprisingly, the headwind had a HUGE impact on scoring.

One of the most important factors in playing well in windy conditions is being able to control launch angle and apex.  In this video, our advisor Dave Phillips of TPI explains how taking more club and shallowing the angle of attack can help minimize spin and produce low-flighted iron shots.

2. CONTROL DISTANCE

The Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course at Kiawah Island was built in 1991 to host the Ryder Cup. It’s not only one of the most challenging courses in the world, it’s also one of the more spectacular courses in the world.  One of the distinguishing design elements of the Ocean Course is the raised greens.  Pete’s wife, Alice, suggested that he raise the greens to offer views of the ocean.  This not only amplified the effect of the wind on approaches and on the green, it created large run off areas around the putting surface.  Many TOUR courses or major set-ups feature thick rough around the greens.  Though this creates its own challenges, missing a green by 2 yards usually results in a shot 2 yards from the green.  At Kiawah, the edges of the raised greens usually feature steep, shaved slopes.  Missing the green by 2 yards can result in your next shot that’s 30 – 40 yards.

If you missed it, check out this ridiculously good course review from the guys at the Fried Egg.

There’s a reason why pros are constantly measuring data in their practice sessions.  Understanding areas of weakness reveals the opportunity for improvement.  One of the reasons we made the MLM was to provide the average golfer with the same advantages a professional has.  Next time you’re at the range, use your MLM to hit bombs, manage launch and control distance.  There’s an excellent chance it won’t win you the Wanamaker like Phil, but there’s also an excellent chance it will start you on a path to better scoring.