AUGUSTA, GA - APRIL 04: Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson shake hands during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
"Golf whisperer" Phil Mickelson drops pearls of wisdom on Ben Crane. Perhaps it's time for Crane to do the same for his sensei.
Phil Mickelson might want to book some time on the practice range with Ben Crane. Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational, while Mickelson was failing to break par (1-over 71) for the 10th PGA Tour round in succession, Lefty’s newest star pupil was firing an opening round 66 and playing himself into a share of third place.
Crane, it turned out, has spent some time with the four-time major winner over the last few weeks -- including a practice session on Wednesday when he and his new best friend beat up on Dustin Johnson and another Mickelson acolyte, Keegan Bradley -- and immediately put his mentor’s tips to excellent use.
"He was calling himself the golf whisperer out there, helping me some with some shots and stuff," Crane told reporters after carding six birdies and two bogeys on a day when he could not find fairways (five) or greens (eight) but needed just 23 putts. "It was fun."
Mickelson, who hired his own mental coach last year, helped Crane clarify some of the issues he’s been hammering out with his instructor.
“I've worked really hard on my mental game, and so I just kind of presented what my mental coach and I were working on, and he kind of helped me boil it down a little bit and refine it,” Crane said.”We had a good time with it, and then I had the opportunity to play yesterday and talk a little more about it. It's been good. Just trying to simplify everything and take the thoughts and go.”
Whatever words of wisdom Mickelson whispered into Crane’s ear, they did the trick on Thursday.
“I did not drive it in play today, but I putted awesome and chipped in [on No. 17], and just took advantage of some opportunities,” Crane explained. “Read some putts right, lipped a couple putts in. It was just one of those days where I just scored awesome.”
As for Phil, who’ll start Friday’s second round eight shots behind leader Jim Furyk but just one back of tourney favorite Tiger Woods, he must be wondering what a guy’s gotta do to break par around here.
For sure, after a stellar start to his 2012 season, Mickelson -- who’s coming off two straight missed cuts, including the British Open -- has recently been scuffling to find his game. Thanks to his win at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and four other top-10 finishes, Lefty, at No. 11, is safely among the top 125 golfers who will start in the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs. His continuing inconsistency, however, could cost him a certain spot on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Mickelson is currently seventh in Ryder Cup points and certainly does not want to slip out of the top eight and have to rely on a wild-card pick from Captain Davis Love to play at Medinah in September.
With the PGA Championship -- the final major of the season and the last event in which to accrue Ryder Cup points -- looming, Mickelson may want to enlist the services of one helmet-headed "Golf Boy," Ben Crane.