Phil Mickelson can wipe out ugly season with British Open title defense

If Phil Mickelson is to defend his British Open title this week at Hoylake, he’ll need to play far better golf than he has since he hoisted the claret jug at Muirfield in 2013.

Phil Mickelson is nothing if not a cockeyed optimist so it’s hardly surprising that the defending champion at this week’s British Open believes he can overcome some rather ugly golf over the past year and maybe even sip some more of that pricey "good stuff" from the claret jug once again.

"Well, it obviously hasn’t been a good year," Mickelson conceded on Monday after reluctantly handing the Open Championship decanter back to R&A officials following his year with the prized trophy. "Normally, I would be discouraged or frustrated but I’m just not. I’m not frustrated and I’m not discouraged."

Mickelson hopes to defend the title he won at Muirfield last year with not much in the way of positive results since then to support his good cheer. After 19 futile attempts to conquer links golf, Mickelson was the improbable Open Championship winner on his 20th try last year. He chalked up his fifth major victory a week after earning his first U.K. win the week before at the Scottish Open.

Since those halcyon days, however, the 44-year-old has struggled to make it to the weekend, let alone the winner’s circle. In addition to no top-10 finishes, Mickelson has missed the cut in three of the 15 PGA Tour events he has started in the 2013-2014 season, including his beloved Masters, and had to withdraw from two contests due to injuries.

Still, Phil being Phil, the glass will remain more than half full whether his game comes together by Sunday or not.

"I haven't had the results, I know I haven't played well. But the parts feel a lot better than the whole right now," he said. "I don't know when it will all click together. I don't know if it will be this week, in three weeks or a month or what, but it should be soon. I feel like it's really close to being good. And rather than trying to force it or press the issue, I'm going to be patient."

Mickelson blamed his poor play on his putting rather than his long game, about which he expressed supreme confidence, even though the stats don’t necessarily back up his claims. Entering this week, he ranked 70th on tour in driving distance and 149th in accuracy off the tee.

He has been working with putting guru Dave Stockton since last month’s U.S. Open and is convinced such efforts will pay off soon.

"I feel from here on out, I should have more consistent week in, week out good putting weeks," said Mickelson, who was 109th in the all-important strokes gained-putting category. "But we’ll see. That’s why we play the game, you just never know. But if you look at me, how I feel, it’s not the same frustration that you would think, given the year I’ve had relative to the last past 20-plus years on tour."

Should the vexation any golfer might experience from a prolonged period of sub-par play creep into his thought process, Mickelson just calls up a recording of last year’s magical run and hits replay until he’s sufficiently inspired.


Photo credit: Stuart Franklin, Getty Images

"It's just the memories and emotions that took place last year that I created and will have for a lifetime. I'd like to do it again," he said. "I'd like to create new memories and new opportunities. And it almost motivates me to work harder and play even more, practice even more because I know there's a finite amount of time.

"As I look back on my life, I look back on the highlights of last year's tournament, and it brings out the same emotions that I experienced at the time," he said.

Armed with the "confidence boost" such sessions engender, it’s back to looking toward the future for the 42-time PGA Tour winner who professes to believe his most productive seasons await him.

"I actually feel better than I have in years and I've had to work a little bit harder," Mickelson acknowledged. "I believe that the next five years are going to be some of the best in my career."

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