Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida: Phil Mickelson does not do conventional. It’s just not in his nature to take the straightest line from point A to point B. Hitting on 17 isn’t forbidden in blackjack. Pulling up for the 3-pointer rather than driving for a layup is his way to go.
On the golf course, there’s always a shot to take no matter the trouble ahead. Water? What water? The safe way, after all, can be quite boring so Lefty sees avenues and takes shots no one else pictures.
Basically, he follows his own path.
But even by Mickelson’s standards, this year has been rather anomalous, a bungee jump full of many ups and downs. And right now, he’s down.
His ideal road to Magnolia Lane and the Masters, where he’ll try to join Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win at least four green jackets, has become full of potholes.
Two missed cuts in the past two weeks – he first in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the second coming Friday at The Players Championship – has Mickelson looking to escape a dead end.
“I missed two cuts in a row so that’s not very encouraging,” Mickelson said after his rounds of 74-74 left him on the wrong side of the cut and 16 shots behind the leaders. “But I’ve got next week off. I’ll go home, get a little rest and work a few things out. But for me the biggest thing has been putting. I just haven’t been putting anywhere near like I did last year, and I just got to get that back.
“If I do, I’ll be in good shape and I got plenty of time to turn it around.”
But his smiles and thumbs up are masking a lot of frustration. He was on a smooth ride to Magnolia Lane when his year hit its apex with his win in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the 44th PGA Tour title of his career, which includes five majors. By then, he was counting down the days until he gets to his favorite place in golf in April, to play his favorite tournament and to try to become, at 48, the oldest winner of the Masters.
Since then, he’s tied for 37th and 39th and missed two cuts. For a man who is always on the lookout for positive reinforcement, the Sunshine State was a dark cloud. His work this week on the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course included a four-putt from 25 feet in the first round and a three-putt from 6 feet in the second round on the same hole.
In 36 holes, he made five bogeys, two double bogeys and one triple bogey. He made eight birdies.
“I don’t feel like it’s far off,” Mickelson said. “I actually felt like I hit a lot of good shots this week, but I’m having some trouble with the putter and I’ll have to work that out.”
He’ll start work next week, then likely will play the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in two weeks. If he doesn’t play there, he’ll opt for the Valero Texas Open, but the tight TPC San Antonio isn’t a good fit for his game and comes the week before the Masters.
Not helping Mickelson’s current state of game and mind is having his family caught up in the academic admissions scandal. After the first round, Mickelson took to Twitter to denounce a tutoring consulting company at the center of the scandal.
Mickelson and his wife, Amy, hired the tutoring company three years ago. Federal prosecutors say William “Rick” Singer led a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed sports coaches and other officials to get their children into elite universities.
More than 50 people have been charged. Mickelson said his family was not involved in any fraud and he has not been charged with a crime or implicated in the matter. Mickelson’s eldest of three children attends Brown University.
“Obviously, we were not part of this fraud,” Mickelson wrote on Twitter. “Our kids would disown us if we ever tried to interfere.”
After his second round, Mickelson said he’s used to taking hits.
“But it hurts when you have your kids being questioned over doing nothing but working hard and studying hard,” Mickelson said. “But we’re going to be OK.”
He hopes to say the same about his golf before heading down Magnolia Lane.
Image: Phil Mickelson walks off the 18th green during the second round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass.