AUTHOR : MARK BUTTON
Mark Button has spent the past 17-plus years writing about sports for newspapers, magazines and the Internet. He's worked for the Dallas Morning News, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Rocky Mountain News, CNN/SportsIllustrated.com, Mobile Press-Register and Avid Golfer.
Originally from Kansas, Button has worked for Texas Links since 2008. He published his first children's book in 2011. "Finding Ti Ming & Tem Po, Legend of the golf gods" is a magical journey filled with character-building life lessons. Button plays golf about four times a month and carries an 8.7 GHIN handicap index.
HUMBLE, Texas—Headed into his Shell Houston Open title defense – and the Masters next week – Phil Mickelson feels confident about his game and optimistic about his chances for winning.
And why not?
Already this year the big left-hander has a win (AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am) and a runner-up (Northern Trust Open at Riviera). A February fly-in visit from coach Butch Harmon at the Waste Management Phoenix Open helped Mickelson’s swing find a groove, and he won a week later. His short game looks as strong as it did a decade ago.
Mickelson spoke with the media Tuesday morning at Redstone Golf Club and told us that he feels his ball-striking is “starting to get as good as it’s been in a long time.”
But there’s another reason why Mickelson is a favorite not only to repeat here on Redstone’s Tournament Course, but to win his fourth career Masters title and third in the past three years.
It’s the flat stick.
So far this season, Mickelson has rolled the rock better than he has in at least eight years. He ranks third in the PGA Tour’s official putting statistic, called “Strokes Gained – Putting.”
It’s a somewhat confusing formula that measures putting proficiency from various distances. The formula, invented by an MIT professor, calculates the difference between each player’s putting performance (the number of strokes needed to hole out) against the field for each round. The stat ultimately produces how many strokes are gained or lost due to putting for individual rounds, tournaments and an entire season.
Only Scott McCarron and Bo Van Pelt rank higher than Mickelson in putting this year. Lefty’s previous high-water mark for the stat was 40th in 2006. For the past three years, Mickelson ranked 134th, 133rd and 130th in putting.
Measured in 21 of Mickelson' 26 rounds this year, he's averaging almost a full stroke (.966) better on the greens than the rest of the tour. The 41-year-old with 40 tour victories and four major championships leapfrogged 131 players in putting performance since the end of 2011.
“My putting has been the best it’s been in years,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the offseason working on that, and it just feels so good this year.”
Working with putting guru Dave Stockton, Mickelson changed his grip (left index finger bent), hand position (more forward press) and his pre-stroke routine (looks at hole for seven seconds while adjusting feet). He’s also added a new putting drill, in which he sticks a tee in front of a hole and tries to hook and cut in three-footers. The thought is, once you master putting at half of the cup, imagine the confidence you’ll have putting into the entire hole.
No one wins on the PGA Tour without putting brillance, especially at Augusta National. Every winner this year has ranked in the top five for putting during the week of their victory.