The Winning Touch
The short game of Phil Mickelson
by Dave Pelz

I’ve been working with Phil Mickelson for about two and a half years. He came to me and said that he would like to see if I could help him. We’ve had a really good relationship and it has been a thrill to work with one of the best players in the world. He is a great human being—a great family man.

When I work with a player, I don’t necessarily have one philosophy to which I make a player conform. Instead, I try to find the strengths and weaknesses of his game. I concentrate on the short game—almost everybody I’ve ever seen is weaker in the short game.

I found that Phil could really hit every shot, but his performance on the easy shots around the green was not as sharp as his performance on difficult shots. You give him a 100-foot tree to hit over, and he’s probably the only man who can do it. You give him an easy chip in front of the green where almost everybody is getting it up and down and he’ll just be like everybody else. He won’t be any better and he won’t be any worse—but he was not always taking advantage of his short game and his putting was a little weak. His short putting has improved over the last two years. And his distance control in his wedge game, where I originally noticed his weakness, has improved dramatically.
Phil is working out now and he is in better shape physically than he has been since he’s been playing professional golf. He still has a slight weight problem because he loves to eat, but that’s part of life. We all have our own little battles and that’s the one he fights. Phil has a trainer named Sean Cochran who is a martial arts instructor and has been using him to improve his balance and better control his body. It’s definitely helping—he’s certainly stronger than he’s ever been. Phil’s mental game has also been improving. He is getting more focused on what he is doing and what he needs to do instead of going for broke all the time. He plays the percentages rather than just going for it all the time. He’s always been a bit of a gambler. He loves to try the difficult shots, but now he’s playing the odds better than he once did.

Because he’s driving the ball farther, Phil is hitting more wedge shots than he ever has in his career. But he needs to do more. It’s a time in golf where people are getting better and better and where they are realizing that the old standards don’t apply to them anymore. To combat the big hitters, designers are also lengthening all the courses and making the fairways narrower. So now you have to hit straighter as well as longer. It’s certainly a game where the longer you drive it, the better. Gamble when the gamble pays off and don’t gamble when even a heroic shot is not going to pay off.

I don’t ever disclose the specific skills I’m working on with a player in terms of setup or technique. I don’t necessarily want people seeing what Phil is trying to do and then commenting on it. Every golfer is individual. I know, for example, that on some golf courses certain shots—even if you hit them well—don’t work. You need to know the percentages—what shot has the best chance from where you are to get close to the hole. That’s a given. The second thing you need to know is how good you are at hitting the shot. If you can’t hit a bump and run then that’s not the shot you should try. You have to play to the strengths of your game and to the requirements of the golf course. Like in basketball or football, you take what the defense gives you. In golf, people don’t think that way, so even if you hit a great wedge and the best shot is still a high flop, you need to make a decision based on what the course requires and how those requirements work into your abilities.

I’ve given Phil statistical information about the different golf courses. It’s been a great relationship, in that he is learning more about the golf courses and I’m learning more about his game. And when you put those two together, it sometimes can save a shot here or a couple of half-shots there. That is all the difference he needs. If he could gain a shot a round, he would beat everybody in the world, hands down.o

Dave Pelz is acknowledged as one of the sport’s foremost authorities on the short game and putting. His list of students includes Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Steve Elkington and Mike Weir—along with thousands of amateur players who attend his popular Scoring Game schools and clinics each year. A former NASA scientist, Pelz has also developed a series of training tools and authored some of the best selling golf instruction books. For more information about Dave Pelz, visit

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