This is Phil Mickelson’s 3-step formula for when he *needs* to drive the ball straight

An older, wiser game plan is prioritizing accuracy at Winged Foot in 2020.

USGA/Darren Carroll

Welcome to Play Smart, a new game-improvement column that drops every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from Instruction Editor Luke Kerr-Dineen to help you play smarter, better golf.

Golf fans know by know what happened to Phil Mickelson at the 2006 U.S. Open — the last time the tournament was contested at Winged Foot. Needing a par to win and a bogey to force a playoff, Phil missed one way left, and then hit a tree on his subsequent shot before advancing his third shot greenside. A bunker shot that found the fringe past the hole, then a failed chip-in attempt to force a playoff, consigned him to the most painful loss of his career.

Fourteen years later, Phil is back at Winged Foot and in the best shape of his life. Speaking to Golf Channel following his Tuesday practice round, he said that missing big was part of his strategy for the week.

“In ’06, I did not hit that many fairways and gave myself a chance because…the key to me in ’06 was to miss it big,” he said. “That way I’m in the trampled down areas.”

But with no fans and heavier rough, that won’t happen this year. So an older, wiser Phil has learned from his mistakes and is proceeding with a new strategy this week. He’ll continue to hit bombs when he can, but he’s also made some equipment and technical tweaks to make sure he’s hitting the ball straight, too…

1. More loft

Phil Mickelson told Golf Channel he added some loft to his driver this week to help him keep it in the fairway. If you have an adjustable driver and want to follow a similar tack as Lefty to help get the ball in the fairway, you can try adding a few degrees to your driver. But the easier way of using more loft to hit the ball straighter is to simply club down. Taking a 15 degree 3-wood, for instance, instead of your 10 degree driver, when you really need to find the fairway.

2. More spin

Phil also cited more spin on the golf ball as a way of finding the fairway more frequently. How can spin help you?

Putting more backspin on the ball will help get the ball higher into the air and fly shorter. Be wary of trying to use spin to hit the ball straighter in your own game — if you’re a slicer, for instance, you likely already have too much spin on the golf ball. But if you’re struggling to hit the fairway, GOLF Top 100 Teacher Tony Ruggiero often suggests teeing the ball slightly lower on your driver when you really need to hit the ball in the fairway.

3. Swing softly

The third and final tid-bit Lefty dropped in the interview was the simplest of all: swinging slower. Knowing when to swing hard is great, but so is knowing when to take an easy swing at the ball, and find the fairway. And you may find yourself surprised: A slower, smoother golf swing can also help your overall contact, which means you may not lose as much distance as you would expect.

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Luke Kerr-Dineen

Golf.com Contributor

Luke Kerr-Dineen is an English-American who oversees the brand’s service journalism content across all of GOLF’s multimedia platforms. An alumni of the International Junior Golf Academy and the University of South Carolina–Beaufort golf team, where he helped them to No. 1 in the national NAIA rankings, Luke moved to New York in 2012 to pursue his Masters degree in Journalism from Columbia University. Following graduation, he spent two years as a digital editor at Golf Digest before spending three years as a Senior Editor at USA Today.