Phil Mickelson reveals advice he received from Seve Ballesteros as an amateur
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Phil Mickelson is the greatest short-game player of the modern generation. Countless times over the course of his storied career, we’ve seen Mickelson find himself in a seemingly impossible spot, only to use touch and creativity to escape. Even when it seems like he’s got no shot, Lefty finds a way to escape danger.
Before there was Phil Mickelson, though, there was Seve Ballesteros. Throughout his career in the 70s, 80s and 90s, Ballesteros also found himself in a number of impossible spots. And, like Lefty, he always seemed to find a way out of them.
Mickelson and Ballesteros sharing a playing style is no accident. As a kid in southern California, Mickelson looked up to the five-time major champ for inspiration in his own game, and he came to emulate his hero as he improved.
“Seve was the guy I wanted to play a practice round with the most,” Mickelson said after Ballesteros’ passing. “He’s certainly had an impact on the game.”
Once Mickelson reached the pro ranks in the early 90s, that practice round came to fruition. And in the years to come, Lefty and Ballesteros became friends, practicing together across the globe.
The first time Mickelson met Ballesteros, at Valderrama, host of this week’s LIV Golf event, the Spaniard took Mickelson under his wing, showing the young pro the ins and outs of practice rounds during their time together.
“It was little things like ‘Come over here, hit this shot,’ and he would hit a little flop shot out of the rough,” Mickelson said. “It would be playing a practice round and have him hitting a shot to a back right pin when the pin on the practice day is front center, and he’s talking about getting ready to play, compete and work on the shots he’s had to play in the competition. That was for a 17 year old a little eye opening.”
For the uber-competitive Mickelson, this was a bit different than his typical prep work. Lefty’s MO has always been to win at all costs — even if it was in a Tuesday practice round. But, as Ballesteros taught him, the prep work you do early in the week can be the difference between winning and losing come the weekend.
“I’m out there trying to shoot a number and score on a Tuesday practice round,” Mickelson said. “Which made no sense.”
That’s not to say that Ballesteros and Mickelson never got to be competitive with one another. Ballesteros was also a fierce competitor, and he’d drag Mickelson into all sorts of competitions where each could show off their short-game prowess.
“Then we both were with Hugo Boss and do photo shoots together and in between breaks we would have little bunker competitions, chipping competitions,” Mickelson said. “And the time that I spent with him really meant a lot to me.”