How matches versus this top-10 player helped Phil Mickelson turn his game around

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Phil Mickelson won his sixth career major last Sunday.

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Phil Mickelson, historic winner of last week’s PGA Championship, has credited many things for his major victory on Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course — a renewed focus, a better diet and, just as important, taking on the PGA Tour’s young guns.

Here’s Mickelson at the Charles Schwab Challenge on Wednesday, talking about the latter. In classic Phil fashion, he had a lot to say. So we’ll leave him to it.

“A big thing for me in getting things turned around has been the opportunity to play with a lot of good, young players,” Mickelson said. “Just prior to Innisbrook I had a chance to play with Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler at [Michael Jordan’s course] The Grove XXIII in Florida, and I had a chance to play a lot of golf in the last year and a half with Charley Hoffman and Xander Schauffele in San Diego — and that’s made a big difference for me. I remember a year ago almost to the day where I was playing a few rounds at The Farms with Xander, and we played a match and he went out and shot 64 and I’m like, ‘Wow, all right, you gave me a pretty good beating, let’s do this again.’ So a few days later went and played again and he shot 63. I’m like, ‘Wow, OK. Let me try one more time.’

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“So we go out next time and he shoots 62. On a 220-yard par-3, I had to press and hit one to four feet and he makes a hole-in-one. I went back and talked to [my wife] Amy and I’m like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to beat this guy. He’s probably playing the best of any player in the world right now.’ Then he came to Colonial the following week and almost won here.”

But those matches helped Mickelson keep his edge. His former caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, referenced those famous Tuesday games with younger players when interviewed on Sunday night after Mickelson’s PGA win.

“But seeing that,” Mickelson continued, speaking of Schauffele, “and the way he played with this calm and didn’t try to overpower every hole but overpowered the holes he should and keep the ball in play and keep the ball on the ground and hit his iron shots pin-high and being solid from inside 15 feet. I saw what it looked like to play at the highest level.”

Schauffele, appearing on GOLF’s Drop Zone Podcast last fall, touched on those games with Mickelson.

“Phil kind of got the wrath of me during quarantine,” Schauffele said. “It was like 64, 63, 63, something like that, but he wasn’t playing very good. But Phil got me pretty bad right before he left. It was funny when I saw him shoot 10 under the first round of a Champions Tour event. I played with a him a couple of weeks before that, we played The Farms, and I’d been absolutely waxing him every day, and he made 11 birdies and an eagle before we left. So I got absolutely rinsed before I left for my tournament schedule.”

So maybe Mickelson got the last laugh. And after his PGA victory, and sixth major title, he most certainly did.

Josh Berhow

Golf.com Editor

Josh Berhow is the managing editor at GOLF.com. The Minnesota native graduated with a journalism degree from Minnesota State University in Mankato. You can reach him at joshua_berhow@golf.com.