Mickelson relishing links test at Open, and the worse weather the better

Phil Mickelson
Getty Images
Phil Mickelson has started to embrace the challenge of being a "bad-weather player," and that makes this week's British Open the ideal tournament.
By
Steve Douglas
Associated Press

Series: European Tour

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- If the wind is howling and the rain's pouring during the British Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, expect Phil Mickelson to be wearing a broad grin on his face.

By his own admission, Mickelson has started to embrace the challenge of being a "bad-weather player." It makes the Open the ideal tournament for the American.

BRITISH OPEN

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"I don't know where that happened along the way, whether it was last year or whether it was five, 10 years ago," said Mickelson, who added that he started "to really enjoy the tough weather conditions and I hope that it's that way next week, too."

The good news for Mickelson is that the long-range forecast is for Britain's terrible weather of late to continue into the competition rounds.

Mickelson tied for second behind Darren Clarke at Royal St. George's at the 2011 British Open, his best finish at the year's third major. That tournament was beset by rain and gusting winds off the southwest coast, forcing players to don oven-style mitts between shots and huddle under flapping umbrellas at times.

The extreme conditions were too much for then-U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who slumped away from a soggy Sandwich bemoaning his luck at playing successive rounds in the worst of the weather and saying "there's no point in changing your game for one week a year."

That's exactly what Mickelson has done. Well, maybe two weeks a year if you count his regular appearances at the Scottish Open, the precursor to the British Open.

"My mindset has really evolved a lot over the last decade or two," Mickelson said. "I've learned to get the ball on the ground quick and that's made playing in the bad weather so much easier because the ground then affects the ball, as opposed to the air.

"That makes it easier to not have the misses be so big. So I've really enjoyed learning a few shots off the tee."

The last Open at Royal Lytham was in 2001. It was won by David Duval and Mickelson tied for 30th.

"I thought it was a wonderful course," the 16th-ranked Mickelson said. "It was a tough driving course, there were a lot of irons off the tee and a lot of bunkers to avoid."

A couple of years later, he and coach Dave Pelz started really tackling how best to deal with the conditions so often seen on links courses and so rarely seen on American-style parkland courses.

"We spent some time working on some low shots, working on a couple of different tee shots to get the ball on the ground and to get the ball in play," he said. "Consequently, I have not been having as big misses off the tee as I had earlier in my career where I was playing the ball through the air and letting the crosswinds take it."

Mickelson demonstrated his intention to finally get his hands on the Claret Jug -- and win the fifth major of his illustrious career -- by cutting short a family vacation in Italy to play in last week’s Scottish Open and attempt to shake off some rust. 

If the weather goes south in northern England this week, that just might prove an inspired move.