Phil Mickelson's pre-shot routine helped him win in Mexico. Here's how it can help you.

By T.J. Auclair
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Problem Area: Fundamentals
Series: Lesson Learned

Published: Monday, March 05, 2018 | 12:04 p.m.

You'd think a player with 40+ PGA Tour victories, five of those majors, and a World Golf Hall of Famer would easily find calm in a tense situation on the course. 
But for 47-year-old Phil Mickelson -- who fits all those categories -- Sunday was a little different.
Sure, he's made a habit of winning throughout his illustrious career, but until Sunday at the WGC-Mexico Championship in a playoff with Justin Thomas -- the hottest player on the planet -- Lefty hadn't done so since the 2013 Open Championship.
So how did he do it? With a consistent pre-shot routine and deep breathing, so says 2013 PGA National Teacher of the Year, Lou Guzzi.
"There was a great camera angle on the tee box in the playoff where you could really see Phil's face up close," Guzzi said. "You could see how focused he was on his breathing, taking in oxygen and getting himself as relaxed as possible before playing the shot. For Phil, it's his job, so he's used to doing that. But for the weekend golfer, they're not as experienced dealing with that pressure, even if it's something like shooting a career-best score, or maybe breaking 100."
Everyone wants to experience that "calm" in pressure situations. Here's how.
1. A solid, repeatable pre-shot routine.
"Stand behind the ball," Guzzi said. "Evaluate the club you want to use and picture the shot you want to hit. Imagine the desired shot shape and outcome before you address the ball."
2. A practice swing that identifies intention.
"Make a practice swing and feel the club you're about to swing," Guzzi said. "You might be in the middle of the fairway swinging an 8 iron after hitting driver off the tee. Those two clubs will feel different. That practice swing allows us to identify our intention for the shot, as well as stay loose."
3. Take a deep breath.
"Line up the shot, relax your arms -- get the tension out of arms and shoulders," he said. "As you approach the ball, take a nice, deep breath and let it out as you're walking to the ball. it'll release a lot more tension. Be as calm as possible when you're ready to swing. Now, when you get the club behind the ball, the light turns green. That's where we want to be, exact. 
"As you approach the ball, know your waggles," Guzzi said. "How many times do you waggle before you swing? In my case, I waggle twice and after the second waggle, as soon as the club touches the ground, I know I'm swinging."
The driving range, Guzzi said, is a great place to work on that pre-shot routine. 
"Go to range, hit your balls, warm up, but practice on a pre-shot routine you want to use," he said. "It's very important. Look at the best players in the world and then copy their routine. I decided that was the best routine for me. I looked at the best players and looked at the routines that made the most sense and then I duplicated it on the range and applied it on the golf course."
Though Mickelson is a seasoned veteran, his breathing was on full display Sunday. A position to win isn't something he had experienced in some time. 
In a way, Guzzi said, it was similar to the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, where a then 59-year-old Tom Watson nearly pulled off the unthinkable -- winning -- before losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink.  
"Watson was just very good at breathing and staying calm," Guzzi said. "A lot of times, Watson would stand on a tee and wait with his arms behind his back and enjoy the view and stay relaxed while he waited his turn. You could see it. He had a very quiet, very focused body."
Remember: Golf is not a reactionary sport like, say, hockey. You can work on, develop and implement a consistent pre-shot routine. The ball isn't going anywhere until you hit it.

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.

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