Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why Phil Mickelson Blew the 2011 British Open

Irishman Darren Clarke won the British Open. He was the only player to shoot in the 60s all four rounds. He's a gentleman, a talented veteran golfer, and he deserved to win. It was his first victory in a "major" tournament, and I'm happy for him.

But I'm an American and a big sports fan, so this day was a disappointing day for me. First, after starting the final day of the British Open five strokes behind, Phil Mickelson played brilliantly and after only nine holes he had caught the leader. Then he blew it - royally. Second, the U.S. women's soccer team lost to Japan in the World Cup final.

I watched both defeats, and it was clear to me why both of my favorites lost. In both cases it was unnecessary and shocking. Here's what happened to Phil.

2005 photo by Dan Perry
He started the day with a seemingly miraculous front nine. What he did was almost impossible, even on a nice, calm day. Instead, the wind was blowing rain sideways. Still, he played like an all-weather wizard who knows all of the earth's secrets. Well, he is 41 years old, and he has won 39 PGA tournaments, including three Masters and one PGA championship.

He rolled in lengthy putts to card birdies on holes 2, 4 and 6. Then on hole 7, he sunk a 20-footer for an eagle. He finished the front nine with a five-under-par 30, equaling the front nine scoring record for the British Open. Then on the 10th hole, he made another birdie: 6 strokes under par after 10 holes. Even though the leader had just made an eagle himself, Mickelson was only one stroke behind with eight holes to go. He was playing the best golf of his life, and to say he had a chance to win the 2011 British Open was a polite understatement.

On the 11th hole, he reached the green in regulation, missed his birdie putt and went to tap in his 2-footer for par. And then the most amazing thing happened.

In Mickelson's head, the game that goes on between a golfer's ears went soft and mushy. Instead of respecting the shot and grinding it out in a professional manner, he didn't go through his routine. He rushed the putt and pushed it to one side of the hole. He missed a 2-footer. When reporters asked him about it later, he said, "It was just a stupid mistake, just a dumb mental error."

Well, actually, it was the kind of mental error that you'd expect from a weekend golfer playing for pocket change - not Phil Mickelson contending in the British Open.

But why?

It seems clear to me that on the front nine he was, as he affirmed later, having some of the most fun he's ever had playing golf, and he got a little giddy and failed to engage two of the personal strengths crucial to professional golfers: THOROUGHNESS and FOCUS. He didn't do a golfer's due diligence for the shot. His mind was preoccupied with the heady feeling of playing magical golf; it wasn't focused on the putt.

Well still, he had seven more holes to go. If he could birdie a couple of them, he might still win. But that's not what happened. The guy who was making all the birdies and eagles started having trouble making par. He made no more birdies and a total of four bogeys on the back nine, blowing himself out of contention.

Again, why?

With plenty of golf left to play and severe weather conditions making it tough on everyone, including Darren Clarke, the leader, why did birdie-man suddenly turn into bogey-man?

Well, I watched it, and the answer is clear. You could see it in Mickelson's posture. You could tell by the way he walked to the 12th hole that it was as if something had knocked him goofy. When that putt rolled by the hole and he dropped another stroke behind the leader, a bolt of emotion and these words flooded his mind: Oh no. What's this? What have I done? I can't do this and win today. I've just screwed myself. Oh my god. Or words to that effect...

In short, he lost his COMPOSURE and his SELF-CONFIDENCE, two more personal strengths a PGA contender needs in order to win. He was trying not to show it to the crowd, but he lost his belief that his game was strong enough to win. Instead of putting the mistake behind him, he changed the way he had been playing. He panicked. He took more chances and got into more trouble.

It was hard to watch. With each bogey, his mental game got worse. I felt sorry for Phil. Nobody gets a pass when it comes to engaging personal strengths. They're crucial to success. If you don't bring a tough mental game, there will be consequences.

I'm sure if Phil ever reads my post here (and he never will) he won't get all this talk about "personal strengths." I'm sure he hasn't thought much about personal strengths per se. He just engages them instinctively. And when he does, he plays magnificently, as he has lots of times. But not on the back nine today, where his instincts failed him. A conscious effort between holes to engage specific personal strengths would have made a big difference.

OK, this is a short putt. OK, let's have a look at this thing. Let's do it right and make sure it goes into the center of the hole....

OK, I missed it. I goofed. But that's done. It happens sometimes. I miss one every round. This was it. No problem. Got seven more chances at birdie, and I'll get my share. Clarke will make his mistakes, too. I'll just keep on playing my game and enjoying every shot....

Next post: why the U.S. women's soccer team lost to Japan. It's a regrettable story...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Wikimedia Commons fair use license, photo used with permission)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i tend to agree but i think phil threw it he knew he was on a roll saw that the way things were going that he'd probally beat clarke
so he deliberately missed that 2 foot put take a close look he aims it to the side of the hole as an expert putter we agree he wouldnt do that unless he wanted to miss and he did the put was 100% straight and easy at a firm pace
reasons why phil would back off so sudden and take 3 more bogeys

he wanted clarke a friend an ally in breast cancer the ribbon the clues are there
after all he led 3 rounds and all pros wanted clarke to get the job done no more than phil though

for me unacceptable as a pro not too do your best at all times for the paying public to be scammed like this is totally unacceptable but hey a popular irish winner and a journey man pro who will never win again at this level phil helped out a lot
the tv and paying public were robbed of a shoot out and a grand stand finish aka nicklaus watson 1977 phil is a nice guy and thats why he did it for a friend who has suffered
he should have carried the fight to clarke and maybe clarke would stil have won i doubt it myself and i dont think phil was going to take that chance either
what i make of this is pretty poor really understandable in a way and i think the majority of punters would prefer aka nicklaus watson than this recent charade
ofcourse ia msureclarke knows nothing of this and doesnt need to but phil due to the fact he takes the open as nothing special to him should look at some of the players that really wanted to win came so close but for fate and thats disrepectful to them and the game of golf