Mickelson and Lessons of the 2002 TPC
Phil Mickelson has endured more ridicule than anyone deserves for losing this tournament and for his infamous five putt. One can only hope that the golf gods will grant him a major before his career is over.
Emotions aside, we can learn from his error. Given his approach to putting, a five putt should be no great surprise. He attempts to ram the ball into the back of the hole on almost every putt, a characteristic that Tiger Woods shares to a slightly lesser degree. Tom Watson also approached his putts this way. In some ways this simplifies putting by taking some of the break out of the putt. Except the most severe breaking putts, one can aim everything inside the hole on putts within five feet. Given the names listed, one can certainly win this way, but it requries great nerve and skill, more than most of us have -- and more than Phil had on that particular day under that kind of pressure. The obvious problem is that when one misses this way, the next putt is another five foot putt. Four misses in five tries was only a matter of time.
In the long run we would all better off to judge the speed and break of nearly all putts so that the ball will end up no more than a little more than a foot past the hole if missed. Dave Pelz his proven this, and it is an excellent rule to putt by.
Phil Mickelson was not the only player to miss relatively short putts. The eventual winner, Craig Perks, also missed some relatively short putts coming done the stretch. But then in the last three holes he only required one putt, holing two difficult chip shots.
Again, the lesson is clear. Great putting can be created by great chipping. Get your chips close and you take a lot of pressure off your putting, and some of them will even go in! So if you want to be a better putter, work to be better at chipping the ball. Incidentally, Mickelson is also known for his wonderful chipping, which is one reason why he often wins with his overly aggressive putting.
Most of us will never chip or putt as well as any of these players, but we can learn from the few mistakes that they do make.