I once asked Phil Mickelson how he had applied his psychology studies to his job as a professional golfer. He graduated from Arizona State University with a psychology degree. He replied that the key element was using visualisation.
During the beautiful first round that he played at Royal Troon on Thursday before almost every shot he appeared to be taking his time to see the ball fly and its run. He played some exquisite shots, but also scrambled and scored brilliantly. However I was a bit disappointed to hear during his press conference that he didnt seem to appreciate the wonder of that 63 because he wanted the elusive, never before achieved in a major 62. Indeed the strength of his emotion about this was revealing. “I could shed a tear, I want to cry, I wanted my own little piece of history. It’s heartbreaking”.
While this shows the level of intensity that he plays with, the burning desire, his reply to the next question was again surprising. “What had caused the putt on the 18th green to lip out?”
“It should have gone in” he said “reason it didnt is the curse”
Really? Had he perhaps read my article about fate (see November 2015). Did he believe in the golfing gods, in fate? he was asked.
“I didnt before” Mickelson replied “but I do now”
Well, interesting that that’s what he’s thinking about as he approaches the final round. Indeed with him identifying in last night’s rather terse TV interview that he was struggling with his rhythm even though the swing was on plane and he needed to get back out onto the range to work something out with coach Andrew Getson indicated that he had a lot buzzing around in his mind. He was also tetchy during the second and third rounds telling a cameraman to “get out of my personal space” and an expletive was heard when the gallery didnt get out of the way in time.
If anyone can cope with a busy mind it is Mickelson, who enjoys mental stimulation so much that he and caddie Bones talk incessently through a round and have debates and stewards enquiries about many shots, because he thrives on the drama.
But last night he did look mentally exhausted after drawing on all of his creativity and ingenuity to street fight his way round the course. Today, if the rhythm of his swing has been found on the range, I believe he will come out with a calmer, quieter mind, and the championship will be his for the taking. But if not, Henrik Stenson will prove difficult for him to play alongside. Stenson can be a cold and hard competitor, brilliantly so, which is why he is held in such high esteem in Europe. He is a match for any American. Just one thing he said in interview seemed to be his detriment, that he wasn’t thinking about the outcome. I believe he should be thinking about it now, and visualising lifting the claret jug. It’s what Nick Faldo used to do. Visualise his name at the top of the scoreboard, his winning press comfernce, the drop of the winning putt, the scenes on the final green – and he sent that out into the universe. Stenson should be doing this too. He has the mental strength to win, he just needs to send out those good vibrations.