I'll get right tothe point: I think it's time for Phil Mickelson to make a coaching change fromRick Smith to Butch Harmon. Here's why: Ten months ago Mickelson was on theverge of winning the U.S. Open and making a serious run at knocking Tiger Woodsfrom the top spot in the World Ranking. Now Mickelson is a distant fourth inthe ranking and has a horde of whippersnappers gaining on him fast. The causeof the slide? Mickelson's swing is a mess.
At 36, Mickelsonis at a crossroads. To prepare for another run at No. 1, he needs to makeradical changes to his swing, to his body and to his approach to playing thegame. He's still young enough to make the modifications, but he needs to startsoon: The clock is ticking.
Three things seemto plague the Mickelson-Smith relationship. First, I can't fathom why Smith,who's worked with Mickelson for a decade, has never shortened Mickelson'sswing, which is sometimes as long and loose as John Daly's and routinely causesMickelson to hit wildly off-line drives and long-iron shots. Second, Smith andMickelson just seem too close. They are not only good friends but also partnersin business ventures, and their families are close as well. Such a deepfriendship is almost always the kiss of death to a teacher-player relationshipbecause it prevents the instructor from being sufficiently blunt andcritical.
The third--andbiggest--problem is Smith's personality. He's simply too nice, which I thinkhas caused him to be more or less a yes-man to Mickelson. Phil seems to besurrounded by people who too often have told him whatever he wants to hearrather than what he should hear. For that reason alone Mickelson dearly needsHarmon, who is an authority figure in the mold of Bob Knight.
Harmon won't beafraid to get in Mickelson's face, tell the truth and take charge of thesituation. He has always been a no-nonsense coach who speaks his mind wheninstructing players. I think Harmon would walk away from a relationship with aplayer if he didn't feel the player was absolutely committed to his gameplan.
Harmon is also theperfect technical fit for Mickelson. He has a track record of successfullyshortening the swings of superstars such as Woods, Fred Couples and Adam Scott.Harmon already has an idea of what Mickelson needs to do, so if Phil teams upwith him, I'd bet that within six months Mickelson's backswing would be muchmore compact. (I'd also wager that Mickelson would be more fit.)
There's noquestion that Mickelson is one of the most talented players in the game. Hisshort game and hand-eye coordination are second to none, and with 30 Tour wins,including three majors, Mickelson is a lock to make the Hall of Fame. Yet hehas the potential to be better, and Harmon is just the guy to help him be hisbest.
Tom Patri, a GolfMagazine Top 100 Teacher, is the director of instruction at Friar's Head inRiverhead, N.Y.
by JAMES P. HERRE
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LOW IMPACT Smith has had plenty of time--10 years--to persuade Mickelson to make needed changesin his game.
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