Mickelson Focuses on Distance As Defending Champ at Dominion Energy

Phil Mickelson signs autographs for two young fans after his round of 67 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead in the Constellation Furyk & Friends, at the Timuquana Country Club.Phil Signing
Phil Mickelson signs autographs for two young fans after his round of 67 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead in the Constellation Furyk & Friends, at the Timuquana Country Club.Phil Signing /

“I try to hit it the farthest out here, and I was No. 1 in driving distance,” Phil Mickelson  said before his first round at the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, a PGA Tour Champions playoff event.

Mickelson has been at this distance chase for some time now, and he explained why it’s even more important on the Champions Tour.

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“I want to fly it 305 and try to — because I’m a really good wedge player — so if I get wedges in my hand, I’m going to be tough to beat,” he insisted.

He’s right about that.  He has three victories out of four starts on the over-50 circuit.

When it comes to distance stats, Mickelson is not currently on the PGA Tour Champions stats list for driving distance, likely because he hasn’t  played enough rounds. But on last year’s PGA Tour stats, he’s average was 301.8 yards with the leader for last year being Bryson DeChambeau at 323.7 yards.

On the Champions circuit, it’s a totally different story. For the current season, Retief Goosen is leading the distance race at just over 298.2 yards, followed by Vijay Singh at 296 and Ernie Els at 295.8.  That means that while Mickelson doesn’t have much of an advantage off the tee when he plays the PGA Tour, he does have when he plays PGA Tour Champions. His average off the tee is better than all other players. He’s also right about being one of the best wedge players ever.

However, he doesn’t see himself as a shoe-in for victory this week. In fact, he thinks if the course had been like it is this week during last year’s tournament, he wouldn’t have won.

“It’s playing so different from last year, more challenging with the greens being firmer and really fast, I am going to have to be a little bit more patient and manage my game a little bit better,” he said.

Last year, he was able to be very aggressive because the greens were soft. This year, he has the benefit of having played a few rounds on the course.

“I’m able to take some of the subtleties and nuances of the golf course and have a better knowledge of where I want to be, where I don’t want to be and how I can play it aggressively,” he explained about his approach to the tournament.

Repeatedly, Mickelson has said that the set-ups of the courses for PGA Tour Champions are not as difficult as they are on the PGA Tour.  The PGA Tour hole locations are closer to the edges of the greens, and the courses tend to be just a little bit longer.

The difference means that he has to play more conservatively on the PGA Tour, and that’s less fun for him.  Mickelson is an aggressive player.  PGA Tour Champions lets him be that way.

“It lets me have fun and play the way I like to play out here, and then I try to take that back to when I play on the regular tour and try to implement that type of play,”  he explained.

The over-50 circuit also lets him spend time with old friends and still be competitive in what he called an environment that “doesn’t beat him up.”

We don’t know how much time Mickelson will spend on either tour in 2022, but he has  a five-year exemption for winning the PGA, although he already had a lifetime exemption with his huge number of victories. Twenty victories and 15 years on the PGA Tour is the threshold for entering the lifetime category.  For the short term, when he played the Constellation Furyk & Friends, which he won, he said he was playing Dominion Energy and was undecided on Timber Tech, which is in early November in Boca Raton, Florida.

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“If there’s an ( PGA Tour) event I could play, it might be the week of Boca, it might be the one down in Mexico,” he explained. “I’m not sure what exactly I’ll do, but I very well may go to Boca, we’ll see. That’s the only one I’m undecided on.”

The final tournament of the year for the PGA Tour Champions is the Charles Schwab Cup in at the Phoenix Country Club in Phoenix, Arizona. Mickelson has qualified for the season ending event, one of 36 players who will participate.  He will play in that event.