By almost any standard the 2014 season was Phil Mickelson’s “most difficult for me in 20-plus years on the PGA Tour.”
He did set the U.S. record for Ryder Cup appearances with his tenth consecutive, but even that week was marred by an unsuccessful bid to regain the Cup and being held out of both sessions on the Saturday.
He did cross the $80 million mark in career earnings, which solidified his standing as the No. 2 all-time money winner. But he also withdrew from three tournaments, as many as he had in his first 20-plus years on Tour, 476 professional starts.
He did manage two top-10 finishes but went winless in 2014, a first since 2003 and only the third time since turning pro for the 1992 U.S. Open. One of those close calls was a runner-up finish in the PGA Championship, when he came from three strokes off the lead in a share of fourth place entering the final round, held the lead on the back nine, but was overtaken as darkness fell at Valhalla in Louisville.
“The PGA was the highlight and could have really turned the year around if I could have held on to win,” said Phil. “Instead it was just a close call. Not winning made it the worst year of my career.
“It was a bad year statistically in all areas,” Phil said. “I didn’t drive the wall as well I can or expected to. My short irons were worse than they’ve been in my entire career. My short game really wasn’t really sharp. My putting was not at the level I expect.
“But,” he said with conviction, “it’s also motivated me to make next year special.”
These days he doesn’t look or sound like the player who ended his frustrating season with a withdrawal from the BMW Championship and missed the Tour Championship for the first time in since 2007.
Phil’s well into a rigorous training program four days each week with trainer Sean Cochran.
“In the first five or six weeks I’ve had some immediate results,” he said. I’m getting lighter, developing more core strength and speed and increasing my ball speed,” he said. “It’s been awhile since I felt so at ease. And I still have almost two months to work on my game before my season starts at the Humana Challenge in Palm Springs.”
Phil’s schedule will look different next season, too. For one thing, he skipped his familiar two-week trip to China and Malaysia in the fall. For another, he expects to play two or three weeks straight next year, followed by two weeks off.
“I love that format because it gives me a full week away from the game and a full week to prepare for events,” he explained, “and three in a row gives me enough time to get into a good rhythm.”
The only real shakeup in his schedule comes early. Phil will miss the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time since 1997 and he has for wins, and the Northern Trust Open after a seven-year run there. Phil won twice at Riveria and twice was nipped on the first extra playoff hole.
“Those are two of my favorite events, two of my favorites courses,” he said, “but with the kids in two schools with different spring breaks I’ll take that time off. They’ve accommodated my schedule enough over the years. It’s time for me to accommodate theirs.”
As for the major championship venues, Phil said, “I’ve played two other PGA Championships at Whistling Straits and I really like the course. I’m always excited to play the Open Championship at St. Andrews. I don’t know much about Chambers Bay other than we’re bringing it to a municipal course, which I like. It looks beautiful. I thought the U.S. Amateur was a very successful one when it was played there. l’m looking forward to getting there and playing it in advance of the Open. But I still can’t get past the Masters.”
After three victories and 10 top-five finishes in his first 20 Masters, Phil missed the cut this year for just his second time, his first since 1996. Not that he needed it after the rest of a deeply disappointing 2014 campaign, but that result is another impetus for his eager anticipation of 2015.