Phil Mickelson has surprised a lot of golf fans this week at the 2018 Safeway Open, getting into contention in Napa, Calif. just a week after being a complete non-factor in Paris at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Mickelson was looking for answers all week, spending an inordinate amount of time for him on the range in search of something he could use to get him through matches. He never round it. Instead, he played just two matches, losing in Friday foursomes with Bryson DeChambeau, sitting out the entirety of Saturday play and then losing the Ryder Cup-clinching point to undefeated Francesco Molinari with a water ball on the par-3 16th at Le Golf National.
The five-time major winner was not a fan of the French host course, with the European Tour setting it up with fairly narrow fairways and deep rough to penalize poor drives.
“Well, it’s a unique situation in that the way the—the Europeans did a great thing, they did the opposite of what we do when we have the Ryder Cup here,” Mickelson said. “The fairways were 14 to 16 yards wide. Ben Hogan, who is the greatest ball-striker of all time, had a 5 percent margin of error. So if you hit the ball 300 yards, which we all hit it more than that, you need to have a 30-yard wide fairway to be able to hit it.”
Contrast Le Golf National with this week's host, Silverado Resort's North Course, and the fairways aren't much easier to hit. They're some of the most difficult to find on the PGA Tour. However, the rough isn't nearly as difficult, giving Mickelson the opportunity to play golf from off the short grass.
“The fact is they had brutal rough, almost unplayable, and it’s not the way I play,” Mickelson said after an opening 65. “I don’t play like that. And here [Napa] I can miss the fairways, I can get shots out of the rough up on the green and it’s playable.”
Mickelson took it a step further, saying he will be reducing his schedule in 2019 to conserve energy and will be ditching tournaments with particularly penal rough.
“I’m not going to play tournaments with rough like that anymore, it’s a waste of my time," he said. "I’m going to play courses that are playable and that I can play aggressive, attacking, make a lot of birdies, style of golf I like to play.”
That sounds like the US Open is out, but we know he'll be in Pebble Beach, looking to complete the career Grand Slam next June. However, Mickelson isn't just going to cut out tournaments with deep rough. He'll be looking to play a leaner schedule in general.
"I've learned from this, you know, at 48 it's not a smart thing to do," Mickelson said of playing as much as he did leading into the Ryder Cup. "I won't do it anymore, I won't do it again, playing this much golf. I'll pace myself much better because I'm able to play at a high level, but it's so difficult without physical and mental sharpness to play at a high level. It doesn't come easy anymore, I need to recover and so I have to pace myself better."
Mickelson didn't say specifically which tournaments he's considering skipping, but he seems more interested in playing fun events and feeling fresh than playing in all the events expected of a top-tier golfer.
He said, "I love what I do, but now as opposed to playing the tournaments you're expected to play in or whatever, I'm going to play the events that I like that are best for me even if it doesn't make sense or if people have a problem with it because I'm going to have to start limiting the number of tournaments I play so that I can play those at a higher level because I'm getting a little bit more mental fatigue and not able to focus and see the shot as clearly as I'd like for so many weeks in a row."