Tour analysis

Phil Mickelson’s odd new putting stroke might be hiding a bigger issue

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Erick W. Rasco

There's always something to see with Phil Mickelson, whether it's his calves, newly-sculpted skinny body—or yes, now a new, unusual putting stroke. Mickelson has freely alternated between a conventional putting grip and turning his trail around in a claw grip. At the Memorial, he added a new wrinkle in the form of a pump-fake hesitation at the top of his backstroke.

Whether it worked or not depends on your definition. Mickelson made five birdies, but also took triple on No. 17—hitting his approach shot into the water and missing a two-footer for double. It left him far out of contention at two-over through 36 holes, but if the triaged stroke is a band-aid for a case of the yips, the alternative could have been far more gruesome.

"That's what I think it is, personally...the yips," says Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher and tour short game guru Kevin Weeks. "He's doing something he has to do to get control again over the face. He's done the claw or the saw before, so he's had some issues, and this is another step toward finding a new feel. But I think the only time I've ever seen something like it was Charles Barkley."

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Golf Digest 50 Best Teacher and short game coach Stan Utley is based at the same Scottsdale facility as Mickelson's coach, Andrew Getson. Utley points out Mickelson always takes an analytical approach to improving. "I know Phil has a good reason in his mind for what he's doing," says Utley. "And when you take the stroke for what it is? The mechanics of the swing looked perfect to me, and he obviously is rolling it in."

Most players are willing to toss "orthodoxy" in putting if it means rolling more in, and that makes for one way Mickelson is no different than you or me. But if you're struggling with your putting and reckon you're going to try a stutter step in your stroke, keep a few things in mind.

"I wouldn't change you if you did it and you rolled it well, but if you do pause like that, it can potentially lead to surging the handle toward the target," says Utley. "That's going to make it harder for you to control your speed."

Weeks thinks the strategy would be good for a player who tends to stop the putter at the ball or flinch in anticipation of impact. "If you pause it, you're pretty much guaranteeing you're going to accelerate through the ball, which addresses the stopping problem. If you're getting bound by impact, you can also close your eyes at the start of the through-stroke, or watch the butt end of the grip in the stroke instead of the ball. I've also had players try a pencil grip where the index finger of the trail hand is pointing where you want the ball to go.

The caveat to all of this? "He might have tried everything and this is where he is," says Weeks. "The yips will tangle you up, and players will try anything to get out of it."

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