ATLANTA — Phil Mickelson is making another equipment change ahead of the Ryder Cup, this one measured in inches.
Mickelson played a practice round at Hazeltine National on Monday and realized he would need a different driver to handle a course that measures 7,628 yards on the card. So he went back to a longer driver for the Tour Championship after using a driver with a shaft that is 1 1/2 inches shorter than normal for him.
Now if he can just hit the fairway.
Mickelson hit only one fairway in the opening round at East Lake, and improved to five fairways Friday. He shot rounds of 74-72 — with two triple bogeys and a double bogey over 36 holes — and was at the bottom of the back.
But he felt progress, and that’s what mattered to him.
“I drove it a lot better today,” Mickelson said. “I actually should have a good weekend because I’ve been experimenting a little bit these first few days or this past week. So today went much, much better. Even though the numbers don’t warrant it, all my misses were within a yard or two of the fairway. But you just can’t play this course like that.”
East Lake is dry and fast and the fairways are tight, so avoiding the rough is critical this week. Mickelson called the rough the hardest he has played in years.
For Mickelson, it’s about next week at the Ryder Cup.
“When I went to Hazeltine and saw how long of a golf course it was, I went to a longer driver again,” Mickelson said. “So I hit this driver 18, 20 yards longer. That’s a significant difference. I carry it a lot farther, and I think it’s going to be an advantage at Hazeltine if I drive it well, but I needed to get some play with it. I can’t just show up and expect to drive it.”
Mickelson famously made a significant equipment change in 2004 a week before the Ryder Cup when he left Titleist for Callaway, although his swing was starting to fall into bad habits once the majors were over. This is just a longer driver.
He experimented with a couple of them on the range earlier in the week, struggled with one model on Thursday and settled on the other one Friday.
“Yesterday the misses were huge. Today the misses were minuscule,” Mickelson said. “On a normal length fairway, I probably would have hit 10, 11 fairways. But these things are tight, they’re tilted, and they’re very difficult to hit.”
Mickelson said if he had not gone to Hazeltine for a team practice he would have shown up next week in Minnesota “panicking like I need that extra 20 yards.”
It’s his first time at the Tour Championship since 2013, and Lefty didn’t mind sacrifice a chance to win to work on his longer driver.
“I’ve won two Tour Championships and I’ve only been a part of two winning Ryder Cups,” he said. “I’d like to be a part of a third. Not to diminish this, but I’d rather win next week. For me, at this stage in my career, it means a little more to me.”