Ahead of his PGA Tour Champions title defense, Phil Mickelson says driving accuracy is irrelevant: ‘I look at longest’

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RICHMOND, Va. — Do you think driving accuracy is important? Phil Mickelson sure doesn’t.

When the 51-year-old Lefty won the Constellation Furyk and Friends earlier this month for his third PGA Tour Champions win in just his fourth start (Fred Couples is the only other player to do so in 2010), he was 81st in driving accuracy.

“I look at longest, like I try to hit it the farthest out here and I was No. 1 in driving distance. That’s the way I look at it,” said Mickelson after his Thursday pro-am ahead of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, the first of three legs in the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs. “If you want to look at stuff that’s irrelevant, have at it. What I’m looking at is distance, I want to hit it, 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.”

And that’s putting it lightly. Back at Country Club of Virginia’s James River course this week to defend his first senior victory at the 2020 Dominion, Mickelson has a chance to become the first player to win four of his first five starts on the senior circuit. Even though it’s the same course, Mickelson noted how different it’s playing this week compared to last year with firm and fast greens.

“I think from last year 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,” said Mickelson. “So knowing those nuances is important. I think that if the course played like this last year, I don’t think I would have ended up winning, because you really need to know a lot of the subtleties and you could hit good shots and be in a bad spot if you didn’t know the golf course.”

But it won’t be without a little competition. The top-72 players from the Schwab Cup points list qualified for this week’s event, including three past champions at CCV: Miguel Angel Jimenez (2019), Woody Austin (2018), and Bernhard Langer (2017). Langer currently sits first in the standings and is looking for his record sixth Charles Schwab Cup.

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“There are a lot of really good players that are playing some really good golf. What you don’t see is how hard they work off the golf course, because as we all get older, to maintain flexibility, speed, strength, all those things, it’s a lot of extra work,” explained Mickelson. “Obviously Bernhard Langer’s the gold standard, right? That man at 64, what he’s been doing is incredible. That’s the guy to look up to to elongate your career, have a great quality of life.”

Langer, winner of 41 Champions tour events and 11 senior majors, had glowing things to say about all the new “young” players on the tour on Tuesday, especially Mickelson. The man to beat for the last decade and a half noted how eager the last few classes of PGA Tour Champions rookies have been, citing their realization that the senior tour is a second chance to compete at a high level. All that said, Mickelson is enjoying his time but isn’t ready to give the Champions tour his full attention.

“I’m using this as an opportunity to have fun, to be around people that I know, guys that I know. I’m using it as a chance to be competitive but in an environment that doesn’t beat you up,” said Mickelson. “I think it’s underrated how difficult the courses on Tour set up, how tough the pin placements are and you’re really not able to get away with a miss because the pins are so close to the edges. If you short-side yourself, you can’t get up and down.

“I like being able to play aggressive, so 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. But I always have to dial it back on the regular tour and be more cautious, play to more center of the greens, have more 20-, 30-footers, because if you short-side yourself there, they’re so close to the edges, you can’t get up and down.”

The 45-time winner on the “regular tour” said he’ll most likely play the season-finale Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, but he’s unsure about next week’s stop in Florida for the TimberTech Championship.

“I feel like I’m playing a lot better than I have throughout the year, except for the PGA,” said Lefty with a laugh, “and I would like to test myself on the regular tour. So if there’s an event I could play, it might be the week of Boca, it might be the one down in Mexico. 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.”