Phil Mickelson has turned 50, a milestone to be sure and also a time for reflection. As a golf writer covering the equipment scene on the professional tours for some 20 years, Lefty is the gift that keeps on giving. Whether it’s one of his numerous equipment changes, “special” clubs for certain tournaments or controversy over equipment (even spikes), Mickelson rarely is left out of the equipment discussion. In celebration of Mickelson turning the big 5-0, here’s a sampling of some of the memorable equipment moments of his career.
An early graphite guy
It’s been so long now that not everyone remembers Mickelson was with Yonex for the first eight years of his PGA Tour career. He won 17 times with the company’s equipment, including its graphite-shafted ADX Tour Forged irons and, later, its Super Rekin irons, making him one of the few players at the time to use graphite shafts. Later on, Mickelson admitted the shafts, at times, led to erratic ball-striking.
The ball that changed it all
While the Pro V1 revolutionised the golf-ball industry, it received a nice assist from Mickelson. Although still on Yonex’s staff, Mickelson was considering a move. At the 2000 US Open, Mickelson asked then Titleist head Wally Uihlein what the company had in its R&D pipeline. Uihlein told him of a “Laboratory Test Ball,” which would become the Pro V1. After the ball came out, Mickelson was a huge fan, hyping it as the biggest thing in equipment since steel shafts replaced hickory. He even suggested that positioning the ball on the tee so the seam met up with the clubface could produce extra yards.
Just before the 2004 Ryder Cup, Mickelson and Titleist parted ways, a curious move considering Lefty won his first Major at the Masters earlier in the year. He signed with Callaway, and although he didn’t switch out all his clubs, he did have a Callaway driver, 3-wood and 4-wood in the bag at Oakland Hills. Paired with Tiger Woods during a foursomes match against Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke that was all square going to the 18th hole, Mickelson hit a 3-wood tee shot way left that wound up against a boundary fence, leaving Woods no shot and Mickelson with plenty of questions about the timing of the switch.
At the 2005 BellSouth Classic, Mickelson did some quick thinking that led to victory in a playoff against Rich Beem. Knowing the playoff was only going to be on 17 and 18, and knowing the rules allowed for an equipment change since a playoff is considered a new round, Mickelson dropped his sand wedge and added a 3-iron between the end of regulation and the start of overtime. Mickelson used the 3-iron on the third extra hole to knock the ball on the par 5 in two and secure the win.
A week later on a soggy Augusta National for the 2005 Masters, Mickelson was playing in front of Vijay Singh in the opening round. He also was wearing the “nails,” 8 millimetre metal spikes that many tour pros opted for at the time in slippery conditions. Singh, however, complained to rules officials that Mickelson was leaving unusually large spike marks on the greens. Rules officials approached Mickelson on the 13th hole and checked his spikes, finding no issue. The controversy spilled over to the Champions Locker Room after the round. “I heard Vijay talking to other players about it and I confronted him,” Mickelson said. “He expressed his concerns. I expressed my disappointment with the way it was handled.”
Doubling down on drivers at 2006 Masters
Mickelson likes playing the week before a Major and at the 2006 BellSouth Classic, he used the tournament to test a potential strategy for Augusta National – competing with a pair of Callaway Big Bertha Fusion FT-3 drivers with the hope of working the ball both left and right without altering his swing. Although comfortable hitting his “baby cut” with his gamer, Mickelson had to change his move to hit a draw. The second driver was one inch longer (46 inches as opposed to 45 on his gamer) with a lower centre of gravity. Along with moving some internal weight to make it more draw-friendly, the club provided Mickelson the desired shot with his normal swing. He won the BellSouth in a runaway and then his second Masters the following week.
A lofty wedge at Winged Foot
In the weeks leading up to the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, Mickelson had Callaway make him a 64-degree X-Tour wedge to combat the touchy little shots around the course’s tricky greens. But that left Mickelson with the problem of what club to take out of his bag to make room for the wedge. During a trial run at the Memorial, Mickelson chose a 7-iron. At Winged Foot, however, Lefty dropped his 3-wood. Still, the 64-degree proved handy. After 54 holes Mickelson said, “That one club has saved me a lot of shots, more than one or two a round possibly. If I’m able to be successful tomorrow, I will give credit to that one particular club for being the little extra edge.” Unfortunately, his memorable double-bogey at the last prevented that.
No driver, plenty of problems at 2008 US Open
Playing, at the time, the longest course in US Open history, Mickelson decided to go without a driver, opting instead for a Callaway FT Tour 3-wood – a 13-degree version bent to 11.5 degrees – off the tee. Mickelson had a 43-inch Mitsubishi Diamana White Board shaft installed and used the club as his primary option off the tee the first two days. Mickelson’s rationale? His driver would go too far and quite possibly land him in trouble. “The 3-wood carries 275 [yards],” he said. “So it’s running about 300 here. And it’s just easier to hit fairways at 300 than 320. It just felt more comfortable.” The plan backfired, though, as he had trouble finding the short grass with the shorter club, forcing him to go back to the driver on the weekend.
Go to the US Patent website, pop in Philip A. Mickelson and you’ll see Lefty has some design chops, too. Among his patents are one for a wedge and another for a hybrid club he used at the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black. “I had found that a hybrid was not effective out of the rough compared to a 4-wood,” Mickelson told Golf World in 2010. “We took some of those principles that made high-lofted woods easy to hit out of the rough and applied them to a hybrid. We took away the back toe and now I can open up the face a bunch and have the leading edge stay low to the ground. Before doing that the back of the club would hit the ground, close up the face and de-loft it. Then we placed the centre of gravity up against the face. What that does is prevent fliers, giving me the same yardage and distance control out of the rough that I have out of the fairway.” Got all that? Good.
Don’t call me a cheater
Mickelson has never been above doing something controversial to make a point. And as the so-called “groove rule” went into effect in 2010, Mickelson was one of several players to put Ping’s square-grooved Eye 2 wedge in play – the club had been grandfathered on to the approved list – at the Farmers Insurance Open. That didn’t sit well with some pros, notably Scott McCarron, who told the San Francisco Examiner, “It’s cheating, and I’m appalled Phil put it in play.” Now, them’s fighting words, but Mickelson handled them with restraint at the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, saying, “I think what he’s saying is the rule is a terrible rule, and I agree with [him],” Mickelson said. “I’m just as upset. … I don’t agree with the way he carried on about it, but that’s his choice.”
Phrankenwood at 2013 Masters
At the 2013 Masters, Lefty promised to unveil a “special club” and he was true to his word, introducing the “Phrankenwood.” This 250cc “driver” came about because of Mickelson’s affinity for Callaway’s X Hot 3-wood, which he noticed spun less than most 3-woods. However, unlike most drivers that are titanium or titanium/composite combinations, Phrankenwood was made from stainless steel with a Carpenter 455 face insert to help boost ball speed. The club had a 45-inch Mitsubishi Fubuki shaft and 8.5 degrees of loft. The club performed well enough as Mickelson ranked sixth in distance at 298.12 yards and T-9 in accuracy at 71.43 percent, but the result that mattered most wasn’t very good as the three-time champ had his worst Masters performance to date, finishing T-54.
The “Hot” 3-wood
Mickelson was undeterred by the Phrankenwood experiment and continued to look for a fairway wood that was long enough to use as a driver, but also playable off the ground. The company responded by making the X Hot 3Deep with a face 10 percent taller than its X Hot model, thus raising the centre of gravity slightly, making it more in line with the impact area on tee shots (higher on the face), leading to more ball speed. Mickelson used the club at the 2013 US Open at Merion and again at the Open Championship at Muirfield. Although the results were mixed at Merion (he could barely reach the fairway from the back tee on No.18 and the club came up short on the brutally long par-3 third in the final round), the strategy played to perfection in Scotland. Mickelson kept the ball in play and then, on the 71st hole, struck a pair of shots that essentially put the tournament away. “That is exactly why I don’t have a driver in the bag,” Mickelson said afterwards of the two 3-woods that reached the par-5 17th in two blows. “Those two 3-woods were the two best shots of the week.”
The return of the double drivers
Mickelson was back to a two-driver setup at the 2019 Memorial, this time with a pair of Callaway Epic Flash drivers, both 8.5 degrees. “The angle of attack … spin rate, I launch this thing at 16 degrees, 17 degrees,” he said of one of the drivers. “You cannot control that. That is such a high launch you can’t control that 14 times a round. … I put one in that is a little shorter and my angle of attack is down, my launch is closer to 11.5, 12 degrees. [It’s] much easier to control. I should have a reasonable chance of hitting some fairways the rest of the year with that club.” In true Mickelson fashion, by the US Open he was back to using one driver.
As Phil turns 50, expect his equipment decisions to continue to be debated and dissected. We also expect, given his history, there will be no shortage of them.