Phil Mickelson: How ‘Lefty’ grew to love links

He won the Open Championship in 2013 to stand on the brink of a career grand slam, but for years Phil Mickelson didn’t think he had the right skillset for links golf.

The left-hander was known for his aerial style and prodigious short game, specializing in the lob shot which would parachute almost vertically down from height.

His high-flying approach was perfect for receptive US courses, but not thought conducive for the firm turf and strong winds of a seaside links set-up of an Open.

In 19 previous Opens he’d only had two top-three finishes despite stellar success elsewhere. All that changed at Muirfield, Scotland in 2013 when the charismatic American put down a final-day charge to clinch his first Claret Jug and fifth major title.

“It took me a while to learn how to get the ball on the ground without spin,” Mickelson told Shane O’Donoghue, host of CNN’s Living Golf.

“That was a real challenge because I played through the air, hitting lob shots and spinning the ball a lot growing up, so winning the Open in ’13 was my greatest accomplishment.”

So what changed?

Mickelson’s first competitive outing on a links course was in the Walker Cup — the amateur version of the Ryder Cup — at Pormarnock, Ireland in 1991.

But he got his first real lesson in links lore from his idol, the legendary Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, while playing in his first Open at Royal Birkdale later that year.

“I was watching Seve hitting these two irons, they were low but they were flat, they didn’t have an apex, they would kind of nose dive down onto the ground,” said Mickelson.

“I was hitting my two irons just as low but my ball was kind of hovering, it had way too much spin. It was floating in the air so the wind was still affecting it. His had this tumble-effect and once it got down on the ground, the ground affected it more than the wind. It took me a long time to figure that out.”