- Tim Rosaforte
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Phil Mickelson and Butch Harmon.
As expected, it's going to happen.
The idea of Lefty working full-time with Tiger Woods' former instructor has been denied since Harmon worked with Mickelson on the range in Tucson before the Accenture World Match Play.
Speculation heated up when Harmon met with Mickelson on the Red Course at Doral before the final round of the CA Championship. Mickelson said Harmon would be his set of eyes when Rick Smith wasn't on tour.
And at the Masters, the rumor circulating was that a change would be made after the final round, but Mickelson told Golf World, "No, nothing has happened, everything's the same."
But sources have told Golf World the Mickelson-Harmon alliance will be made official before the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas. By then, Mickelson and Harmon will have worked at an undisclosed location in preparation for The Players Championship and ultimately the U.S. Open.
Sources have also told Golf World that Harmon and Smith have spoken and will remain amicable. Harmon had no comment. Smith did not return calls. Friends of Mickelson have said this is the toughest professional decision he's had to make. He and Smith have evolved as close friends and partners in golf course design.
The change in teachers is designed to straighten out Mickelson's driver -- and that push-block move that cost him the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last summer and the Nissan Open in February. Ironically, Smith implored Mickelson to hit the cut that won three major championships, but Phil wanted it both ways; a draw for more power that would end up in the fairway, not the corporate tents or kikuyu grass.
At Pebble Beach, Mickelson put on a driving exhibition, hitting more than 80 percent of fairways, making 25 birdies, and shooting 20-under to win by five strokes and record his 30th career victory. But he fought his tee ball all week at Riviera, made bogey from the left rough on the 72nd hole and lost a three-hole playoff to Charles Howell. His driving accuracy percentage of 58.80 percent ranks 126th on tour; at the Masters he hit 27 of 56 fairways to rank 56th among the 60 players who made the cut.
"Sometimes, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what's going on; sometimes you just need a little different communication," said David Leadbetter. "Butch is not going tell him a whole lot different than what Rick was telling him, but he might tell him a different way. Phil's inconsistencies with his driver have created a lot of problems."
The problem, as Smith explained after Doral, is that Mickelson gets steep and narrow on his downswing. They had a heated session on the range Saturday at Augusta, but Smith couldn't fix him. "It's not a problem with his short, compact swing [with his irons]," Leadbetter pointed out. "When he's moving, the club is moving. But with his longer swing, when he's moving, the club is lagging and he never catches up. You can see when he hits three-quarter irons, he has a lot more width in his swing and more consistency."
What it means for the Woods-Mickelson rivalry remains to be seen. Woods won eight of his 12 majors with Harmon's form of instruction and has always defended his change to Hank Haney, saying last year was better than the record-setting, three-major season of 2000. Following the Masters, however, there were rumors that Woods had become dissatisfied with Haney and was looking to make a change. Mark Steinberg, the business manager of Woods, denied the speculation this past Monday.
How long the Harmon-Mickelson relationship lasts is uncertain. They have worked together before, without much success. In 2003, Mickelson was looking to tighten his swing and spent time with Harmon prior to the Accenture Match Play at La Costa. If that happens again, Mickelson could end up back with Smith. As a source close to Harmon said, "Let the drama begin."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
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