Lefty leaves driver at home for longest U.S. Open in history

Updated: June 12, 2008

SAN DIEGO -- Only Phil Mickelson would look at the longest course in major championship history and decide to leave his driver at home.

Phil Mickelson

Gary A. Vasquez/US PRESSWIRE

Who needs driver on a 7,600-yard course? Apparently not Phil Mickelson, who managed to average exactly 300 yards on his drives Thursday at Torrey Pines.

That's right. In the mind of Lefty, he figured all that's needed to win an artillery battle is a squirt gun.

"My game plan was that I only wanted to hit it a certain distance," Mickelson said after his opening-round 71. "I don't really want to hit it past 300 yards on most of the par 4s because it starts running into the rough. And I felt like, with the fairways being firm like they were today, all I needed was 3-wood on the holes."

And wouldn't you know it: Mickelson averaged exactly 300 yards off the tee, according to statistics provided by the United States Golf Association. He reached both par 5s on the back nine in two.

Now Lefty's 3-wood isn't your typical 3-wood, despite his pleas otherwise ("Just a normal 3-wood," he joked afterward, plugging his sponsor's new line of clubs). Mickelson's version has a little over 11 degrees of loft, closer to the average driver.

Many PGA Tour pros play with drivers around 8 degrees and 3-woods in the 13-14 degree range. Your average golfer playing at home on the weekend with some buddies might use a driver between 9 and 11 degrees. The logic being that the lower the degree, the farther the ball will travel.

"It's a strong 3-wood," said Tiger Woods, Mickelson's playing partner Thursday, "… It's kind of like the old brassie, you know."

At least Mickelson didn't put a spoon or cleek in the bag.

The no-driver idea had been percolating for a while. Mickelson's short-game coach, Dave Pelz, has been bugging him to try to play a competitive round without a driver. Mickelson, who has played Torrey Pines since he was a youngster, thought the narrower fairways of a major championship would make this the week to try it.

He carried a driver during his practice rounds, but didn't hit it. Thursday, he went with four wedges and no driver. He hit only his 3-wood and a hybrid off the tees.

Mickelson's plan was almost foiled, however. He looked lost on the front nine, making three straight bogeys on Nos. 5, 6 and 7. Driver or no driver, he couldn't find the fairway.

"When I made some terrible swings and hit in the rough, it kind of defeats the game plan because now I'm short and crooked," Mickelson said.

It got better, but he still hit only six of 14 fairways for the round, well below the field average. If not for four back-nine birdies, he could have played himself right out of the tournament.

So where did Lefty finish in terms of driving distance rank for the day? Tied for 53 in the field. Apparently distance isn't that important, at least after round 1 at Torrey Pines. First round co-leader Justin Hicks is dead last at 245 yards.

But at even par, Driverless Phil is right in the hunt. And he remains determined to try to win the U.S. Open without one.

"It will have to rain and soften the fairways for me to put … a club that goes longer than a 3-wood [in the bag]," he said.

And as a San Diego native, Mickelson knows this as well as anybody: It never rains in Southern California.

-- David Kraft, ESPN.com


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