Right time for Lefty: Mickelson makes it a perfect ‘Match’

Entertainment executives get paid a lot of money to recognize a hit when they see one, but I’m happy to pass along this advice to the honchos for free:

“Capital One’s The Match: Champions for Change” is addictive.

And there’s one huge reason for that:

Phil Mickelson.

Listening to Lefty navigate a golf course is high-level stuff. Watching him coach Tom Brady through every chip and putt and then transform Charles Barkley into a serviceable player has been nothing short of professorial.

Combine that with his effervescent attitude and wonderful wisecracks, and you have me turning up the volume to make sure I don’t miss anything.

No wonder the execs try to get Mickelson on camera every chance they get. The only shame of his continued competent play is that he can’t graduate to the broadcast booth sooner.

But several other results of this made-for-TV show make it that much more outstanding:

  • It makes people want to play our great game more often.
  • It makes them want to play it with the same joy that Mickelson exudes.
  • It shows golf’s versatility and inspires us to mix it up on the course once in awhile with a new format.
  • And it lets non-golfers see the fun that they’re missing.

The versatility factor is crucial.

I love match play. Maybe the reason I love it is that I so rarely get to play it.

I could change that in my next round, of course. A playing partner and I could pile the match-play element on top of our regular rounds and see who comes out on top.

It would be fun, for sure.

But it’s not the same as straight match play, where all you care about is your score and your opponent’s score. You don’t care if you make double bogey, just as long as you win the hole. If your opponent is in trouble, you play the hole much more conservatively.

It is a fascinating duel. You don’t even know what your actual score was. You don’t really care. You’d rather not get to the 18th hole if you’re ahead. You just want to close it out.

It can be even more interesting when it’s two against two, especially in an alternate-shot format or, as they played in The Match, a modified alternate-shot arrangement.

They did that because Mickelson and Barkley would have had no chance with regular alternate shot. Phil did a great job of instilling some confidence in Barkley, but Charles still was going to hit it “turrible” once in awhile.

Modified alternate shot allowed them to both hit a drive and then pick the best one, alternating from there. Even when Barkley inevitably missed the green from 100 yards or closer, Phil could clean it up on the next shot. And if they used Barkley’s drive, that gave them the advantage of Phil hitting the next shot.

The many moves of this dance were so intricate, pgatour.com described every shot and every decision in detail on its website. I found myself studying every word even though I had just seen it.

Matches I have played in the past, especially in the California State Amateur, had me doing the same replay in my head. I still can recall moments in matches from 35 years ago – unfortunately, a lot of them bad moments. I learned something else about match play back then: The choke factor is huge.

But that doesn’t detract from the memories. Even after a defeat, I wanted to go back for more. So I leave you with this:

If your club has a match-play event, enter it.

If you and your playing partners have a way to mix up the format once in awhile, do it.

And, by all means, approach golf with the same spirit as Mickelson.

It’s all about having fun. That’s what is so addictive about The Match, and your golf experience can be exactly the same. Consider this your free advice.

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