J. Brady McCollough
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Thursday, April 5, 2007

Mickelson now more fit than fat

The 2006 champion is in kung-fu fighting shape with less fat and more muscle than last year.


By J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH

The Kansas City Star

 

AUGUSTA, Ga. | Phil Mickelson drove down Fury's Ferry Road and pulled into a generic, red-brick strip mall.

 

It was 5:15 p.m. Wednesday, and while many of his opponents hung around at the course to hit a couple extra off the tee or hone their short games before today's first round, Mickelson had something else entirely on his mind.

 

But where in the world was he going? Would it be Ladybug's Flowers and Gifts? Maybe the azaleas at Augusta National weren't enough and he wanted to pick up some roses. Would it be J & L's Wine and Spirits? Maybe Mickelson really was still wallowing in sorrow after blowing the U.S. Open last summer.

 

Mickelson hopped out of his white Ford Edge SUV, walked across the parking lot and chose none of the above. He opened the door of Anytime Fitness instead. Apparently, Phil Mickelson was going to work out.

 

Yes, that Phil Mickelson, the guy you once cheered for because his beer belly could rival yours. In fact, on the night before he would begin defense of his 2006 Masters championship, Mickelson was going to do more than just work out. He was going to practice kung fu.

 

"I would classify him as between a brown and a black belt now," says Sean Cochran, Mickelson's personal trainer who was with him on Wednesday. "He's getting pretty good."

 

Now would be a good time to pop in Carl Douglas' 1974 hit song. Yup, Lefty was kung fu fight-eeeeng. He was fast as lightning. Maybe even a little bit frightening. All that stuff.

 

In six months, Mickelson has gone from Mr. Love Handles to Master Splinter. Anyone who says they can't notice a difference since the 2006 season ended simply isn't looking hard enough. Just ask his wife.

 

"You know he is a size smaller," brags Amy Mickelson. "I think he looks incredible, handsome. I think he looks the best he's ever looked."

 

Mickelson certainly had plenty of motivation to shed some pounds. You remember Winged Foot, right? Mickelson was on his way to winning his third major in a row at last year's U.S. Open, leading by 2 shots entering the 16th hole. He bogeyed 16 and made it up and down on 17. All he needed was a par on 18 and he would announce himself as a true competitor to Tiger Woods, who had improbably missed the cut.

 

That's when things got dicey. Mickelson, who had struggled with driving accuracy all weekend, decided he would drive instead of hitting the fairway safely with a shorter club. Mickelson's shot went way off course, over the trees and caromed off a hospitality tent into a patch of rough that was blocked by trees. To make a long story short, Mickelson took more risks and double-bogeyed the hole, handing the championship to Geoff Ogilvy.

 

"I am still in shock that I did that," Mickelson said in the crushing moments after. "I am such an idiot."

 

Most golfers would never admit such a thing, and there lies the beauty of Mickelson. But the San Diego, Calif., native never recovered in 2006. He was cut at The International, finished 54th at the World Golf Championships and bombed at the Ryder Cup. Mickelson was tired, mentally and physically.

 

"At the end of the year," Amy Mickelson says, "it was difficult. I think it shows up mostly at the Ryder Cup when you play 36 holes a lot. It's the emotional intensity of a major, and by the second half of the day, you could just tell, he needed to get himself (in shape)."

 

Mickelson met with Cochran, whom he's worked with since December 2002, in October. They agreed it was time for Mickelson to start taking care of his body. That meant eating right, as well as working out harder, longer and more frequently.

 

Mickelson has lost 25 pounds of fat and added about 10 pounds of muscle. Eating right may have been the toughest thing.

 

"He's been really diligent," Amy Mickelson says. "It's been a lot of moderation. He's not giving up anything. I don't think that's his style either. I'm really proud of him."

 

Mickelson has tried to put the disappointment of Winged Foot behind him. It hasn't been that hard, he says. He is still the defending champion at Augusta and he's won a major in each of the last three years.

 

"Certainly, that was a hard loss," Mickelson says. "I'm not trying to downplay it any; it stung. It also has challenged me to improve in areas ..."

 

Areas like kung fu fight-eeeeng. Mickelson has believed in the martial arts as a part of his training regimen for golf since he started working with Cochran. It helps his balance, flexibility and core strength.

 

But Cochran says they have added kung fu into Mickelson's repertoire this year, instead of just tae kwon do. Kung fu teaches more punches and hand techniques to go along with the many kicks Mickelson already knows.

 

Amy Mickelson, who beams when she talks about her new Phil, says that, in her book, Phil's a black belt.

 

"He's a lot more athletic than people think," Amy says.

 

Mickelson has even gotten the family involved. Amy and their three children -- Amanda, Sophia and Evan -- join Phil for Tuesday night karate back in San Diego.

 

"I'm not as good as him," Amy says, "but it's a lot of fun. It's something fun we can do together, working up the belt system."

 

It may be something fun for the family, but Mickelson doesn't talk about his newfound skill around his fellow golfers. Friend Jeff Sluman said he had no idea.

 

Maybe it's because Mickelson hasn't been forced to use it on anybody yet. But certainly, if you ask him about Winged Foot, there's a slight chance Mickelson might give you a winged foot to the face.

 

"His favorite technique is a turning hook kick," Cochran says. "He'll rotate around and he'll throw a kick, making contact with the heel of his foot. That's a technique you want to go head level with. He's good at that."

 

Don't worry, all you Mickelson fans out there hoping for a repeat on Sunday. Mickelson may be risky on the golf course, but he wears pads when executing a turning hook kick. 

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