September 11, 2007 / 1:02 AM / 12 years ago

FEATURE-Golf-Behind the scenes with technology fan Mickelson

ATLANTA, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Phil Mickelson hit a total of 268 shots to win this month’s Deutsche Bank Championship, an insignificant number compared to the countless practice swings he has made to hone his game.

Although most golf fans are aware of the amount of time clocked up by players on the range in the build-up to tournaments, they have little idea of the effort that goes in behind the scenes.

Top professionals continually work on their swings and, helped by the rapid advance of equipment technology, strive to find the ideal match between player, golf club and ball.

Mickelson, renowned for his attention to detail and inquisitive nature, relishes experimenting and spends hours liaising with his equipment manufacturer, Callaway Golf.

“For example, we went through six to 10 different 64-degree wedges before we finally found the one that worked out great,” the American left-hander told Reuters in an interview.

“How much bounce do we want on it, what kind of grooves do we want on it, how do we want the toe radius and how do we want the heel radius?

“I want to know what the loft is, the lie, what the shaft frequency is. I want to make sure the length and everything else is proper. I want to make sure that it’s right before I go hit it.”

GREAT CARE

Mickelson, who famously won last year’s U.S. Masters with two drivers in his bag, said great care was needed in comparing range conditions with those out on the course.

“You can’t tell if the club is working from hitting it on the range,” the three-times major champion added.

“It might go a couple of yards too far, a couple of yards too short or the spin rate might be a little bit off and if you’re hitting it downwind you don’t pick up on it.

“I want to make sure all that stuff is right before I actually go test it. It saves a lot of time and frustration out on the golf course.”

While Mickelson embraces every aspect of golf club technology, fellow Callaway Tour player Ernie Els prefers a more laidback but faster approach when trying out new equipment.

“For pro golfers, it’s all about feel,” said the smooth-swinging South African, who switched to Callaway from Titleist in February this year.

“They had the computers and the launch monitors out at the testing centre and I did some testing, but not weeks of testing. I only need three swings before it is yea or nay.

“I didn’t have any problem with the driver or the iron play, and the wedges were great,” added Els, also a three-times major winner.

“But adapting the ball around the greens was quite a challenge, and on the greens, to get the right putter, has been quite a challenge.”

ELS SPEED

Nick Raffaele, Callaway’s vice-president of sports marketing, was stunned by the speed with which Els adapted to the FT-5 driver.

“It happened a lot faster than I would comfortably like it to have happened, even though it was also easy because we followed the plan,” Raffaele told Reuters.

“What shocked me with Ernie was when I got a phone call on the Tuesday night from Phuket saying he wanted to play the driver the next day in the pro-am.”

Els competed in the European Tour’s Johnnie Walker Classic in Phuket, Thailand, in early March, just one week after signing with Callaway, and finished joint sixth.

“I said: ‘He’s a big boy and he’s got control of it but he’s got the time frame to go at his own pace’,” Raffaele added.

“But they (his management) said: ‘He is seven to eight yards longer with the driver and he really wants to do this.’ And I said: ‘Okay’, and he did that.”

Raffaele respects both the Mickelson and the Els approach.

“At the end of the day, they are the ones putting the ball in the hole, they are the ones who have got to make the five-footer for a million dollars,” he said. “I like both types of players.

“Of course, there are frustrations with both. I would love for Ernie to dive in even more and I would love for Phil to back off a little at times. But I’ve found there is a happy balance and they both come back to the middle eventually.”

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