LA QUINTA, Calif. – For one of the first times in his long and successful career on the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson has been thinking about something other than his golf game in the days leading up to the American Express this week.
“I have to make sure that I’m ready when I get here, that I’m not going to find my game here because there’s some responsibilities,” said Mickelson, who takes on the job as host of the 61st American Express.
A two-time winner of the tournament and a runner-up last year, Mickelson is expanding his role after three years as the ambassador of the event, a behind-the-scenes job to talk the tournament up to fellow players.
Mickelson leads a field of 156 pros and 156 amateurs teeing off at three desert courses. In addition to La Quinta Country Club, where Mickelson will start Thursday, play will begin at the Nicklaus Tournament Course and the Stadium Course at PGA West.
The tournament also features American Express as the new title sponsor after the event was played without a title sponsor in 2019. The purse has been increased to $6.7 million, up from $5.9 million last year.
With the early part of the week about Mickelson’s hosting duties, he had to take last week to work on a game that he believes can still win on the PGA Tour, even as he stares down his 50th birthday in June.
“I had to spend the last seven, 10 days working with (swing coach) Andrew Getz and (short-game coach) Dave Pelz getting my game sharp so that I’m ready when I get here,” Mickelson said. “I think I am, but you don’t know until you tee it up. You really don’t know.”
Mickelson is coming off what he admits was a disappointing year after he finished second in the American Express and then won the AT&T Pebble Beach tournament for his 44th career win. His world ranking dropped below No. 50 for the first time in 25 years and he didn’t play his way onto the U.S. Presidents Cup team, ending a more than two-decade streak of playing in either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
“I had a great off-season,” Mickelson said. “I’m excited to start the year. I’m curious as probably anybody is to see how well I play. I think I’ve tried to address a lot of weaknesses or areas that needed to improve and my motivation is back. This it the best I’ve felt in years, maybe even decades.”
Even as he looks at keeping up with the kids on the PGA Tour and “hitting bombs,” as Mickelson says, there are questions about what he might do in six months when he turns 50 and is eligible for the PGA Tour Champions.
For now, Mickelson is putting the senior tour on the back burner.
“I haven’t thought too much about it and I won’t until I see how the first six months of this year go, because I’ve had this, I’ve had kind of a lot of great things happen that lead me to be encouraged about the next year,” Mickelson said.
When will Mickelson get serious about senior golf?
“When I stop hitting bombs, I’ll play the Champions tour, but I’m hitting some crazy bombs now,” he laughed.