There's been a lot
of discussion the past few weeks about Phil Mickelson's decision to change
coaches. Should he go with Butch Harmon or stick with Rick Smith? In the end
Phil chose Butch, and in the process Rick has taken a lot of criticism. While
some of the charges I've heard are valid, others are questionable--so
questionable that I felt the need to respond.
I agree that 10
months ago Phil was playing better than anyone in the world and now he's
struggling, but the last time I checked, that's golf. Phil has gone through
periods in his career during which he's played poorly, but so have other
marquee players. Why didn't their coaches get put on the hot seat?
Over the years
Rick has made changes to Phil's swing that have helped. If you compare Phil's
swing today with what it looked like in the past, you'll see improved
lower-body mechanics--his legs sag less through impact--and his spine is not as
tilted. Remember, too, that as a coach you can make suggestions, but the player
doesn't have to accept them. Maybe Phil needs corroboration from another source
before he agrees to certain modifications, but it doesn't mean that those ideas
weren't previously offered. (That being said, swing advice is to some degree
opinion, which is why there are so many theories and so many types of
On a nontechnical
level, some critics have commented on Rick's personality, claiming that he's
"too nice" and that he's become Phil's yes-man. The reality is that
Phil is a very intelligent person, and if he hadn't been seeing improvement in
his performance, he wouldn't have kept Rick around for 10 years. Let's also not
forget that Phil has won at least 20 Tour events including three majors under
Rick's tutelage. Most coaches would be ecstatic with those results from one of
their players, yet Rick continues to be criticized.
Even if you don't
agree with Rick's approach, you can't argue with his success. Besides his
accomplishments with Phil, Rick has helped Lee Janzen win two U.S. Opens, and
several more of his players have won Tour events.
What kills me is
that many of Rick's critics have never worked with a high-profile player like
Phil--so how can they be so knowledgeable on a subject with which they have no
experience? I don't think most people understand the amount of pressure
involved in fixing an elite player's swing when it leaves him.
I wish Phil the
best of luck; he has never been anything but nice to me and our staff. As for
Rick, he will be fine, too. Being too nice is a character flaw that we all
Jason Guss works
at Rick Smith Golf Academy at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich., and was voted
one of the best teachers in the state of Michigan in 2005.