For Different Reasons, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth Practice Patience


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Jordan Spieth, left, and Phil Mickelson played a practice round together on Tuesday ahead of the 2016 P.G.A. Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club.

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Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Jordan Spieth continues to tell people he is not in a slump. Phil Mickelson must once again expound on the heartbreak of another second-place finish in a major championship.

Perhaps that is why Spieth and Mickelson played a practice round together on Tuesday, preparing for the 2016 P.G.A. Championship. Separated by 24 years in age, for a day they might have been the salve to each other’s burdens, real or invented.

Not that either needs too much help defending, or explaining, himself.

When asked if he had any regrets about his defeat to Henrik Stenson in the final round at this year’s British Open, a duel that ended with Stenson posting a record score, Mickelson quipped: “I don’t look back at anything I would have done different other than maybe going over to Stenson’s bag to bend his putter a little bit.”

Mickelson smiled and added, “That’s probably the only thing I could have done and had a chance.”

Spieth has grown accustomed to being asked why he has not won a major in 13 months after winning the Masters and the United States Open back-to-back last year. He also had two top-five finishes at the other majors in 2015. He was asked if expecting 20 more years like the one he had last year was probably a tough benchmark to set.

Playfully, Spieth interrupted, “Probably?”

Yeah, probably.

And yet, there they were, Spieth and Mickelson walking together at Baltusrol Golf Club accompanied by wholly disparate prospects. Spieth, 22, is trying to regain an elusive, precocious magic that made him seem unconquerable a year ago. Mickelson, 46, is trying to add to a storied golf legacy before his finest skills deteriorate.

As each are thoughtful and measured, it may be no surprise that each has a plan.

Spieth’s is focused on winning the P.G.A. Championship and the British Open to complete the career grand slam.

“This would be a fantastic time to grab a third leg,” he said. “I’m still young. Younger today than tomorrow, though.”

Turning back the clock to his good old days — if a 22-year-old can have old days — is another goal.

“I’ve gotten back to kind of the gunslinger — the way that I grew up playing, which is just step up and hit it,” he said. “I went from over-dissecting shots to really feeling like less is more.”

That may not sound like the player that the golf world came to know last summer when Spieth entertainingly, and amusingly, would harangue himself with detailed, verbal post-shot analyses on the course. But Spieth apparently wants to do less of that.

“Golf is a game where you smack it, go up to the next one and smack it again, then count it up at the end,” he said. “Simplifying things has really been the trend recently. It’s really helped me.”

Similar to Spieth, Mickelson — who decades ago was also a wunderkind — long ago made some of his approach as basic as possible. He played almost flawlessly at Royal Troon. His response to that? Try to duplicate that performance.

“I have to try to believe that will be enough this time,” Mickelson said. “The game plan is to not really do too much, to not try to force the issue but to trust that I’m hitting a lot of good shots.”

It sounded as if the practice round partners had shared some thoughts and motivations, something they did not deny.

Spieth, for example, said that he had brought up Mickelson’s narrow loss at the British Open on the first tee.

“I just walked over and said, ‘Phil, what a fantastic performance, it was a lot fun to watch,’” Spieth said.

He added that Mickelson told him that sometimes you play your best and still lose. Spieth described Mickelson as content with how he played, but also, “feeling a little unfortunate about it, as anybody would.”

And Mickelson offered a reading on Spieth’s millstone: the high expectations that have been set for him.

“Yeah, that’s a tough one because we all know how good he is,” Mickelson said. “When you get to a certain level, if you don’t win a major, the year is going to be a letdown no matter how you look at it.”

In the end, Spieth may still have been insisting he was not in a slump while Mickelson was looking past another runner-up finish toward a future with a potential sixth major title. But one thing was certain: Neither was backing down.

Speaking of his so-called slump, Spieth, who has won two events this year, said, “If we’re in a valley, that’s a great valley to be in.”

Mickelson said he did not see his major championship prospects diminished because he was 46.

“I don’t believe that there is a small window,” he said. “I think there’s a really big window of opportunity to add to my résumé.”

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