San Diego

Meet Phil Mickelson’s Club Maker

A San Diegan is in charge of getting Lefty's gear ready for the U.S. Open

The one major championship that Phil Mickelson has never won is the one he wants to win the most.

The San Diego native needs a U.S. Open title to complete the career grand slam, something only five golfers have ever accomplished: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Gene Sarazen (we’re not counting Bobby Jones winning the pre-Masters grand slam).

Not a bad group to be in.

Mickelson, who has a record six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, will turn 48 years old during the 3rd round of this year’s tournament so he’s rapidly running out of legitimate shots at this thing.

That’s where Gerritt Pon comes in.

Pon is the Senior Club Performance Analyst at Callaway Golf in Carlsbad. That’s a fancy way of saying he’s the guy who puts together clubs for Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, and a gaggle of other tour pros.

If some part of their game is not working and a tour pro simply doesn’t have time to fix the swing, Pon is the guy they ask for a little technological help to overcome the deficiency.

“You have to try and diagnose what their problem is,” said Pon. “Whether their misses are coming from hit location, face angle … if they’re losing control you can try to move the center of gravity of drivers. Everyone is a little bit different. Do we need to change the loft? Change the weight of the golf club? Change the shaft? Try and move the center of gravity of the club head to try and create a little different shot shape? Sometimes it’s changing loft angles to get a little different starting line of the drive.”

So yeah he stays pretty busy.

And now we have the U.S. Open, for many the crown jewel of golf championships. Elite players who don’t have to worry about their tour cards … guys like Mickelson … have been setting up their game for Shinnecock Hills for months.

“(Phil) has always got a game plan to try and peak at this time of the year,” said Pon. Part of that game plan is to start tweaking what’s in the bag long before the first tee shot is hit.

“We usually add a few clubs to the bag maybe six to eight weeks prior to the tournament.”

Mickelson will test a club that he normally would not hit in another event just to see how it performs in tournament conditions. For example, during the World Golf Championships Match Play event in Texas, Lefty tinkered with a 3-iron. He is to the point where he’s not as concerned with winning an event in March as he is being as prepared as possible for the U.S. Open.

Lefty’s closest call came in 2006 at Winged Foot. He needed a par on the final hole to win and made bad decision after bad decision, leading to a double-bogey that caused him to say afterwards “I’m such an idiot.” His freelancing nature on the course keeps Gerritt on his toes.

“We have a saying about Phil: One thing you know about Phil is you never know.”

In a way, Mickelson has been preparing for this tournament for two years. Phil skipped the 2017 Open to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. And if there ever was a U.S. Open course that fits his game, it’s this one on Long Island.

In 1995 Lefty finished tied for 4th at Shinnecock Hills. In 2004 he had one of his 2nd-place finishes there. And as always he’s done his homework flying out to New York to get in a few extra practice rounds. So far he likes what he sees.

“I think that this year’s U.S. Open has the greatest setup going that I have seen in my 25 years of playing the U.S. Open,” Mickelson said. “I think that it will reward the best player as opposed to having luck be a big element.”

If he’s finally able to break through and complete that career grand slam he certainly won’t be the only one celebrating.

“Having built some of the clubs that you see in the winner’s circle,” said Pon, “that’s kind of the cherry on top. It’s a cool feeling.”

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