Dublin, OH — At the end of this past week, Brendan Steele was looking to improve his golf game and decided to play a couple of matches against Phil Mickelson in San Diego at the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe.
On paper Steele lost both matches and it made him realize that his game needed to improve.
“He just drummed me around for a couple days,” Steele said. “I think he beat me 5 and 4 the second day. And the first day, beat me 2 and 1. But the second day, he shot 10 under, and I just felt like my game was very inferior to his. I felt like I needed to work really hard.”
Now Steele is at 12-under par through two rounds of play and tied with Matt Kuchar for the lead at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
“A lot of things are going right,” said Steele. “Obviously, conditions are really good. So kind of a lot of good scores out there. The greens are rolling perfect, they’re pretty soft. If you’re in good position off the tee, you can really get after it. Hitting a lot of good shots and holing a few more putts than normal, which is kind of how you end up being high (on the leaderboard).”
These results made Steele call his coach, Rick Smith, who also served the same role for Mickelson in the past, to get the problem fixed.
Within seconds Smith spotted the flaw and Steele was cured.
“I think it’s hard in an off week to find out where your game is at unless you play against good competition,” said Mickelson. “So we identified the area that he needed to work on. He called up Rick. He came out and worked on it, and now here’s the result. I think that was kind of the benefit.”
What was the problem?
Steele was having issues with his short irons where his divots were going to the left, a sign of pulling the golf ball. Smith recommended that Steele added more width to the back of his swing and just like that he was cured.
“The divots were shallower and it was just a lot better,” Steele said. “What’s so great about Rick too is we can then just start to dig into specific shots that I’ve been struggling with. So we would go around the green, there were a couple of shots that I just don’t like that shot, and then we’d work on that. Then we’d go into the fairway bunker, and I’ve been hitting either good fairway shots or I’ve been chunking them. So we worked on that.”
Steele as able to shoot a 5-under par round Friday despite hitting 7 of 14 fairways on the day. Normally hitting so few fairways can prove to be penal, but Steele was able to position his shots to where it did not become as significant of a problem.
On his first nine, Steele came in at 1-under par missing his first four fairways. He birdied two holes in the par-5 15th and par-4 18th but had difficulties with the par-3 16th recording his lone bogey of the round.
It was a better second nine for Steele who birdied the par-4 third hole followed by holes 5-7 in succession. None of the birdie putts were greater than 11 feet-3 inches away from the hole, a sign of good iron play.
“The guy is one of the longest, straightest drivers out here on Tour, and he’s really become a solid putter,” said Mickelson. “So when his iron play is on, and oftentimes it is, he will score like he’s scoring this week. It looks like he’s firing on all cylinders.”
Poulter sidelined with foot injury
When Ian Poulter withdrew from the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide earlier this week, there was no official reason given. Now there is much more certainty.
According to Doug Ferguson of the Associated Press, Poulter will be out four months with a foot injury.
Poulter was highly considered to be Ryder Cup captain’s pick as he has a 12-4-2 record in five appearances and brings an energy level to Team Europe which is unmatched but with the four month injury timeline, that appears to be in doubt.
On the PGA TOUR this season Poulter placed in a tie for third at the Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach on Mar. 27, but other than that has one top-30 finish in 13 starts.
Poulter’s European Tour schedule has been more lenient as he tied for 11th in last November’s BMW Championships and Jan. 24 tied for 14th at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
“I didn’t even know that he was struggling with his foot up until this point,” Rory McIlroy said. “I knew he hadn’t been playing his best. It’s tough to miss four months when it’s a Ryder Cup year, and that’s the event that he wants to play in more than anything else. If anything, it sort of makes Darren Clarke’s job a little bit easier because Poultz was in a position where he might not have qualified for the team, but it’s tough not to include him. Even if he wasn’t playing his best, it might have put Darren in a difficult spot. But because of the injury, that might not be the case now.
“I think having Poultz a part of the team, he’s been such a stalwart for us over the last few Ryder Cups, that it would be weird not to have him there. Hopefully, if he can’t be there as one of the 12 playing, hopefully, he’s there as a vice captain. He’s always good fun and good to be around in the team room and the locker room. Again, if he couldn’t be there playing, I’d love to see him there as a vice captain.”