Mickelson using shorter driver at Firestone

Phil Mickelson did what with his driver?

Did Lefty really cut an inch from the overall length of his Callaway FT Tour driver, going from 45 inches to 44 inches?

Yes, Mickelson is playing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a 44-inch driver, a full inch shorter than the driver he has used all year. Even when he won the Masters in April, he had a 45-inch driver in the bag.

So why switch?

In a word, accuracy.

Mickelson, in consultation with instructor Butch Harmon and clubmakers from Callaway, decided he needed to hit more fairways. A look at PGA Tour statistics for 2010 supports this decision.

Heading into the Bridgestone, Lefty found himself stuck in 184th position in driving accuracy, ahead of only a handful of players and miles behind Tour leader Omar Uresti.

Mickelson’s fairway percentage was 53.21, while Uresti sat atop the category at 75.76.

“I am willing to sacrifice a few yards if I have to,” Mickelson said. “I’ve got enough distance.”

True. In driving distance, Mickelson ranked ninth on the Tour before the Bridgestone, averaging 300.5 yards per measured drive. Through the first three rounds at Firestone Country Club, Mickelson hit just 18 of 52 fairways. His official driving average was 294.2 yards.

After the third round, though, Mickelson expressed disappointment with his performance off the tee. ”I played terrible,” he said to CBS announcer Peter Kostis. I just didn’t hit any fairways.”

According to Alan Hocknell, senior vice president of research and development for Callaway, “We had been talking about this (new driver) for several weeks.”

Mickelson spent Friday before the Bridgestone at Callaway headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., where the reconfigured driver was constructed. Actually another 44-inch driver had been built before this year’s U.S. Open in June, “but he wasn’t ready to use it,” Hocknell said.

The new 44-inch driver has a 93-gram XX Diamana Blue Board shaft from Mitsubishi Rayon. Mickelson’s previous 45-inch driver had another Mitsubishi Rayon shaft, a 73-gram X Fubuki.

The loft is marked on the new driver as 7.5 degrees. Hocknell said it was measured by Callaway at 7.4.

Shortening a driver by an inch usually decreases the swingweight by 4 or 5 points. As a result, Callaway clubmakers added 10 grams of weight to the clubhead.

The final swingweight: D2. The new driver also was bent slightly upright to counter the reduction in length.

At least one well-known instructor, Don Trahan, father of PGA Tour player D.J. Trahan, has been advocating shorter drivers for years.

“When the standard driver went to 45 inches, it made me sick,” said the animated Trahan. “That’s too long for just about everybody on this planet. And it’s not just accuracy that I’m talking about. I tell golfers they can hit the ball farther with shorter drivers because they can make more solid contact. If you are serious about shooting lower scores, get a shorter driver.”

The Callaway FT Tour driver is the hottest driver on Tour this year. FT Tour is the new name for the driver called FT-9 Tour Authentic in 2009. The two drivers are the same.

Stuart Appleby used the FT Tour driver when he shot 59 last week at the Greenbrier Classic.

Graeme McDowell switched to the FT Tour driver at the Bridgestone event. He won the U.S. Open in June with a Callaway FT-3 driver in his bag.

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