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Amidst the storm of switching tours and his much-publicised comments, Phil Mickelson has worked himself back into the best shape of his professional career.
The slimmed-down 52-year-old rolled back the years with a stunning final round surge to finish T2 at the Masters, offering a timely reminder of what he does best.
He is looking skinnier than ever and his performance at Augusta was reward for his studious approach away from the course.
Sports performance coach Sean Cochran has been in Mickelson’s corner for 20 years and has been tasked with helping maintain the six-time major winner’s strength and power in his swing during his radical weight loss journey.
Ahead of Mickelson’s return to the PGA Championship at Oak Hill this week, Cochran gives bunkered the inside scoop on his relationship with Mickelson, the impressive body transformation and signs of a resurgence in his game…
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You have now been working with Phil since 2003. How did you first link up?
I was contacted by Phil through an orthopedic surgeon that knew me asking if I had any interest in transitioning from Major League Baseball to golf and working as a performance specialist. That’s where it all started. At that point this was not prevalent in the sport of golf. This was the early 2000s and I saw there was an opportunity to be at the forefront of performance training and fitness for the sport.
Phil was very forward thinking and that’s the time when Tiger was kicking everybody’s ass. He was probably the individual who was doing the most regarding strength and fitness training for golf. He recognised for him to compete and to have longevity in his career, he needed to envelope this component into his life as a professional golfer.
How has your relationship with Phil developed since you started working together?
We’ve always had a good working relationship. I’ve seen the highs and lows of his career as it goes with any athlete. It’s a very respectful relationship. He’s personable and friendly and we’re comfortable being extremely honest with each other in the process.
How did Phil’s break from golf last year change his mindset and help him to lose 25 lbs in weight?
I think the break gave him some mental time to relax which every athlete needs in every sport. In my mind golf doesn’t necessarily provide that to the professionals because of the almost year-round schedules they now play.
His goal, I believe, was just to have overall better health and wellness. Not only from an athlete’s perspective but also for his general quality of life and the ability to get healthier as he was getting older. He worked with a specialist (dietician), and I know he was very diligent in his processes.
How has Phil counteracted the inevitable loss of muscle because of his rapid weight loss?
Typically, when you have weight loss you’re going to have some muscle mass loss – that’s just a byproduct. You have to elicit your training to induce the body to develop muscle mass. Phil’s muscle mass loss with the weight loss was minimal though, so we didn’t worry too much about it. My biggest concern with him is to continue to keep his strength and his power levels up.
You ask any athlete in their 20s, it’s very easy. When you get into your 30s and 40s it gets harder. For his age, he’s in phenomenal shape and I’m very happy for him because it’s hard as you get older. As you age, you have to spend more time on the preparation and recovery side to be competitive. It’s still there for Phil. He loves the game and he loves to compete. He’ll go out and play 36, 42, 48 holes at home (in a day). How many people in their 50s do that? It’s crazy!
What does Phil’s gym routine look like now?
Phil likes to work in the morning. I leave it up to the players for what works best for them. They know their bodies. In the off season with no competitions, we’re in the gym four times a week for about 90 minutes.
In season, it’s 45-60 minutes and we drop it down to three times a week. The programme is broken down into mobility, flexibility and exercise. We work on joint mobility and muscular flexibility. Once we focus on those two phases of the training, then we do some strengthening work for the hips, shoulders and focus on the core. Then we go to power training, lower body, upper body and rotary power training and then we finish with total body strength training which would be lower extremities and upper extremities. That’s how we section it out.
Does Phil set specific goals on his swing when working with you?
Probably 15 years ago, Titleist Performance Institute did a study which showed the only stat that indicated towards a higher finish on the money list was driving distance. That was a revelation to many of us that swing speed and distance is so important. So, we have set goals in regards to where he wants his swing speed to be and how we get there in our training.
How confident is Phil that he is back to his best after his T2 finish at the Masters?
He’s been motivated all year and his confidence was that he knew his game was there. These guys know when their game is ready. He has felt that over the course of the last few months. I think at Augusta it really started to come together for him. He’s very excited. I’m happy for him. Every athlete faces adversity. The best of the best fight through it and come out successful. I’m very excited for him and what lies ahead for this year and the remainder of next year.
Can Phil win the PGA Championship?
I think so, absolutely. He’s in good form. He can contend and he knows the course. I asked him about Oak Hill last week and he said he has good feelings about the golf course. That went back to a Ryder Cup he played there in the 90s (1995). He’s got some good memories there.
What’s your top tip for amateurs to get the best out of their game like Mickelson?
All the time I see amateur golfers trying to execute a golf swing that their body can’t execute. They’re trying to create the rotation of Rory in their backswing but they physically can’t do that. Match your golf swing up to what your body can do. That’s how you’re going to get initial and immediate success. If you want to improve your swing you have to spend time on your body – stretching, mobility, strength. That’s the foundation of your swing. Swing within what your body allows you to do.
I try to provide the information I give to my professional athletes to the general population. I feel one of the largest challenges for the amateur golfer is being provided the correct information on how to train and how to improve yourself. That’s what I do.
Sean Cochran’s individualised remote training program can be accessed here.
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