It began with Phil Mickelson getting schooled in ping pong. It turned out to be a lot more.
For the brother who has everything, Tim Mickelson made a request of Dr. Michael Lardon a few years ago. A sports psychologist, Lardon had worked with Tim’s men’s golf team at USD. In that time, Tim found out that Lardon was wickedly good at table tennis.
Tim Mickelson asked Lardon if he could give Phil some ping pong pointers as a Christmas present. Phil wanted to learn a new serve for those epic battles in the U.S. Ryder Cup team room.
Lardon, of course, said yes, and they met in the gym at The Bridges, where Mickelson learned a few things while whiffing at Lardon’s high-toss serves. Lardon would later get his reward when Mickelson asked him about some of his psychological approaches.
And on the driving range at The Bridges, as Lardon explained a pre-shot routine and Mickelson immediately put it into play on his practice shots, the five-time major winner said, “I like your mental scorecard system.”
That was it.
“The light went on in my head,” Lardon said. “That’s what I’ll call it! I don’t know if Phil even knows it, but he came up with the name.”
With the mental scoring system as the centerpiece, Lardon has written a new book, “Mastering Golf’s Mental Game, Your Ultimate Guide to Better On-Course Performance and Lower Scores” (Crown Archetype, $25).
Lardon previously wrote a book called “Finding Your Zone,” for athletes of all walks, but the associate clinical professor of medicine at UCSD had always wanted to do a golf-specific book. He had been close to golfers for years, including caddying for his brother, Brad, for a time on the PGA Tour.
Lardon’s clients have included David Duval, Lee Janzen and Erik Compton.
“I really feel like if a reader were to spend time with this book, when you’re done with it, it will be like me working with you directly,” Lardon said. “That was the idea of this. To make something that, if you worked on it, would be of value.”
In Mickelson’s case, he has credited Lardon with helping him get into the proper frame of mind to do what he never thought he could – win the British Open in 2013.
In the foreword to the book, Mickelson wrote, “Coming so close to winning the U.S. Open is unfortunately something I had experienced before 2013, but Merion was especially tough. Mike helped me see that in spite of that every difficult finish, my game was in a great place and I was continuing to play better. I went to Muirfield with more confidence than I had going into previous British Opens.”
Many sports psychologists attempt to remove players from being results oriented. Lardon came up with a very specific plan to make that happen. With the mental scorecard, golfers are asked to follow a pre-shot pyramid, the tenets of which are: calculating the shot, creating the shot, and executing the shot.
Golfers then rate their performance in each area for each hole and come up with a score. At the end of the round, they’ll have a number for how well they played mentally throughout the round.
At their best, top-level pros, working in a zone, can reach about 95 percent, Lardon said. High-handicappers may only play at 25 percent.
“If I can get those guys to put the cigar down, follow something that’s pretty simple, and keep their mind on track, I think it will make the biggest difference for them,” Lardon said. “Since they’re not doing it now, any improvement is going to give you some pretty good results.”