PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Change is inevitable in golf, whether it be a workout routine, a travel schedule, a putting grip, clubs, swings or even personnel, both inside the ropes and out.
So it probably should not have come as a surprise when Phil Mickelson last fall elected to part ways with legendary instructor Butch Harmon.
And yet, it many ways, it was shocking.
They had worked together since 2007. Under Harmon's guidance, Mickelson won a Players Championship, a Masters and the Open. At age 45, it didn't seem like the time to move in another direction.
Yet Lefty did, the results almost immediate as he's had three top-11 finishes in four events so far this year and got off to a solid start on Thursday at the Honda Classic, where he shot an opening-round 1-under-par 69 in difficult, windy conditions at PGA National. He was tied for 14th when play was suspended due to darkness.
Mickelson played with Adam Scott, who knows a thing or two about change. He once worked with Harmon -- the Aussie began his professional career with the coach -- and has switched caddies, putters ... you name it.
"Nothing is surprising in this game,'' Scott said after shooting 70. "Generally if you look at anyone, these relationships have a lifespan out here. You get the best out of each other when you're meeting at the same point and often that changes with caddies, with coaches, with trainers or psychologists and anyone else. It's very rare to work together for eight years. I know it's been a very successful relationship, but it's just the way it is out here. Obviously they felt like they needed a different direction.''
Mickelson has gone out of his way to praise Harmon despite their parting. He has said the 72-year-old instructor -- who has worked with the likes of Greg Norman and Tiger Woods and many others, including currently Rickie Fowler -- deserves a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
"And I think he was saying the right things, I just wasn't listening,'' Mickelson said.
What Mickelson has figured out in relatively short order under Andrew Getson -- an Arizona-based instructor from Australia -- is better posture, which has led to a better swing plane. Mickelson notices it in his divots. "They are going toward the hole,'' he said.
Not everything is perfect, of course. Mickelson doesn't always drive it in the fairway, hitting just seven of 14 on Thursday. Of course, the wind was blowing significantly, so hitting fairways was no easy task. He found 13 greens in regulation but took 30 putts, missing a good birdie chance on the fifth and then a 6-foot par putt on the seventh. At one point, Mickelson was 3 under par for this round.
No matter. Nobody was going to run away with the tournament on Thursday in brisk temperatures that brought plenty of wind.
"He opened up at 7:45 (a.m.) with two of the purest shots I've seen him hit into 10; and it was playing so long,'' Scott said. "He made a lovely 3 and that sort of set the tone for the day.''
Mickelson made four birdies and a single bogey during his first nine holes (PGA National's back nine) to turn in 32, then hade two bogeys for 37 on the front side.
"I let a couple slide on the back, and can't wait to get back out there and play again tomorrow, because the course is fun to play in these conditions,'' he said.
And therein lies another positive sign: playing well in the wind. Mickelson didn't see it like this in Palm Springs, San Diego (he missed the cut, thus avoided the brutal final-round conditions), Phoenix or Pebble Beach.
"It really is a good test because it forces you to work it back into the wind on certain shots,'' Mickelson said. "It does feel a lot easier striking the golf ball and into crosswinds like this. I felt very confident working back into the wind and did it a number of times today, and the ball-striking took a lot of pressure off my short game to keep it around par, and it was a good first day.''