Mickelson is making his third career appearance in Memphis this week. (Heathcote/Getty Images)
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
After a disappointing finish in the year's first major, Phil Mickelson knew he wanted to play the week before the next one.
"I know that for me to be sharp mentally, especially in a tournament where the penalty for missing is so great, like the U.S. Open, it's important that I'm sharp and I'm ready to play," he said Wednesday from the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
It's just the third career appearance in the event and first since 2009 for Mickelson. Things worked out pretty well for him the last two times he showed up at TPC Southwind, at least the following week.
Four years ago in Memphis, Mickelson finished 55th and shot 75 in the final round. A week later, he finished second in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
After finishing 54th at this year's Masters, when he took a week off before the tournament, and missing the cut in his last start, at THE PLAYERS Championship, Mickelson is hoping a return trip to the FedEx St. Jude Classic will help.
And there are more similarities between TPC Southwind and Merion Golf Club than you might think.
"The greens are small, they're difficult to get the ball stopped on, and there are a lot of cool little shots around the greens," he said. "The precision of the iron shot into the green as well as the importance of hitting fairways here is a similar style of golf that will happen at Merion next week."
Nonetheless, Mickelson spent Monday and Tuesday practicing at Merion, which he hadn't played since the 1989 U.S. Amateur.
"It's really a wonderful setup," he said. "It didn't look tricked up at all. It's the best (U.S. Open setup) I've seen."
High praise for a player who doesn't dole it out on a whim.
"I think the reason I like it so much is they've made the hard holes more difficult. But they did not make the easy holes harder," he said. "They gave you birdie opportunities on the easy holes, and they made tough pars a little bit harder, which allows the player that is playing well to separate himself from the field."
Mickelson has five career runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, most of which have come when he has played the week before.
In 2006, he finished 18th at the Barclays Classic before a runner-up at nearby Winged Foot, where he famously double-bogeyed the final hole to hand the trophy to Geoff Ogilvy.
Two years earlier at Shinnecock Hills, Mickelson again played the Barclays, finishing 16th, before a runner-up to Retief Goosen. Ditto 2002, when he came up short to Tiger Woods at Bethpage Black.
There were other good finishes, too.
Mickelson missed the cut in his first trip to Memphis in 2001 but was seventh at Southern Hills that year, and in 1995 he missed the cut at the Kemper Open before a fourth-place finish at Shinnecock Hills.
But he's also had his moments with a week off.
In 1999, Mickelson came up just short against Payne Stewart at Pinehurst. In 2010, he was fifth at the Memorial tournament before entering the weekend two shots off the lead at Pebble Beach, where he eventually finished fourth.
There's one thing Mickelson -- nor anyone else -- has ever done, though.
No player has ever won the week before the U.S. Open and go on to win that, too.