Mickelson's U.S. Open quest, take 27
"It’s the best setup we’ve seen."
June 12, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson's game-plan for the 2018 U.S. Open is to make sure he has a chance to raise the trophy on the weekend. (Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Welcome to the 118th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, and the renewal of annual traditions like wrist-breaking rough, linoleum greens, and Phil Mickelson’s (thus far) doomed quest to put his thumbs-up on the trophy and ride off into a fescue sunset.
He has every chance in the world.
He has no chance at all.
The heart and the mind agree on the basics: This is Mickelson’s 27th U.S. Open start, and he has finished second six times. He will turn 48 on Saturday and would be the oldest winner of our national championship (surpassing Hale Irwin, 45).
You want to believe he can do it, becoming the sixth player to win the career Grand Slam. The heart points to his final-round 65 and T12 at the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind (momentum!), and his T13 at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide at Muirfield Village (not his favorite, but a solid result). Does he still have it in him? Perhaps.
“If he wins the U.S. Open at 48,” said Brad Faxon, an analyst with Fox Sports this week, “and does it in New York after all of the second-place finishes, it would be the biggest story in the history of golf.”
Okay, wait just a New York minute. C’mon. This is crazy.
Mickelson’s energy comes and goes — and you could see it at the steamy FedEx St. Jude on Saturday, when his legs looked shot and he signed for a 73. At THE PLAYERS Championship last month, which came on the heels of a tiring T5 at the Wells Fargo, he opened with a 79.
He must avoid a similar early fizzle at Shinnecock.
“My goal is not to try to win on Thursday,” Mickelson said. “My goal is to stay in it Thursday, stay in it Friday, and have an opportunity for the weekend. So I'm not really thinking about winning right now. I'm thinking about getting in it for the weekend.”
He repeated this old golf chestnut, that you can’t win the tournament in the first round but you can sure lose it, no fewer than three more times, which was a snooze. But wait, hang on, we interrupt this column for an echo from Phil’s past:
“Phil! You’re so f---in’ East Coast!”
Amy Mickelson laughed when recounting that booming endorsement from a fan at the 2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol. You may recall that “East Coast Phil” won that PGA, further underlining the fact that not only does New York love Phil, but Phil loves New York back.
What’s not to like about his chances this week?
Hmmm. Let’s unpack that.
There have been many storylines over the last two decades, but two have loomed large: Woods’ quest to eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ 18 professional majors, which Woods later said was a bigger deal to everyone else but him, and Mickelson’s struggle to get out of his own way and win a major (done), the No. 1 world ranking (nope) and the U.S. Open (your thoughts here).
The heart says Mickelson can still win because he’s second in Strokes Gained: Putting (+1.050) this season, and first in one-putt percentage (46.75).
The mind says you play this game from tee to green, and he’s 201st in driving accuracy (51.55 percent), and while the USGA has widened the fairways from 26 to roughly 40 yards this year, that might not help him.
“Of all the events, you would think that this would be the one that he would have, you know, the least chance to win because of the way he's driven it for most of his career,” Woods said. “But that short game of his is off the charts.
“And, you know, a U.S. Open is about wedging it. It really is. I mean, you can spray it a little bit here and there, but you've got to be able to get it up and down from 100 yards. We're all going to face it.”
Heart: Mickelson broke a nearly five-year winless streak with his popular victory at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship earlier this season.
Mind: How is Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City similar to Shinnecock? They both have 18 holes?
Heart: Shinnecock U.S. Opens reward great short games: Raymond Floyd in 1986, Corey Pavin in 1995 (when Mickelson finished T4). “The chipping and short game around the greens are going to be a huge factor this week,” Mickelson said.
Mind: The short game factors into it every year, and it’s why he won’t win. You know what happens to a 48-year-old when he tries to win a major? Kenny Perry (who’s in this week’s field as the U.S. Senior Open champion) fumbling on the goal line at the 2009 Masters.
Heart: But Phil loves this course! He finished second to Retief Goosen at the 2004 Shinnecock U.S. Open, and praised this year’s setup as one of the finest he’s seen.
Mind: Doesn’t he say that every year?
Heart: Okay, forget about architecture. Forget science. Think poetry!
Mind: [Pause.] Are you off your meds?
Heart: Miracles happen!
Yep. They do. The Cubs won the 2016 World Series, snapping a 108-year drought, and the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, breaking the 86-year Curse of the Bambino. Then there was the biggest exhale of all for golf fans: Mickelson finally winning the Masters (also in ’04) for his first major title after 46 starts and 17 career top-10s.
“I did it!” he yelped after his birdie putt curled into the hole on No. 18, inciting the restricted-flight jump for joy now immortalized in his logo.
All the struggle made it all the sweeter, the catharsis widespread because we are all still knocking on some door or another. We’re all Mickelson in the majors then, Mickelson at the U.S. Open now.
He will tee it up for the USGA’s stress-fest yet again, this time in the company of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, starting at 8:02 a.m. off the 10th tee Thursday.
No, he can’t win it Thursday, but maybe Sunday. Maybe.