Open letter to Phil Mickelson
A shout-out from the press box as Lefty tries yet again to bury his U.S. Open demons
June 13, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Phil Mickelson at the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
I hope this letter finds you as I wasn’t sure of the address. Is it Fairway Lane? Fairway Circle? Fairway Boulevard? It’s a confusing time and I’m still feeling a little unmoored, what with you capturing the PGA Championship at Kiawah at nearly 51 from the fairway.
OK, mostly from the fairway. OK, often, anyway. The point is you hadn’t had a top-10 finish in a major since 2016, and then – boom. How did that happen? Meditation? Bionic coffee? Weight loss? Flexibility? A 2-wood? Whatever the case, it was inspiring. Take that, Father Time!
Happy early birthday, by the way. I know you’re turning 51 on Wednesday, and if history is any guide, you’ll probably get in there and knock a few walls down, improve the view. As you said at Kiawah, “There’s no reason why you can’t accomplish your goals at an older age. It just takes a little more work.” Or a lot more work. Whatever. Point taken.
Being a late bloomer means there’s always something to look forward to, and you haven’t really lived until you’ve broken your own records. (Age records, not the U.S. Open runner-up record.)
We’re pretty different, you and I, one guy renowned for his irons, short game and bold play, the other for his words per minute, but I, too, have lived a little. And I, too, manage an autoimmune condition that calls for no sugar, no processed food, no booze. “Younger Next Year” co-author Chris Crowley, 86, says all of those things plus a six-days-a-week workout program can have a dramatic impact on quality of life.
“Nothing helps like a regular exercise regimen, plus not eating like an idiot, and having an active social life,” Crowley said when I called him last week. Luckily it wasn’t wintertime, or he’d have been out skiing the black diamonds and missed my call. Instead, the trial lawyer turned best-selling author was savoring the release of a new novel, “The Practical Navigator,” his first.
An active social life? Wow, Phil, now we know the whole story on why you test yourself against Charley Hoffman and Xander Schauffele back in San Diego. And teamed up with Steve Stricker to hammer Zach Johnson and Will Zalatoris in a practice round for the PGA.
Regular exercise? That explains, sort of, the 366-yard drive at Kiawah’s par-5 16th on Sunday.
And not eating like an idiot? Well, that also sounds like you. In fact, you might even use that very word. (“I am such an idiot.” – Phil Mickelson, Winged Foot, 2006)
Which brings us to the U.S. Open, your white whale. Six seconds! Amazing. You’ve come so close before ceding the glory to Payne Stewart (’99), Tiger Woods (’02), Retief Goosen (’04), Geoff Ogilvy (’06), Lucas Glover (’09) and Justin Rose (’13). It’s the only major between you and the career Grand Slam, which would put you up there with Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, Sarazen and Player. And now you get five more shots at it – woo-hoo!
OK, given the gut punches this tournament has given you, that may sound like a mixed blessing. But I’m telling you it could happen. Let’s geek out on math, Phil: You won your first major at 33. If you were to win the U.S. Open at 51, 52, 53 or 54, it still wouldn’t equal the 22-year gap between Tiger’s first and last Masters. You can still bury those national championship demons.
And you know how to do it.
“You can’t play this course out of the rough,” you said after carding an opening 73 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, the week after the PGA. You wound up missing the cut by one, but maybe that’s not all bad. As you tweeted pre-PGA, we should embrace our failures, and your trials at Colonial were a good reminder for U.S. Open week.
Similarly, you won’t be able to play from the rough at Torrey South, a course that has baffled you since Rees Jones redesigned it in 2001. Paul Azinger said on an NBC conference call last week that you lost your advantage on the greens. Meanwhile, you sound intent on dialing back on your long game.
“I tried to force it,” you said at Colonial. “A lot of pins you can't go to, you have to play 60, 50 feet away and a lot of holes I get overly aggressive, obviously that's my nature. There's a proper way to play it, and I've seen it and I want to have the discipline to do it and so I want to spend some time out there to develop a good game plan.”
The paradox, of course, is to be mindful of the danger but focus on the targets. “Make committed golf swings,” as your brother/caddie Tim said at the PGA. Move freely, don’t let your eyes go to the trouble, maybe even pretend it’s not there, like you seemed to at Kiawah and Ozarks National, where you cruised to victory in your first PGA TOUR Champions start last summer.
Remember the words of Louis Oosthuizen, who spoke for many after you hit 11 of 14 fairways in the third round at Kiawah: “He’s hitting it so long and straight it’s incredible.”
You’re an inspiration, Phil, so know, too, that you’ve already won something bigger.
“In the normal course of aging,” author Crowley said, “you lose 10 percent of your muscle mass every decade after 30. Well, that didn’t happen to Phil Mickelson. He’s where he is because of exercise, and he lost a little weight. It ought to be a beacon for everybody.
“I wish him well,” he added. “I’m so impressed.”
As are we all. Best of luck this week, Phil. We’ll be watching.