The love/hate relationship between Phil Mickelson and the U.S. Open has been well-established. Phil, who will be teeing up in the year’s second major for the 27th this week, has often professed a love of the event, but with an agonizing six runner-up finishes to zero victories, the tournament has become his proverbial white whale.
Making all the close calls even more frustrating is the fact that he has won the other three majors, meaning he needs just the U.S. Open to become just the sixth player in PGA Tour history to win the Career Grand Slam.
The other five are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. That would be some incredible company to keep, and Mickelson is not shying away from the challenge.
“Now that I’ve won the other three Majors, it’s U.S. Open specific. I would love to win this one to win all four. That’s certainly a goal and nothing I’m shying away from,” said Mickelson at a Monday press conference.
Despite his Tom Bradyesque longevity, Father Time waits for nobody, and Mickelson will turn 48 on Saturday. With three classic U.S. Open courses on the docket – Shinnecock Hills this year, Pebble Beach next year, and Winged Foot in 2020, even Mickelson understands these could be his last three legitimate chances.
“Yeah, these three provide me a great opportunity to finish out this final leg,” noted Mickelson.
“Certainly, with the way I’ve been playing this year and at the consistency level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years, gives me a great opportunity.”
That “opportunity” starts this year, at a golf course that Mickelson absolutely loves.
“I think that this is certainly my favorite — one of my favorite courses. It’s the best setup, in my opinion, that we’ve seen, and the reason I say that is all areas of your game are being tested,” continued Mickelson.
“There are some birdie holes. There’s some really hard pars. There’s some fairways that are easy to hit, fairways that are tough to hit.
“The chipping and short game around the greens are going to be a huge factor this week. The challenge of the greens being extended and all the contours will continue to take balls further from the hole. You end up in fairway and have a shot, albeit a difficult one.
“And I feel like your short game’s going to be challenged. Putting will be challenged, as well as ball striking, irons, driver. I feel as though the luck of a course has been taken out as much as possible to where skill is the primary factor. I think we’re going to have a great leaderboard and a great tournament.”
One of Mickelson’s closest calls came at Shinnecock Hills when the U.S. Open was last contested here in 2004. He held a late co-lead, but a double-bogey on the 17th hole meant a runner-up to Retief Goosen. (He finished T4 at the 1995 Open at Shinnecock.)
“Certainly, the turning point was my double on 17 because I had just birdied three of the last four holes to get myself in position to win the tournament,” Mickelson noted.
“But the double I made on 17 was the biggest factor. I mean, unfortunately, it was a bad time.”
Mickelson is a threat in this event every year, but it has been a long time since he has gone into the U.S. Open in better form than he is this year.
In a “turn back the clock” type year, Mickelson has 11 top 25s and 6 top 10s among 15 starts on the season, including a playoff victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship, which snapped a five-year winless drought.
He currently ranks 9th on Tour in scoring average, fourth in birdie average, and has done his best work on the greens, where he ranks second in strokes gained: putting.
For the first two rounds at Shinnecock Hills, he will be paired with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, the other two golfers who have completed three legs of the Career Grand Slam, although Phil is the only one missing a U.S. Open victory.
So, although he’s not “thinking” about winning, Mickelson wants this more than anyone. History suggests that he’ll have a good shot at it.