For a guy trying to complete the career majors Grand Slam on a golf course he dearly loves, Phil Mickelson could not be more under the radar this week at the 119th U.S. Open.
Mickelson didn’t come to the media center at Pebble Beach for a formal pretournament interview, as he has for probably two decades. He waved off attempts by reporters to catch him Tuesday after his practice round.
Maybe he doesn’t want to field more questions about his crushing close calls in the U.S. Open and his record six runner-up finishes.
Maybe he knows he’d be asked to elaborate on his long-standing and more recent criticism of the U.S. Golf Assn.’s setup of Open courses.
Maybe Mickelson doesn’t want to talk about the march of time — he turns 49 on Sunday — or a season of mostly mediocre play that has one distinct highlight, his fifth victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February.
What more is there to say about any or all of this?
This week is very likely Mickelson’s best chance left to lift the U.S. Open trophy, and whether he does depends on how he strikes his ball and putts, and not anything he says in the buildup.
We already know how he feels about what a U.S. Open victory would mean to his legacy.
“There’s not much I could do right now that would do anything to redefine my career,” Mickelson said last month at the PGA Championship. “There’s one thing I could do, and that would be win a U.S. Open. So if I were to do that, it would change the way I view my career.”
He pointed out only five men have won all four majors, and added, “You look at those guys differently.”
On Tuesday evening at Pebble Beach, they held an infrequent reunion of U.S. Open champions. Thirty-two of the 36 who are alive attended.
Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Johnny Miller, Tiger Woods. All legends.
Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose. They’re worthy contemporaries.
Steve Jones, Michael Campbell, Webb Simpson, Lucas Glover, Geoff Ogilvy. Not supposed to be in Mickelson’s category.
Mickelson’s career — with his five major titles and 44 PGA Tour wins that rank him ninth all-time — is far superior to any of the last group. Yet, between his gaffes (see: Winged Foot, 2006) or the heroic efforts of others (see: Payne Stewart, 1999), Mickelson hasn’t been able to win the championship he most coveted other than the Masters.
Hard as it is to fathom, a year from now Mickelson becomes eligible for the senior PGA Champions Tour. That coincides with a return to Winged Foot for the U.S. Open, where Mickelson somehow managed to nearly win in 2006 despite missing all but two of the fairways on Sunday.
How much Mickelson plays on the regular tour after that brings into question qualifying for future U.S. Opens, including the 2021 edition in the San Diegan’s hometown Torrey Pines South Course.
Short of winning the U.S. Open, to play in future national championships, Mickelson will need to qualify through the world rankings (top 60), by capturing one of the other three majors, or with a victory in the U.S. Senior Open.
Besides special exemptions afforded by the USGA to enter the U.S. Open, Pebble Beach 2019 could be Mickelson’s final shot.
Beyond his five wins here that even him with Mark O’Meara as the “Prince of Pebble,” Mickelson has a near-spiritual affinity that dates to his maternal grandfather having caddied here as a lad.
This is where Mickelson made his professional debut in the 1992 U.S. Open. There are so many good rounds and visuals on which to draw — not the least of which is blowing away playing partner Woods with a 64 in the final round to win the 2012 AT&T. Just four months ago, Mickelson shot 70-65 at Pebble Beach on the weekend to finish at 19 under and win the AT&T by three shots.
For fans of Mickelson, there are worrisome signs too. Since tying for 18th at the Masters, he’s missed two cuts and went 76-76 on the weekend to finish tied for 71st in the PGA at Bethpage. He stumbled away from his most recent start at the Memorial with a 79 on Friday.
For now, there is not much else to say until tee time.
Phil Mickelson has won the Masters, PGA and British Open, but never the U.S. Open. He has finished second a record six times (and tied for fourth twice):
YEAR: COURSE, RESULT
1999: Pinehurst, Second by one stroke to Payne Stewart
2002: Bethpage, Second by three strokes to Tiger Woods
2004: Shinnecock Hills, Second by two strokes to Retief Goosen
2006: Winged Foot, Second by one stroke to Geoff Ogilvy
2009: Bethpage, Second by two strokes to Lucas Glover