Phil Mickelson returns to site of his most crushing defeat
The scene of the crime awaits this week at Winged Foot.
The elephant in the room will be a 50-year-old, slimmed-down Phil Mickelson, who’s 14 years older than he was the last time the U.S. Open was played at the venerable Westchester golfing cathedral and still without a U.S. Open victory on his résumé.
The 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot will live in infamy — for all the wrong reasons for Mickelson, who famously blew a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole thanks to a drive that bounced off a hospitality tent and an even worse second shot that clipped a tree.
Mickelson’s shocking double bogey left Australian Geoff Ogilvy as the accidental-tourist champion and afterward these were the words “Lefty’’ said to reporters in one of the most baring-of-the-soul interviews you’ll ever encounter: “Well, I am still in shock that I did that. I just can’t believe that I did that. I am such an idiot.’’
He went on to say: “This one hurts more than any tournament because I had it won. I think the biggest reason why this is so disappointing is that this is a tournament that I dreamt of winning as a kid, that I spent hours practicing — I mean, countless hours practicing. I came out here weeks and months in advance to get ready and had it right there in my hand, man. It was right there and I let it go.’’
That U.S. Open was the fourth of the record six U.S. Opens in which Mickelson has finished runner-up. It came after 1999 at Pinehurst, 2002 at Bethpage Black and 2004 at Shinnecock Hills and before 2009 at Bethpage and 2013 at Merion.
But don’t feel sorry for Mickelson.
He doesn’t need anyone’s pity, doesn’t want it.
He’d be fine living without a U.S. Open victory, despite the fact that he’s been on record since he was a kid swatting balls onto the green his father, Phil Sr., had built in the backyard of their San Diego home, saying that it was his most coveted title.
And he’ll be fine dying without a U.S. Open title, if that turns out to be the case.
What Mickelson has accomplished in his career — 44 PGA Tour victories, including five major championships — speaks for itself.
Sure, a U.S. Open victory would complete the rare career Grand Slam, something only five other players have done. But it would not change Mickelson’s life or make him any better of a player than he’s already been in his brilliant career.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,’’ Mickelson insisted to reporters when asked at last week’s Safeway Open if talking about his calamity at the 2006 U.S. Open bothers him. “It’s part of the deal. It’s part of playing golf. I’m to the point where I can laugh at it now.’’
He, in fact, has done some of that lately, poking fun at himself in a commercial in which he promises a free driver to the contest entrant whose favorite Callaway golfer wins the U.S. Open.
“Come on, we all know who it’s going to be,’’ he says in the commercial. “When have I ever let you down at Winged Foot?”
Last week when he caught wind that someone had bet on him to win the U.S. Open at 75-1 odds to potentially win more than $3 million, Mickelson took to Twitter and posted: “Heard someone placed 45k on me to win the open at 75-1 (pays 3.3 mil). Hoping for both of us I have a 3 shot lead on 18 tee.”
In 2016, when his brother Tim, who now caddies for him, was about to play in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot, Mickelson joked to him that he would give him advice only on the first 17 holes.
Mickelson is as adept at self-deprecation as he is dropping those high-degree-of-difficulty flop shots inches from the cup.
He, too, is one of the most resilient athletes I’ve ever encountered, which is as a big a reason for his success as his otherworldly talent, the reason why he keeps coming back and knocking at the door for more.
Can Mickelson this week exorcise the demons of 2006 at Winged Foot, finally win a U.S. Open and complete the career Slam?
The 75-1 odds in Vegas tell you it’s not highly likely. But bet on this: It’s going to be fun watching him try.
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