Mickelson may have his 'best opportunity' at US Open
JUN 10, 2014 7:03p ET
Some things are just not meant to be.
Michelle Kwan was beautiful and brilliant and balletic and breathtaking, and yet it was her cruel destiny to never win an Olympic gold medal.
Dan Marino went to a Super Bowl in his second season, and everyone assumed he’d win many after that loss, but he never even got another shot -- having to content himself with records when what he really wanted was rings.
The Dutch gave the world “Total Football” – an aesthetic blueprint on how to play the game adopted by many of the great teams nowadays – and yet, despite making three finals, they have never won the World Cup.
Indeed, Ian MacKellen, Glenn Close and Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar.
(If not Peter O’Toole, we can ask, then whom?)
And, in the same way, Phil Mickelson seems destined to never win a United States Open. He’s like Pete Sampras at Roland Garros, unable – or unwilling – to turn off the power and imagination and just do the drab, mundane thing.
Sampras wanted to boss the point, like he did on grass and hardcourts. But the slow clay wouldn’t let him. Yet he never bowed.
And neither can Mickelson’s mind be sustained by hitting the fairway, hitting the green, taking two putts and moving on.
The US Open demands the care and precision of a forensic accountant, not the panache and romanticism of a riverboat gambler. It’s a science; it doesn’t reward creativity and imagination like the Masters or, in a different way, the British Open.
Indeed, it punishes such traits. And yet, Phil Mickelson has been coming to his national championship for 24 years as forever the artist.
Uncompromising, unapologetic and, also, of course, without a victory.
And it has been this flaw in his character – this relentless urge to do the spectacular (it probably never occurred to him to punch out from the corporate tents at Winged Foot, scene of his worst US Open disaster) – that has led to a record six runner-up finishes.
The first of those came here, at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999, when he was defeated by the late Payne Stewart, who sportingly embraced his young rival after sinking the winning putt and told him of the joys of impending fatherhood and that he would one day have his own U.S. Open.
“Now my daughter is going to be 15, and we just started teaching her to drive, and it's just amazing how much time has gone by,” Mickelson said on Tuesday. “I don't feel that old. I guess I look it, but I don't feel it.”
And that’s another factor: He will be 44 on Monday, and since his historic triumph at last year’s British Open has precisely one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.
He’s so befuddled on the greens that he’s going to switch to the claw grip this week in an attempt to negotiate the exacting turtlebacks designed by Donald Ross.
Forever the optimist, Mickelson sees Pinehurst No. 2 – restored to its original glory (however shabby to the eye) – as his best chance to become the sixth golfer to win the career Grand Slam.
“I feel like the five players that have done that have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time,” he said of Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus and Woods. “If I'm able to do that, I feel that I would look upon my own career differently. That's why it would mean so much, in addition to the fact it's our national championship. Growing up here in the United States, this is a tournament that I've always felt this patriotism to and would love to win, plus with all the close calls … it would really mean a lot to me.”
But then Mickelson caught himself.
“The flip side is that I tend to do well when it's least expected,” he said. “I'm going to be up front with the fact that that's a goal of mine. I'm up front with the fact that I would love to do it here at Pinehurst. But I'm not going to put that pressure on me and say that this is the only week or only opportunity.
“It's probably the best opportunity because the golf course is so short game-oriented, because greens are so repellant, and the shots around the greens play a premium amongst all the Open venues that we have had. But I don't want to put the pressure on that this is the only week that I'll have a chance.
“But this is certainly as good a chance as I'll have.”
And he’s right in that it is the best chance he'll have.
But is it meant to be?