Phil Mickelson of the United States celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2021 PGA Championship Final held at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island Golf Resort on May 23, 2021 in Kiawah Island, South Carolina. (Photo by Stacy Revere / Getty Images)
The 121st US Open kicks off Thursday at Torrey Pines Golf Club with 51-year-old local Phil Mickelson as the focal point.
Last month, Phil Mickelson won the US PGA Championship on the brutal Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, becoming the longest-serving winner in golf history. He was 50 years old at the time.
It was a seismic feat in a sport that more forgives players over 35, but even so, the previous oldest major winner was Julius Boros, who was 48.
For left-hander Mickelson, his PGA left-field victory immediately sparked a conversation about one of professional sports biggest apparent injustices – that Phil never won the US Open.
For the all-American kid from California, who won his first PGA Tour tournament as an amateur (in 1991) and was also the US amateur champion in 1990 – when he beat the South African Manny Zerman 5 & 4 in the matchplay final – it only seemed a matter of time before he won his country’s Open title.
But 30 years later and 29 US Open appearances later, which landed him six finalists, it looked like his luck had passed. Until his exploits at Kiawah last month rekindle optimism that he could finally get the one big CV shortage at Torrey Pines – a course that is a few miles from home.
Phil is most infamous at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot. Mickelson had won the two previous majors (the 2005 PGA and the 2006 Masters) and was on track to win a third consecutive major and his first US Open.
But the 72sd and final hole, with a one-stroke lead, Mickelson opted for aggressive play, using his pilot and he ended up in a corporate hospitality enclosure. He could have collapsed on the fairway, but he attempted another aggressive shot and ended up hitting a tree. He then plugged in his third in a bunker on the green and ended up doing a double bogey, to give a slightly stunned Geoff Ogilvy the US Open title.
It was the zenith of US Open heartbreak for Mickelson because it was the one he lost. The other five occasions he was a finalist, he didn’t blow it up on the last hole.
Ahead of the heroism of the PGA Championship last month, it looked like Mickelson would end his career without the US Open. A golf crime equivalent to Ernie Els not having a Masters green jacket (ironically, Mickelson denied Els his best chance in 2004). Mickelson still might not win a US Open, but in 2021, there is hope for Lefty.
Can lightning strike twice?
Thanks to the performance at Kiawah, Mickelson quite unexpectedly enters this year’s tournament as a legitimate contender, even though he turned 51 on June 16.
At Kiawah, he drove the ball longer than almost anyone on the court and drove it straighter than most – things that are key to the success of the US Open. Of course, winning at 50 is such an outrageous outcome that expecting him to do it all over again is really like expecting lightning to strike twice in the same place.
But why not? His form is good and the tournament is on a course that Phil grew up on, although it’s a different setup these days.
“It’s a unique opportunity because I’ve never won a US Open,” Mickelson told the media as if a reminder was needed. “It’s in my garden. I am fortunate enough to prepare properly and wanted to do the right job.
“So I kind of cut off all the noise. I turned off my phone. I stopped a lot of other things so that I could focus on this week and really give it my best chance to try and play my best.
“Now you always need a little luck, you still need things to come together and click, but I know I’m playing well, and just wanted to give myself every chance to be at my best. my form. “
Mickelson, who has only played once since winning the PGA, has spent a lot of time training at Torrey Pines, who received a facelift several years ago. Despite his local knowledge of the layout, Mickelson had to learn new nuances.
“I spent a lot of time on the greens, because even though they are not at tournament speed, I needed to relearn and see the breaks and know what the ball is doing on these greens”, Mickelson said.
“Because then when you see the way the ball rolls, you know where you need to be for your approach and you know what type of stroke is the best stroke for hitting in certain approaches. since doing it again, but I really didn’t spend a lot of time learning the nuances, and I did at the start of last week.
“What happened to me was I spent so many hours as a kid that when the course was redesigned all of that local knowledge was gone,” Mickelson said.
“I didn’t come here and spent a ton of time. It’s hard to have a tee time here, and when it does, it’s a long ride. So I don’t spend a lot of time here.
“I really made an effort here, having the last week off, to spend time and really relearn the greens. I spent a lot of hours here on the greens last week to see if I could get that local knowledge again.
South African contingent
The strength of South African golf is once again visible with nine local players on the field, including new sensation Garrick Higgo, who won his first tournament on the PGA Tour last week.
Higgo, the 22-year-old left-hander from Stellenbosch, won the Palmetto Championship in one stroke to add to his three European Tour titles. He now has four wins in 29 starts on the two biggest tours around the world. Only Tiger Woods has a similar payout ratio, although the great American has been doing so for 23 years.
It’s a little unfair to expect Higgo to win a major tournament so early in his career, but he certainly has the skills and confidence to bring about what would be an upheaval.
“South African golf could not be better placed. Obviously internally I think I’m the best. You have to. But as you know there is an incredible amount of good players at home, ”Higgo said after winning last week.
Louis Oosthuizen, who finished second behind Mickelson in the PGA Championship, will be a contender while the fit Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Branden Grace cannot be overlooked.
The very long Wilco Nienaber, like his close friend Higgo, will make his US Open debut. If he can keep the ball on the fairway consistently, he will make people notice him.
The Bryson and Brooks saga
In another subplot, the “feud” between 2020 US Open winner Bryson DeChambeau and four-time major winner Brooks Koepka is a theme that will keep fans on the alert.
The two Americans, who are both slated to make the Ryder Cup squad later this year, have made no secret of their mutual dislike, but it’s unclear whether the animosity is real or exaggerated.
Koepka fans chanted his name when DeChambeau swings and the two traded beards on social media. It’s quite tame compared to some actual rivalries in sports, but it added to the value of the entertainment.
“There is a time when it’s a good joke. Personally, I love it, ”DeChambeau said in his pre-tournament press conference. “I hope this weekend we can play against each other and compete. I think it would be fun and it would be great for the game.
Koepka’s opinion was that their spat was good for the profile of the match.
“Almost everything you watch online either makes the headlines, or it’s up there like a big new story,” Koepka said.
“For me that makes the game grow. You put it in front of eyeballs, you put it in front of people who probably don’t normally watch golf, don’t play it. It could involve them. I don’t know how that doesn’t make the game grow.
It might be, but stories like Mickelson and Higgo winning at opposite ends of their careers are much better for the game. DM
More about this article: Read More
This notice was published: 2021-06-17 13:31:53