He’s the most resilient man in golf. Beaten down but risen again more times than is feasible.
And at 47-years-old, Phil Mickelson is riding the sport’s hottest streak towards a flaming June date with golfing greatness now more than just the pipe dream of a player in the twilight of his career.
Mickelson lies second going into the final round of this weekend’s World Golf Championship event in Mexico, trading blows with a new generation of players, some of whom weren’t even born when he was lifting his first titles on the US PGA Tour.
Allied to three top ten finishes in his last three starts this year, his rich vein of form points to Mickelson possibly achieving the one thing in golf that has eluded him – winning the US Open.
His national championship has been the stage for some of his most thrilling golf, but ultimately a source of crushing disappointment.
Six runners-up finishes at some of the game’s greatest layouts would have done for most players. But time and again golf’s ‘Mr Bounce Back Ability’ has dusted himself off, saddled up and got back on board his ride, heading off once more into the fray.
The historic Shinnecock Hills on Long Island, New York, is the venue for this year’s US Open.
Mickelson has previous there. Pipped by a sensational putting display from South Africa’s Retief Goosen in 2004, Lefty knows he has the game to tame the British-style links.
A US Open crown would open membership of golf’s most exclusive club to Mickelson. Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won all four of golf’s majors.
Entry into this most of exclusive of clubs is by appointment with the golfing gods only.
Tom Watson couldn’t get in, a PGA championship escaping him as it did ‘The King’ Arnold Palmer, their places set at the top table of the game ultimately left empty.
The US Open urn is the glaring omission in Mickelson’s trophy cabinet. Three Masters, a PGA Championship and an Open won in dramatic fashion at Muirfield in 2013 are the stand out wins on Mickelson’s glittering CV.
Sipping from the Claret Jug nearly five years ago is his last tour win. All-American Mickelson, still something of a mystery to British fans, proved the depth of his game and sheer brilliance in taming the ferocious Edinburgh links to win the major that many pundits said was beyond him.
His high ball flight and wildness off the tee were supposed to cancel out any chance in squally British weather on parched fairways fringed with heavy rough.
Very much like what he will face under foot at Shinnecock in June. Turn the volume down on your tele and the course looks like it could be on Scotland’s east coast.
Only the New York accents give away its Long Island location, not far from the Big Apple itself.
US golf fans love Phil Mickelson. New Yorkers in particular love Phil Mickelson. He won his PGA Championship at Baltusrol in neighbouring New Jersey.
His all-out attack style of play seems to fit their psyche. He’s never reined in his game. Simply refuses to do what doesn’t come naturally to him.
Protestations that his ‘go for broke’ style would mean he’d never fulfil his fabulous talent fell on deaf ears.
He’s shortened his swing a bit, thinks more clearly on the course but his attacking instincts still underpin everything he does.
His flop shot should be trademarked. Who hasn’t gawped in amazement at the sheer gaul of a full swing just yards from the green, the ball elevated into the jet stream to land and sit like a dog in front of a roaring fire just inches from the cup?
Mickelson plays the game every hacker dreams of. Free, uncluttered and spectacular. Take it on and triumph.
In reality, his meet it head-on approach has cost him many titles and multiple majors. A case in point his last hole US Open disaster at New York’s Winged Foot in 2006, slashing a tee shot into corporate hospitality and running up a double bogey when a par would have secured him the crown he covets most.
Mickelson knocked on the door of the US Masters for years before finally being admitted into the Butler Cabin and eased into a Green Jacket in 2004.
The 2013 Open was the scene of what up until now is surely his greatest triumph. Even the ultra confident Mickelson doubted if he had the game to conquer 72 holes of championship links golf.
But his Muirfield win, and two Open second places at Sandwich and Troon, the latter his epic gun fight with Henrik Stenson, proved beyond doubt he has the skills and mental toughness to tame the oldest form of the game.
This evidence is added to a growing case file this season to convince that the US Open dream for Mickelson at Shinnecock is a real possibility.
Fifth, second and sixth in his last three Tour starts. He’s averaging under 70 every time he sets foot on the course and his birdie stats place him fifth on Tour.
Mickelson appears to be managing the debilitating arthritis which blighted him several years back, especially evident in a fragile putting stroke which now looks back on track.
He still hits the ball a mile, a smidgeon under 300 yards on average to stand comparison with the young guns who ease the ball into the stratosphere as if they’re shelling peas.
Nearly 30 years on from his first Tour victory – beating the pros as a prodigious amateur in Tuscon, Arizona, in 1991 – it’s testament to his extraordinary gifts that he is still able to mix it with the best in an era when power hitting has taken golf into a new dimension.
Shinnecock Hills has been remodelled a bit and lengthened by 500 yards since Mickelson last strode its fairways.
But Mickelson remains essentially the same player. Crunch it off the tee, pick up the pieces if needs be with a short game that should get its own season on the Las Vegas Strip.
Mickelson will celebrate his 48th birthday on the Saturday of the Shinnecock US Open, his big day and the title he seeks most seemingly entwined by fate.
If he were to win it, he’d become the second oldest man to lift a major. He’d certainly be the most popular.
If he doesn’t, then doubtless he’ll continue to go for broke, just because he can.
Leave a Reply