Publish date:

A Case for Phil Mickelson to Win U.S. Open … or Not

Mickelson's winning the PGA Championship at age 50 last month again raised the possibility that he may finally complete the career Grand Slam after six U.S. Open runner-up finishes.
Phil Mickelson hits from a 12th-hole bunker during a U.S. Open practice round at Torrey Pines Golf Course on Monday, June 14, 2021.

Phil Mickelson warms up for this week's U.S. Open by blasting out of a greenside bunker at the 12th hole during Monday's practice round. 

Let’s read a straight putt to the point. It’s the front-burner question nearly everyone in the game is asking: Can Phil Mickelson win the U.S. Open?

The golf world is still shaking off the aftershocks of Mickelson’s earth-quaking victory at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., four weeks ago as the Open begins this week at Torrey Pines Golf Course near San Diego.

Mickelson became the oldest major champion in history at the PGA and has a chance this week to reset that record and along with it, complete the career Grand Slam that has eluded him for years. He turns 51 on Wednesday.

But, seriously, is it at all feasible that Mickelson could win two major championships in a row at his age? Seriously, it wasn’t feasible for him to win the PGA. Here’s why he can win the U.S. Open — and why he can’t:

He has superior knowledge of Torrey Pines.
Mickelson has played the city-owned Torrey course since he was a kid, having grown up in San Diego. And he’s won there three times on the PGA Tour when it was the Buick Invitational. This U.S. Open is as much of a backyard game for Mickelson as anyone can have.

“In my experience caddying for some of these guys, so much of what they have that is important to them is mojo,” said Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie for 25 years and now an NBC/Golf Channel broadcaster. “Certainly Phil had that great mojo at Torrey Pines,” Mackay said.

He hates the changes to the course after it was renovated.
It’s no secret that when Rees Jones re-did Torrey Pines in 2001 in advance of the 2008 U.S. Open, Mickelson was no fan of the result. What’s less clear is whether the source of Mickelson’s consternation was architectural or if he’s just mad that the hard drive on years of knowledge on Torrey’s greens was wiped out. “Mickelson lost all of his home-course advantage when they re-did that golf course,” Paul Azinger said on an NBC conference call.

“Certainly, he’s an opinionated guy, and certainly the course changed pretty dramatically,” Mackay said. Since 2011, when he finished second, Mickelson has four missed cuts, a withdrawal at the Farmers Insurance Open and his best finish was T14 in 2017. He even skipped the event in 2019 for the first time in 29 years.

Mickelson has vowed to adjust his attitude about Torrey Pines through hard work. He took two weeks off prior to the Open to learn — or re-learn — everything he needs to know about the course, especially the greens.

He’s overflowing with confidence.
“I don’t care if they’re playing on the moon (this) week, he’s going to come in feeling very bulletproof, in my opinion,” Mackay said. “It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he got right in the mix and all those thoughts that he’s got about his performance there of late or about the golf course [are] going to go right out the window. Because the bottom line is they’re going to be giving out a trophy … and he wants it as bad or more than anybody else in the field.”

He has scar tissue.
No one, not even Mickelson, is dodging the fact that he has six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open without a victory. Everyone sees the elephant in the room and acknowledges it. But is it too big to run around or pole vault over it?

He has discovered how to focus.
Whether it’s a new-found meditation regimen or the gum he’s chomping has CBD or something else in it that helps quiet his mind — or some combination — something significant clicked into place between his 64-75-75-76--T69 at the Wells Fargo and his victory at the PGA two weeks later. No one knows but him and even he might not have the full answer.

This is the U.S. Open.
We’ll see how long focus lasts when he discovers a tee shot wide left or wide right into trees or Open rough or both. The Open is a different test than the one presented at Kiawah. Not only does it require focus but it demands patience, certainly kindred qualities but not one in the same. Mickelson will need both, along with a driver or 2-wood that can find fairways.

Even Mickelson is realistic enough to know that the reasons he won’t win are piled up against him — to a point.

“One of two things are going to happen,” he said at Colonial. “Either (the PGA Championship) is going to be my last win and I'm going to have one of the most cherished victories of my career to look back on and cherish for a long time, or I also may have kind of found a little something that helps me stay a little bit more present and helps me focus throughout round a little bit longer and maybe I can execute and play golf at the highest level for a nice extended period of time now.”

But wishing never won a U.S. Open, even if you have forgotten how old you are.