OAKMONT, Pa. – We’ve had our ledes written for 17 years but still haven’t been able to use them.
“Phinally Phil!” “Phillin’ Groovy!” “Mickel-slam!”
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They all lay useless in a seldom-used Microsoft Word file I call “The Well of Lost Plots,” where bits of articles that end up on the cutting room floor are collected, perhaps to be recycled sometime, perhaps never to see the light of day.
“Phalling Phlat” and “Aw-Phil,” on the other hand, got top billing far too often.
By now, even Outer Mongolians know that Phil Mickelson has never won a U.S. Open. The infamy of six runner-up finishes and 10 top-10s makes matters even worse, the salt in the wound. He’s two clear of Bobby Jones, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, a left-handed compliment at best.
As Soul Coughing once said, rough bout for he cosmonaut, he got shunned for he refund.
Mickelson knows this. And he knows that we know this. And we know that he knows that we know…and we’re going to ask him about it. Hence, he was direct with the media, even terse (at times…well when the subject of the stock trades came up).
“Well I could B.S. you and tell you hat I don’t think about it…I think about it all the time. This is the tournament I want to win the most, to complete the four majors,” he explained laconically. “The only that would be successful would be a win.”
There's Phil became Phil again, giving us gold for our articles.
“I love a quote that Stephen Hawking says. Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change, and that’s going to be critical here at Oakmont, because as the conditions change, the tee shots are going to change.”
Mind you, Phil is the same Einstein that gave us the “Frankenclub” a few years ago. We all saw how well that rocket science worked. Oh, and someone tell Hawking to forget golf and get to work on something useful, like teleporting chickens.
We know what Phil was trying to say. (We also know that, as Mark Twain used to say, “We know that he did not say it…”) He was telling us that he wants the course to play as hard as possible, so that half the field psychs itself out before they even get started.
“I would love to see it cross the line like the way U.S. Opens often do, and become a bit over the edge,” Mickelson said. "We’re going to have a winner at the end of the week…who cares if it’s 5 under or 12 over, doesn’t matter. Lowest score wins. ... I’ve developed a game plan now coming in that will allow me to shoot the lowest score.”
For that to happen, Oakmont has to stay fast and firm…which means it has to stay dry. Ha! Fat chance in a humid June in the country’s interior! Right now, an inch of rain has already drenched Oakmont. And when that course becomes Soakmont, it can be had (or at least as much as Oakmont can be had). That means a fistful more rounds in the 60s. And more birdies means more players in the mix.
That’s bad news for Phil, because he keeps coming up with new and creative ways to lose U.S. Opens. Wild drives, pushed putts, fluke winners coming out of nowhere, useless Frankenclubs, Tiger Woods -- the list is endless. It’s gotten like a Mad Lib. Phil Mickelson blew the ___th U.S. Open at (insert course), when he (insert tragedy) on the (insert hole). Look at the list of Shakespearean-in-magnitude catastrophes that he’s endured:
1999, Pinehurst No. 2 – Payne Stewart gets up and down from 100 yards on the home hole, including a 15 footer to snatch the trophy;
2002, Bethpage Black – Tiger. Nuff said;
2004, Shinnecock Hills – Three putts from seven feet on the 71st hole dropped the trophy on the ground for Retief Goosen to claim;
2006, Winged Foot – He blew a three-shot lead with three holes to play by hitting two trees, two bunkers, a garbage can and the merch tent. Watching it live was the craziest thing this writer has ever seen on a golf course. All the furies of the Golf Gods came riding down on his head on their Steeds of Vengeance. He hit only two fairways all day. Dan Jenkins called it the worse driving exhibition since Hogan got hit by the Greyhound bus.
“I made it 71 holes without hitting a fairway,” Mickelson quipped Tuesday.
2007, Oakmont – No, he didn’t finish second, but he got a bone bruise practicing out of the rough.
“I’ve eliminating practicing out of the rough for that reason. I’d rather wait to get hurt during the tournament rather than before it,” he joked, to a smattering of laughs and applause.
2009, Bethpage Black (again) – Lucas Glover. Lucas Fluke-us you mean. He vanished like a rabbit in a magic trick after that.
2013, Merion - This was the one he said he regrets the most, even more than the disaster at Winged Foot: “I was playing so well, I was leading, I had an opportunity to win with the lead on the back nine.”
Then he bogeyed the lollipop, the dinky 100-yard par 3. He also took 37 putts on Sunday. Had he taken just a pedestrian 33, he would have won by three shots. He also wasted a brilliant eagle, holing out from the fairway at the 10th.
“My career is built on failure because how you handle failure is a huge element to becoming successful,” Phil explained.
Not much irony there.
Still he’s giving it the ol’ college try. Phil was practicing the hard stuff…the advanced Ph. D things like putting from positions over the green on holes that run away from the player, and putting uphill to practice in case the greens are slower due to the rain
“It would mean more than anything to win my National Open,” he confided. “I want to cap off me career with a win here.”