Phil Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open. Fresh off his PGA Championship triumph, that can change this week at Torrey Pines
Phil Mickelson would’ve been excused if, after winning the PGA Championship last month at the age of 50, he rode off into the sunset, content that he got to experience one last moment of glory in his career. But that’s not what he did. He went to work.
The 121st U.S. Open, beginning on Thursday, is a special one for Mickelson. He’s still missing that elusive trophy, the only thing keeping him from the career Grand Slam, after chasing it for 30 years and being runner-up six times. The tournament is practically in his backyard, at Torrey Pines in San Diego, the course he grew up playing. And he has the Wanamaker Trophy after his momentous and unexpected win at Kiawah Island in May.
So he wasn’t going to let this opportunity, perhaps the last one he’ll ever get, pass him by. Mickelson didn’t spend too much time celebrating his PGA Championship victory. He flew home after the tournament to spend some time with his wife Amy before heading off to Fort Worth, Texas to play in the Charles Schwab Challenge. He missed the cut there and got to take the weekend off.
On Monday, he was right back at work getting familiarized with Torrey Pines.
“It’s a unique opportunity because I’ve never won a U.S. Open. It’s in my backyard. I have a chance to prepare properly, and I wanted to put in the right work,” he said on Monday at his pre-tournament press conference. “So I’ve kind of shut off all the noise. I’ve shut off my phone. I’ve shut off a lot of the other stuff to where I can kind of focus in on this week and really give it my best chance to try to play my best.”
Mickelson’s best was believed to be well behind him. He hadn’t won a PGA Tour event in two years. He hadn’t won a major in eight years or even contended in one since 2016. Mickelson needed the United States Golf Association to give him a special exemption to get in the field at the U.S. Open. But then came that magical week in South Carolina when Mickelson turned back the clock and a challenge from Brooks Koepka to win his second PGA Championship and fifth major. He no longer needed that exemption.
The self-belief that Mickelson has now makes him a popular pick at the U.S. Open this week. He thought he was playing well but didn’t have the results to show for it. Now he does. Mickelson led the field at Kiawah in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green and was third in putting. It was a masterful performance, one he never stopped believing was in him but just hadn’t shown up in a long time.
“It’s a big thing. It’s one thing when you are playing at a certain level but not getting the results. It’s very frustrating and it’s tough to be patient,” he said. “But when you know that you’re playing at a certain level and you are patient and it finally does click like it did at the PGA…when it all comes together at a perfect time, that was exciting to put it together.”
Mickelson is getting to know Torrey Pines once again
Mickelson is a three-time champion at the Farmers Insurance Open, the tour’s annual stop at Torrey Pines. But his last win came 20 years ago. He hasn’t finished in the top-10 here since 2011, with four missed cuts since 2012. The course he knew as a kid, where his high school team played, is no more, buried under redesigns by Rees Jones in 2001 and again in 2019.
He doesn’t get to play the course that often anymore, just for that week in February at the Farmers. For the past week, Mickelson has spent hours on the greens trying to get back that local knowledge he once had. The PGA Championship wasn’t a bookend to his career; it was just the beginning of another chapter.
Mickelson played his practice round on Monday with 19-year-old Akshay Bhatia. Bhatia is also a left-hander. That’s just about where the similarities between the two end. Mickelson, who turns 51 on Wednesday, is 32 years Bhatia’s senior; Bhatia wasn’t even born the last time Mickelson won at Torrey Pines.
That’s the stage Mickelson is at in his career: the elder statesman, playing against competitors decades younger. He showed at the PGA Championship he’s still able to compete with the next generation. That win made him a golfing legend; lifting the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday night will put him in the pantheon of the game’s immortals.
He’s put in the work. He’s had success on the course. And his confidence couldn’t be any higher. This could be Mickelson’s week, at long last.