Can he do it?
The PGA Championship result from last month would suggest that, yes, Phil Mickelson can win the U.S. Open this week at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Will he, though?
Do we dare to dream such a thing?
It just feels like too much to ask considering the circumstances, doesn’t it?
- Mickelson has never won a U.S. Open in 29 tries.
- He has a record six runner-up finishes that have included some heart-wrenching outcomes that would break the will of most people.
- He has won the Masters (three times), the PGA Championship (twice) and British Open and stands a U.S. Open victory away from becoming just the sixth player to complete a career Grand Slam.
- What else? Oh yes, he’ll turn 51 the day before Thursday’s opening round.
If you’re not rooting for Mickelson this week, not rooting to witness more history created by one of the most fascinating players the game has ever seen, you’re very much in the minority.
Because almost everyone will be rooting for Mickelson, who grew up a few miles away from Torrey Pines, where he played countless times as a kid.
Even Mickelson’s playing competitors will be rooting for him. There won’t be many players in the field who won’t be pulling for him, if they cannot win it.
“At the age of 50, he’s been playing on the PGA Tour for as long or longer than I’ve been alive,’’ said Jon Rahm, who was born in 1994, three years after the first of Mickelson’s 45 PGA Tour victories. “He still has that enthusiasm and that drive to become better and beat the best. I hope that in 25-plus years, I still have the same enthusiasm and the same grit to become better.’’
As flashy as Mickelson’s play is — highlighted by his legendary short game, his scrambling prowess that would make Seve Ballesteros proud and his obsession with “hitting bombs’’ off the tee — the hallmarks of his career are his resilience and relentlessness.
His resilience has been on display since he was the first poster child for “the best player never to win a major’’ before he finally broke through at the 2004 Masters, and as he has continued to put himself in position to win at the U.S. Open, despite all the close-call misses.
His relentlessness has shown in his constant push to reinvent himself — whether it’s with his health and diet or with the equipment he’s constantly tinkering with or, most recently, mentally with meditation and other ways to improve his focus, which had been wayward for the past few years.
These are the key ingredients to the secret sauce that has allowed Mickelson to remain competitive and relevant as he has blown past his 50th birthday and is the only player in the field in position to win a second consecutive major championship.
An example of Mickelson’s never-ending evolution is the different approach he took leading into this U.S. Open. Mickelson almost always plays a tournament the week before a major championship, because he believes that’s his best way to stay sharp.
This time, he altered his strategy, opting to take two weeks off from tournament golf and prepare by spending more time quietly preparing at Torrey Pines before the madness of U.S. Open week arrives.
Mickelson has never been a fan of the changes made to the South Course at Torrey Pines before the 2008 U.S. Open and, subsequently, has not had success there since while playing in the Farmers Insurance Open.
Knowing Mickelson, he undoubtedly has spent a lot of his practice time at Torrey Pines trying to convince himself to like the South Course again, the way he did when he played there as a kid and later won PGA Tour events there.
The beauty of Mickelson’s PGA Championship victory last month was how unexpected it was. Given his recent results (poor), his age and the fit of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course (difficult fairways to hit, length, a lot of wind and trouble everywhere) to his game, it made no sense to think he could win there.
As epic as the PGA Championship victory was, can you imagine a Mickelson win this week and all that would come with it?
Mickelson has often said that whether he wins a U.S. Open or not won’t change how he views his career or his legacy. But that’s not true. A U.S. Open victory would catapult him into the top handful of players of all time with no legitimate argument to say differently.
Do we dare to dream about such a thing?
One thing is certain: Mickelson certainly is.