The real question isn’t so much will Phil Mickelson’s U.S. Open hangover be over by the Open Championship, but whether or not it will last into next year.
Coming off his sixth runner-up finish in the U.S. Open, Mickelson can’t help but be building up quite a bit of scar tissue from all of those brushes with glory.
He bravely soldiers on, however, smiling and telling all who will listen about how well he’s hitting the ball, how unlucky he’s been because the ball’s not dropping and how anxious he is the for next major.
While this is specifically about Mickelson, the above comments are standard fare for many professional golfers. They’re always really close, playing really well and just about to do great things.
And maybe that really is the case with Mickelson in terms of the one championship that seemed to be impossible to win. He was as close to winning last month as he was at any other U.S. Open.
In 2004, Mickelson double-bogeyed the 17th hole in the final round and finished a pair of shots behind Retief Goosen.
In 2006, when Mickelson double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to hand Geoff Ogilvy the title, he played five individual stroke play events after that and finished in the top 20 just once the rest of the year.
The pattern continued in 2009, when he was in contention until he bogeyed two of the last three holes and lost by a pair to Lucas Glover. He played five more events with his best finish being a tie for 27th.
He then won the Tour Championship, was a member of the winning Presidents Cup team and won the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions to close out his season.
And then there was Merion in 2013. He’s made a very good living thanks in large part to the short irons in his bag, but they were the clubs that let him down in a big way in the final round. He hit bad wedges on the 13th and 15th holes and finished, yep, you guessed it, a pair of shots behind Justin Rose.
“I was playing so well and the golf course is suited for me and everything just set up perfectly,” he says. “Winged Foot, there’s no way I was going to hit that last fairway. I hadn’t hit a fairway all day. That would have been pretty cool to win that one, having driven it as badly as I did. It would have been unheard of. But Merion I was playing really well. Still am.”
And while it’s a very small sampling, the early return is not great for Mickelson. He made his first post-Open appearance this week at the Greenbrier Classic and missed the cut. He followed up a disappointing 74 with a 68 Friday, but missed the cut by three shots.
Even so, Mickelson was pleased with his performance on Friday. The stats show that he didn’t play horribly at the Greenbrier, hitting 21 of 28 fairways and 22 of 36 greens in regulation. For the week, Mickelson has hit 21 of 28 fairways and 22 of 36 greens in regulation.
Putting has always been up and down for him and this week it was down. He needed 60 putts in two rounds.
"I've posed over a lot of iron shots today and they end up not just a yard or two off from where I figure, but they're 10 or 12 yards off from where I figure,” Mickelson said Friday. “I think as I look back on these last three years, that's been the biggest issue for me is distance control with the irons."
I’m thinking Mickelson will be little more than a sideshow at the Open Championship in Scotland in two weeks. He'll play next week in the Scottish Open, meaning he’ll have played twice since Merion and that won’t be enough to rid himself of the newest layer of scar tissue.
He’s never been much of a force in the game’s oldest championship anyway, but maybe Mickelson will be able to salvage the trip with a nice family vacation.
The man is a very fun and entertaining golfer. He’s also a big-time winner and has four major titles to his name. Just think how he’d be viewed if he would have cashed in on half of those six runner-up finishes. We’re talking Arnold Palmer numbers here.
But that hasn’t happened.
I think what will happen is Phil Mickelson will have a real tough time shrugging off the latest heartbreak.