I think it only fair to confess my bias.
I love Phil Mickelson.
It started because I am a lefty and being a golfer and left-handed puts you in a rather distinct class. Although I must confess, Phil is not a “real” lefty since he is actually right-handed. He learned to play the game by copying his father’s swing to a tee and, just like a mirror, he inverted it.
Still, he is clearly the most talented left-handed golfer of all-time and that is good enough for me.
Not too long ago it was good enough for everyone.
When one thinks back just a few weeks ago to the amazing Tiger Woods saga at Torrey Pines, it is amazing to think just two years ago the entire landscape of golf almost changed forever.
Yet on the 18th tee of Winged Foot, golf had a defining moment. The PGA tour had been absolutely aching for a foil to face off against the dominant Woods and it was one par-four away from just that.
Mickelson had broken through in 2004 with the Masters and had won two straight majors heading into the 2006 U.S. Open.
With one hole to go he had a one shot lead and was on the precipice of completing three-fourths of a “Mickel-slam”.
Woods, on the other hand, was at home. He had missed his first cut in a major ever after a disappointing return for Tiger after grieving the loss of his father.
Golf was about to enter a new golden age of competition.
That is until a drive that went so far right it hit off a hospitality tent.
Mickelson hit a terrible drive, nothing new since he had been spraying it all over the course during the final round.
Phil the Thrill, however, was not done. He took the risk, as he almost always does. It is what makes him so entertaining, but it also makes him incredibly frustrating.
Mickelson tried to hit the miracle shot and it hit a tree. He then hit it again from the woods and plugged it into a green-side bunker for a double-bogey. Mickelson would finish one behind eventual and unexpected winner Geoff Ogilvy.
It led to one of the most famous quotes in golf.
“I’m such an idiot,” Mickelson admitted.
Certainly the debacle at Winged Foot has a special place in major frustrations, but he is neither the first nor the last golfer to give away a major.
Jean Van de Velde’s triple bogey on the 18thhole of Carnoustie in the 1999 British Open still is the quintessential example of a meltdown, just ask Curtis Strange.
Greg Norman sacrificed a six-shot lead in the final round of the 1996 Masters including plunking a ball in the water on 16.
Scott Hoch and Doug Sanders both had putts from inside three-feet to win majors and could not convert.
However, all of this got me to thinking.
Even though Mickelson is not alone in his major embarrassment, his predecessors did not exactly bounce back.
Van de Velde not only lived with the stigma of blowing a three-shot lead, but he did the exact same thing again in the French Open where he hit it in the water not once but twice.
Hoch and Sanders never won a major and Norman, despite all his close calls, can only claim two British Opens.
Since losing the 2006 U.S. Open, Mickelson has had to exorcise some demons. People thought his victory at the 2007 Player’s Championship, often referred to as the “fifth major” could be the light at the end of the tunnel.
Fans have always just assumed with his talent that Mickelson would shake off the demons and come back to the top of the heap.
However, since 2006 Mickelson has only had one top-ten finish in a major. At age 38, the window is closing for the second-ranked player in the world to contend for the world’s top spot and bring home the one major he has always sought: The U.S. Open.
The confident, smiling Mickelson who had finally learned to make a clutch putt or two has seemingly disappeared and the reckless, over-analytical Phil appears to have reemerged with a vengeance.
Still, Mickelson has a wonderful opportunity in front of him. With Woods on the shelf, he can try and reclaim some of the swagger that had led him towards three major titles.
I am sure Mickelson wished he had a different major to start his comeback tour though.
The Open Championship has never treated Lefty too well with only four top tens in 17 attempts.
His high ball flight tailored made for the sunny shores of San Diego have never fared well in the cloudy links of Britain.
Still, Mickelson has always had a flair for the dramatic.