Mickelson spectacular in success failure

By Randall MellJune 16, 2010, 4:16 am
2010 U.S. Open

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Phil Mickelson is golf’s version of a theme park ride.

Thrills and spills.

That’s what we’ve come to expect when Lefty puts us in tow as he careens around the game’s spectacular stages.

His history is dizzying.

His fans could feel their hearts in their throats with Mickelson’s ball in the air after he threaded that 6-iron off the pine straw and through a narrow gap in the trees at the 13th hole at Augusta National in the final round of his Masters victory in April. The shot barely cleared the tributary to Rae’s Creek in setting up his two-putt birdie. Even Mickelson cracked on the risky nature of the play saying “What was I doing?”

Nobody today hitches more important outcomes to riskier plays.

Nobody is capable of the widely spectacular dimensions Mickelson brings to major championship golf.

Spectacular success and spectacular failure.

The gambling nature of Mickelson can leave him looking brilliant or stupid. He has the bravado to relish the high-wire nature of that proposition.


Phil Mickelson U.S. Open practice round
A win this week would bump Mickelson up to No. 1 in the world. (Getty Images)
That’s based on Mickelson’s own analysis.


“I’m such an idiot.”

Those, of course, were the famous words that tumbled out of his mouth after he lost the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with his bold play at the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open.

Much is made of Mickelson hitting driver off the hospitality tent with his final tee shot there, but the risky play was his second shot, the refusal to take his medicine and punch out from behind a tree. The bold play in that loss was his attempt at a spectacular recovery in trying to carve his approach around that tree. Instead, he cracked the shot off a branch on his way to a double bogey and a heartbreaking loss.

With the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach this week, Mickelson’s nature as a player promises to be severely tested once more.

“I think when I started out as a young pro, not many people, maybe even myself included, thought this would be a tournament I would play well,” Mickelson said Tuesday. “Yet I’ve been able to. So because of that, I still have a sense of pride in the way I’ve played, but, again, I would like to win my National Open.”

With a record five second-place finishes, nobody’s quite sure if this is a championship Mickelson’s meant to win. Or if he’s meant to endure the agonizing fate of Sam Snead, to live with coming so close but never seizing the prize he craves.

Conventional thinking says you win U.S. Opens playing conservatively.

Conventional and conservative aren’t qualities we associate with Mickelson’s game.

Mickelson was asked Tuesday if he fights his nature more in a U.S. Open than any other major.

“No, I don’t,” Mickelson said. “And the reason is I want to play aggressive into the green. I don't want to play aggressive off the tee, per se. I want to play aggressive at the pin. And when I play No. 6, I want to play more conservative off the tee, so that I can play more aggressive into the green. If I hit that fairway, even if it's with a 5- or 6-iron, I can play more aggressively into the green. I can hit 3-wood up by the green and make birdie with my wedge. If I miss that fairway, trying to hit 3-wood or driver, now I can't even get up on top of the hill. Now I'm playing conservative. So I approach U.S. Opens as how can I be most aggressive into the pin, not necessarily off the tee.”

Curtis Strange, who won back-to-back U.S. Opens, concedes Mickelson probably does fight his aggressive nature in a U.S. Open, but he sees the analytical nature of Mickelson winning out this week.

“He might fight [his nature] a little bit, because he is very aggressive,” Strange said. “But I also think he’s a smart player, and with him pushing 40, he realizes consciously or subconsciously, he’s only going to have so many more chances to win and this could be as good as any chance he’ll have.”

Strange also believes Pebble Beach’s severe U.S. Open setup plays into Mickelson’s hands. Mickelson turns 40 Wednesday.

“I like Phil more based on what I see out here this week,” Strange said. “There are so many layups off the tees, where Phil doesn’t have to hit driver.”

Pebble Beach will play to 7,040 yards, short by U.S. Open standards.

“If you were playing Bethpage Black, where you had to hit driver, his lack of accuracy could hurt him,” Strange said. “Here, he has to lay back and put it in the fairway. I counted seven or eight layups out there.”

But can Mickelson consistently resist the urge to go for it with risk and reward warring in his head?

At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2001, Mickelson needed birdie at the final hole to get into a playoff. From the middle of the fairway, he decided to hit driver and go for the green in two. Driver off the deck’s a risky play there with the Pacific Ocean left, and that’s exactly where Mickelson’s shot ended up. He could have made birdie laying up.

Will Mickelson remember that shot this week? Or will he remember his threading the needle at the Masters last April?

Can Mickelson win a U.S. Open making himself lay up time and time again?

“I’m like every other fan out there,” Strange said of watching Mickelson thread the needle from the pine straw in his Masters’ victory this year. “I think it was a great shot now.”

Strange, like so many others, marveled at Mickelson bravado in going for it.

“The ability to hit that shot, knowing full well it’s a dangerous shot, takes a lot of guts,” Strange said. “A lot of people can go for it and screw it up, but he pulled it off. Sometimes, you have to man up, you have to be a man. Sometimes, there’s no backing off. That takes a lot of guts.”

Sometimes, guts win championships. But sometimes they lose them.

“Tiger [Woods] and Phil, you want to watch them because they’re so much fun,” Strange said. “They’re going to hit great shots, and they might have a train wreck. They’re going to have some trouble, but they recover better than anyone else. That’s just fun to watch.”

Ultimately, Mickelson knows the most fun is winning.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.