Open week, and all it brings, is here for Mickelson

By Rex HoggardJune 9, 2014, 3:45 pm

When Phil Mickelson sets out for his 24th U.S. Open just before 8 a.m. on Thursday it will arguably be the most pressure packed major championship since Tiger Woods put the finishing touches on the Tiger Slam at the 2001 Masters.

Much of the pressure is self-inflicted, while other elements remain shrouded in the secrecy of a federal investigation. The byproduct, however, will be the most intense week of the 43-year-old’s life.

Within moments of winning the Open Championship last July, Mickelson was the first to arrive at the grand crossroads that will make this week’s national championship so scrutinized.

“If I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that's the sign of the complete great player,” he said at Muirfield. “I'm a leg away. And it's been a tough leg for me. There’s five players that have done that. Those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.”

Since that sunny afternoon on the Scottish coast there has been no hedging, no backtracking, no attempt to cast this week’s championship as anything other than a historic opportunity.

Much of Mickelson’s motivation to go head-to-head with his Grand Slam ambitions were born at Muirfield, where he ended nearly two decades of frustration with a closing 66 that Lefty dubbed the greatest round he’d ever played.

“Ever since he won last year at Muirfield the (career) Grand Slam became an option, something he probably thought he couldn’t do,” said Mickelson’s swing coach Butch Harmon. “Once we bought into how we wanted him to play, he’s not afraid to talk about it.”

If Woods’ career has been largely defined by unquestionable consistency, Mickelson’s has been myriad peaks and valleys. For every Muirfield there has been a Merion, every Augusta National offset by a Winged Foot.

Phil Mickelson

Photos: Mickelson's U.S. Open runner-up finishes

But in a uniquely Mickelson way, he has decided to view the Grand Slam chalice half full.

“Some people view it as though he's come close and he's never done it,” Mickelson recently explained. “I see it as though I've finished second six times (at the U.S. Open), I played some of my best golf in this event, and that I should have an opportunity, and more than one opportunity, to close one out here in the future.”

Of those six bridesmaid finishes at the U.S. Open, the first came in 1999 at Pinehurst when the late Payne Stewart scrambled for par at the 72nd hole to beat Mickelson by a shot.

The No. 2 course at Pinehurst is particularly suited to Mickelson’s unique brand of golf, an often-wayward game that leans heavily on Lefty’s creativity and touch.

There will be plenty of parallels between this week and the ’99 Pinehurst Open for Mickelson – the quirky layout, the call of the national championship and a cloud of uncertainty looming just outside the ropes.

During that pitched final round in ’99, Mickelson spent the day electronically attached to a pager – for those born after 2000 think of a very short text message without emoticons. If the call came Lefty made it clear he would leave the Open to be there for the birth of his first child, Amanda, who was born the day after the final round.

Many of Mickelson’s triumphs and tragedies have been defined by such turmoil, which in a counterintuitive way makes this week’s championship almost the status quo.

As if Mickelson’s decision to embrace the enormity of the career Grand Slam wasn’t enough, the world learned two weeks ago that he has been under investigation by the FBI and Security and Exchange Commission for the better part of the last two years for possible insider trading.

On Saturday at the Memorial Tournament, two days after being approached by federal agents in Ohio, Mickelson dismissed the investigation.

“I can’t really go into much right now, but as I said in my statement, I have done absolutely nothing wrong. And that's why I've been fully cooperating with the FBI agents, and I'm happy to do so in the future, too, until this gets resolved,” Mickelson said at Muirfield Village. “Hopefully it will be soon, but for right now I can't really talk much about it.”

But then distractions large and small have defined Mickelson’s career.

Phil Mickelson

Photos: Mickelson's major triumphs

In May 2009, Mickelson announced that his wife, Amy, had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that he would, “suspend his PGA Tour schedule indefinitely.” Three weeks later he finished second at the U.S. Open, his fifth runner-up in the championship, and he went on to win that season’s Tour Championship.

At the 2010 U.S. Open, Mickelson began feeling the onset of psoriatic arthritis, a condition that causes the immune system to attack the body’s joints and tendons and which left him in so much pain he couldn’t walk. At Pebble Beach, the ailment kept Mickelson from being able to grip the golf club completely and he finished fourth in the national championship with his left index finger extended during his swing.

“If you noticed, it was straight. But it was my bottom finger so I just let it hang off the shaft. I didn't really notice it. I mean, I noticed it, but it didn't affect the shot,” said Mickelson, who played his final nine holes in 39 and finished three strokes behind champion Graeme McDowell.

The federal investigation, along with his quest to complete the career Grand Slam, will be a distraction, but Mickelson is the master of compartmentalization.

“He doesn’t hide behind anything. He is very resilient person,” Harmon said. “He reminds me of a cornerback in the NFL, the last play never happened. He has the ability to put stuff behind him.

“He’s very open about (winning the career Grand Slam), a lot of guys would say, ‘It’s just another week.’ That’s not Phil’s style.”

With a mountain of distractions vying against him, it would be easy to dismiss Mickelson’s Grand Slam chances. After all, Arnold Palmer finished second at the PGA Championship three times but never cleared the career Grand Slam hurdle.

But that ignores Lefty’s history, if not his habitual ability, to rise above the chatter. It’s all born from his singular DNA. The same guy who airmailed his U.S. Open chances into the corporate tents left of Winged Foot’s 18th fairway, has won green jackets from the pine straw at Augusta National and claret jugs from the Scottish fescue.

Mickelson’s greatest attribute may be his inability to delude himself.

“It’s easier to be honest and up front about what I'm feeling and going through than it is to try and deny it, which is why, when I lose, I talk about how tough it is, because it is,” Mickelson said. “It's challenging. Like it was the biggest defeat . . . I had such a down moment after losing at Merion. The same thing at Winged Foot.”

Hiding from the obvious isn’t Mickelson’s style. He knows there is nothing normal or mundane about this week, just a historical opportunity – nothing more, nothing less.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.