No urgency to win Open? Mickelson is fooling himself

By Ryan LavnerJune 16, 2015, 11:54 pm

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Hmmm … what to give Phil Mickelson for his 45th birthday?

The man has almost everything, of course, so how about a harsh reminder: Historically speaking, this is likely his last chance to win that elusive U.S. Open.

Golf’s toughest major only gets more difficult to win as the years and scar tissue pile up.

Hale Irwin is the oldest winner of this championship; he was 45 years and 15 days old when he won in 1990. If Mickelson were to hoist the silver trophy on Sunday, he’d be only 10 days younger.

Not that he’s celebrating the big 4-5 with any added pressure.

“I don’t feel that sense of urgency that you’re talking about,” he said Tuesday.

OK, but should he?

Mickelson is still in relatively good shape. The past few years, his body couldn’t withstand the long hours on the range, but with a renewed emphasis on fitness and diet he can now beat 400 or 500 balls without fear of wearing down.

Another thing to consider: Lefty hasn’t suffered a debilitating injury that has sidelined him for months. He has always had a long, flowing swing, and those players tend to be more durable over the long run as opposed to those with a short, violent motion. 

“If I continue to do what I’ve done the last eight months or so,” he said, “there’s no reason why I couldn’t play at a high level for a while.”

First-round tee times: 115th U.S. Open

But there have been signs recently that Mickelson is beginning to realize his golfing mortality.

He’s always endured highs and lows during his Hall of Fame career, but his last 23 months have been even more sporadic than usual. In the 41 events since his last win, at the 2013 Open Championship, Lefty has mustered only five top-5 finishes. Two of those have been runners-up in the last two majors. Another two have come in the past five weeks, including at last week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic (T-3).

Isn’t that remarkable? Even if he’s struggling, even if he’s searching, even if he has done practically zilch for the past year, Phil has still summoned his best stuff in the biggest moments to nearly steal the darn thing.

There are no simple, rational explanations for this, but that didn’t stop a few of the world’s best from trying.

“He’s still got plenty of power,” said Rickie Fowler, one of Mickelson’s frequent practice-round partners. “He’s still got all the shots in the bag. You could come up with a short-game shot and you’re not really going to ask anyone else other than him to hit it if there was a must-make up-and-down.

“He still impresses me with his game. Yeah, he turned 45 today, but I’m not looking to see him go away anytime soon.”

Every athlete watches his physical skill diminish over time, though. It’s a sad inevitability. So for Lefty, there must be something more, something deeper.

This is his 23rd full season on Tour, and for the better part of the past quarter century he has thrilled fans with his swashbuckling, go-for-broke style.

He isn’t afraid to win, which also means that he isn’t afraid to lose, sometimes spectacularly. His star-crossed history in this event only underscores that point: From Shinnecock to Winged Foot to Merion, Phil has been humbled like few in his sport ever have, but he’s never been afraid of losing, of failure, of getting his heart broken and then falling in love again.

“I can imagine if he’s up there in contention, he doesn’t really care if he finishes second or 15th or 18th or whatever,” Martin Kaymer said. “He wants to win.”

Whether he actually can this week is still very much uncertain. Listen to him closely, break down his sound bytes, and he seems just as likely to miss the cut as he is to contend.

“I feel like I’m back on the upswing,” he said … but a few minutes later he conceded that his revamped game is still “in its infancy.”

“I don’t know how far or how long it will take to get it really sharp,” he said. “I feel like it’s on the verge of coming around. I’ve said that for a while now, but I feel closer and closer each day.”

Which brings us to Chambers Bay, and what is shaping up as Mickelson’s last best chance to win a U.S. Open.

Funny, because before his breakthrough at the 2013 Open Championship, few would have given him a chance on this links-style layout. That thrilling comeback at baked, brown Muirfield not only changed the public’s perception of Mickelson, but also his view of himself, having adapted his free-swinging, sky-ball game to win across the pond.

Though not a traditional links, man-made Chambers exhibits many of the same qualities as Muirfield or St. Andrews, with rock-hard fairways, wispy fescue rough and severe, undulating greens that, above all, test a player’s short game and imagination.

That just so happens to be Mickelson’s area of expertise, and he lit up Tuesday when describing how players must play shots into banks and slopes and hillsides to funnel the ball close to the hole.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “You have a bigger margin of error.”

So maybe this is just the venue Mickelson needs to nab that elusive Open.

He better hope so. History suggests that, at 45, his time is running out.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.