Classic Mickelson will be missed at U.S. Open

By Will GrayJune 11, 2017, 11:35 pm

It was a classic Phil Mickelson performance in Memphis, which means it was a decidedly mixed bag.

There were dazzling approaches and crowd-pleasing putts. There was a run up the leaderboard and into contention. But there was also a final-round wipeout, one that later came with an honest admission.

It was the type of performance that fans have come to expect from the 46-year-old who still strolls fairways wearing a perma-smile, but also one that has kept a 43rd career title frustratingly out of reach. It’s the type of show that will be sorely missed at Erin Hills.

Mickelson finished alone in ninth place at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, three shots behind Daniel Berger. His undoing was as swift as it was shocking: a triple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole that dropped Lefty from a share of the lead into a position from which he was unlikely to recover.

It began with a tee shot out of bounds, followed by a watery approach. It was, frankly, a good triple, if such a thing exists.

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After the round, Mickelson told CBS that he was caught off-guard by a quick glance at a leaderboard behind the 11th green, one that showed he had already made up a four-shot deficit and had grabbed a share of the lead.

“I saw that I was tied for the lead, and it kind of shook me, to be honest,” Mickelson said. “It threw me because I didn’t expect to be there, I thought I was still chasing. It was as if I’ve never won before, as if I was a rookie. I was not as mentally focused as I needed to be, and something as simple as that threw me.”

Mickelson’s candor was admirable, but it also showed that his nearly four-year victory drought has become a burdensome yoke around his neck. Mickelson should have won since that dazzling display at Muirfield in July 2013, probably multiple times. But he hasn’t.

Sunday’s display was a great example of why the winner’s circle has eluded Lefty, as he made a costly error at a critical juncture. It also added to his list of recent close calls, one that is still topped by his stumble last year at Pebble Beach and also includes four other runner-up finishes since he lifted the claret jug.

For a man with more trophies than any case can display, the importance of his next one can’t be overstated.

That win will come, eventually, but Mickelson will inevitably have to conquer some nerves to get there. It’s a shame, then, that he won’t get an opportunity to do so next week in the one event he truly wants to win.

Yes, there’s still a chance that Mickelson could parachute into Erin Hills and stride right to the first tee box Thursday. But it will require an act of God, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the man upstairs has no interest in compelling opening-round storylines.

Needing, in his estimation, at least a four-hour weather delay in order to make it to Wisconsin from his daughter’s high-school graduation in Carlsbad, Calif., Mickelson will likely see only sunny skies over farm country. The deluge that rocked the opening round last year at Oakmont appears non-existent this time around.

“Last night there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms Thursday, and right now it’s 20 percent. So who knows,” Mickelson said. “But it’s not looking good, and it’s totally fine.”

Mickelson’s decision to attend commencement over a shot at closing out the career Grand Slam has been questioned by some and lauded by others. But should he never etch his name on the trophy, this particular choice will pale in comparison to his 72nd-hole club choice at Winged Foot on the list of major what-ifs.

Erin Hills was always going to be a great unknown. With its rolling fairways, long walks and fescue rough, it poses a stern test for any player, but especially one who will turn 47 on Friday and who eschewed practice rounds at The Players Championship last month in order to conserve energy.

Mickelson has long made his family a priority, including a cross-country itinerary to take in other commencement ceremonies prior to the 2013 and 2016 U.S. Opens. It’s a journey he assuredly would have signed up for this time around had Amanda’s graduation been a day earlier.

And while the big 5-0 is within sight, the list of future U.S. Open venues is one that should elicit a thumbs-up from Lefty: Shinnecock Hills next year, followed by returns to Pebble Beach, Winged Foot and Torrey Pines. All places where Mickelson has won or contended in the past.

So U.S. Open glory could still be in store for the player who has had one hand on the hardware six different times. It’s just unfortunate for golf fans that the calendars likely won’t align to afford him a chance to author another classic Mickelson performance in the coming days.

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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.