Will U.S. Open spotlight be too harsh for Mickelson?

By Randall MellJune 5, 2014, 9:37 pm

Phil Mickelson sets off next week to climb the last great mountain of his career with an awful lot of extra baggage to carry.

He will arrive at Pinehurst No. 2 with the weight of more than history pressing down on him in his bid to finally win the U.S. Open and become just the sixth player to complete professional golf’s career Grand Slam.

At least that’s what it looks like to some of the game’s top analysts.

There’s the weight of an FBI/Securities Exchange Commission investigation hanging over Mickelson. There’s the weight of sluggish form, an aging body and heightened scrutiny to contend with as he plays one of the most demanding championships in the game.

“I personally don’t think it’s good for him on any level,” said Paul Azinger, the 1993 PGA Championship winner and former U.S. Ryder Cup captain who will serve as an analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the U.S. Open. “If you look at Mickelson's career, when the focus has ever really, truly been on Phil, he has always struggled. When he's trying to win the U.S. Open, or when he's trying to become No. 1 in the world, or whatever it is, it's always been difficult for him.

“When he's spotlighted, it seems to never go completely like he wants, or like it's expected. When he kind of slips in under the radar, things are always better.”

Then again, Azinger will tell you Mickelson holds a trump card you can never discount him playing.


Photos: Phil Mickelson through the years


Mickelson’s confidence has impressed Azinger from the day they first met.

“I'll just remind you of this, when Mickelson had not won a major, I remember him saying, `It's not whether I win a major, it's how many am I going to win.’

“I think the fact that he's taking this head on just fits his personality. Embracing it is one of those things that he does.”

Mickelson will be the big story at Pinehurst No. 2 for so many reasons.

There is his history there. He got beat by Payne Stewart with a putt at the final hole when Stewart won the U.S. Open in 1999. Stewart’s victory was made more poignant when he clasped a young Mickelson’s face between his hands and encouraged Mickelson that his time would come in the championship, and that he should relish fatherhood with the imminent arrival of Mickelson’s first child. Stewart would die four months later in a plane crash.

There is Mickelson’s overall history in the U.S. Open. Six times he finished second in the championship, more than anyone who ever played the game.

There is the fact that Mickelson will turn 44 on the Monday after the U.S. Open is scheduled to finish, and there is this feeling that time is beginning to run out in his quest, with his form not there to take advantage of his chance next week. For the first time in more than a decade, Mickelson arrives for a U.S. Open without a win for the year. He doesn’t even have a top-10 finish in a PGA Tour event this year.

“The way he’s been putting, he’s got no chance,” NBC analyst Johnny Miller said.

There is also the uncertainty of where the federal investigation into possible insider trading will go, even with Mickelson making assurances that he has done nothing wrong.

“I don't know if he's going to struggle,” says Curtis Strange, the two-time U.S. Open winner and ESPN analyst. “He could certainly contend, but I don't see him hitting on all cylinders well enough to win. That's because he hasn't been playing well, and this is on top of him. I don't care if he's innocent, and I really believe he probably is, but it's still weighing on top of you. It’s in the press and you see it every day. It's not good timing for Phil Mickelson.”

Miller says he probably won’t talk much about the federal investigation when he is on the air calling the U.S. Open for NBC, because he’s uncomfortable not knowing the facts. He sees other problems, though, challenging Mickelson.

There’s an erratic putter in Mickelson’s way, a problem going into a championship where so many par-saving putts are required to win.

“It’s the short putts that are haunting him,” Miller said. “Seems like he's really worried about those little short putts.

“He's got to, somehow, with [Dave] Stockton or [Dave] Pelz, come up with a different putter, or a different technique, that makes him feel like he has found the Holy Grail, so to speak, if he's going to have a chance to win at Pinehurst.”

Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee isn’t discounting Mickelson being able to summon something special.

“I almost get the impression that Phil's interest is waning in regular Tour events, unless he's in the hunt, late on Sunday, or it's a major championship,” Chamblee said. “I think Phil has done just about everything there is to do in the game of golf. He could not  hardly, in the Tiger woods era, have asked for any more success.

“The one thing left for him is to win the U.S. Open, and add to his major tally. With the distractions coming into this U.S. Open, who knows what's going to happen, but Phil has been incredibly resilient to distractions throughout his career, of every sort. It would not surprise me if Phil showed up and dazzled us for four days.”

Nobody should be surprised if Mickelson’s carrying a surprise in all that baggage he’s taking to Pinehurst No. 2. He does, after all, thrive on surprising folks with his ability to win from tough spots.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

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Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

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5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello