All-World Nice

By Rex HoggardMay 20, 2009, 4:00 pm
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The 109th U.S. Open just became a bit less interesting. Not because Phil Mickelson, the worlds second-ranked player and the beaming bridesmaid the last time the Open was played on the most blue-collar of all major ball parks, probably wont make the trip to Long Island.
 
No, the national marathon lost a bit of its luster on Wednesday because Amy Mickelson, the circuits eternally beaming bride, probably wont attend Bethpages Black Course for next months championship.
 
Amy and Phil Mickelson
Amy and Phil Mickelson at the 2008 Ryder Cup in Louisville. (Getty Images)
A pall settled in over the practice range at this weeks Byron Nelson Championship on Wednesday as news spread that Amy Mickelson has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
 
More tests are scheduled, but according to Phil Mickelsons management firm, the treatment process is expected to begin with major surgery, possibly within the next two weeks.
 
Mickelson, who was in the field for this weeks Byron Nelson and next week at Colonial, has suspended his Tour schedule indefinitely, a blow to any marquee, particularly a U.S. Open at Bethpage. But thats not why the national championship lost some of its shine.
 
Amy Mickelson has never hit a golf shot that mattered, never lost a major championship with a meltdown on the 72nd hole or won a minor outing with a miracle at the last. But she has always been there. For most of her husband's 36 victories and a good number of his 358 losses.
 
Shes a Tour staple, like scoreboards and surly caddies. Amy Mickelson, 37, is always there with a friendly smile and a kind word, no matter how deep the rough or high her husbands scores.
 
Some Tour players are defined by their score for the day, but the former Phoenix Suns cheerleader is immune to it all. She proved to always be above the psychology of a game that can drag down even the most free spirits, and thats why the Open took a hit.
 
Phil Mickelsons name may not end up on the Open marquee, but it will be Amy Mickelsons mug in the gallery that will be missed the most. The harsh reality of the real world always trumps golfs contrived between-the-ropes existence, no matter the major or the moment.
 
It happened in 1999 when Amy Mickelson ' who met Phil in 1992 when he was a senior at Arizona State ' was back home in California expecting the couples first child, a girl they would name Amanda, and Phil was vying for his first major at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst. Mickelson carried a beeper and said hed walk off the Donald Ross gem if called. Real world 1, golf 0.
 
Simply put, family and health and happiness have a way of putting a game, even a game as great as golf, in its place, particularly when the volume is turned up at a major championship.
 
No, the U.S. Open ' and every event that will be played until Amy Mickelsons return ' will lose a step because one of the circuits genuine gems is locked in a battle much more important than Grand Slam hardware.
 
Its a telling sign that one of the first statements released on a gloomy Orlando, Fla., afternoon came from Tiger Woods. Mickelsons spoiler the last time the U.S. Open was played at Bethpage and a regular Lefty antagonist was quick to offer the family his support.
 
Elin and I are deeply saddened to hear the news about Amy, Woods said. Our thoughts and prayers are with her, Phil, the children and the entire Mickelson family.
 
The Tour is filled with good people ' which is why covering golf is so much better than baseball or basketball ' but Amy Mickelson is all-world nice. The neighbor you always say hello, to, or the office worker you want to have lunch with, and Wednesdays news falls under the bad things happening to good people, banner.
 
During one of those scorching afternoons at The Players, we spotted Amy Mickelson behind the clubhouse. We exchanged hurried greetings before she paused to ask about my children.
 
As I raced on toward the 18th hole I couldnt remember where or when Id mentioned my three little tax deductions to Mickelson, and on Wednesday it really didnt matter. All that mattered was that shed remembered and taken the time to ask. Its why Amy Mickelson is special. Its why the U.S. Open just became a bit less interesting.
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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

“You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

“He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

“I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

“I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

“I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.