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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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''



Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.  

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Spieth 'blacked out' after Travelers holeout

By Will GrayJune 19, 2018, 9:44 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – It was perhaps the most-replayed shot (and celebration) of the year.

Jordan Spieth’s bunker holeout to win the Travelers Championship last year in a playoff over Daniel Berger nearly broke the Internet, as fans relived that raucous chest bump between Spieth and caddie Michael Greller after Spieth threw his wedge and Greller threw his rake.

Back in Connecticut to defend his title, Spieth admitted that he has watched replays of the scene dozens of times – even if, in the heat of the moment, he wasn’t exactly choreographing every move.


Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Just that celebration in general, I blacked out,” Spieth said. “It drops and you just react. For me, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve been able to celebrate or react on a 72nd, 73rd hole, 74th hole, whatever it may be, and it just shows how much it means to us.”

Spieth and Greller’s celebration was so memorable that tournament officials later shipped the rake to Greller as a keepsake. It’s a memory that still draws a smile from the defending champ, whose split-second decision to go for a chest bump over another form of celebration provided an appropriate cap to a high-energy sequence of events.

“There’s been a lot of pretty bad celebrations on the PGA Tour. There’s been a lot of missed high-fives,” Spieth said. “I’ve been part of plenty of them. Pretty hard to miss when I’m going into Michael for a chest bump.”

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Pregnant Lewis playing final events before break

By Randall MellJune 19, 2018, 9:27 pm

Stacy Lewis will be looking to make the most of her last three starts of 2018 in her annual return to her collegiate roots this week.

Lewis, due to give birth to her first child on Nov. 3, will tee it up in Friday’s start to the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers, Arkansas. She won the NCAA individual women’s national title in 2007 while playing at the University of Arkansas. She is planning to play the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship next week and then the Marathon Classic two weeks after that before taking the rest of the year off to get ready for her baby’s arrival.

Lewis, 33, said she is beginning to feel the effects of being with child.

“Things have definitely gotten harder, I would say, over the last week or so, the heat of the summer and all that,” Lewis said Tuesday. “I'm actually excited. I'm looking forward to the break and being able to decorate the baby's room and do all that kind of stuff and to be a mom - just super excited.”

Lewis says she is managing her energy levels, but she is eager to compete.

“Taking a few more naps and resting a little bit more,” she said. “Other than that, the game's been pretty good.”

Lewis won the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship in 2014, and she was credited with an unofficial title in ’07, while still a senior at Arkansas. That event was reduced to 18 holes because of multiple rain delays. Lewis is a popular alumni still actively involved with the university.