Originally Published: June 13, 2018 noon
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — Phil Mickelson is running out of time.
Mickelson doesn’t need to be reminded that this is his 27th appearance in the U.S. Open, more than any of the 156 players at Shinnecock Hills. He wouldn’t want to be reminded that 65 players — including the last four major champions — were not even born when Mickelson was low amateur in his first U.S. Open in 1990 at Medinah.
“I just can’t believe that time has flown by so fast,” he said Monday.
The desire hasn’t changed, only the emphasis.
Mickelson didn’t win a major until he was 33 and in his 12th full year on the PGA Tour. Back then, any major would have sufficed. A year after he won the 2004 Masters, he added a PGA Championship. And then in 2013 at Muirfield, he surprised even himself by capturing the British Open.
One to go for the career Grand Slam, the one that has vexed him the most.
He has more runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open than the other three majors combined. So when Mickelson was asked if he had unfinished business at Shinnecock Hills, he paused briefly before delivering an obvious answer.
“I can say that a few times in this tournament,” he said.
It helps that Mickelson has a strong history at Shinnecock Hills, which he refers to as one of his favorite courses.
He had a one-shot lead with two holes to play in 2004 when Retief Goosen made a 12-foot birdie putt in the group behind him on the par-5 16th, and then Mickelson put his tee shot in the bunker on the par-3 17th, blasted out to 5 feet and took all the air out of the Hamptons when he three-putted for double bogey.
In his first U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1995, he was one shot out of the lead going into the final round, closed with a 74 and finished four shots behind. More than a tough final round was playing the par-5 16th hole in 6 over for the week.
“If I played that hole even, I could have won,” Mickelson said.
This is not a time for Mickelson, who turns 48 on Saturday, to be looking behind.
He doesn’t want to look forward, either.
Never mind that Mickelson has played well on the next three U.S. Open courses — Shinnecock Hills, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot. Or that with a victory earlier this year at the Mexico Championship that his confidence level is higher than the four previous years when he didn’t win at all.
Mickelson only cares about posting a score in the opening round Thursday that will keep him in the mix, and then repeating the process Friday. It’s a message he delivered on four separate occasions during his interviews.
“These three (courses) provide me a great opportunity to finish out this final leg,” he said. “Certainly, with the way I’ve been playing this year and at the consistent level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years, it gives me a great opportunity. But the last thing I’m thinking about right now is trying to win. I’m trying to get myself in position for the weekend. Because when you try to go out and win a U.S. Open, you will lose it quick.”
Asked if he had ever tried to win a U.S. Open on Thursday, he replied, “Yes, and I was home Friday night.”
Mickelson hasn’t had a chance since his sixth runner-up finish in 2013 at Merion, where he twice made bogey with a wedge in his hand over the last six holes. This is the longest stretch — three U.S. Opens — that he has failed to even feature on the weekend. The oldest player to win the U.S. Open was Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he won at Medinah in 1990 — Mickelson’s first major.
“That’s the marvelous thing about Phil Mickelson. You don’t put anything beyond his talents,” said David Duval, who has competed against Mickelson since college.
In the last few weeks, Mickelson has said he doesn’t want to get too wrapped up in how the golf course sets up, other than he think it’s the best ever for a U.S. Open. The fairways are slightly wider, which should help. Most of the rough around the green has been shaved down, playing to another of his strength because he has such a wide variety of short-game shots instead of just hacking out of thick grass.
“I feel as though the luck of a courses has been taken out as much as possible to where skill is the primary factor,” Mickelson said. “I think we’re going to have a great leaderboard and a great tournament.”
All he cares about is being part of that leaderboard on the weekend, and then take his chances from there.