Sobel: Phil Mickelson’s 4-Year U.S. Open Window

The Highlights

  • This week represents Phil Mickelson’s best chance at capturing his first U.S. Open title.
  • Even if Phil doesn’t complete the career slam this week, he should still be in the mix over the next three years as they are scheduled at courses he knows very well.

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – This week represents Phil Mickelson’s next, best, if not fleeting chance at finally capturing a U.S. Open title to complete the career grand slam.

The ubiquitous lefthander turns 48 this Saturday, and if that wasn’t enough to make him contemplate his legacy, then maybe that comes with a 27th career appearance in this event, more than anyone else in the field, just a year after skipping one to attend his oldest daughter’s high school graduation.

“I remember playing my first one at Medinah [in] 1990,” the six-time runner-up said Monday afternoon. “Gosh, I just can’t believe the time has flown by so fast.”

It’s funny he mentioned that specific event. Mickelson is on the verge of becoming three years older than the current oldest U.S. Open champion, Hale Irwin, who won at the age of 45 the same year Mickelson made his tournament debut.

No player over 48 has ever won a major championship, which means Mickelson owns a chance to become the game’s ultimate outlier. Mickelson insists his long swing has prevented injuries through the years and believes he’ll remain competitive even on the other side of 50.

 

Of course, there are also the venues.

Mickelson couldn’t have handpicked upcoming U.S. Open sites any better, courses that should give him at least cause for optimism this week and beyond.

“These [next] three provide me a great opportunity to finish out this final leg,” he explained. “Certainly, with the way I’ve been playing this year — and at the consistency level, as well as at a much higher level than I’ve played the last few years — gives me a great opportunity.”

Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot and Pebble Beach — with Torrey Pines following that triumvirate — should have him believing he can still win an elusive U.S. Open title for the next four years.

Let’s break down his chances and history at each of ‘em:

2018 U.S. Open

Course: Shinnecock Hills
Best U.S. Open finish here: 2nd (2004)

Fresh off his first victory in nearly five years, Mickelson has looked rejuvenated so far this season. He’s finished 13th or better in three of his last four starts, including a T-12 in Memphis this past weekend. Always the tinkerer, he’s still trying to make small improvements to his U.S. Open strategy. No, there won’t be two drivers or no driver or five wedges this week; instead, the tinkering is about his mind-set. He explained that he simply wants to keep himself in the tournament during Thursday’s opening round, which could mean a more conservative approach than in years past. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” he said, “and I don’t want to start thinking about results.”

2019 U.S. Open

Course: Pebble Beach
Best U.S. Open finish here: T-4 (2010)

He hasn’t come as close in two U.S. Open appearances here as he has at other venues, but that doesn’t mean Mickelson doesn’t own plenty of history on this vaunted track. He’s won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on four separate occasions, in years ranging from 1998 to 2005 to 2007 to 2012. All of which means he should own plenty of strong West Coast vibes when he arrives on site next year in an attempt to become the oldest player to ever win a major championship.

2020 U.S. Open

Course: Winged Foot
Best U.S. Open finish here: T-2 (2006)

We can debate which of Mickelson’s half-dozen runner-up finishes in this tournament was the most spectacularly devastating, but the 2006 failure might’ve left he biggest mark. After spending nearly the entirety of his final round at Winged Foot missing fairways off the tee — he hit only two of the first 13 — Mickelson pushed a drive on the final hole off the roof of a corporate hospitality tent, then compounded the mistake by trying to go for the green and hitting into a tree, eventually making double-bogey to lose by a stroke. He could exact his revenge in two years on a course that should still suit his game.

 

2021 U.S. Open

Course: Torrey Pines South
Best U.S. Open finish here: T-18 (2008)

Just like at Pebble Beach, Mickelson’s history at Torrey is less about the U.S. Open and more about his record at the regular-season PGA Tour event at the same venue. It’s been 17 years since his last of three victories here, which might be a byproduct of getting Tiger Woods-ed on this course more often than anyone. Mickelson also owns a pair of runner-up finishes in addition to those three wins, but it won’t just be his past history or the fact that it’s in his hometown that will provide his major motivation that week. He’ll turn 51 during the 2021 U.S. Open, and while the window of opportunity won’t yet be closed, it will be getting much tighter in subsequent years.

Credit:

Jasen Vinlove