Mickelson Looks to Conquer Pinehurst
Let’s forget for the moment about whether or not Tiger Woods will ever break the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus–which by the way I am now convinced he will not. The golf world’s eyes are now on a few hundred acres of land in North Carolina and Tiger’s arch enemy, Phil Mickelson. Michelson will tee it up Thursday morning looking to win his first U.S. Open Championship. It’s a title that Lefty has never owned but desperately wants. For most professional golfers, even the very good professional golfers, Mickelson’s career is one to be envied. With the exception of Tiger, I can’t think of another current professional who wouldn’t trade his career for Phil’s right now, no questions asked. Forty-two victories on the PGA tour are more than all but 8 golfers in history. His 5 majors include 3 Masters, a PGA Championship and last year’s British Open. A U.S. Open title would give him the career grand slam, something only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Tiger have done.
But, like most things in life, it’s the one that Phil really wants that he can’t get his hands on. He grew up wanting to hold the U.S. Open trophy over his head. Instead he’s only been able to hold his hand over his head in agony for just missing out. Mickelson has been a runner-up a record 6 times at the Open, including last year. Now he returns to Pinehurst #2, the very course where his first chance slipped through his hands. It was 1999 and Mickelson and Payne Stewart were battling in the final round. In addition to the Open Championship, Mickelson’s wife Amy was due to deliver their first child any day – lots of pressure. Stewart sank a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to win the championship and famously held Phil’s head in his hands on the green to tell him that this was but just another golf tournament, and that he was about to become a father and THAT was an accomplishment.
Due to that history and the fact that the Open is back at Pinehurst, Phil is itching to put his name on the trophy. It’s a story line that more than fills the gap left by no Tiger Woods in another major. Mickelson will never be the equal of Tiger in terms of wins or majors or ranking but the fans love him. Unlike Tiger’s steely glare, Phil smiles often during rounds, signs golf balls for fans, pats babies on the back and generally appears to be enjoying himself. That’s why so many fans will be pulling for him this weekend. Well, that and a nice little promotion from Callaway Golf which will give a lucky winner the same check as Phil earns. First place, 5th place, 50th place, it doesn’t matter, the winner gets what Phil wins. Talk about getting another few million fans who otherwise could care less about Phil cheering wildly for him.
One more thing about Phil’s burning desire to win at Pinehurst – he’s going with the claw grip on his putts. It’s a style he’s used before but not anytime recently, that’s how badly he wants to win this weekend. He’ll do whatever he has to do and the world, including Tiger, will be watching to see if he can join a very select group. Something tells me the ghost of Payne Stewart just might be giving him a little boost in that final round.