Phil Mickelson, no doubt a darling at Pinehurst and perhaps the most anticipated storyline entering the 2014 U.S. Open, appeared on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive on Friday, and among many other things in a show pretty much dedicated to all things Lefty, recalled the previous U.S. Opens at Pinehurst, including his fascinating duel with the iconic Payne Stewart in 1999.
Mickelson also elaborated about his much-discussed shortening of his 2014 schedule, how he plans to prepare for Pinehurst in an effort to finally capture the elusive U.S. Open Championship, and what it would mean to him to complete the career Grand Slam at Pinehurst.
First, a sampling of some Mickelson’s recollections of the 1999 U.S. Open, his first of six runner-up finishes in the national championship:
And, we find out, had there been a playoff, Mickelson would’ve been on an airplane:
“99 is a tournament I’ll always remember, and I’ll actually cherish, too. A lot of great things came from that event even though it was a heartbreaking loss. And one of the great things that happened was Payne Stewart winning that tournament. He played some great golf, but also having lost him four months later, it was very meaningful to have him win there. Also, the next day, at 11 o’clock in the morning, Amy’s water broke, and we would’ve been in a playoff, and I would’ve been flying back anyway. It just turned out the way it was supposed to. Hopefully I’ll be able to go back there next year and take some of that emotion and apply it to my game, play well and capture my first U.S. Open. That would be such an emotional venue and opportunity for me to finally get my first U.S. Open.”
Regarding Payne Stewart’s first magical putt – a wild double- or triple-breaker for par on 16:
“Payne’s putt was going very fast. Had it not gone in, it was going 15-20 feet by.”
Mickelson led Stewart by one at 16, but needed an up-and-down from the right side of the green to stay atop the leaderboard. His mis-hit a chip, and missed the 8-footer for par, setting the stage for the dramatic two finishing holes.
Mickelson, on that chip:
“I just eased into it a little bit. I didn’t hit it confidently and aggressively through the grass.”
Mickelson on the 2005 U.S. Open, where he struggled to a T33 finish:
“2005, I struggled there a little bit around the greens. It was very difficult around the greens chipping because it was sandy and bare. And I should’ve just putted, but sometimes I’m stubborn, and I continued to try to chip, and I really had a hard time.”
Mickelson also talked about what goes into his preparation process for a major championship:
“Trying to develop same local knowledge as I would on my home course, and know where the ball is going to go.”
Mickelson said he’d come to Pinehurst at least two or three times:
“Two or 3 separate times, with two or three rounds at each time, I would guess. A lot of it is not just playing, but it’s studying the course on where the ball wants to go, where it’s going to end up, and then hitting those shots. Half the battle is knowing where to go and where not to go. I don’t want to hit a great shot, or a good shot, to where I think is OK and not have a chance. And conversely, I don’t even want to hit a bad shot and think I have no chance and be OK. I don’t want that to happen either. I want to know what I have coming up. That gives me a chance to utilize my skills and ability to control the golf ball and miss it in the right spot.
“Winning major championships is not about hitting great shots as much as it is about missing it in the correct spot throughout most of the 72 holes.”
Mickelson has said in recent interviews he plans to scale back his schedule to better prepare for the U.S. Open. But here he said it was more about the second half of the season. Could that mean he’s looking ahead to how his body will hold up for subsequent Opens? Stay tuned:
“The first half of the season won’t be too different. I’m pretty fresh after a couple months off…I’ve played well in the first half of the year in the majors. I’ve played well in The Masters and played well in the U.S. Open. But my performance levels off and goes down a little bit as we start getting into the second half of the year…I think where the changes are going to have to take place are the second half of the year.”
And then he seems to contradict all of that in looking ahead to the Olympics. But let’s be real here – there is a lot of wiggle room in any given season to make all of this work:
“To become an Olympic athlete, especially at the age of 46, would be an incredible experience. I think that would be a great accomplishment for anyone’s career, and it’s our first opportunity as a professional golfer. In 2015, 2016, I envision myself to go pretty hard to make a push to make the Olympic team.”
See you soon, Phil. It’s a beautiful day in Pinehurst.