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For Phil Mickelson and the US Open, there may not be a perfect ending

For Phil Mickelson and the US Open, there may not be a perfect ending
For Phil Mickelson and the US Open, there may not be a perfect ending

 


By: Michael Bamberger June 12, 2024

Phil Mickelson at the 2006 US Open, one of his many close calls.

New York Daily News Archive via Getty Images

In Phil Studies, students talk about the four stages of Phil: Prodigy Phil, Aw-Shucks Phil, Bad-Ass Phil, and where he is now.

The prodigy Phil was all dimples and promise. This Phil was a mega-talent, the low amateur of the 1990 and 1991 US Opens and the winner of the 90 US Amateur between them. USGA old-timers had never seen anything like it, all that Californian charm and magic of left-handed flop shots. He was a USGA darling.

As a pro, he transformed into Aw-Shucks Phil. Phil at the 1999 US Open at Pinehurst, when he was runner-up to Payne Stewart, with Phil and Amy watching. Phil at the 2002 US Open in Bethpage, when he was runner-up to Tiger, at a time when almost no one could beat Tiger, but Phil tried the Lefty! Phil at the 2004 US Open at Shinnecock Hills, when he was runner-up to Retief Goosen and could not be moved to criticize the greens without grass. Phil at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, when, after finishing in a three-way tie for second, he appeared at the awards ceremony, while fellow silver finalists Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie did explode their performance. Phil at the 2009 US Open in Bethpage, when Phil was runner-up to Lucas Glover but offered a boost to anyone who looked his way. New York loved it and sent out this message: One day.

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And then came a sixth second, in 2013, at the US Open at Merion, and the emergence of Bad-Ass Phil. This Phil got into an argument with Mike Davis of the USGA over the course layout, during the fateful fourth round. This Phil declined the USGA's invitation to accept its highest honor, the Bob Jones Award. This Phil was in the World Golf Hall of Fame, but his days as an established golfer were over.

It was Bad-Ass Phil who won the British Open at Muirfield, a month after Merion, and one of his messages was a dig at the USGA: A world-class course should never be rigged. It was BAP who took over the CBS broadcast of the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park for one of the most entertaining hours in televised golf history, making fun of Sir Nick, telling jokes, stealing the show. It was BAP that won the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah. He was 50 and ripped and he beat Brooks Koepka on Sunday without ever taking off his sunglasses or his gum. It was BAP who traveled to LIV, recklessly attacking the Saudi billionaires who paid him so handsomely along the way. BAP disdained the USGA's attempt to slow down the golf ball and was vulgar in its analysis of the USGA's decision not to offer Phils LIV Golf teammate Talor Gooch a spot on the golf course. last year's US Open.

But that was then and is now. Mickelson turns 54 on Sunday this year at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and his golf, by his standards he finished 43rd at Augusta, has been mediocre. If he plays golf on the weekend at the US Open, that would be an accomplishment. Phil himself has been saying for a while now that his chances of one day winning the US Open have faded, but it's not for lack of effort. The birth of Acceptance Phil.

Phil begins to conclude here, in the narrow domain of his national championship. He's in the mix for next year, via winning the PGA in 2021, and he could try to qualify for the Open in 2026 and beyond, but it's hard to see him doing that. The USGA could offer Phil a starting exemption, but Phil is unlikely to accept it. The divide in the USGA-Mickelson relationship runs deep. What a shame. Phil Mickelson was one of the monumental figures in USGA history. They need advice.

Phil Mickelson has won the Masters three times, the PGA Championship twice and the British Open once. Like Sam Snead before him, there will probably always be a US Open before the career Grand Slam. Phil knows the score: six seconds, no victory, and this summary will stay with him forever. It's confusing but also melancholy beautiful. Isn’t there something sad and beautiful about not having it all?

Michael Bamberger Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as a senior editor for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a journalist, first for (Martha's) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written various books on golf and other subjects, the most recent being The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in several editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a US patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he received the Donald Ross Award from the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization's highest honor.

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