Impossible to keep Mickelson, Pinehurst out of mind
Jeff Rude’s “Hate To Be Rude” column appears on Golfweek.com on Wednesday.
• There aren’t many golf stories that, as they say in the business, are too big to write. Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters comes to mind. But we could have another one if Phil Mickelson were to somehow win next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst.
Mickelson has placed second in the Open a record six times. He is going for the career Grand Slam. His daughter Amanda was born a day after one of those runner-up finishes, at Pinehurst in 1999, when Mickelson wore a beeper in case wife Amy went into labor. And last week Mickelson, professing innocence, was interviewed by the FBI as part of an investigation into possible insider trading.
Plus, Mickelson hasn’t been consistently sharp this year, even though he says he’s driving the ball better than ever. His last PGA Tour top 10 was in August. This from a man who has had at least six top 10s annually since 1997.
Given all that, I’d be surprised if he were to somehow pull it off at Pinehurst. But then Mickelson has made a career out of surprising us. And I’d welcome a chance to write it, for it would be his grandest achievement and golf’s most remarkable competition story since a rusty Tiger Woods won the 2008 Open on a broken leg.
• Mickelson does have a game – when on, anyway – that ideally suits an Open setup at Pinehurst. He’s long and has a terrific short game. For certain, the winner will possess the latter attribute.
• World No. 1 Adam Scott and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson each retreated on the Memorial Tournament's final nine and kicked away opportunity. Watson lived by the driver at Augusta and died by it at Muirfield Village, where he drove out of bounds at 15, made double bogey and finished a stroke out of a playoff.
Their defeats aside, I’m fairly certain they head to Pinehurst feeling good about the state of their games.
• Who will win the Open? It’s a tough call. Smart money wouldn’t bet on it. But Scott would be the pick here at this point. The World No. 1 is contending regularly and putting better than ever.
• I’m not surprised by much, but I was the other day upon learning Justin Leonard has never had a top-10 finish in 16 U.S. Opens. Two decades ago, no one would have seen that coming, given Leonard’s straight driving and terrific short game.
You may recall, when Leonard won the 1997 Open Championship at Troon, he hit no greens in regulation into the wind on the back nine of the first round. But he got up and down every time and shot even par. That ended up winning him the golf tournament.
• Memorial winner Hideki Matsuyama has hadn’t an instructor since high school, when his father stopped teaching him. But just by swinging, Matsuyama can help any recreational player learn. His tempo and rhythm, complete with a pause at the top, is one of golf’s best swings to emulate.
• One of the best U.S. Open sectional stories involved double heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton. Having struggled with endurance lately, Compton was beat after 36 holes at the Columbus, Ohio, sectional.
But then he found enough energy to get the last spot in a 5-for-3 playoff and qualified for his second major championship. He missed the cut in his first, the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
• The competitive game’s future would appear to be in good hands with the likes of Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth around. One question: Which of those two will end up with the better career?
The only sensible answer: Who knows? Here’s why: Twenty years ago, I asked a famous writer the same question regarding Mickelson and Ernie Els and he scoffed and said, “Els, of course.”
Point is, we don’t know. But it will be fun to watch the unfolding.
• Who’s the best golfer ever based on where he had to play from his drives? If we’re thinking short, Paul Runyan or Corey Pavin. If we’re talking crooked, Seve Ballesteros. If we’re going long, Woods or Mickelson.
• A friend of mine caddied for a PGA Tour winner in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier Monday. For carrying the heavy bag during what amounted to about a 13-hour workday, the local looper received $200.
That seemed a bit low to me – particularly when considering Mickelson seems to tip lemonade-stand kids that much.