PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – This should have been Phil Mickelson’s chance to crown a legendary career and vault himself into a select group of greats.
The boxes he would have checked this week would have been epic.
His first U.S. Open win after six seconds.
At the place where he has a family connection via his late grandfather, who caddied here.
On a course he loves.
On his 49th birthday.
But when Mickelson recently claimed the USGA has only been saved by rain when setting up courses, he signaled to the Golf Gods that he learned nothing from his Shinnecock Hills dramatics last year.
“I’ve played, what, 29 U.S. Opens,” Mickelson said at the Memorial. “One hundred percent of the time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain. Rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. If they don’t have a governor, they don’t know how to control themselves.”
Paging Dr. Freud.
While the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach has been a joyous affair where top players have quietly been going about their business perfecting their games and complimenting the USGA’s setup, a cloud hangs over a player who should be the unequivocal top story. Yet Mickelson set the tone for his return after his Pro-Am win in February with silly comments on top of his even sillier behavior at the 2018 U.S. Open.
Mickelson stayed away from the media center as he tends to do these days, a wise move given that he is unable to control himself when it comes to his rage for the USGA.
That’s not to say his beef is illegitimate.
A few of his second-place finishes were influenced by questionable course setups. The emotions appear easily ignited by the most harmless questions. But if the five-time major winner wanted to capture this U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as the ultimate career capper to vault his name into another stratosphere, an underlying frustration with the blue blazers has gotten the best of him.
There is a one-hundred percent chance Phil Mickelson will not win the 2019 U.S. Open.
Too bad. It would have been so enjoyable for the sports world to see his name added to the list of winners at Pebble Beach and to watch Mickelson hoist the U.S. Open trophy on his 49th birthday.
But after hearing Brooks Koepka’s assessment of player whining Tuesday, it’s easy to see how Mickelson’s attitude will not produce a victory on a course set up with old-style U.S. Open touches, yet still carrying some of the best touches from the Mike Davis era.
“I guess the only reason they’re complaining – I mean, everybody has got to play the same golf course,” the defending champion said. “So it really doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t make a difference if you put it in the fairway and you hit every green, there’s really no problem, is there?
“So obviously they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. So they’re not playing good enough. If they put it in the fairway, you shouldn’t have to complain about the rough. You hit the greens and you hit it close, you shouldn’t have to complain about the greens.”
Then Koepka drove the point home, maybe with Mickelson’s remarks in mind.
“Nobody wants to hear anybody’s excuse,” he said. “I find it annoying even when I play with guys, and they’re dropping clubs or throwing them or complaining, like telling me how bad the golf course is or how bad this is. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me. It’s just something we’ve all got to deal with. If you play good enough, you shouldn’t have a problem.”
Mickelson’s problem is that he is good enough to win this U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Good enough to know after so many years in the game and so much hard work to remain relevant at an age most players are dreaming of senior tour glory, that he’s the last person who should be blasting the USGA after getting penalized last year and rising to Bob Menery, ripper magoo, mocked-status.
But Mickelson showed his hand a few weeks ago. Grudges over past slights have gotten the best of him. What a shame. It would have been 100 percent fun to see him win at Pebble Beach.