A confident Phil Mickelson heads off to his last best chance at U.S. Open glory
Chambers Bay's contours seem to follow the meandering track of Phil Mickelson's career, capriciously veering this way and that. Maybe that's why he deems it a comfortable fit.
Compatibility also might explain why this U.S. Open has something of a last call feel to it for Mickelson, six times an Open runner-up, who will turn 45 on Tuesday. If he is to complete a career grand slam, this Open at Chambers Bay represents his last best chance.
Age is working against him. The oldest ever to win the Open was Hale Irwin, at 45 years, 15 days. Mickelson, should he succeed next Sunday, would be 45 years, 10 days. That fairway is narrowing quickly.
Yet Mickelson has reason for optimism, not least the fact that he finished second in the last two major championships, last August in the PGA Championship at Valhalla and in April in the Masters at Augusta.
Then there's his confidence in the wake of a final-round 65 in the FedEx St. Jude Classic on Sunday. It showed his game rounding into form as he heads off to a course that he likes and one that will look more favorably on those, like Mickelson, with imagination and short-game magic.
"I really like the golf course," he said. Mickelson recently spent time there with short-game coach Dave Pelz in tow. "What [USGA Executive Director] Mike Davis said is really true. If you're going to be ready for this tournament it takes a lot more time to learn the golf than just a couple of days. And if you're having to use Monday through Wednesday to do that you're not putting that effort into your own game. I'm pleased that I've developed kind of a game plan for each hole and how I'm going to get to certain pins.
"It's a special course in that there's a lot of different ways to play shots to a lot of different pins. If you play the highest percentage shot it's not a hard golf course. But if you don't know what that shot is and you play the wrong one, there's a lot of penalty there."
A good attitude is a 15th club on Open courses and is more important than many of the other 14. Some in the field already seem to be surrendering to early negative reaction. Those prepared to accept the bad bounces and embrace the good ones will have an advantage.
"The attitude that Phil Mickelson has is the right attitude to take," Fox analyst Greg Norman said a few days ago. "You have to go in with no white noise going through your head saying, I don't like this course because I don't know how to play it.'"
Mickelson is confident in the quality of his homework. He will spend Monday at home in San Diego practicing the shots he deems necessary for Chambers Bay, then will head to the Northwest on Monday night, ready to start a week he hopes will punctuate his career with that elusive exclamation point that has frustratingly eluded him, a U.S. Open trophy.