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U.S. Open

Phil Mickelson not sure whether he'd accept special exemption into U.S. Open at Torrey Pines

April 29, 2021

Kevin C. Cox

Phil Mickelson told ESPN that if he failed to qualify for this summer’s U.S. Open, being held at Torrey Pines in his hometown of San Diego, he’s not sure if he would accept a special exemption from the USGA into the championship.

Mickelson sits at No. 113 in the World Ranking, well outside qualifying position for the year’s third major—he’d need to be inside the top 60 either on May 27 or June 7. His other avenue into the field, apart from an exemption, would be through sectional qualifying.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know the answer to that right now,” Mickelson told ESPN after posting a two-over 73 to open the Valspar Championship on Thursday. “I’m scheduled to go through qualifying the day after the Memorial.”

The U.S. Open remains the lone major Mickelson hasn’t won—but he’s been close more times than anyone else. Lefty’s six runner-up finishes in national championship, most recently in 2013 at Merion, are the most all-time. He has not been able to replicate that success in recent years, however, as his best finish in his six U.S. Open starts since is a T-28.

In February 2020, Mickelson suggested he would not accept a special invite into that June’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, but that became a moot point when he wound up qualifying under the modified exemptions the USGA created in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when the championship was moved to September. He missed the cut that week.

Mickelson, who will turn 51 the day before this year’s U.S. Open begins, has had a somewhat frosty relationship with the USGA over the years. He has been a harsh critic of U.S. Open setups, his frustration peaking during the third round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills when he intentionally putted a moving ball on a green rather than let it run down a slope. He did, however, praise the USGA’s setup during the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and said last year at Winged Foot that “the course couldn’t be set up any better.”

The USGA does not often hand out special exemptions, and typically does so only for past champions of the event. The most recent player to receive one was two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els in 2019.

Mickelson has a terrific history at Torrey Pines, having won the PGA Tour’s Farmers Insurance Open there three times and finishing runner-up twice, and he finished T-18 on the South Course when it hosted the 2008 U.S. Open. And while Mickelson will soon move to South Florida, his high school alma mater is just eight miles away from Torrey Pines and he has called Southern California home since turning professional.

This would, then, constitute a home game. But Mickelson insists he is not swayed by such sentimentality.

“The venue doesn’t matter,” he told ESPN. “I just don’t know the answer yet.”

The five-time major winner has not won on the PGA Tour since February 2019 and does not have a top-10 finish on tour since last August.