Column: Mickelson gives US Open the silent treatment
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. (AP) — Phil Mickelson almost won the U.S. Open once while wearing a beeper — yes, a beeper — in case he had to be summoned for the birth of his daughter. He skipped another one because the same daughter was graduating from high school.
If it seems like Mickelson has been chasing Open titles almost as long as the USGA has been putting the tournament on, well, it’s not that much of a stretch. This is his 27th Open, and his third at Shinnecock Hills, where the first time he played was so long ago the winner hit a 4-wood made out of real wood on the 18th hole to capture the championship.
The way he played Thursday, this Open isn’t going to end much better for Mickelson than any of the others.
His opening round left him speechless — at least publicly. The player who loves to gab almost as much as he likes to play golf walked off Shinnecock Hills without a comment after shooting a fat 7-over 77 that badly damaged — if not eliminated — any chance he has of finally breaking through in the one tournament that has vexed him throughout his career.
There was nothing said about putts that wouldn’t drop, and there were plenty of them. No talk about bad breaks like the ball plugging in the side of a bunker on the sixth hole that cost him another bogey.
Nothing about his strategy of leaving the driver in the bag and hitting shots sometimes 30 to 40 yards behind his playing partners.
And for what might be the first time ever, Mickelson didn’t even compliment New York fans for their appreciation of golf.
Not that it really mattered. What can you really say about kicking another Open away before half the field even had a chance to tee off?
That’s pretty much what Mickelson did, as his long, somewhat strange relationship with the national championship continued in the warm sunshine of an early summer day on Long Island. His strategy was suspect, his short game shaky and he didn’t even come close to sniffing a birdie until his 14th hole.
About the only positive he could take out of it was he beat playing partners Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth as what seemed like a dream pairing turned into a nightmare for three of the world’s best players.
“It was just blah,” said Spieth, the only member of the threesome to comment. “It wasn’t fun.”
It didn’t look like much fun as the threesome made its way around a big golf course where the wind always seemed to come sideways and the pins were perched in precarious positions on a lot of elevated greens. There wasn’t much conversation among the three, which is hardly surprising on a day when they combined to shoot an astonishing 25-over-par in just one 18-hole round.
The large crowds that came to cheer them on politely clapped for the occasional par, and urged them on. But every hole seemed to contain unseen dangers as the wind blew and Shinnecock Hills played slippery and fast.
For Spieth and McIlroy, it was a disastrous start with respective rounds of 78 and 80. But they’ve already won an Open and are young enough to have a lot of chances to win more in the future.
Mickelson, meanwhile, is now 47 and his chances are running out. He’s finished second six different times in the Open, coming agonizingly close several times, including the last time it was held here, in 2004, when he held a lead on the back nine only to three-putt from 5 feet on the 17th hole to throw away his best chance.
Unless he can somehow find a way — and soon — to complete the career Grand Slam in the Open, his legacy in the national championship will end up being one of failure and heartbreak.
That probably wasn’t on Mickelson’s mind as he left Shinnecock Hills in the early afternoon, though his silence made it difficult to interpret too much. His immediate thoughts need to go into making the cut, and that will be an uphill task while playing in the afternoon on Friday, when conditions tend to be tougher.
The love-hate relationship Mickelson has with the Open continues.
The best he can hope now is that it continues at least through the weekend at Shinnecock HIlls.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg