2020 U.S. Open: Phil Mickelson returns to Winged Foot, the course that stole his career slam

Phil Mickelson infamously failed to win the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, and though it will not be as dramatic this time around, it’s unlikely that Lefty will claim the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, either. Though it’s enticing and exciting to think about Lefty potentially completing the career grand slam on the same course that delivered maybe his most crushing defeat — he went to the 72nd hole in 2006 needing par to win and found double bogey — reality is not on Mickelson’s side.

That 2006 U.S. Open was the full Mickelson Experience. He hit two fairways on Sunday and still went to the last needing a 4 for the trophy. You likely know the rest. Off the hospitality tent, off a tree, into a bunker, into the rough and that’s how you make a 6 to lose. You could replay his “I am such an idiot” quote after any number of moments in his storied (but often wild) career. But that moment was likely the most apropos.

This year is different in pretty much every way, though. That year, he went in having won the last two majors. This year, he goes in not having emerging victorious at one since 2013. That year, he was in the middle of his prime. This year, he’s more recently a PGA Tour Champions winner than a PGA Tour winner. Even Lefty himself — normally full to the brim with bravado and delight — sounds resigned to the fact that his six runners up at this major championship will be the closest he ever gets.

“Look, I’m 50. My career is what it is,” he told reporters earlier this week. “I look at now as a bonus. Any win — a tour win, a major — they’re bonus wins. It’s fun for me to be able to compete and play in this event. It’s fun for me to come back after ’06. It’s a fun opportunity for me to try to add a bonus to my career. That’s kind of how I’m looking at it.”

That sounds less like somebody who is 80-1 to win the tournament and more like somebody who is 800-1. 

The reality here is tough to swallow for those hoping for one final “rabbit out of hat” moment from one of the great magicians of all time.

Mickelson has not finished in the top 25 at a U.S. Open in six years. He has not finished in the top 10 at any major since 2016. He has not been in the top 75 on the PGA Tour over the last two seasons in strokes gained. He hit 12 fairways last week at the Safeway Open. He is 50. He narrowly got into this field after the COVID-19 pandemic expanded the net for automatic qualifiers. 

During the PGA Championship earlier this year, I heard one golf broadcaster firmly say that he believes Mickelson is going to win the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. While this would be the most redemptive outcome in the history of the sport — a slimmed-down Phil hitting iron on No. 18 to assuage his past and grab the slam — it is only slightly more likely than Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods and Collin Morikawa riding a three-humped unicorn to the first tee on Thursday morning.

I believe Mickelson has one final major run in him, likely at Augusta National and likely in the next 3-4 years. I really believe that is something that’s going to happen, and I hope it does. With where Mickelson’s game is at right now, though, it’s not going to happen at Winged Foot nor at a U.S. Open and especially not at a U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Those last six strokes Lefty took in 2006 were among the most meaningful of a career full of success and failure, and based on all the evidence we have about his trajectory and current game, they will remain the last six meaningful strokes he ever takes at this iconic course.


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