Another Second for Mickelson at the U.S. Open
Left-hander now owns six silver medals after falling two strokes short at Merion
By Dave Shedloski
ARDMORE, Pa. – Phil Mickelson has no further use for moral victories.
At age 43, with four major victories and a place in the Hall of Fame, he plays for the satisfaction of accomplishment that comes with winning – and he plays for the history books.
The ultra-talented Mickelson did make history Sunday at Merion Golf Club, but not in the manner he intended. In finishing second to Justin Rose in the 113th U.S. Open, Mickelson set a record that might not be broken, in part because no one would want to break it.
Six times now Mickelson has been runner-up in the U.S. Open, extending his own record that he set in 2009 at Bethpage State Park when he came in second to Lucas Glover.
“For me, it’s very heartbreaking,” Mickelson said. “This could have been a really big turnaround for me on how I look at the U.S. Open, and the tournament that I'd like to win, after having so many good opportunities. Also, playing very well here and really loving the golf course, this week was my best opportunity, I felt, heading in, certainly the final round, the way I was playing and the position I was in.”
The 1990 U.S. Amateur champion and Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., resident began the final round with a one-stroke lead over countryman Hunter Mahan and Charl Schwartzel, of South Africa, but he was swimming against the tide of tradition at Merion. No 54-hole leader had ever gone on to lift the championship trophy in the four previous U.S. Opens contested on the East Course.
Mickelson had been in or around the lead since he opened with an inspired 3-under 67 on Thursday after flying overnight from San Diego. He had flown home on Monday night to attend the eighth-grade graduation ceremony for his oldest daughter, Amanda. He had done his homework at Merion the week before, and it showed.
But on Sunday, Father’s Day – and his birthday, no less – his putter and his precision failed him. He managed to hit 15 greens in regulation, but he needed 37 putts. His lone bright spot was a miraculous eagle from the right rough at the short par-4 10th when he holed out a wedge from 85 yards that restored his lead briefly, until Rose reeled off a pair of birdies that Mickelson couldn’t answer.
At the 13th and 15th holes, with his wedge in his hands – and who could argue that Mickelson isn’t among the most talented wedge players in the annals of golf? – he walked away with galling bogeys.
The second of those forced him to go for broke at No. 18 and try to pitch in to tie Rose, who submitted a tidy 70 to get in the house at 1-over 281. Mickelson suffered one last bogey, slipped to 74, and ended in a tie for second with Jason Day at 3-over 283.
Mickelson’s initial second-place showing came in 1999, when the late Payne Stewart beat him by a stroke at Pinehurst (N.C.) No. 2 in a memorable duel. The next day, Amanda was born. Then came the near misses in 2002, ’04 and ’06, the latter at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. when a disastrous series of strokes led to a double bogey at the 72nd hole.
But this one may hurt the worst.
“Very possibly, yeah. I would say it very well could be [the worst],” he said. “I think this was my best chance. I think that the way that I was playing heading in, the position I was in and the way I love the golf course. … But this one's probably the toughest for me, because at 43 and coming so close five times, it would have changed the way I look at this tournament altogether and the way I would have looked at my record.”
It is nevertheless an impressive record, one that also includes four other top-10s in 23 appearances.
Six silver medals. That in itself is some kind of accomplishment, a remarkable testament to resilience and resourcefulness all its own. But Mickelson was having trouble seeing it in the harsh light of a setting sun that was as much a symbol of his day’s work as it was his current place in his career.
The shadows were encroaching, and he was asked if he viewed his cumulative second places as something of an accomplishment.
“If I have a win to match, yes, I think that's probably a fair assessment,” Lefty said, giving his answer as thoughtfully as possible. “If I had won today or if I ultimately win, I'll look back at the other Opens and think that it was a positive play. If I never get the Open, then I look back and … every time I think of the U.S. Open, I just think of heartbreak.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on usopen.com.