Ten years after his U.S. Open collapse, Phil Mickelson will head to difficult Oakmont Country Club in an attempt to capture his first Open victory.
Phil Mickelson stared down the 18th fairway of Winged Foot Golf Club poised to capture his first career U.S. Open victory. One hole from escaping a near impossible course with a win over an up-shot Geoff Ogilvy, Mickelson might have had been thinking about his double bogey two years earlier on the 71st hole to hand Retief Goosen the U.S. Open Trophy.
But 2006 was Mickelson’s year to join Tiger Woods as a golfing giant. A win at the hollowed grounds of Winged Foot would propel Mickelson to the British Open with a chance to win all four majors within two years.
As irony would have it, the aptly named “Revelations Hole” at Winged Foot West would bring Mickelson’s U.S. Open tournament to an abrupt end. (See 1:53)
Ten years later, Lefty is still waiting for his first U.S. Open victory. Will 2016 finally be the year Mickelson joins Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Woods as the only players to complete the career Grand Slam by winning all four majors?
For the second year in a row, a golf course is rivaling its players for media attention. Unlike the spectacular failures of the newly constructed Chambers Bay, every square inch of Oakmont Country Club was purposely designed to make an afternoon out on the lynx a living hell.
Oakmont plays a very mean, unrelenting, and unforgiving 7,219 yards. Angel Cabrera shot +5 to win at the course in 2007. Of the four courses that have hosted or will soon host a major championship this year, Oakmont Country Club poses the greatest sand trap risk.
The Henry Fownes-designed course has 210 bunkers, 70 more than second place Baltusrol. Undoubtedly, its most infamous array of bunkers, the Church Pews bunkers, span 400 square yards of the third and fourth hole.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth on visiting Oakmont in May ahead of the major championship had these words:
“I know that Oakmont is in the rotation and I know that if you win a U.S. Open at Oakmont, you can go ahead and say that you’ve conquered the hardest test in all of golf, because this is arguably the hardest course in America day-to-day,” (GolfDigest.com).
Mickelson By The Numbers
It is difficult to say whether Mickelson is past his prime. His 2016 season statistics may serve to favor this notion. He has already missed four cuts in just 13 starts this season. He had not missed more than three cuts ranging back to 2008 before falling out at last month’s Players Championship. Mickelson’s season statistics paint a picture of inconsistency.
Off the tee, Mickelson is still a heavy hitter, averaging over 295 yards per drive. Yet all of the power behind his 115 mile-per-hour club-head speed is not enough to keep Mickelson from the rough nearly 45% of the time. Some of those can land you in difficult positions.
The most alarming and perhaps definitive reason for Mickelson’s inability to win in 2016 may lie in his second round. His scoring averages and respective rankings for each round are as follows:
Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4
69.59 (14th) 71.33 (125th) 69.13 (7th) 69.75 (14th)
Why does Mickelson struggle so mightily on Fridays? Obviously, his putting average spikes up in round two, resulting in a missed cut roughly every three tournaments. Can Mickelson overcome a predictably unimpressive Friday at the U.S. Open to contend for his first Open Victory?
Mickelson’s Keys To Success
For a golfer who hits the fairway on just over half of his drives, Mickelson will find Oakmont’s 210 bunkers routinely. After all, Oakmont boasts some of golf’s most narrow fairways, and even on the 24-yard-wide first hole. Mickelson’s recovery game will be tested like never before. His sand save percentage (56.96%) ranks in the upper echelon on the PGA Tour. If he can play out of the sand with ease, Mickelson can put his putting prowess to good use.
For a player as storied and globally regarded as Mickelson, the one drawback that critics will point to after his career has ended will be his inability to win the U.S. Open. Can Mickelson put the past behind him at next week’s major, or will the struggling legend lose himself in the endless sands that have come to define the Beast of Oakmont?
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