It’s no surprise that professional golfer Phil Mickelson has often been overshadowed. After all, most of his career has coincided with Tiger Woods’ dominance on the PGA Tour. In his first 10 years as a professional, Woods amassed 12 Major Championship titles (the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship, and the PGA Championship constitute the four Majors, the most coveted tournaments in the golfing world). Mickelson, on the other hand, failed to win any titles in the same span of time. Following Woods’ first Major victory at the 1997 Masters, in which he finished 12 shots ahead of the field, Mickelson became “the best player without a major,” a title he grudgingly held onto for seven more years. Even from 2004 to 2007, also known as the “Big Five Era” when Woods, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, and Mickelson dominated the game and frequently clashed with one another, Phil was never able to break through and rise to the number one position in the World Golf Ranking; in fact, he still has yet to be ranked higher than second.
Following personal issues and injuries that have set back Tiger Woods’ career since 2009, Mickelson has established himself as a veteran on the PGA Tour, a golfer actively establishing his own legacy. In 2012, Mickelson was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and in July of 2013, he won the fifth of his Major titles, the Open Championship at Muirfield. This victory has been particularly significant for Mickelson. In his own words, “Winning the Open Championship changes the way I look at myself as a player, changes the way I look at my career. And that win has meant so much to me, personally.”
Despite Mickelson’s transition into a mature, versatile golfer, one of the revered few of the sport, one thing remains ostensibly missing from his impressive resume: a U.S. Open victory. The U.S. Open has seemingly been the bane of Mickelson’s golfing career, beginning in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2. Mickelson has a record six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open: in 1999 at Pinehurst, 2002 at Bethpage Black, 2004 at Shinnecock Hills, 2006 at Winged Foot, 2009 again at Bethpage Black, and perhaps most crushingly, in 2013 at Merion, a tournament he gave up with two late bogies. This year’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst has started off quite well for Mickelson, with a solid opening round of even-par 70. This tournament is likely one of the few chances he has left to secure the U.S. Open. Mickelson turns 44 on June 16, and the oldest player to win the U.S. Open was Hale Irwin in 1990. The clock is quickly ticking for Mickelson. As he recently said of his chances at Pinehurst, “I don’t want to put the pressure on me and say that this is the only week that I’ll have a chance. I think that I’ll have a number of great opportunities in the future years, but this is certainly as good a chance as I’ll have.”
So, as this all-important week continues, what can be said of Phil Mickelson’s golfing legacy? For one, he is and will continue to be known as the left-handed golfer, affectionately known as Lefty. Mickelson is only one of four to have ever won a Major Championship (Bubba Watson is the only other left-handed golfer to have won multiple majors: the Masters in 2012 and 2014). Mickelson will also be remembered and celebrated for his spectacular short game, as“the man who perfected the flop shot. Nobody has done more for the full swing around the green than Lefty, a man [known for] hitting flop shots backwards and over his golf instructor.” However, Mickelson’s greatest legacy hinges on his success at the U.S. Open. Rather than only being considered a great player of his era, prevailing at the U.S. Open and completing the Career Grand Slam (winning all four Major Championships) would allow Mickelson to reach the golfing Pantheon as one of the top 10 golfers of all time. Ultimately, overcoming his second-place history at the U.S. Open with a win is what stands between him and that top-ten all-time career. This week would be a good one to do just that.
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Harig, Bob. “Career Grand Slam Has Grown in Stature over Time.” ESPN. ESPN, 11 June 2014. Web. 12 June 2014.
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O’Connor, Ian. “Mickelson’s Best Open Shot Is Now.” ESPN. ESPN, 11 June 2014. Web. 12 June 2014. Top 10: Moments of the Year on the PGA TOUR in 2013. Dir. PGA Tour. Perf. Phil Mickelson. YouTube, 2013.