In WHAT could be one of the greatest understatements of all time, Phil Mickelson summed up the task he faces in trying to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the US Open this week.
“The expectations of me looking forward to this event, for almost a year now, and how much it would mean to me, makes it a challenge,” Mickelson said yesterday.
Only Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won all four major titles in their careers, an exclusive club Mickelson has the chance to join by completing the “Lefty Slam”.
Victory in the Open at Muirfield last year means the US Open is the only major to have somehow escaped his grasp, with a share of second place behind Justin Rose at Merion 12 months ago extending his record of runners-up finishes to six.
The left-hander’s first chance to complete the Grand Slam will be in his 87th major appearance. It will also be at Pinehurst, scene of his first runner-up finish in 1999 behind the late Payne Stewart. Twenty four hours later, his wife Amy gave birth to their first child.
“It’s a career goal of mine to win all four majors,” Mickelson added. “I feel like the five players that have done that have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time. It shows that they have a complete game. If I’m able to do that, I feel that I would look upon my own career differently.
“That’s why it would mean so much, in addition to the fact it’s our national championship. Growing up here in the United States, this is a tournament that I’ve always felt this patriotism to and would love to win, plus with all the close calls. It would really mean a lot to me.”
Mickelson comes into his 24th US Open with just one top-ten finish to his credit this season and the subject of an FBI investigation into alleged insider trading, but was making all the right noises about his chances of lifting the trophy on Sunday, the day before his 44th birthday.
“I feel as good about my game today as I have all year,” Mickelson added. “It’s not saying a lot, because I haven’t played well all year, but last week was a good week for me. I started to slowly put it together. I struggled on the greens (at the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis), but the greens here are quick and so I’m actually going to go back to the claw grip to create a softer roll.
“My driving’s taken a whole different turn and if I can put it together like I did those last two rounds, this week could be a good one because it will make a big difference having a shorter iron in.
“There’s no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens. It’s just a wonderful test that is, I think, the best test I’ve seen to identify the best player.
“I feel this golf course, this set-up and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity.”
Defending champion Rose, who will tee off from the tenth hole in tomorrow’s opening round along with Mickelson and English amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick, will be bidding this week to become the US Open’s first back-to-back winner in 25 years.
American Curtis Strange won consecutive US Opens in 1988 and 1989 and Rose has set his sights on replicating that achievement this week at Pinehurst.
“Obviously that’s the plan,” Rose smiled. “If I look at it, I felt like I had a good opportunity (to win the US Open) in 2012 at Olympic Club, too.
“I played really well there and finished six (shots) back but as a player sometimes it’s a lot closer than that. I feel like the US Open test suits me.
“It’s a matter of just going out there. I’m just really excited about the opportunity this week presents. I’m the only one guy who has the opportunity to repeat, but I’m seeing that as a pressure-free situation. I’m just going to enjoy the challenge of trying to do that.”