BROOKLINE, Mass. – Misery has long been the unwanted 15th club in Phil Mickelson’s bag at a US Open.
Start with the “I’m such an idiot,” conclusion to the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, when he led by one with one hole to play and blew his drive off a hospitality tent, made a double-bogey 6 and missed a playoff by one shot.
Or go to Merion for the 2013 US Open where he led on three different occasions in the final round but missed two greens with a wedge in his hand on the back nine, including at the 110-yard, par-3 13th, and lost by two.
Then head to Shinnecock for the 2004 US Open, where he led by one with two to play but three-putted from five feet on the penultimate hole for double bogey and lost by two shots.
There were three more runner-ups in the national championship for the People’s Champion, the six in total a record. Add in that it’s the only major the World Golf Hall of Fame member hasn’t won and the pain increases.
But this week, at The Country Club outside of Boston, was perhaps his most wretched time at a US Open.
His week began Monday with a blistering meeting with the media, where he was grilled about his involvement with the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf league that teed off for the first time last week in London. Mickelson is the face of the league, having signed for a reported $200 million to jump from the PGA Tour’s ship. His inflammatory comments criticizing the PGA Tour, commissioner Jay Monahan and the oppressive regime of Saudi Arabia were also brought up.
He looked uncomfortably out of sorts, was curt, and it seemed he wasn’t ready to speak at the scheduled time. He often looked downward, paused at length, and deflected as easily as he hits a flop shot.
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Refuge, he must have thought as he left the interview area, would be found on the golf course. But the man with a record six runner-up finishes in the national championship, the man who has won six majors and is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was as lost on the grounds of The Country Club as he was on the podium of the interview area.
He four-putted one green on his way to an opening-round, 8-over-par 78, on his 52nd birthday, no less, then came back with a 73 to finish at 11 over and far from making the cut. He made only three birdies in 36 holes.
“I thought I was more prepared than I was,” Mickelson said as he got ready to get into his courtesy car and head westward to his home in California. “The US Open is the ultimate test. And you don’t really know where your game is until you get tested, and I thought I was little bit closer than I was.”
His work on the greens left him the most despondent.
“I really struggled with putting,” said Mickelson, who finished in a tie for 33rd last week in the inaugural LIV Golf Invitational Series event to win $150,000. “I’m struggling with the putter, last week and this week. I feel I’m certainly playing better than I’m scoring and I look forward to working on it.”
Which is why not all was lost this week despite all the misery.
“I enjoyed getting back out here,” said Mickelson, who will play in LIV Golf’s second event in Portland, Oregon, and then in the British Open next month in Scotland. “The thing I enjoyed the most was playing such a historic golf course and having it set up so remarkably. I think the USGA really did a good job. It really showcased this historic place.”
And Mickelson said he won’t take long to get back at it.
“I’m pretty motivated to get back to work,” he said.