By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – Phil Mickelson does not need a U.S. Open triumph to cement his legacy as one of golf’s all-time greats but he will arrive at Pebble Beach this week looking to take care of unfinished business and rubber-stamp his lofty status.
Mickelson has been a runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times, most recently in 2013 when he finished two shots behind England’s Justin Rose at Merion, and he is yearning for the chance to complete a career grand slam of the four majors.
“There’s not much I could do right now that would do anything to redefine my career, but there’s one thing I could do, and that would be to win a U.S. Open,” said Mickelson.
“So if I were to do that, it would change the way I view my career because there are only, what, five guys that have ever won all the majors. And you have to look at those guys differently.
“And if I ever join that crowd, and the only way to do that is to win a U.S. Open, it would redefine my career.”
The American left-hander, a perennial fan favourite who turns 49 on the final day of the year’s third major, has been grouped with Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell for the first two rounds of the U.S. Open.
Victory at Pebble Beach would allow Mickelson to bury memories of his multiple near-misses at the U.S. Open and put his name alongside Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods on the career grand slam list.
“It would be pretty special to be part of the elite players that have won all four,” said Mickelson, who has been stalled on his career tally of five majors since his 2013 victory at the British Open. “To me that’s the sign of a complete game.”
Traditionally, U.S. Opens have placed a premium on accuracy off the tee, due to narrow fairways flanked by thick rough, and the ability to scramble pars on lightning-fast greens.
Mickelson has already triumphed at Pebble Beach this year, having won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. While he is aware the course will play differently this week, he feels it will still suit his style.
“We’re on a golf course at Pebble where you really don’t need to hit a lot of drivers, and you need to putt poa annua greens very well with a lot of break, which is something I’ve done well,” said Mickelson.
“It lessens my weakness, which is hitting fairways. It makes that not quite as important because you don’t have to hit drivers there.”
While Mickelson is running out of time to complete the career grand slam, he does not feel his advanced age is the biggest challenge to overcome but rather the pressure he puts on himself to triumph at his national championship.
“The difficulty is not the age. The difficulty is that when you’re in your 20s you feel like you have multiple chances. And when you’re turning 49, you’re like I’ve got two more chances, this year, and maybe Winged Foot (in 2020) and that’s about it,” said Mickelson.
“With that being the only one in the four that I haven’t won, and what it would offer me and how I look at my career, I put more pressure on it. That’s the difficult thing.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)