Phil Mickelson has had this ache in his soul ever since it became clear to him that he did not have the game, the temperament and the shots to win a British Open. There can be no worse feeling as you take inventory of yourself to know that even though you are one of the best players in the game, even though you are in the World Golf Hall of Fame, you are just not as complete a player as your extremely confident persona virtually shouts.
There is all 6’3″ of you. There is the perpetual smile, good looks and flowing mane. There is the darling family in California and the convenience of the G-5 to get you where you need to be and back to them as soon as possible.
There is the otherworldly short game so astonishing that it caused Roger Cleveland and Dave Pelz to stand a sand wedge shaft in front of you while you hit crisp flop shots over their heads. There was the win in Tucson as a college amateur, the knockdown shot skipped across a pond and up onto a green you couldn’t get to any other way. The shot out of the pine straw at Augusta to win your third Masters; third! And the 2005 PGA Championship, a necessary piece of the four Grand Slam majors. And the 37 regular Tour events.
There is all the philanthropic work you’ve been doing all along that has slowly started to become public. There is the amused, attentive and assured way that you sit in the media center giving intelligent answers to the endless stream of questions your stature attracts.
And there is the golfing tragedy that someone with your soaring talent just could not win a Masters, your favorite major…and then you won three of them. There was the golfing tragedy that your go-for-broke temperament just was not suitable for the fairways-and-greens requirements of the U.S. Open and the best you could ever do was second place…but you did it six times.
But with all of that, you would never be complete as one of the greatest players in the game unless and until you could win an Open, a major you just did not possess the nuanced skills to win. For all you were, there was still this, hmm, deficiency. Tragedy.
Until suddenly one Sunday, this Sunday, it was over. You did it. You won your Open with the best round of your career.
This is just an amazing feeling winning this great championship. And to play probably the best round of my career and hit some of the best shots that I’ve ever hit. Certainly putt better than I’ve ever putted. You know, I was getting ready for today and I just thought I need to bring my “A” game today. I just need to bring it. I need to show up and play some of my best golf. And I did. I played some of the best golf of my career. It feels amazing to have this championship.
And then to make it even more special, to have Amy, Amanda, Sophia, Evan here; to share this with Bones; to have Steve Loy who’s been with me back from my college days all the way through; to have Butch Harmon here to share this moment, it really is special. It’s a day that I’ll always cherish, always remember.
What made this possible was a warmup tournament in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart that turned into a demonstration project of his ability to play links golf:
Well, winning Castle Stuart, at the time, you know, was a big win for me. But in seven days it has gone down considerably (laughter). It was a special week for me last week because I was playing so well. It gave me confidence heading into this week. It was exactly what I needed to propel me into this championship.
And playing well in that final day in difficult conditions gave me the confidence that I could play some of my best golf on links conditions. And I did. I mean, today was as good as I could play. It was one of the best rounds I’ve ever played.
It turned out that it was a good thing that Butch Harmon, his coach, made the trip to the Open because they were able to work through a necessary swing tweak. He knew the change was complete because the rhythm and mechanics synced up:
Well, yesterday I had a good practice session with Butch because Friday I did not strike it very well. And we set up a little mini station that gave me a little bit more width and forced me to keep the club a little bit more out instead of dropping underneath, which is a problem I tend to have. I started to hit the ball pretty solidly yesterday. I had to hit some fades throughout the day because I didn’t quite feel comfortable hitting draws from that wide a position. But today it all clicked. Today was where I put the rhythm and the mechanics together and hit some great shots.
A necessary requirement of getting better in golf is resilience; you have to be able to suffer the slings and arrows of crushing defeats in order to learn from them:
You have to be resilient in this game because losing is such a big part of it. And after losing the U.S. Open [in June], it could have easily gone south, where I was so deflated I had a hard time coming back. But I looked at it and thought I was playing really good golf. I had been playing some of the best in my career. And I didn’t want it to stop me from potential victories this year, and some potential great play. And I’m glad I didn’t, because I worked a little bit harder. And in a matter of a month I’m able to change entirely the way I feel.
Crushing defeat is all part of it. And now that’s over with respect to the Open.
Watch out U.S. Open. Next June, it will be played at Pinehurst No. 2, site of his loss to the late Payne Stewart. A lot of history to be overcome there too. But at least he now knows that it is possible and has some insights on how to go about it.