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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Oh Phil!

With the World Cup taking place this summer and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals (an event I typically do not watch) I have paid less attention to the US Open this weekend than anytime in the past twenty years. Loyal readers of my blog will remember that last year I had day by day commentary for both the US and British Opens. (I do plan to have daily reports on next month's British Open from Royal Liverpool). While I love watching the Masters, the Golf Majors I truly crave watching are the two opens. They are the championships of world golf, because you must be a complete player playing a complete game to win an Open. You must be mentally tough and you must use every club in your bag. At the Masters you just have to be long, creative and a good putter.

So much about this US Open was surreal with the passing of Earl Woods a few weeks ago to Tiger Woods missing the cut, to the fact that two Indian citizens played in this US Open, the first Indians to ever qualify for a major on US soil. (And Arjun Atwal India's top player who now resides in Orlando did not qualify-the two Indians that qualified were Indian based players!)

But the most surreal thing about this United States Open will be the ending. Tough courses tend to make the world's top golfers look mortal. Carnoustie did it in the 1975 and 1999 British Opens', and Pebble Beach has done it in several different US Opens'. Winged Foot did it this week much as it had in 1974. Great courses require great shotmaking but more importantly impeccable course managment and understanding of the situation in the tournament.

For the past several months we have been hearing about how Phil Mickelson had eclipsed Tiger Woods and how Lefty was easily the best player in the world. True, Phil Mickelson had won the past two majors but my feeling was until he won an Open: either the US Open or British Open, he could never be considered a truly great golfer by historic standards. (the same goes for Vijay Singh the other member of Golf's "Big Three" who has gotten fat off wins at the Masters and PGA Championship while blowing several golden opportunities to win both open championships....Singh basically had the 2003 British Open won but allowed Ben Curtis an unknown who had never won a professional event to beat him down the stretch) The two opens require much more patience, discipline and course management than the Masters and most PGA Championships. At the US Open you cannot get away with blasting a driver off the tee to try and shorten your approach shot, or by hitting errand shots off the tee and then just painlessly blasting the ball back into play. The US Open, unlike the Masters makes you think around every shot on the course, and the US Open unlike Augusta which has fairways which seem wider than the Mississippi River makes you pay even if you just barely miss the narrow landing area.

Phil Mickelson for all his success still doesn't get it. Lefty for all his talent still is lacking common sense. For the fourth time in eight years, Mickelson finished 2nd in a US Open after leading down the stretch. But this collapse, given Mickelson's recent record in majors and the brain freeze he had will go down in the annals of history much like Jean Van De Velde's 1999 British Open collapse (where Van De Velde was unlucky and stupid, unlike Phil today who actually got a lucky break when his tee shot hit off the scorers tent and back into play) and the famous collapse of Curtis Strange at the 1985 Masters.

To win a US Open you keep the ball straight even if that means keeping short. With a one shot lead Lefty opted for a Driver off the tee much to the chagrin of NBC's Johnny Miller who said "he better have a 4 wood in his hand." Then after the errand tee shot, Mickelson could have played a simple chip back into the fairway and taken his medicine, something you always do at a US Open. Try for par, but at worst make the bogey and go to a playoff on Monday. Instead Phil in yet another Greg Norman moment, decided to take an obstructed shot at the green. After his shot hit a tree, he was sunk.

I'm not a Phil Mickelson fan and obviously he has won three majors when critics like myself felt he didn't have the mental toughness to win even one. But a mistake like this often kills careers. Just also Jean Van De Velde, Constanio Rocca or Len Mattiace. For Phil Mickelson's sake I hope he is mentally tougher than some of us think.

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I am the host of the Major League Soccer Talk and EPL Talk Podcasts and am frequent guest on other (world) football shows. I am also the publisher of various other websites including this one. I work in public/government relations in addition to my soccer work and have a keen interest in history, politics, aviation, travel,and the world around us.