Phil Mickelson is quite possibly the most enigmatic golfer on tour. Be it his Houdini-esk tricks with the wedge, a seemingly different putting style each week, or an inexplicable driver from the rough, Phil never backs down from anything on the golf course but often gets in his own way at the US Open where he has finished in second place an astounding 5 times.
What I find most interesting about Phil's play on the first two days at Merion is not what we have come to expect of him (ridiculous shots that a smart golf coach would not suggest his player attempt) but instead, a controlled and conservative approach where he is taking irons and 3 woods off tees and strategically making his way around what is proving to be a treacherous test of golf at Merion. Winning the US Open is a battle of attrition, who can avoid that costly double bogey or that one missed shot which can ruin a tournament in an instant. Nobody understands this better than Phil. We all remember Winged Foot in 2006 when Phil had the lead on the 18th hole and decided to pull driver instead of his trusty 4 wood and proceeded to block his drive into the trees leading to a double bogey and another second place finish.
So what is different this week at Merion? Why is Phil suddenly playing with such poise and seemingly moving away from his reckless strategy on the course? It's all in his head....
Phil didn't spend much time prepping at Merion compared to previous US Opens. In fact, in the days prior to the event, he was back in San Diego watching his daughter Amanda deliver a graduation speech. "She told me that it's fine. 'Stay, it's the U.S. Open. I know how much you care about it,' " Mickelson said. "And I told her that I want to be there. I don't want to miss that. I don't want to miss her speech. I don't want to miss her graduation."
My theory is that Phil is relaxed, having fun, and has a care free attitude out on the course which is why he is so control of his game. As all of us golfers know, our best golf occurs when we are at ease and happy in life. If there is inner turmoil going on in the head, that will lead to poor decision making on the course. Phil is on top of the world right now: with a beautiful family and his game in check, I think it's finally time for him to break through and win that illusive first US Open.
So many people in the golf world love to hate on Phil for being fake and corny. While Phil always does seem to have a shit-eating grin on his face, I don't mind it, in fact, I enjoy seeing it. Why shouldn't Phil be happy? If I could hit it 320, shape it both ways, be able to get up and down out of a trash can, and have a great family life, I'd be smiling all the time too. If you ever get a chance to watch Phil live at a tournament you'll know that NOBODY spends more time signing autographs and interacting with the crowd than Phil. That is something to be said for a true star in the game and one of the most talented players we will ever see.
There will inevitably come a time in the next 36 holes when Phil is faced with a decision to go for broke or play it smart. He's in the right state of mind to pull the right club, commit to his shot, and execute. Go get'em Phil, I'll be rooting for you this weekend.
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