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REARDON: Phil’s Philly Phailure

Dan Reardon
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Phil Mickelson of United States examines the 18th green before trying chipping into the hole during the fourth round of the US Open at Merion Golf Club June 16, 2013 in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Phil Mickelson of United States examines the 18th green before trying chipping into the hole during the fourth round of the US Open at Merion Golf Club June 16, 2013 in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI

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If you read much of the commentary about the outcome of last week’s US Open, you might have forgotten that Justin Rose won the event. A large portion of the discourse was directed to Phil Mickelson and his continuing frustration at trying to win the national championship. And given the rooting that took place for Lefty over the four days, most of the thoughts have been more sympathetic than critical.

Three things stand out for me about Mickelson’s final round performance.

For the week Mickelson had configured his bag without a driver and with five wedges. Mickelson has always tried to beat the system by outsmarting the course setup with his club choices. At least on Sunday that strategy had some downside. At the par three third Mickelson admitted that with the wind into him he didn’t have a club to play the hole. He double bogeyed the hole. Then needing a birdie at eighteen, he again admitted he was playing a club short because he lacked a driver to deal with the toughest hole on the course.

This isn’t the first time Mickelson has been too smart for his own good in the US Open. Some may not remember or never heard that at the disastrous final hole of the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot he was forced to hit driver off the tee because he didn’t have a fairway wood in the bag that would have allowed him to play the hole conservatively but effectively.

Add to that what those five wedges contributed on Sunday. At the short par 3 13th Mickelson said he chose the wrong club, missed the green long and bogeyed to surrender the lead. How is it possible that on a hole that didn’t vary in yardage as much as ten yards any day that week that Mickelson didn’t know which of the five wedges to use? Wind wasn’t a factor and this was his fourth trip through a hole that would fit nicely in at Tower Tee.

Third, I have repeatedly pointed out to people that Mickelson’s performance on the greens may have been the most inept by a contender in recent memory. He shot 74 on the day and exactly one half of those strokes came on the greens. Keep in mind he had no putts on the tenth. The fact that he came that close without making anything, is a testament to how well he played tee to green.

Here’s a suggestion for Phil for next Year’s US Open at Pinehurst. Put the driver back and take out the four wood. Then take two wedges out and add two more putters. Three wedges, three putters. Now that would be historic.

The other pattern of post Merion analysis has been a mild suggestion that the golf course was set up too severely by the USGA. Writers both nationally and locally have toyed with the description of short Merion being “tricked up” for the week. I beg to differ. With the exception of the last few years when the USGA’s Mike Davis introduced the more benign ‘graduated rough,’ the Merion set up was pretty much what I have seen my entire adult life. “Open rough” is usually so much a trademark of the Championship that it should be included in the dictionary.

In rationalizing the argument for an unfair course, one writer pointed to Steve Stricker’s Sunday at the second hole. Stricker hit his tee shot out of bounds. Found the fairway with the next and then shanked a four iron out of bounds on his way to an eight on the hole. What do missed tee shots out of bounds and shanks from the short grass have to do with setup?

Sergio Garcia hit five balls out of bounds from the tee at 14 and 15 for the week. He was fifteen over par for the week on those two holes and one under par on the rest of the course for the four days. Sergio correctly never said he thought the boundary markers on the left of those holes was “unfair.”

If the course had been the intended firm and fast and tee balls had run into the penal rough, the argument might have been different. It wasn’t. The course was soft, and by a large margin, the leaders found the rough from the teeing ground. People like me are supposed to miss tee shots. The games best shouldn’t.

Finally much attention at Merion was directed to the famous photo of Ben Hogan as he watched his one iron to the eighteenth green on the final day. It is part of golf’s legendary collection of clutch shots. Winner Justin Rose played his second from an area reasonably close to where the Hogan plaque is located. I doubt that history will immortalize the clubs that Rose used to secure the title. He played a four iron into the green’s apron and used a three wood to chip close and tapped in with the same club. Hogan finish – driver, one iron, putter, putter. Rose finish – driver, four iron, three wood, three wood.

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