U.S. Open 2019: Phil Mickelson’s last, best chance at the Grand Slam

DUBLIN, OHIO - MAY 31: Phil Mickelson plays a shot during the second round of The Memorial Tournament Presented By Nationwide at Muirfield Village Golf Club on May 31, 2019 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, OHIO - MAY 31: Phil Mickelson plays a shot during the second round of The Memorial Tournament Presented By Nationwide at Muirfield Village Golf Club on May 31, 2019 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /

The U.S. Open has famously eluded Phil Mickelson for his entire Hall of Fame career. Will this be the year he finally closes that chapter?

The U.S. Open and Phil Mickelson, two legends of golf that will forever be mentioned in the same breath. What that narrative holds, however, is still subject to change.

As we head into the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Mickelson has been a pro for 27 years. He’s won 50 tournaments around the world, and his 44 PGA TOUR wins place him ninth on the all-time list. The (few) names ahead of him are equally impressive: guys like Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, Palmer, and yes, Woods.

The only thing that Phil Mickelson hasn’t done is win the U.S. Open. It’s arguably been his white whale from the day he first picked up a club. And this week, Ahab has what may be his last, best chance at redemption.

Even at 48, Lefty acknowledges that his window to realistically win the U.S. Open may be closing, but it hasn’t slammed shut yet. The California native has some incredible ties to this particular plot of land, too, and that makes this week that much more interesting.

In fact, it’s that connection that led no less a golf authority than Jim Nantz to pick Phil to finally complete the slam, and he did it all the way back in January. From his interview with Golf Channel at the PGA Merchandise Show, Nantz told the story in a way that only he really can.

"“The Sunday of the U.S. Open is his birthday, and I like stories. I like to figure out how history ties to the present,” Nantz continued. “His grandfather Alfred Santos, his mother Mary’s late father, was one of the original caddies at Pebble Beach. Phil’s grandfather and Alfred’s brother were two of the original two in the caddie yard at Pebble.“What an American Dream that you could have a grandson later walk those some fairways. Instead of what his grandfather was making at 25 cents a bag, now he’s going to close out the career grand slam on the sacred sod of Pebble Beach on his birthday. The story is too good and he has too good of a record there for me to overlook it. I think he wins at Pebble Beach.”"

I hope Joe Buck is taking notes.

Put me in the camp that also believes Phil can win the U.S. Open this week. Obviously, “can” is a long way from “will”, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him contending down the stretch. He’s won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am five times, including a three-shot win this year.

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Sure, you say, but those tournaments include Spyglass Hill and Cypress Point, with only two rounds at Pebble Beach Golf Links. But in his three previous U.S. Open starts at Pebble proper, Phil has gone from a missed cut (1992), to a tie for 16th (2000) and most recently a tie for fourth in 2010. Considering the challenge that the U.S. Open has always provided, that kind of improvement as he’s grown older – and the game has grown younger – is impressive on its own.

Mickelson has found a way to stay relevant even as he nears eligibility for the PGA TOUR Champions. He’s ranked inside the top 20 on TOUR in driving distance (hitting bombs, obviously), and he leads in par-4 birdie average. He’s been in a bit of a slump lately, missing two of his last three cuts and shooting 76-76 on the weekend at the PGA Championship to finish tied for 71st place.

But when it comes to Phil, you don’t always need stats or reason. Sometimes you just need to be bold and have some faith. The golf world went crazy for Tiger Woods winning the Masters, and the reaction would be close if Mickelson finally captured his U.S. Open title. Even if Mickelson hung up his spikes on the 18th green, you couldn’t write a fairy tale ending any better, could you?

Next. U.S. Open 2019: A statistical breakdown of the contenders. dark

Phil Mickelson might not win the U.S. Open this week at Pebble Beach, but that’s not the point. The fact is that he absolutely can, and that will keep things interesting for as long as he’s teeing it up on these hallowed grounds. He’s going to make this week a championship to remember, one way or another.