Pinehurst would be a fitting end to Phil Mickelson's career slam quest
If Phil Mickelson wins the 114th US Open that would be the most fitting bookend to his career grand slam anyone could possibly imagine.
Did you hear him sneak in the quip in his Bill Macatee interview from a while back? It was subtle, but it was there.
What Phil Mickelson said was this:
"[The career grand slam] been a career goal that I've had that I haven't really voiced."
What he meant was this:
I always knew I was going to be in this position, even though my game sometimes belied it and a lot of you doubted whether I'd ever get over the first major hurdle, much less five of them.
The funny thing about all of this is that he's already punched the toughest ticket (the British Open) en route to the career slam, something only six men have ever accomplished.
It's that hanging chad of a US Open that he thought he'd ripped off about four and a half times already that keeps coming back to haunt him.
Mickelson knows what's at stake this week at the US Open at Pinehurst No. 2.
"I feel like the five players that have done that, have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time," Mickelson said Tuesday at Pinehurst.
He's talking about Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. The only five men to have won all four majors in their careers. There are 10 others, including Mickelson, who have come up one major short.
Still, Mickelson is nonplussed heading into this week's Open at Pinehurst, where he narrowly missed his first major in 1999, losing by 1 shot to Payne Stewart.
"It would really mean a lot to me," Mickelson said. "To do it right here where Payne and I had this moment where he we talked about fatherhood, but he also talked about winning future US Opens."
The 1999 US Open probably was the sweetest second-place memory he has. His daughter was born about 15 hours after this embrace from Stewart on the 18th hole.
This week is a return to the birthplace of the rest of Mickelson's career -- the one that has five tally marks next to major wins on it -- but it's also a return to the most special possible US Open venue for the career slam to culminate.
The only other ones that even compare are Pebble Beach in 2019, Winged Foot in 2020 (wouldn't that be something), and Torrey Pines in 2021. But it might be too late for Phil at that point.
He'll be 50 in 2020 and he knows he only has a handful of chances left.
"I'm not going to put that pressure on me and say that this is the only week or only opportunity," Mickelson said.
"It's probably the best opportunity, because the golf course is so short-game oriented, because greens are so repellant, and the shots around the greens play a premium amongst all the Open venues that we have had."
He also thinks that in terms of determining an all-around champion, it doesn't get much better than Pinehurst No. 2.
"It's just a wonderful test that is, I think, the best test I've seen to identify the best player."
"This is the first Open course I've played that tests every area of the player's game."
All he'll need over that 1999 Open is to be two shots better than he was. They'll come from somewhere, anywhere, maybe that new claw grip he's trying, maybe his driver. Who knows.
But if he can coax them from his 43-year-old self he will become only the sixth man to ever say "I won them all."
Is that too much to ask of one man in a single week?
"The expectations of me looking forward to this event for almost a year now and the history that I've had here and how much of a great story it would be and how much it would mean to me to win here with what happened with Payne Stewart and my child and all these things, that makes it more difficult as well."
This Sunday on Father's Day, the day before Mickelson's 44th birthday, at the place where he almost was when his daughter was almost born in 1999.
All of this for the United States Open.
It might be too good to be true.
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