Daily Digest: What Drives Phil Mickelson?

Phil Mickelson plans to be very careful with his tee shots at Oakmont. (USGA/JD Cuban)
Phil Mickelson plans to be very careful with his tee shots at Oakmont. (USGA/JD Cuban)

Related Content

NewsLocal Support, Local Knowledge Buoy Furyk
NewsOakmont Lookback, 2007: Angel Cabrera, in His Own Words
NewsDJ Still Has Time on His Side for Major Breakthrough
NewsRahm Looks to Put Finishing Touch on Decorated Amateur Career

Ask five-time major champion Phil Mickelson to point to the most important element for success this week at Oakmont Country Club, and he immediately says the tee shot. That is not to say that hitting fairways here is an easy proposition.

“I love a quote that Stephen Hawking says: Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change,” said Mickelson, who turns 46 on Thursday. “As the conditions change, the tee shots are going to change. As the fairways get firm with the contour, you’re going to have to play to different parts of the fairway. As the pin placements move and the green moisture changes from softer to firmer or what have you, you have to adapt how you play this golf course.”

Mickelson mulled a question about how many times he expects to hit driver on the 14 non-par 3 holes.

“I would say, roughly, four would be the give or take,” he said. “But there are probably two or three options on every tee.”

One hole where Mickelson is adamant that you won’t see his characteristic go-for-broke style is the 313-yard, par-4 17th.

“No place around that green is any good, OK? So I don’t care how far up the tee box is, I will lay up,” said Mickelson, who was pressed on whether he would reassess if he trailed on Sunday. “There’s zero chance that I will go for that green. I don't know how to emphasize this any more.”

Although losing the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot by one stroke after a finishing double bogey was a bitter pill for the six-time U.S. Open runner-up, he noted a more recent setback.

“The 2013 U.S. Open [at Merion], I think, is actually my biggest disappointment because I was playing so well,” said Mickelson. “I had an opportunity to win at the back nine where I was leading, and I lost the U.S. Open. The following week, I was very difficult to be around. But then I ended up having probably my greatest success, winning the British Open. To have my greatest high within a month of having the greatest low of my career is, I think, my biggest accomplishment.”

That second-place finish three years ago at Merion was buoyed by Mickelson hitting his highest number of fairways (38) since 2002. Maybe there is something to keeping tee shots in the short grass.


Rose is on the Rebound
The old adage about being wary of the injured golfer may come to the fore this week in the person of 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose.

Rose has been recovering from a bad back, a “flared-up disk,” as he put it Tuesday.

“I’ve done everything humanly possible to be here from a recovery point of view, from a fitness point of view,” said Rose, 35. “But there’s no doubt my practice schedule has been on the light side.”

Rose is turning his forced absence into a positive, and he has precedent for the optimism.

“I’ve been in this situation before,” said Rose. “In 2007, I had a little bit of a stop/start year due to a bad back, and it was one of the best years of my career. I won the European money list and played really well in all the major championships.”

Rose finished tied for 10th in that 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, after a tie for fifth at the Masters. He feels a certain comfort returning to the daunting Henry C. Fownes design.

“I think I was in and around the lead for the most part Thursday through Sunday,” said Rose. “What I like about [Oakmont] is it makes strategy so much more important. Missing on the correct side of the hole, giving yourself half a chance to get the ball up and down… Yes, it’s a putting test, but it’s also a strategic test for your iron play to keep hitting it in the right spot.”

Keeping a positive attitude is critical, and Rose already has that part covered.

“I’m coming in fresh, which is the great news,” said Rose. “I think that having that quiet time to sit back and assess my game and assess the challenge this week could be an advantage come the end of the week.”

Giffin Honored By USGA

Mobility issues prevented Arnold Palmer from attending this week's 116th U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, only an hour from Palmer's hometown of Latrobe, Pa., Runner-up to Jack Nicklaus in the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Palmer is serving as honorary co-chairman with Nicklaus, and he was there in spirit on Wednesday when his longtime personal assistant, Doc Giffin, was honored by the USGA for his service to the game of golf. “This is overwhelming,” said Giffin, who worked as press secretary for the tour players division of The PGA of America – now the PGA Tour – before Palmer hired him away in 1966. “I had no idea what to expect when I got here. This was something that was very nice and very unexpected, but I’ve had a great relationship with the USGA through the years, as has Arnold, and this means an awful lot at this time.”

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.