The dream of Phil Mickelson returning to Winged Foot, the site of arguably his biggest collapse, and winning the 120th U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam at age 50 is proving to be just that – a pipe dream.
Mickelson couldn’t find a fairway if his life depended on it, and shot an opening-round 9-over 79 on the A.W. Tillinghast design in Mamaroneck, New York.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s a disappointing day,” Mickelson told a media official before heading straight to the practice tee in search of answers.
Mickelson called Winged Foot “the toughest golf course in the world,” but on a day that soft greens allowed 32 golfers to shoot par or better, he looked out of sorts. It was a harbinger of what was to come when Mickelson arrived at the practice tee more than three hours before his afternoon tee time with what appeared to be 18 golf clubs in his bag, multiple drivers and two Trackman devices. It was an 11th-hour prayer to find a swing he could trust.
Mickelson missed the fairway on his first two holes, but a pair of impressive recovery shots on to the green set up a birdie-birdie start. Those would be the only circles on the scorecard for the day. It started to go south on the third hole as he carded the first of three consecutive bogeys. Mickelson dropped another shot to par the eighth and his frustration with his inability to control his golf ball became hard to hide. When he blocked a fairway wood on the ninth hole onto the first tee, he could be heard saying, “I’m so sick of this.” He was 2-over 37 at the turn.
It would only get worse from there. Mickelson came home in 42, making five bogeys and a double bogey at 14 when he drove into a fairway bunker and barely advance the ball after hitting the lip. He beat just one player in the 144-man field.
“I drove it poorly and I putted poorly. The course couldn’t be set up any better. It’s a spectacular golf course, great design, awesome setup, and I thought it was a good opportunity to score low today. I just played terrible,” Mickelson said.
Mickelson managed to hit just two fairways on the day, his fewest in any of the four majors since he hit just two in the final round of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
On that occasion, Mickelson scrambled and rescued par – including from a garbage can – to hold a two-stroke lead with four holes to go. But his tee shot at 18 sailed left and caromed off a hospitality tent and he made double bogey to lose to Australian Geoff Ogilvy by a stroke. “I’m such an idiot,” he famously said.
Last week, Mickelson struggled to find fairways, hitting jut 12 of 56, at the Safeway Open. He knew that the punishment for his wayward drive would be much worse at Winged Foot, and he had work to do before the championship began.
Mickelson hasn’t finished better than T-28 at the U.S. Open since 2014 when he became a U.S. Open title away from completing the career Grand Slam.
Asked if there was anything he could do to get back into “a better groove” for Friday’s second round, a deflated Mickelson said, “I’m 9-over. I’ll play as hard as I can tomorrow and enjoy the round.”