It will be business as usual for Phil Mickelson this week. Even in the wake of one of the biggest distractions of his playing career, Mickelson will stay on course with his normal routine amid endless questions about his role in a federal insider trading investigation involving himself, billionaire Carl Icahn and Las Vegas developer Billy Walters.
It is routine for Mickelson to play whatever tournament is on the schedule the week before a major tournament. In this case it is the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis which leads up to next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst, NC. Make no mistake about it, the U.S. Open has a very special significance to the man known as “Lefty” on the PGA Tour. In his career, Mickelson has three Masters titles to go along with a PGA Championship and last year’s win at the British Open. The U.S. Open is the only major title which he has not won, and that makes next week’s stop at Pinehurst No.2 the most important event of the year on his schedule.
First things first, however, and Mickelson will look for some momentum to take with him to North Carolina. Even though his is ranked No. 11 in the World Golf Rankings, Phil has not had a top ten finish this year. Following his Pro-Am appearance on Wednesday, he said he feels he has been hitting good shots, but needs to finish his rounds a little better, “I’ve got to stay sharp…and see if I can finish strong.” Mickelson also said that he felt the need to get some good thoughts going into next week’s major,and says the best way to do that is ”to shoot low numbers.”
The Pinehurst No. 2 golf course has been reworked since the last time the U.S. Open was played there in 2005. Mickelson got his first look at the new layout on earlier this week, and says TPC Southwind, where the FedEx St. Jude Classic will be played, is a great tune-up for Pinehurst, “I love this golf course as a preparation for next week. The areas around the greens…are very similar.”
The three-time Masters champion certainly has good memories of his trip to Memphis last year, as he finished runner-up before heading to the British Isles, where he won the Scottish and British Opens in back-to-back weeks. This year he will be paired with the man who beat him last year in Memphis, Harris English, in the first two rounds. They will be joined by Scott Stallings, who tied Mickelson for runner-up last year, beginning on the 10th tee at 8:40 a.m. (ET) on Thursday.
As Mickelson talked with the media following Wednesday’s pro-am, he was finally asked if he had been able to stay the course in the wake of the distractions that have come with the insider trading investigation. He answered, but moved the focus quickly back to golf, “Certainly the last few days I have, and I had two great days up at Pinehurst. I got some good work done…and got a really good game plan on how I want to attack the golf course.” A follow-up came quickly, in reference to his concern about his image at this point of his career, “Right now I’m just trying to win a U.S. Open. Right now I’m just trying to get my game ready to finish off that grand slam. I’ve got seven to ten days here to get my game sharp and ready and that’s really all I can worry about right not.”
Golf Shots is a daily series which provides analysis and commentary on the PGA tour and golf-related topics all year long.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky