Phil Mickelson and Sam Snead have more in common than just being among the greatest to ever play the game of golf.
Despite Snead winning a record 82 PGA Tour events, he never won the U.S. Open, finishing as the runner-up four times.
Mickelson has six second-place finishes - a U.S. Open record - and is seeking his breakthrough win this week at Pinehurst No. 2, the 24th appearance he will make at the championship.
Pinehurst No. 2 is the site of Mickelson’s first runner-up finish in 1999, losing on the 72nd hole after a heartbreaking 15-foot par save from Payne Stewart that is one of golf’s most iconic moments.
Mickelson finished second last year at Merion despite holding the 54-hole lead, but two crucial bogeys down the stretch made it too difficult to catch eventual winner Justin Rose.
Winged Foot in 2006 still lingers as a painful memory. Holding a one-shot lead on the final hole, Mickelson’s tee shot bounced off a hospitality tent well left of the fairway and led to a double bogey.
Geoff Ogilvy walked away with the trophy and Mickelson was left to utter in his post-round press conference: "I just can't believe that I did that. I am such an idiot.”
Three more runner-ups in Metropolitan New York - two at Bethpage Black and one at Shinnecock Hills - also left Phil wondering if he would ever hold the elusive championship trophy.
Coming back to Pinehurst this year, the site of the initial Open heartbreak, could be a boon for the noted short-game wizard because of the crowned greens and unique landscaping just off the fairways of the newly-renovated Donald Ross gem.
Mickelson is ready to take on the challenge of securing his first U.S. Open and joining some exclusive company.
Winning the U.S. Open will secure his place alongside Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, and Gary Player as the only players to have won the career Grand Slam - winning all four major titles at least once.
“It's a career goal of mine to win all four Majors. I feel like the five players that have done that, have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time,” Mickelson said during his press conference from Pinehurst on Tuesday. “It shows that they have a complete game. If I'm able to do that, I feel that I would look upon my own career differently.”
Mickelson’s game so far this season has been a bit of a struggle. Since winning the British Open last July, Mickelson has yet to record a top ten finish, including a missed cut at the Masters.
He finished tied for 11th last week in Memphis, and said that his putting has been letting him down recently. He met with his putting coach, Dave Stockton, before Tuesday’s practice round, and the two decided to give the claw putting grip another shot this week at Pinehurst - at least for the first round.
“I want to create more of a brush stroke, so that's why we have kind of gone to this grip,” Mickelson said. “But if something changes this week and I feel better with the regular grip - gosh, I putted great in the past with it. I may do it. It may be a spur of the moment thing. I don't know. But right now the game plan is X, but it can certainly become Y in a matter of minutes.”
Despite the heartbreak he endured 15 years ago at Pinehurst, Mickelson said that winning there would be extra special.
“This place here specifically, obviously I have a lot of very fond emotional memories, from the '99 experience with Payne Stewart and coming so close,” Mickelson said. “Pinehurst has so many great memories for me, even though it's not a place that I have won a national championship, I'm certainly trying to change that this week.”
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