Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Why Phil Mickelson's Win at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am Bodes Well for his U.S. Open Chances in June

After Phil Mickelson won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he was asked what the victory does to his chances of competing the career Grand Slam when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble this summer.  Lefty's reply was simple, "Absolutely nothing." 


Mickelson's response makes sense when you consider that the greens will be a lot firmer, and rough a lot taller when players return here for the third major of the season in June.  However just because Phil says there's no carry-over, doesn't mean you should believe it, or even that he believes it for that matter. 

Phil's 44th career win was historic, and maybe even prophetic.  It was the fifth time Mickelson won the AT&T Pro-Am, and only five players in the history of the game have won the same tournament more times than Lefty. 


Tiger Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational eight times.  Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times.  While Jack Nicklaus won The Masters, Harry Vardon won The Open Championship, and Alec Ross (brother of Donald) won the North and South Open six times respectively. 


What makes this list of players potentially foreboding for Phil is that two of them (Nicklaus and Woods) won a U.S. Open at Pebble Beach the same year they also won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.  Jack won the Pro-Am and the U.S. Open in 1972.  Tiger did the same in 2000. 


Pebble Beach has hosted the U.S. Open five times.  And of the five different winners, four of them also played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that same year.  In addition to Nicklaus and Woods, 1982 U.S. Open Champion Tom Watson finished in 12th place at the Pro-Am earlier that season, while 1992 champion Tom Kite won his first U.S. Open title after missing the Pro-Am cut earlier that year. 


Now granted, I'm not saying there's an absolute correlation between winning at Pebble in the Pro-Am and then going on to win at Pebble in the U.S. Open.  But there's definitely a narrative you can't ignore.  Half of the Pebble Beach U.S. Open winners also won the Pro-Am at Pebble earlier that same year. 


Pebble Beach has always had a special place in Mickelson's heart.  His grandfather Al Santos was one of Pebble's original caddies, and Phil uses a silver dollar that belonged to his grandfather as a ball marker only when he plays at Pebble.  And no matter what kind of season Mickelson has had in his career, he always seems to play his best golf here. 


The U.S. Open is a long way away still, but Phil is playing outstanding golf right now, and there's no sign of let-up.  Lefty is ranked 5th in Driving Distance (316-yards), 1st in Approaches from less than 200-yards (36' 8"), and 4th in Putting Average (1.656). 


If there's one Achilles in Mickelson's game it's accuracy off the tee - he's barely hitting half of the fairways with his driver.  But come U.S. Open time, Phil might even decide to ditch the driver and just look for good miss spots off the tee.  That's a strategy Jack used to win The Open Championship in 1966 when he used driver only 17 times over the four rounds at Muirfield.  And oh by the way, that's also the victory that completed the career Grand Slam for Nicklaus. 


Only five players have won all four modern golf majors: Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Nicklaus, Gary Player, and Woods.  And if there was ever a time when you'd say the stars are aligned for Mickelson, this would be that time.  You might even call it Phate.

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