SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Walking out the back door of the media center Monday, Phil Mickelson told a handful of writers he did not plan to return to Shinnecock Hills until Thursday morning. The plan, he said, was to practice at nearby Friar’s Head Golf Club, away from the crowds and distractions.
But Wednesday morning, with rain heading toward the area, there was the Hall of Famer methodically taking apart holes 14 through 18.
It was a reconnaissance mission to see, just one more time, how the closing holes would play and how different clubs and strategies might work.
For example, on the 18th hole the six-time U.S. Open runner-up hit six tee shots using his driver, his 3-wood and a driving iron, then hit two approach shots into the severely elevated green, one of which hit the flagstick.
After walking up to the green, Mickelson studied the undulations and slopes, then dropped four white disks in places where he thinks the hole might be located during the tournament rounds. His caddie and brother, Tim Mickelson, tossed him several balls that he putted from various spots before moving off the green and hitting a series of chips, pitches and bunker shots.
Mickelson studied every shot like a kid trying to figure out how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, spinning some shots high into the air and then pitching some into slopes and allowing the breaks to take the ball to the white disks. He played shots from behind the green and to the left of the green, then chipped balls from the collection area in front of the green before moving into the bunker on the right.
Viewed by about 100 people, it was a master class in preparation, like Gary Kasparov teaching a small group of chess lovers how to move pawns, bishops and knights around a board.
When it was done, Phil signed some autographs, headed to the putting green and worked on his shortgame. Mickelson turns 48 on Saturday, and if he doesn’t win his elusive U.S. Open to complete the career Grand Slam, it won’t due to a lack of preparation.