When you think of Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open, one word comes to mind: Heartbreak. Unfortunately for Phil, many golf fans know him as much for his record six runner-up finishes in the event as they do for his five major titles. And for good reason. No golfer has managed to lose with such flair. So in honor of Mickelson’s three decades of close calls, questionable decisions, and bold statements, here’s a look back at the top 10 most Phil Mickelson moments in U.S. Open history.
10.) The early walk
Everyone remembers Payne Stewart draining a 15-footer for par at Pinehurst in 1999 to win the U.S. Open, but watch closely and it appears Mickelson knew he had lost well before the ball dropped in the hole.
Maybe this was some sort of reverse jinx effort, but as Stewart strikes the putt (1:20 mark), Mickelson starts walking toward his playing partner and then continues toward him for the famous, “You’re going to be a father!” embrace. Speaking of which. . .
9.) The beeper
With Mickelson’s wife Amy at home and expecting their first child at any minute, Phil, well, Bones, carried around a beeper in his golf bag (Note to millenials: beepers were things before cell phones). Mickelson claimed he was ready to leave the course at any minute to fly home, but it never came to that. Amanda Mickelson was born the next day so it’s a good thing there wasn’t a Monday playoff. It was also a harbinger of future familial obligations during this tournament.
8.) The lightning check
This is not a well-known one, but NBC cameras picked up a classic case of Mickelson over-thinking the situation during the final round at Merion in 2013. Having vaulted into a tie thanks to holing a wedge for eagle on the 10th hole, Mickelson had another wedge in his hands at the 100-yard par-3 13th. It should have been a great chance for Phil to take the lead, but the first thing he did when arriving at the hole was to ask an official about lightning in the area. Perhaps trying too hard to factor atmospheric elements into what should have been an easy shot, moments later, Mickelson inexplicably flew the green, made an awful bogey, and never had the lead again.
7.) The wrist brace
What does Mickelson like even more than playing in U.S. Opens? Complaining about U.S. Opens. And in 2007, he wasn’t happy after tweaking his wrist hitting a shot from the rough during an early practice round at Oakmont. Later that week, Mickelson withdrew from the Memorial after 11 holes and when he returned to Oakmont for the U.S. Open, he made sure everyone knew about the course’s “dangerous” rough by wearing a protective wrap on his left wrist while missing the cut.
6.) The three-putt
This could also be called, “The Rock.” Years later, Mickelson admitted a rock in the bunker on the 71st hole at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock affected his second shot and left him with a treacherous putt from above the hole. From there, he famously three-putted from five feet for double bogey, throwing away what had been a great round and losing to Retief Goosen by two. “That is the one I should have won more than any other. . . . I played phenomenal that last day,” Mickelson said in 2018. “Given the difficulty of the course, I would say that I have not played better in a U.S. Open in my life.”
5.) The driverless approach
The 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines was at the time the longest setup in the event’s history. So what did Phil do? Take out the longest club in his bag completely, of course! This was before the infamous “Phrankenwood,” but Mickelson’s driverless approach (he used a bent-down 3-wood instead) didn’t pay off. After struggling the first two days, Phil went back to the driver.
4.) The cross-country flights
Amanda Mickelson’s birth didn’t keep Mickelson from completing the 1999 U.S. Open, but her high school graduation kept him out of the 2017 event at Erin Hills altogether. That wasn’t his most memorable school conflict, however. In 2013, Phil flew home from Merion for Amanda’s eighth-grade graduation on Wednesday and then flew all the way back cross country in time to make his early Thursday morning tee time. Yes, he was flying private, but it was still a quick and impressive turnaround—especially when golf’s ultimate showman shot a first-round 67 to take the lead.
3.) The moving putt
Three decades of U.S. Open frustration reached a boiling point during the third round at Shinnecock in 2018. With no chance of winning, Mickelson missed a putt on the glassy 13th green, then ran after his golf ball and whacked it again while it was still moving. Mickelson took a two-stroke penalty, but was spared being disqualified.
The fans still serenaded the birthday boy as he finished his round, but Phil wasn’t finished when it comes to protesting the USGA. Ahead of the 2019 U.S. Open, Mickelson said, “I’ve played, what, 29 U.S. Opens. One hundred percent of the time they have messed it up if it doesn’t rain. Rain is the governor. That’s the only governor they have. If they don’t have a governor, they don’t know how to control themselves.”
2.) The 64-degree wedge
Another questionable equipment decision that wound up backfiring. Phil used a 64-degree wedge for the first time at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. While he wielded the club well and it remains a staple in his bag to this day, that particular week, he swapped out his 3-wood in favor of his new toy. People often wonder why Mickelson hit driver on that fateful 72nd hole that year, but it’s because a 5-wood wasn’t enough to get around the dogleg. Speaking of that 18th hole. . .
1.) The double bogey
The drive off of a merchandise tent led to one of golf’s all-time train wrecks, but it was a
bold dumb decision that completely derailed Phil. Instead of playing a safe shot back to the fairway, Mickelson went for the hero shot and clipped a tree. From there, he could only manage to find a greenside bunker on his third and when he failed to get up and down, Geoff Ogilvy was handed the trophy.
“I am still in shock that I did that,” Mickelson said. “I just, I just can’t believe I did that. I am such an idiot.”
Sorry, Phil, but as the years go by, we’re not in a position to disagree.