Is Mickelson now the favourite to win the U.S. Open?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Phil Mickelson just won his 5th title at Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open will be staged in June. Does all that experience help Phil win the national championship and close out his personal Grand Slam?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I’ve never been Phil’s biggest fan, as I’ve never been convinced that his “aw shucks” public persona is the real deal.  But I certainly have to give credit to the guy’s record and stamina.  He really is one of the great players of all time, and to win the AT&T in less than ideal conditions this past weekend just further confirms his stature.  So, aw shucks, waytago Phil.  And yes, I think all that experience at Pebble will help him in the US Open.  But we all know what happens to Phil with the US Open… he gets to the thrill of victory, stumbles over his shoelace, and tumbles over the cliff into the jaws of defeat.  But if he’s in contention in June, I’ll actually root for him.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Pretty amazing story that win at Pebble – AGAIN. I do think the experience helps, even though the USGA will change the setup a bit. The greens will still have the same slope, and Phil knows them better than anyone really. The difference being that the US Open will have a much DEEPER field. So, the challenge will be that much more difficult for Phil. Do I think he’ll close out the career Grand Slam? No, I don’t. The other top ranked players in the world are just that much better, and will no doubt beat Phil even with his recent win to draw experience from, and his local knowledge of Pebble.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Life Member, PGA of Canada: Apparently, Phil enjoys the odd wager both on other sports and in a foursome of the ‘boys’. I’m not so inclined. I enjoy the playing for a few shekels part but not gambling of any kind. Phil is exactly one of those unknown quantities that excite gamblers. Living on the edge of your seat as he selects the wrong club to play the wrong shot at the wrong time. Watching as he defies the odds to play some mind-blowing act of cluelessness that only a second year Junior would attempt. Hope beyond your imagination that the circumstances he finds his ball buried in will somehow give rise to superhuman powers to create a great escape. And, then just when you think he can’t possibly overcome the situation he plays some incredible golf shots that are enough to propel him into the winner’s circle. I wouldn’t bet on him, but I sure wouldn’t bet against him either. He is playing well and does play well at Pebble, but this is for all the marbles and Pebble will be a US Open Pebble not a ‘Clambake” Pebble.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Lol. If only it worked like that . . . The USGA buffs out all its courses for the U.S. Open so the Pebble Beach you saw last week will not be the same venue that the guys are playing on in June. Plus, the field of competitors competing in the national championship will be CONSIDERABLY tougher than the one Lefty faced last week. And let’s not forget the personal U.S. Open demons that have been picking away at Mickelson’s psyche since his first Top-5 finish back in 1995. I don’t see it happening . . . but I’ve been wrong before and there’s a 100% chance that I’ll be wrong again.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): I’m actually happy for Phil, great to see him win a relatively big tourney at 48, but I can’t see him winning on a US Open setup.  He only hit 50% of fairways during his two rounds at Pebble last weekend, and they’ll only tighten up the fairways in June.  And the rough will be long, so he won’t be able to hit shots like the wedge he spun into a front left pin from the rough on 14 on Sunday.  It would be exciting to see him in contention at Pebble in June, but the only way I see that happening is if it’s dry and fast and he can hit a lot of irons off the tee.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Too bad most of the golfing world was otherwise disposed when Phil finished Monday morning. I was in the right time zone finally — though why the Tour started these guys at 8 am PST makes no sense for TV schedules, weather, fans, it was just perverse — and got to see Phil finish masterfully, so to speak. But the best part was Peter Kostis’s interview at the conclusion. He asked him about his grandfather’s silver dollar and all the right questions, but then Phil interrupted to say how he apologized to Casey for wanting to finish the evening before. It was so open and honest, and unprompted. Very Cool. Then Kostis asked him how his win would help him for the Open and he said: “Not at all.” It was one of the best Golf Channel/CBS interviews ever. Phil quite rightly said that the course will be completely different in June than the rain and hail and wind slathered February PB. It was great TV over a morning coffee.  (Sorry about the time zone guys.)

The PGA Tour moves to Riviera this week, a course that includes the driveable but treacherous par-4 10th hole, which always seems to attract a giant amount of attention and excitement. Given the chance to play just one hole on any course on the PGA Tour, which one would it be? 

Deeks: The 10th at Riviera would be high on my list, but since I have nowhere near the distance required to drive the green, it’d just be another par-4 for me.  I think the hole that I would most like to play (that I haven’t yet) is the 16th at Augusta, followed by the 13th.  I’ve been to Augusta as a spectator, and once, just once in my life, I’d love the opportunity to fire my mid-iron at that lower-left pin position on 16.  I’d play it to the right, watch it land on the green, skip forward, then slowly roll down the slope to the left, stop on the lip of the cup to show the logo on the ball (Tamblyn Drug Stores), then drop in.

Loughry: Should I pick the 16th at Waste Management? Too crazy. Any hole bordered by an ocean at Pebble, the 17th with a blowing wind, yeah, that’s where I’m landing. A close 2nd is the 17th at The Players Championship, it’s as good as any. 17th at Pebble though, how do you go wrong there, great vista, tough short hole.

Schurman: Would have to say the 16th at Augusta. If I was lucky enough to play it perhaps nobody would have noticed me sneaking out to play the first 15 holes. Then, if I was caught sneaking out to finish the round on 17 and 18, Security would be benevolent enough to let me finish the round. I’ve played Riviera and Pebble Beach, but I’ve only walked the Masters. Someday I’ll tell you my story about how we didn’t get to play it.

Kaplan:  I’m going to assume that Augusta National doesn’t count for the sake of this question. If it does, any hole there would take precedence over any hole on any other golf course on the PGA Tour rotation. But let’s pretend Augusta is not in the running here. I’d have to say it would either be the island green at TPC Sawgrass or either of the finishing holes at Pebble Beach or Riviera. Not that I’d birdie or par any of them . . .

Rule: Well, I’ve always said that 10 at Riviera would be in that conversation, as it’s a great short 4 and the short 4 is my favourite type of hole.  18 at Kapalua would be on my list as well, if I could escape January in Ontario to enjoy that hole and that view.  #17 at the Old Course, so I can finally par the damn thing.  #7 at Pebble is one of my favourites, but I want to hit more than one shot!  So, I’ll choose Azalea, the 13th at Augusta National GC, and I’ll go for the green in two no matter where I hit my tee shot, and likely walk off with the happiest triple I’ve ever made!

Quinn: I would quite happily throw down a couple of sleeves, take an inordinate number of practice swings, and visualize towering it around the corner at August National 13, Azalea. Masters Sunday that is my favourite hole to watch. It has changed over the years, getting longer of course, but the grand right to left sweep remains, and so does the creek along the left and cutting in front, the risk of going down the left to hit wedge in, the pine straw right off which Phil made that miraculously shot, and of course the azaleas and shocking white bunkers behind the green with its incredible undulations. Played a replica in Texas. It had a sense of the hole, but the grass was all wrong and, of course, so was the background. Ya, perfect. Nobody around (members don’t hardly ever play) I’d take my own sweet antebellum time and not get a mint julep until all six had hit the bottom of the cup. Walk off 30.

The Ho-sung Choi experiment is over. By all accounts the South Korean golfer with the unorthodox swing was extremely engaging and thoroughly entertained the crowd at Pebble Beach, but ultimately missed the cut. Does Choi get further sponsor exemptions for his entertainment value or does he need to move up the world rankings before he earns another shot?

Deeks: I would say he needs to earn his entries from now on.  Yes, he’s entertaining, but his totally made-up follow-through will wear off pretty quickly, to the point of being tiresome.  In the meantime, the Tour has a ranking system that’s supposed to be applied, based on merit.  If Ho-sung keeps getting tournament spots at the expense of others, then pretty soon you’re gonna start seeing players either suing the Tour or coming up with their own weird schticks to stand out from the crowd and get invited.

Loughry: Well, just to add, Choi did finish ahead of the defending Champion Ted Potter Jr. on a golf course he’s never seen before. To call this a disastrous experiment might be a little over the top. He’ll get more invitations I’m sure, he’s too engaging and entertaining not to. I know this won’t be popular with other players, but someone will always be disappointed no matter which direction is decided upon. And I think the world could see a little more Choi, he gives hope to the average player.

Schurman: Ho-sung Choi’s ‘act’ is worth every penny! I’ve worked in Pro shops for over 35 years of my 55 years as a Golf Professional. I’ve watched out the window and seen thousands of swings some very much like Choi’s and thought to myself “imagine that guy thinking he looks like everyone else”. Then reality hits as I realize he is a member at our Club, and he has booked a custom club fitting appointment for tomorrow at 10:00. I say “Let him play” as long as people pay to watch him.

Kaplan: Forget world rankings; he should get all the sponsor exemptions, effective immediately! I got so many texts and emails from non-golf fans who were either watching or hearing about Ho-Sung Choi play over the weekend. This guy seems to move the needle as effectively as anyone not named Tiger Woods in golf’s current pantheon. I know it’s a pipe dream, but can you imagine Choi at the Masters?!? I wouldn’t be able to contain my excitement.

Rule:  It’s too bad he didn’t play that well, but it’s not entirely surprising, and not because he isn’t a good player, because he obviously is, but it was his first time in the US, playing in front of huge crowds, you can forgive him for missing the cut.  I think he gets another shot, and likely deserves one.  But if he misses that cut, his 15 minutes are over.

Quinn: This was the only venue for a novelty act — after all these decades, people are still waiting for Bill Murray to do or say anything even remotely funny — but not in a legitimate spot. There are still guys out there trying to make it, who have mortgages, who worry about month ends, so taking any chance away from those guys is not ok. The tourney founder Bing Crosby created this whole fandango to help the guys trying to make a living playing golf. He brought in the novelty acts to sell it, not to be part of the reality show.

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