Mickelson making new memories
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- Phil Mickelson is sharp in a lot of ways, but he's not Billy Casper, who seemed to be able to recall nearly every shot he ever hit. Or maybe he was such a great storyteller that he never let the details get in the way.Mickels...
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. - Phil Mickelson is sharp in a lot of ways, but he’s not Billy Casper, who seemed to be able to recall nearly every shot he ever hit. Or maybe he was such a great storyteller that he never let the details get in the way.
Mickelson admits there’s only one golf course that can stir his memory and make him truly sentimental: Augusta National. Since he’s won three Masters there, he can play the golf course on any day and recall plenty of shots that led to him to possessing a green jacket.
At a place like Baltusrol Golf Club, where the 98th PGA Championship will be contested starting today, Mickelson’s recall is faint - even if he scored one of the treasured titles of his career here, earning the second of his five major championships in the 2005 PGA.
His two fondest memories here happened in a matter of moments. In a Monday finish, Mickelson chipped out of the rough on the 18th hole for a tap-in birdie to secure the win, and seconds later his son, Evan, who was 2 at the time, ran around the green like a madman.
It wasn’t even clear that Evan understood the proceedings, or he just had a lot of pent-up energy to expend.
“We still laugh about that,” Mickelson said in a news conference this week.
If ever there was a time for a short memory, this would be it for Mickelson. When he tees it up in the first round in a marquee grouping with Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, he will be only 11 days removed from his confounding loss to Henrik Stenson in the British Open, beaten by three shots despite shooting 17-under.
Mickelson, 46, said it would take time for him to put the defeat in perspective. That hasn’t changed. He’s now saying it might pain him more to think about it in the coming years. But it certainly helps returning so quickly to a course where he had such success.
“I don’t want to let another really good opportunity that I have to play the PGA Championship here at Baltusrol, at a course I like, while my game is sharp, and let the effect or disappointment linger,” Mickelson said.
He added, “That’s kind of the goal and the game plan ― to not really do too much, not try to force the issue, but to go play and trust that I’m hitting good shots, which I have been, and trust that my putter has been good … just try to go shoot a number and not try to worry about it. But that’s easier said than done.”
The challenge at Baltusrol is vastly different than it was two weeks ago at Royal Troon. At 7,428 yards, Baltusrol is more than 200 yards longer, but then consider a couple hundred fewer yards of roll on top of that. Monday’s heavy rain and a steamy forecast will keep the fairways soft.
Mickelson excelled in the British Open partly due to having the ability to hit 2-irons off the tee to keep the ball in play. He doesn’t have that luxury at Baltusrol, with five of the par-4s playing at 460 yards or longer. Two are 500 yards. The only par-5s on the course are the final two holes - the 17th playing at 649.
The rough is more forgiving than a U.S. Open, but this isn’t Augusta either.
“Especially with the driver, the challenge is now not so much the swing plane,” Mickelson said, “but trusting it and not having to do something at impact, but just let the club go through and not manipulate it. When I do that I seem to hit good shots.”
Mickelson contends that beyond driving, Baltusrol will be much more of a putting contest compared to, say, June’s U.S. Open at Oakmont, where just keeping the ball on the green was a chore.
“Putting is a challenge here because the greens have a lot of contour, and they’re not consistent contours,” Mickelson said. “There’s a lot of little rolls and knolls. You can see multiple lines and only one of them is correct, and it’s sometimes hard to see.”
Mickelson shot 65-67 to open the 2005 PGA and went wire-to-wire to win - the last player to do so. The victory came 15 months after his first Masters victory, and set him up for a second win at Augusta in 2006.
“It was important for me to validate my Masters win, because I had said going in that when I win one, that I’m going to win multiple (times); it wasn’t going to be one and done,” Mickelson said. “I needed to come back in a fairly short time period and validate that first win.”
To win after Troon would be a different validation, but probably no less satisfying.