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Mickelson's love affair with Pinehurst

(Photo: USGA)
Earlier this week it was an excited Phil Mickelson who faced the media at the US Open and, as usual, his media conference was as well attended as anybody's.

Mickelson is great value in press conferences at any time but when it involves an event that would mean so much for him to win and complete the Grand Slam of major championships then there is an extra dimension.

It is hard not to be swept away by the 43 year old's enthusiasm.

"This place is awesome. It is just a wonderful site," said the six time runner-up. "I really believe that this week is testing a player's entire game. Because it forces you to make decisions, make good decisions, to choose the right club off the tee, hit solid iron shots into the green, and utilize your short game to save strokes. There's no luck involved with the hack-it-out rough that sometimes we have around the greens. It's just a wonderful test that is, I think, the best test I've seen to identify the best player."

Having been runner-up on six occasions Mickelson, as is so often his want, looked at the positive.

"I think the biggest thing for me is that I look at those close calls as a positive sign for having given myself so many opportunities in our national championship and I believe that I'll have more opportunities. When I do, hopefully the experience that I've had in the past will allow me to handle it better in the future.

"But this place here specifically, obviously I have a lot of very fond emotional memories, from the '99 experience with Payne Stewart and coming so close and now my daughter who is going to be 15 and we just started teaching her to drive and it's just amazing how much time has gone by to hear that this is my 24th U.S. Open?

The opportunity, as he heads into his mid forties, to join a select group of players to win all four majors is one that he has clearly thought about.

"It's a career goal of mine to win all four Majors. I feel like the five players that have done that, have separated themselves from the other players throughout all time. It show that is they have a complete game. If I'm able to do that, I feel that I would look upon my own career differently.

"That's why it would mean so much, in addition to the fact it's our national championship. Growing up here in the United States, this is a tournament that I've always felt this patriotism to and would love to win, plus with all the close calls it would really mean a lot to me.

"But I'm not going to put that pressure on me and say that this is the only week or only opportunity, it's probably the best opportunity, because the golf course is so short game oriented, because greens are so repellant, and the shots around the greens play a premium amongst all The Open venues that we have had. But I don't want to put the pressure on that this is the only week that I'll have a chance, I think that I'll have a number of great opportunities in the future years, but this is certainly as good a chance as I'll have."

One of the aspects of Pinehurst that appeals so much to Mickelson is the choices the layout offers.

"The golf course here gives you a variety of options off the tee. There's really two or three clubs every single hole that you could choose to hit. You're taking on a little bit more risk with the driver, but I actually, when I first played it I thought I was going to hit a lot of hybrids and 3-woods. It's a long golf course. There are some tees that have been really moved back.

"The greens are so repellant that you need to get as close to them as possible. So I'll be hitting a lot of drivers. I'll be trying to play this golf course fairly aggressively. I also found that you do need a little bit of luck, but the waste areas are playable. You can at least advance the ball up by the green nine times out of ten, then rely on your short game."

Will his past experiences at Pinehurst assist Mickelson in his cause this week?

"I don't think that the experience of playing in the U.S. Open here in the past years is very helpful, other than knowing how to play the golf course, where to miss it and what places you need to be careful of, because those are pretty similar around the greens. The notes I took from 2005 were identical. Places you want to play from, places you don't want to play from."

Was there anything about the changes or set-up that he did not like?

"I will say the one knock that I have, when they made No.5 a par-5, I thought it was the greatest decision because that green is the most difficult green out here and I thought it sure would be exciting to see us hitting long iron shots in par-5 trying to make birdies and eagles. But when the tee boxes were moved so far back to where it's not reachable, now the shot we're hitting into that green is a 50-yard pitch shot.

"That's just not exciting, challenging, and won't have the same type of drama that it would have if those back tees were removed and the green was reachable in two. Now there's some guys like Bubba and Dustin and those guys that can reach it, but for the most part, it's two good shots to about 40, 50 yards short and then you wedge on. But that green is exciting when you're hitting a 4- or 5-iron into it. But unless the tees are moved forward, we won't see that."

So how would he rate his chances?

"I do feel heading into this year's U.S. Open that this golf course, this setup, and everything about Pinehurst provides me the best opportunity. But I haven't had the form this year to get too excited. Although I feel it coming around, I felt it last week, I saw it the glimpses and I felt it again today, I don't want to get overly excited, because the pressure of a U.S. Open and having not been in contention, that's going to be a challenge for me.

"Also, the expectations of me looking forward to this event for almost a year now and the history that I've had here and how much of a great story it would be and how much it would mean to me to win here with what happened with Payne Stewart and my child and all these things, that makes it more difficult as well.

"I tend to do something, play better, like at Muirfield last year when nobody really expects it and I just kind of come out of nowhere and know that I can do it and not really have to answer questions about it. So these are all challenges that I'm facing this week, but I'm also enjoying it and I love being here."


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Bruce Young
About The Author : Bruce Young

A multi-award winning golf journalist, Bruce's extensive knowledge of and background in the game of golf comes from several years caddying the tournament circuits of the world, marketing a successful golf course design company and as one of Australia's leading golf journalists and commentators.

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