Column: Phil Mickelson solves the puzzle of links golf to win first British Open

  • Article by: JIM LITKE , AP Sports Columnist
  • Updated: July 21, 2013 - 4:00 PM

GULLANE, Scotland — His coach was all business before the round. His caddie was in tears afterward. Only Phil Mickelson seemed to know how many magical moments he was capable of unfurling in between.

"I said, "Even-par or 1 under could win this thing.' He said, 'I'm going to be better than that,'" coach Butch Harmon recalled.

Harmon was standing near the 18th green in the fast-fading light of a cool Scottish summer afternoon. The roars from one of the great closing rounds in major championship golf was still ringing in his ears. He paused long enough to crack a wide smile.

"He wasn't lying."

Little more than 10 yards away, just after exiting the front door of the Muirfield clubhouse, caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay was still trying to regain his composure.

Someone asked about the tears he kept choking back. Instead, they started falling again.

"Because," Mackay began, then turned away for nearly a half-minute. "When you work with someone for so many years, it's pretty cool when you see him play the best round of golf he's ever played in the last round of the British Open."

This was the one major championship Mickelson never thought he could win. He came out on tour in 1992 oozing talent, a prodigy who won his first pro tournament while still in college, only to become another golfer once labeled the "next Nicklaus" who couldn't break through in a major. Mickelson was 0-for-42 in that department and a dozen years into an otherwise stellar career when he finally won the Masters in 2004.

Another major came the next year at the PGA Championship. Then two more at the Masters. Along the way, he collected a record six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, the last just a month ago at Merion Golf Club, when Englishman Justin Rose zoomed by him on the final few holes.

Those were heartbreaks, to be sure, but at least Mickelson knew he had a shot on any golf course where booming drives and sky-high lob shots could decide the outcome. Despite playing on this side of the Atlantic for 20 years, though, he struggled trying to keep the ball under the wind and his temperament in check whenever he got a crazy bounce — and there were dozens of those.

For the longest time, links golf appeared to be one puzzle he was never going to unlock.

"It's been the last eight or nine years I've started to playing it more effectively, I've started to hit the shots more effectively," Mickelson said. "But even then it's so different than what I grew up playing. I always wondered if I would develop the skills needed to win this championship.

"And to finally capture this," he added a moment later, referring to the claret jug he was holding, "it feels really, really good."

Just last week, 3 1/2 hours drive up the coast from here, he won the Scottish Open, his first-ever win on the continent. But Castle Stuart wasn't a true links, and even an opening-round 69 across the fast, firm ground here failed to erase nearly two decades of doubt — especially when Mickelson complained about the condition of the course afterward.

But Mackay saw things differently.

"When he got to 18 on Thursday, he hit the best shot he hit all day and then three-putted. I think that kind of reinforces that stuff happens over here that you really can't control," Mackay said. "That you're going to hit good shots and it's not going to work out, and you suck it up and you move on.

"And the tournament could have gotten away from him, too, in the fairway bunker on 15 yesterday. And he didn't let it, you know what I mean? Suck it up and move on. That's what he did. He was just in a great place all week."

Yet if Mickelson was going to crack, the place and time to do it Sunday would have been at the par-3 16th. He'd already clawed his way back from a 5-shot deficit and into the lead. His iron off the tee pierced the wind with a low trajectory and scooted onto the green at just the right speed to hold. Instead, it skittered off the right side and into a bunker.

"That was a bad break, but I was probably more bothered by it than he was," Mackay said. "We walked up there. He saw it and said, 'I can get it up and down.' Pretty matter of fact. So I went, 'Cool.'"

Mickelson did, then birdied No. 17, and walked up with a chance to do same at the 18th. A crowd of thousands packing the grandstands on either side of the fairway rose to their feet as one, clapping wildly. Mickelson made that curling left-to-right 10-footer to slam the door on the field behind him. Somehow, at 43, Mickelson isn't simply holding his own, he appears to be turning back the clock.

"He's stronger than he's ever been. He's fitter than he's ever been. He's hungrier than he's ever been and you can understate how much he wants to compete and do well," Mackay said.

"I joke around with him all the time that when he's 60 on the putting green at Augusta, he's going to say, 'I got a chance.' "

Maybe not. But a career Grand Slam hardly seems like a stretch anymore.

"I think that that's the sign of the complete great player. And I'm a leg away. And it's been a tough leg for me," Mickelson said to laughter, "but I think that's the sign. I think there's five players that have done that. And those five players are the greats of the game. You look at them with a different light.

"And if I were able to ever win a U.S. Open, and I'm very hopeful that I will — but it has been elusive for me. And yet," he said finally, "this championship has been much harder for me to get."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City 20 FINAL
Oakland 24
Cleveland 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta
Tennessee 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Detroit 11/23/14 12:00 PM
New England
Green Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Jacksonville 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Cincinnati 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Tampa Bay 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Arizona 11/23/14 3:05 PM
Seattle
St. Louis 11/23/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Miami 11/23/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Washington 11/23/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
Dallas 11/23/14 7:30 PM
NY Giants
NY Jets 11/24/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Baltimore 11/24/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Phoenix 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Orlando 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Detroit 6:30 PM
Atlanta
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
Toronto
Boston 7:00 PM
Memphis
Cleveland 7:00 PM
Washington
Brooklyn 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
San Antonio 7:00 PM
Minnesota
LA Lakers 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 8:00 PM
Denver
Chicago 9:30 PM
Portland
Utah 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Rangers 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Boston 6:00 PM
Columbus
New Jersey 8:30 PM
Edmonton
Texas A&M 11:00 AM
Coll of Charleston
USC 11:00 AM
Drexel
Clemson 12:30 PM
Gardner-Webb
Dayton 1:30 PM
Connecticut
Akron 1:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Seton Hall 3:00 PM
Nevada
Valparaiso 3:30 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
UNC Greensboro 3:30 PM
Longwood
Syracuse 4:00 PM
Iowa
Central Conn St 4:00 PM
Towson
Boston College 4:00 PM
West Virginia
Ill-Chicago 4:00 PM
Yale
Alcorn State 4:30 PM
Hampton
LSU 5:30 PM
Old Dominion
Prairie View 6:00 PM
Baylor
Montana State 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
Maine 6:00 PM
Central Mich
Youngstown St 6:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Wofford 6:00 PM
Fairfield
New Mexico 6:00 PM
George Mason
Troy 6:00 PM
Georgia
IUPU-Ft Wayne 6:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Hofstra
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Kentucky
Loyola-Chicago 6:00 PM
Michigan State
Toledo 6:00 PM
Oregon
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Rider
Charlotte 6:00 PM
South Carolina
UNLV 6:00 PM
Stanford
George Washington 6:00 PM
Virginia
Hiwassee 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Texas 6:30 PM
California
Florida Memorial 6:30 PM
FIU
Southern Ill 6:30 PM
Kent State
Bethune-Cookman 6:30 PM
Monmouth
Delaware State 7:00 PM
Arkansas
ULM 7:00 PM
Florida
Austin Peay 7:00 PM
Illinois
Morehead State 7:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Jarvis Christian 7:00 PM
McNeese State
Milwaukee 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Xavier
Kennesaw St 7:00 PM
North Dakota St
North Dakota 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
Iona 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
Louisiana 8:00 PM
Auburn
Georgia State 8:00 PM
Colorado State
Penn State 8:00 PM
Cornell
Marshall 8:00 PM
Louisville
Oral Roberts 8:00 PM
Oregon State
UC Riverside 8:00 PM
Utah
Idaho State 8:00 PM
Washington St
Illinois State 8:00 PM
Weber State
Florida A&M 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Sam Houston St 8:00 PM
South Dakota
Temple 8:30 PM
Duke
Presbyterian 9:00 PM
American Univ
Delaware 9:00 PM
Cal Poly
Washington 9:00 PM
Seattle
Kansas State 9:30 PM
Long Beach State
Pittsburgh 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Bowling Green 20 FINAL
Toledo 27
Kent State 0 Postponed
Buffalo 0
(12) Kansas State 26 FINAL
West Virginia 20
North Carolina 45 FINAL
(25) Duke 20
Arkansas State 27 FINAL
Texas State 45
Kent State 0 Cancelled
Buffalo 0
Texas-El Paso 7:00 PM
Rice
Air Force 8:30 PM
San Diego St
San Jose St 8:30 PM
Utah State
Char Southern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(9) Georgia
South Alabama 11/22/14 11:00 AM
So Carolina
Rutgers 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(10) Michigan State
Minnesota 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(21) Nebraska
Northwestern 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(18) Marshall 11/22/14 11:00 AM
UAB
Kansas 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(23) Oklahoma
Indiana 11/22/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Penn State 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
(14) Eastern Ky 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Florida
TX-San Antonio 11/22/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
SMU 11/22/14 11:00 AM
UCF
Virginia Tech 11/22/14 11:30 AM
Wake Forest
Washington St 11/22/14 12:00 PM
(13) Arizona State
Louisiana Tech 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Old Dominion
Western Mich 11/22/14 12:00 PM
Central Mich
New Mexico 11/22/14 12:30 PM
(22) Colorado State
Eastern Mich 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Appalachian St 11/22/14 1:00 PM
Louisiana
Tulsa 11/22/14 2:00 PM
Houston
(15) Arizona 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(20) Utah
FIU 11/22/14 2:30 PM
North Texas
(8) Ole Miss 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Arkansas
Louisville 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Notre Dame
Maryland 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Texas Tech 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Iowa State
(14) Wisconsin 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Iowa
Syracuse 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Boston College 11/22/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Georgia State 11/22/14 2:30 PM
Clemson
Tulane 11/22/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Stanford 11/22/14 3:00 PM
California
Western Carolina 11/22/14 3:00 PM
(2) Alabama
ULM 11/22/14 3:00 PM
New Mexico St
So Florida 11/22/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
Colorado 11/22/14 3:30 PM
(3) Oregon
Fla Atlantic 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Samford 11/22/14 6:00 PM
(16) Auburn
Miami-Florida 11/22/14 6:00 PM
Virginia
Vanderbilt 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(4) Miss State
(19) Missouri 11/22/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
Oklahoma State 11/22/14 6:30 PM
(6) Baylor
(24) USC 11/22/14 7:00 PM
(11) UCLA
Cincinnati 11/22/14 7:00 PM
Connecticut
Boise State 11/22/14 9:15 PM
Wyoming
Oregon State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
Washington
Fresno State 11/22/14 9:30 PM
Nevada
UNLV 11/22/14 10:00 PM
Hawaii
Ohio U 11/25/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
LSU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(5) TCU 11/27/14 6:30 PM
Texas
Montreal 11/23/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 11/23/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
TBA 11/30/14 5:00 PM
TBA
Delaware 10:30 AM
East Carolina
Wiley 11:00 AM
Sam Houston St
SE Louisiana 12:00 PM
Troy
St Francis-NY 3:00 PM
North Dakota
Eastern Kentucky 4:00 PM
Central Arkansas
Chattanooga 4:00 PM
(3) Notre Dame
UT Martin 5:00 PM
Dayton
William & Mary 5:00 PM
NC A&T
LSU-Alexandria 0 Cancelled
Nicholls 0
Eastern Illinois 5:00 PM
Florida State
Marquette 5:00 PM
Wake Forest
Columbia College 5:30 PM
SC State
Rider 5:30 PM
Towson
Jackson State 6:00 PM
Mercer
High Point 6:00 PM
NC State
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Florida Atlantic
Alabama A&M 6:00 PM
Samford
Morehead St 6:00 PM
Indiana
Lehigh 6:00 PM
NJIT
Alabama 6:00 PM
Kansas
Canisius 6:00 PM
Bryant
San Diego State 6:00 PM
Furman
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
St Francis-PA
Evansville 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Winthrop 6:00 PM
(4) Tennessee
Mount St Marys 6:00 PM
Campbell
Elon 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Fordham
Columbia 6:00 PM
Stony Brook
USC 6:30 PM
Long Beach St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
SE Missouri St
Massachusetts 7:00 PM
North Texas
Kent State 7:00 PM
Northwestern
Hampton 7:00 PM
Kansas State
Bradley 7:00 PM
Oklahoma
Houston 7:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
North Florida 7:00 PM
Miami-Florida
Arizona 7:00 PM
Texas Tech
ULM 7:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Tulsa 7:00 PM
Oral Roberts
Graceland 7:00 PM
Nebraska Omaha
Pepperdine 7:30 PM
(19) Iowa
Temple 7:30 PM
Georgetown
Denver 8:00 PM
Wyoming
(24) Gonzaga 8:00 PM
Montana State
Boise State 8:00 PM
Southern Utah
Missouri 8:30 PM
UNLV
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
Montana 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Villanova 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Seattle 10:30 PM
Washington St
(14) California 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close