Lefty develops a convenient case of Open amnesia
AP National Writer
SANDWICH, England (AP) – Let’s all welcome a newcomer to the British Open … Mr. Phil Mickelson of the United States.
Uhh, come again?
Lefty is hardly an Open rookie. When he tees off Thursday, it will be his 18th appearance in golf’s oldest major, which makes him one of the more experienced players in the field.
But Mickelson has developed a convenient case of amnesia this week, preferring to ignore a record that includes only one top-10 finish and more time scuffling than actually contending for the claret jug.
“I’m entering this year kind of like a fresh start,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not going to worry about past performances. I’m going to try to learn and enjoy the challenge of playing links golf. I’m having fun doing that. I’m trying to pretend like it’s my first time here.”
This is classic Mickelson. Over the years, he’s talked of the need to be more aggressive. Unless he was talking about being more patient. Or more reckless. Or more thoughtful.
Now, he just wants to forget.
While Mickelson is one of the most imaginative players around the green, his longer clubs have never been much of a fit for links golf. He prefers a game built on towering shots hit with precision, the sort of style that works so well on the PGA Tour.
The British Open, on the other hand, is often won by the guy who can hit low, ugly shots that take the wind out of play but work just fine skipping along the bumpy ground.
The sort of wind that was howling Tuesday at Royal St. George’s, leaving Mickelson unable to reach the green on the par-3 11th – even with his driver.
He admitted to playing “terrible” during his practice round, but kept telling himself how much fun he was having on a cool, cloudy day, the wind gusting at more than 30 mph.
He really was enjoying myself.
“I think it’s a fun challenge,” Mickelson said, trying to sound convincing, “whether I play well or not.”
Make no mistake, this is clearly his most befuddling major. He’s won the Masters three times, the PGA Championship once and been a runner-up so many time in the U.S. Open that we’ve lost count. But the British Open, for the most part, has been a complete mystery.
What’s the problem?
A style that just doesn’t fit? A stubborn refusal to adapt? Or just the fact that he happens to play poorly on this particular week?
Mickelson chooses “D” – all of the above.
“I know that the last few years my putting on the greens has been a big issue, but I think that also there were other factors, too,” he said. “Shot selection around the greens, shot selection into the greens.”
He’s been studying the contour of the greens, trying to figure out which holes work better when he keeps the ball low, which ones are more suited for a high shot that will stick near the flag.
“Learning some of those nuances of the course is the first thing I’m trying to do a little bit more effectively now,” Mickelson said, “so that I can make better decisions while I’m out playing.”
He sounded like a rookie, which is just what he wants.
He’s certainly not the favorite. All eyes are on Rory McIlroy, coming off an eight-stroke victory at the U.S. Open and looking very much like the future of golf.
There were more media waiting for McIlroy in the interview room than showed up for anyone else. More than Mickelson. More than Luke Donald, the top-ranked player in the world. They stood against every wall in the room and were three-deep at the doorway.
This is McIlroy’s new world. He insists that he’s ready for it.
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” said the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland. “I’ve always wanted to be a successful golfer and be one of the best players in the world and to win major championships. If I have to put up with a few things along the way, then I’m fine with that.”
Mickelson just wants to come into this Open with a clean slate, with no preconceived notions about how to hit the ball, with no memories of all the errant shots he struck in the past.
“I’m not trying to fix any past poor play,” he insisted. “I’m trying to come here and play the way links golf should be played, along the ground, as effectively as I can, and really enjoy the challenge that it brings.
“It’s a different style of play,” Mickelson added, clearly speaking as much for himself as the assembled media. “We can’t play through the air. We have to accept what the ground gives us when we have conditions like we had (Tuesday).”
There were times he sounded convincing.
Other times, not so much.
“I actually really enjoy it,” he said, before quickly tacking on, “but I also enjoy golf in the States. I enjoy being rewarded for hitting a precise shot and having the ball end up close to the hole if you hit it really well, and land it where you want to land it.”
Mickelson has struggled with his putter at the British Open, admitting that he finds it difficult to read the lines and judge the speed of the fescue-style greens.
But that’s about all the looking back he wants to do.
Time to look forward.
“I’m trying to go in here as though it’s my first time,” Mickelson said. “I’m trying to pretend I’ve never played here before and I’m just trying to learn it all from the start, from scratch.”
While he’s certainly not overflowing with bravado in what has been a largely disappointing season all around, at least he didn’t sound overwhelmed.
Maybe that’s a start.
“I don’t think I can say I’m going in confidently,” Mickelson said. “I’m going in with an open mind on some of the new ideas to play the course. Hopefully I can play it effectively.”
National Writer Paul Newberry can be reached at http://twitter.com/pnewberry1963