OAKMONT, Pa. - This isn't the Phil Mickelson we've come to know and love. Well, maybe not love. But it's certainly not the Mickelson we know.
He comes to the 107th United States Open with few expectations of winning.
He comes to Oakmont Country Club espousing conservatism. Suddenly, he's the Barry Goldwater of golf.
He comes here having prepared very little and having practiced even less.
He is injured, of course, but never contemplated not playing.
Mickelson is one of those guys for whom the cup is always half full. Except right now, it's looking kind of empty.
No, that's not our Lefty.
Our Lefty is the guy who spit at conservatism last year when he was a par away from winning the Open. So he pulled out the driver, caromed his ball off a hospitality tent, and six shots later stood idly by as they handed the trophy to Geoff Ogilvy at Winged Foot.
"I am such an idiot," Phil said at the time, coming tantalizingly close to repeating Roberto De Vicenzo's classic, "What a stupid I am."
Phil Mickelson might have to play more conservatively in this U.S. Open than the last. That might be a good thing.
Our Lefty is always a walk on the wild side with a goofy smile as his sidekick. He's always a swing away from being heroic, which means he's always a swing away from being the goat. He does it his way, which was fine for Frank Sinatra, not always so fine for Phil.
But you would not have recognized the guy who arrived yesterday with a bum left wrist, an injury sustained here several weeks ago during an ill-advised practice session of hitting one chip shot after another out of Oakmont's club-swallowing rough. It caused him to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament after just 11 holes a week later.
His nine-hole practice round yesterday marked the first time he had stepped on a golf course since. As recently as last Friday, Mickelson still couldn't hit balls.
"The cortisone shot I got recently and the therapy is kicking in and I'm able to do more every day," he said. "I probably won't be pain-free as I'd hoped, but I should be able to play with no problem and it should be manageable as long as I don't aggravate it or hit in the rough."
Our Lefty never goes a round without hitting the ball in the rough. Heck, he lives in the rough. A strain of wispy, high grass should be named after him. He normally laughs in the face of rough.
"This should not be a long-term problem if I don't aggravate the inflammation," Phil said. "Unfortunately, this isn't
the best week for that, given my driving history."
He smiled when he said that, but it couldn't be a more serious problem at Oakmont.
So he'll use the driver judiciously; he'll use a hybrid club if he does land in rough because the sole slides through more easily than an iron. He'll wear a brace on his wrist, then ice it down after rounds and skip hitting balls.
"It's certainly not the way I wanted to be coming into this tournament," he said of the injury and his recent layoff. "I wanted to have good practice sessions and good driving sessions. But it's been all chipping and putting lately. I haven't been physically able to practice as hard as I would like. I have a game plan, but it will be difficult to implement.
"So, yes, I have concerns. I'm just going to do all that I can do. I'm trying not to go in with too many expectations. I'm really not able to think about the results or think about trying to win or finish top-10 or anything like that. That's really not in my thought process."
Goodness, what has happened to Our Lefty?
The good news for Mickelson is that with all the focus on his wrist he has faced very few questions about his 72nd-hole collapse in last year's Open. But he knows he'll never live it down.
"I'll still hear about it," he said.
This time around, the sore left wrist may actually prevent Mickelson from a repeat of such reckless derring-do.
So maybe Our Lefty does have a chance.
Maybe his glass is half full after all.
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