Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Commentary: Mickelson’s miscue not a total surprise

Golf - especially the U.S. Open - is the perfect theater for an athlete’s train wreck

June 20, 2006

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— Phil Mickelson did not need the applause. He especially did not need the "pity applause" athletes often receive when they fall flat on their faces. Nope. You know what Phil Mickelson needed?

Therapy.

Sunday afternoon, Mickelson suffered a 2002 flashback. In the clutch, he went back to his old habit of doing something incredibly stupid to blow a U.S. Open - in this case, making double-bogey 6 on the final hole to give away a one-shot lead. After making his final putt and realizing what he had done, Mickelson walked off the 18th green at Winged Foot Golf Club wearing a mask of numbness. He would later call it a state of "shock."

And then things got even worse. After signing his scorecard, Mickelson had to return for the trophy ceremony on the very same green. He was forced to watch Geoff Ogilvy, a skinny Australian who trailed Mickelson by two strokes with four holes to play, receive the hardware.

Asked to speak a few words, Mickelson stepped to the microphone. His voice was close to cracking.

"The only thing I want to say for all of the people who supported me this week is: I'm sorry," Mickelson said. "I just cannot believe I did that."

Count him as a member of a very large club.

That club included the thousands of spectators at Winged Foot Golf Club. They showered Mickelson with the sort of affection New Yorkers usually reserve for a Broadway hit and/or the mugging of a Red Sox player. They thought they were witnessing a coronation. It turned out they were witnessing the year's worst golfing workplace accident.

The club of non-believers included those of us truly convinced that Mickelson had abandoned his famously foolish habit of trying to make the impossible shot rather than the safe one when a tournament was on the line.

And the club certainly included many of his fellow golfers, who were all but convinced Mickelson was bound for his third consecutive major-championship victory.

In retrospect, we should have known better. All of us. We should have anticipated the train wreck. Golf is the most humbling of sports because it is the most mental of sports. There is too much time between shots to think. There are too many many choices about which way to play shots and how hard to hit them. This is why golf makes more people do more brainless things than any other sport.

At the U.S. Open, the factor is multiplied because the course is always set up like the Monster From Johnny Miller's Secret Subterranean Driving Range.

And yet, Mickelson had conquered all of that for more than three days. In attempting to win his first U.S. Open title, Mickelson spent those first 71 holes following the plan of attack he'd spent more than a year developing, filling a notebook with the quirks of each hole.

Then he reached the 72nd hole, holding a one-shot lead. And for some reason, Mickelson threw out all of his homework.

"I am such an idiot," Mickelson said.

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