Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
When the shadows encroached on the Merion Golf Club late Sunday, the scoreboard read: Justin Rose +1, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day +3. There should have been a reference to Merion listed first with an asterisk, indicating a TKO.
The golf course was as much a winner as any of the players were who got slammed around when it came to making birdies — it was akin to a lightweight running back being smacked about by a monster linebacker with intimidating results.
That nobody finished under par left traditionalists convinced that the U.S. Golf Association, under the leadership of Mike Davis, can set up courses to where the embarrassing length off the tee by today’s high-tech players can be neutralized by the requirement of accuracy. If Phil Mickelson could have found the fairway on Sunday as he did earlier in the tournament, he likely would be wearing the winner’s smile today.
That he sounded resigned to the possibility of facing a career without a U.S. Open title on his resume is poignantly revealing.
His admission that this was his best opportunity to win the national championship, which has thus eluded him, comes as no surprise. He didn’t have to use his driver all week. In fact, he did not carry a driver in his bag. Still, it was difficult for him to keep the ball in play off the tee Sunday. He is 43 years old, and time is running out.
The next major will be the British championship at Muirfield in July.
Colin Montgomerie will be there, doing something or other. Like television, perhaps.
People will take note and reflect that he is, perhaps, the best player never to win a major. At the Masters each spring, Doug Sanders, who is credited with winning 20 tour events, cannot get inside the ropes. His admission into the tournament is based on holding a PGA professional membership card.
At least Mickelson has won four majors. There is time to win again, but advancing age will not make it easy or likely. To win at least one major, for many players, validates a career. Montgomerie and Sanders are among those who will never enjoy that status. However, it should not negatively earmark their careers.
Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open, which defies logic when you think that Andy North won the championship twice. That means that the week the Open was played, North was the best in the field and he should be remembered for that. It is not like he was an undeserving champion.
Still, when you evaluate his career and that of Snead, you wonder how such could happen.
How could a guy like Orville Moody, of all people, have his name inscribed on the prestigious trophy with Snead’s missing? Snead became resigned to the view of predestination.
“If it is meant to be, it’s meant to be,” he said one day on the veranda of the clubhouse at the Augusta National Golf Club near the end of his life.
When you consider the wealth that has come Mickelson’s way — resulting from commercial endorsements and tournament wins, with the likelihood of a healthy income from various sources from television to the Champions’ tour in the future — you know he will always enjoy the best of lifestyles and will be able to pass on significant wealth to his children and grandchildren.
There is the fact, too, that he will likely be the most beloved player of his era. He has the same rapport with galleries that Arnold Palmer had during his career. Palmer, whose career has only one glaring omission — he never won the PGA Championship — still evokes great passion whenever he steps on a golf course. That Mickelson may never win the U.S. Open doesn’t mean that he won’t look back on his career in his sundown years and enjoy warm memories. His is a frustrating moment today, but there are millions, including a few very successful golf professionals, who would love experience Mickelson’s career.