LA JOLLA, CALIF. — Phil Mickelson’s walk around 51st-ranked Torrey Pines South didn’t go so well this morning. He chunked a chip on one hole, failed to get up and down on several others, and generally F-gamed his way to a first-round 77. Phil’s a three-time winner of what we’re now calling the Farmers Insurance Open, but he hasn’t won here since the South got a total makeover by Rees Jones in preparation for the 2008 U.S. Open. Last year, Phil came close, finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson.*
* I’ve got my golf-writer hat on, as you can see. This is classic first-round reportage — i.e., obsessive attention paid to a star golfer who has blown himself out of the tournament before the dew is off the grass.
Mickelson’s close call in 2011 was memorable for the way he played the 72nd hole. Needing eagle to force a playoff, Phil sent caddie Bones Mackay up to the green to pull the flag before he hit his wedge from 72 yards. The grandstand spectators and the television audience ate it up, but there were skeptics — Philistines, if you will — who rolled their eyes. “He’s good,” they muttered, “but he’s not that good.”**
** I haven’t lost my touch with that old golf-writer standby, the totally-made-up quote. I can get away with it because it’s transparently bogus. Phil’s “skeptics” obviously didn’t mutter those seven words in unison, unless they were seated together in a greenside skybox, chanting under the direction of a skeptics-conductor — which you rarely see.
Or is he? Asked at his Wednesday press conference*** if he had really thought he might hole that wedge shot, Mickelson replied that, yeah, he did, because he practices a lot. “I practice flying my wedges to a specific yardage three days a week,” Lefty said. I hit over 1,500 golf balls and try to fly it within a yard or hit a target, and, for the most part, I’m able to fly it within a yard 90 percent of the time.****
*** This is one of the perks of golf writing. You can draft off another reporter’s good questions, and you don’t even have to credit that reporter. Sweet!
****Another golf-writer blessing. I can meet my assigned word count by simply quoting golfers and their caddies, throwing in an occasional “he said” or “he recalled” to prove that I’m “writing.” I don’t even have to attend the press conference; transcripts are provided in the press room and on line. I just have to make sure that the transcript is accurate.†
† I once puzzled over a transcript of my own interview with baseball great George Brett, which said that he “planned to rent a Vada house.” Turned out he was planning to “renovate” a house.
“So the fact that it landed close to the hole,” Mickelson continued “– it was supposed to. I mean, I work at that. That’s what I practice.
Elaborating, Mickelson said,****** “About a dozen times a year, I hit the pin with a wedge, and I end up getter a worse result because of it. [Dave} Pelz wants me to have the pin removed on every wedge shot.” Mickelson said he doesn’t do that******* “because it just looks bad. But the fact is that I hit the pin a dozen times a year, and probably eleven out of those twelve, the ball ends up in a worse spot because of it.”
******My three words, entirely.
******* I paraphrased here. Mickelson actually said, “which I won’t do because it just looks bad.”
“So two things,” Mickelson said. “I wanted to give it [the wedge shot] two chances to get in — one, trying to fly it in, and two, trying to back it up into the hole. And it came close.” He shrugged.******** “It didn’t go in, so what does it matter? But it came close.”
******** In golf writing, a shrug doesn’t necessarily mean shoulders. We count lifted eyebrows, a dismissive wave — even a backward-twitch of the ears.
So that’s my Mickelson report from Torrey Pines. If time and inclination permit, I’ll run over to the locker room to see if he has anything to say about today’s awful round. Or maybe I won’t. He might bite my head off!
Gotta go now. I smell burgers.