Even at 47 years of age, it’s never too late to dream and Phil Mickelson will go into this weekend’s US Open bidding to become just the sixth person in history to complete a career grand slam.
The San Diego native – who turns 48 on Saturday – is a six time runner-up at the major, including his run back in 2004 when he and eventual winner Retief Goosen were the only players to finish under par at Shinnecock.
Now returning to that same course he came very close to conquering 14 years ago and also played on back in 1995, the American will be hoping to go one better and clinch that elusive crown.
Even for a man of all Mickelson’s experience and pedigree, Shinnecock will require his full repertoire of skillset to win. It’s a fast and difficult course that is a riddle to solve even for the best.
And, like many of the great links courses which influenced the Long Island venue, there is danger at every turn should a player not approach each hole with total focus and attention to detail on their shot selection.
But the five-time major winner’s form in 2018 suggests he is a serious contender, with five top-6 finishes in 13 tournaments, including a play-off victory over Justin Thomas in Mexico to win the 43rd tournament of his illustrious career.
After his win in Mexico in March, he finished T36 at the Masters and followed it up with a top-5 finish at the Wells Fargo. He missed the cut at the Players Championship but is on course to make the US Ryder Cup team for a 12th time – where he has never had to rely on a captain’s pick.
His last major triumph was five years ago at the Open Championship in Muirfield, and although he boasts a poor record of T33-T22-MC-MC-T36 in his last five major finishes, the pressure is undoubtedly there as he chases the one major that has evaded his trophy cabinet.
The oldest player to win the US Open is Hale Irwin, who was 45 when he sealed the title in 1990. With a victory, Mickelson would become the second oldest major winner, behind Julius Boros who was 48 when he won the 1968 PGA Championship.
Remarkably, the world No20 opted to miss last year’s championship to attend the graduation of his daughter, who was born the day after he finished second at Pinehurst in 1999.
At the St. Jude Classic on Sunday, he showed his class once more, finishing tied for 12th after posting rounds of 66-70-73-65, behind winner Dustin Johnson who clinched his 18th career title in dominant fashion.
And with the second major of the year teeing off on Thursday, Mickelson looks primed for an assault on the leaderboard.
The left-hander is grouped for the first two rounds with two other players who are one major away from completing the grand slam – Rory McIlroy (US Open winner in 2011) and Jordan Spieth (US Open winner in 2015).
It may seem like a stiff task when challenging perhaps two of the most talented golfers of the current era, but Mickelson has the confidence, flawless short game and drive to win on his 28th appearance at the major.
Dustin Johnson has made a significant statement heading into this week’s US Open after winning the St. Jude Classic by six shots on Sunday and reclaiming his world No1 spot.
Johnson’s 19-under 261 is a perfectly timed confidence booster ahead of his trip to Shinnecock Hills – with the accuracy and execution of his shot selection, wedge play and flawless putting further underlining his position as the best golfer in the world.
Rounds of 67, 63, 65 and 66 were seriously impressive, with his A-game better than anyone else’s on tour in recent years.
And the manner in which he closed out the tournament in Memphis, holing out from 169 yards to finish with an eagle shows how much of a force the 33-year-old can be when he finds his rhythm.
As a result of his sterling displays in recent weeks, the Florida native will roll into the second major of the year as the firm favourite to lift a second US Open title – after clinching his first at Oakmont in 2016.
For Johnson, it just seems to be an easy process to play at such a ferocious and consistent level. His win on Sunday means he is level with Tiger Woods for most wins on Tour since 2008, with nine of those 18 victories coming over the past three years.
Considering the rollercoaster journey he has been on – from injuries to time out of the game to positive rounds – his form since mid-2016 adds to the argument of him being the leading figure in the sport’s recent history.
The American held the world number one spot for 15 months before briefly relinquishing it to Justin Thomas at the Players Championship last month. For all the class Thomas showed, his reign at the top only lasted four weeks, with Johnson cruising through the field at TPC Southwind to reclaim his position as the marquee man.
His win only solidifies his status as the player to beat this weekend.
In his 11 starts in 2018, he has triumphed twice and has five top-10 finishes. To highlight his consistency, the last time he missed the cut in an event was at the 2017 US Open – 21 tournaments ago – where he had a disastrous first two rounds at Erin Hills.
Standing at 6’4 and nearly 90kg, the Jupiter resident could pass for a basketball or rugby player if he wanted to. But having the athletic tools doesn’t always make a successful golfer, with serious technical skills, confidence, patience and ability to be clinical under pressure key to making it in such a competitive sport.
His devotion to fitness and perfecting his game over the years is reflected in his stature around the greens. He swings the golf club with ferocity, his short game is outstanding and he always looks so composed.
His 2018 stats on the PGA Tour adds to this, topping the charts on scoring average and eagles per hole average, as well as sitting second in FedEx Cup points and third in birdie average.
Of course, numbers mean nothing and the real tests awaits this weekend with Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Thomas all likely to have a say in where the trophy goes, but form is crucial leading into a major of this calibre.
Remarkably, no player has ever won the week before the US Open and gone on to secure the second major of the year, but Johnson is aiming to break that streak.
And for anyone who thinks otherwise, his latest triumph proves if he can gain a foothold early in the weekend then he’s unlikely to go anywhere.
With momentum on his side, this is set up to be one of the most compelling weeks of golf in recent history.
Brooks Koepka will be bidding to defend his US Open title on Thursday as the second major championship of the year gets underway at Shinnecock Hills in New York.
Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the tournament.
Can Koepka seal a second major?
Curtis Strange was the last player to successfully defend the US Open title back in 1989, but no player has repeated the feat in nearly thirty years. Koepka may head into Shinnecock as the reigning champion, but his form in 2018 has been something of a mixed bag, with one top-25 and a runners-up finish in his five starts. However, the 28-year-old is just back from a serious wrist injury and is slowly returning to the form that saw him have one of his best ever seasons in 2017. Although the Florida native may had his preparations cut short, he still boasts a formidable record in his last 10 major appearances, including five top-10s, four top-25s and a win at last year’s US Open.
Can US dominance of the majors be broken?
Patrick Reed’s triumph at the Masters in April means all four majors are currently held by American players, and all under the age of 28 – with six of the world’s top 11 players also coming from across the pond. Koepka (28), Jordan Spieth (24) and Justin Thomas (24) hold the US Open, The Open Championship and PGA Championship trophies – with world number six Rickie Fowler yet to win but consistently proving he can challenge at the top of the leaderboard. European players may have won the US Open four times in five years from 2010, but only Francesco Molinari of Italy has finished inside the top three in any of the last four majors. Based on current form, it looks difficult to see America golf’s dominance toppled at majors any time soon.
Is Justin Thomas overtaking Jordan Spieth?
If you saw Spieth and Thomas walk together down the fairway two years ago, you would have been crazy to think the latter would be sitting number two in the world rankings and finishing better than his close friend in most recent tournaments. Thomas has won four times and made the cut in 20 consecutive tournaments, while Spieth has won once in 23 tournaments and missed the cut twice. Spieth may be regarded as one of the most talented players of the current era, but Thomas has the quality game and steely confidence to be considered as the leader of that group at present.
Can Mickelson complete a career grand slam?
The American has finished second a record six times at the US Open – the only major he has not won in 26 attempts (24 as a professional, two as an amateur). At 47, the five-time major winner continues to show impressive form, with a playoff victory over Thomas in Mexico to win the 43rd tournament of his career. The left-hander has five top-6s and four top 25s in 13 tournaments this year. Returning to a Long Island course where the fairways are wider and the rough around the green is shaved down, Mickelson has another chance to complete a career grand slam at a venue where he finished fourth in 1995 and second in 2004.
Will there be a player from the British Isles in with a shout of winning?
While Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose have all lifted the US Open title in recent years, only one British and Northern Irish player finished inside the top-25 in 2017. The chances of that depressing statistic continuing at Shinnecock look unlikely though, with Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and McIlroy all showing consistent form this year. Rose, in particular, appears to be the front runner to challenge the Americans at the top of the leaderboard, with some glittering rounds over the past six months. The Englishman has recorded five top-10 and two top-25 finishes from 10 starts this season, including a three-stroke win over Koepka at Fort Invitational last month.