Lefty warms up for Grand Slam bid

Phil Mickelson is playing in the FedEx St. Jude Classic this week in Memphis, Tenn., with an Open mind.

Lefty is trying to hone his game to a fine edge for the U.S. Open next week at Chambers Bay, where he will make his second attempt to become the sixth player to complete the modern career Grand Slam.

His game plan is a little different for the guy they call Phil the Thrill.

“Heading into the U.S. Open, I’ll have a different tactic,” said Mickelson, who by winning the U.S. national championship would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only plays to win all four modern major events.

“I’ll try to play more of a controlled style game, getting the ball in play, getting my short game sharp, that’s always important. … I don’t want to say conservative, that just doesn’t suit me, but more of a tactical style of play.”

Mickelson, who tied for 65th in the Memorial last week, recently visited Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash., with short-game guru Dave Pelz, spending one day on the front nine and the next day at the back.

Then he told the local media members who showed up at the course, and later ESPN.com, that Chambers Bay is more like an Open Championship venue than a U.S. Open course.

“The grass, the style, the shots needed, I thought everything about it was a British Open,” said Mickelson, who has won five major titles. “Nothing resembled your stereotypical U.S. Open. It’s very versatile. There’s a lot of different ways to set it up. Glad I spent some time here. A very interesting course.

“I don’t see the wind being as strong as a typical British Open. They won’t be able to get the greens very fast to where they’re out of control. Certainly, there’s a lot of contour, but around the hole where the pin placements are, they seem very fair. I really enjoyed it.”

The irony is that if Chambers Bay plays like an Open Championship course, it might be right up Mickelson’s alley. After years of frustration, he finally figured out how to play the famed, old links courses in the United Kingdom when he capture the 2013 title at Muirfield.

That was the one piece of the Grand Slam even Mickelson thought he never would own.

“For me, personally, the British Open is the greatest accomplishment I could ever get in my career because of the shots that I had to learn and the challenge that it created for me over the course of my career,” Mickelson said last year. “It was so difficult for me to play my best golf in the British Open under those conditions..”

Added Butch Harmon, Mickelson’ swing coach: “Ever since he won at Muirfield, the (career) Grand Slam became an option, something he probably thought he couldn’t do. Once he bought into how we wanted him to play, he’s not afraid to talk about it.”

With 51 victories in his pro career, including 42 on the PGA Tour, Mickelson already is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and he knows the only way he can add to his legacy is by winning majors — and in particular the U.S. Open.

That might partially explain why three of his past five top-10 finishes came in the Grand Slam events, including his victory at Muirfield, a second-place result in the PGA Championship last August and a tie for second in the Masters in April.

“I don’t have probably a great explanation other than I really focus on those events,” said Mickelson, who has six agonizing runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open and 10 all told in the majors. “I really work for them with the idea that these are the events that I’m trying to play well in now. It’s not my motivation to go try to grind out wins week after week. I want to zero in on the four or five biggest events, and I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to get some of my best golf out in those events when I focus in on them. …

“If I’m able to win the U.S. Open and complete the career Grand Slam, I think that that’s the sign of the complete great player. I’m a leg away, and it’s been a tough leg for me.”

Lefty is on the doorstep, he simply needs to Slam the door.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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