Will the coronavirus pandemic end Phil Mickelson’s chance at U.S. Open glory?

March 24, 2020

Professional golf has come to a standstill in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic sweeping the world. While a lot of the focus has rightly been centered on the postponement on the 2020 Masters and much of the PGA Tour season, there are countless other minor but still unfortunate consequences of the layoff. Just ask Phil Mickelson.

The 49-year-old veteran is already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, thanks to his five majors and 44 PGA Tour victories. But one big accomplishment is missing from Lefty’s resume: a U.S. Open title.

Phil Mickelson history of U.S. Open heartbreak

A win at his National Championship would give Mickelson the career Grand Slam, thereby joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in the most exclusive club in golf. But a U.S. Open title has proved infuriatingly elusive for the popular Tour pro.

Mickelson has recorded a record six runner-up finishes in 27 U.S. Open starts, but the most torturous was his loss at the 2006 Open at Winged Foot. Back then Phil had a golden opportunity to win his third major in a row, but he coughed up a one-shot lead with a disastrous 18th hole performance to hand the title to Geoff Ogilvy. The sting has never worn off.

Is Phil Mickelson qualified for the 2020 U.S. Open?

In 2020, the U.S. Open returns to Winged Foot for the sixth time, affording Mickelson the ultimate chance to avenge his ’06 collapse and complete the career grand slam. However, one reality stands in Phil’s way, a circumstance made far worse by the current suspension of play: he isn’t qualified to play in the U.S. Open.

Phil Mickelson in the midst of his collapse at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Phil Mickelson in the midst of his collapse at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Getty Images

There are 17 exemption categories in all to automatically gain a spot in the field at Winged Foot, including winners of the last 10 U.S. Opens, major winners from the past five years, players who qualified for the 2019 Tour Championship, players who have one multiple Tour events in the past year, and the Top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking as of as of May 18, 2020, or June 15, 2020 (Monday of U.S. Open week).

None of those exemption categories apply to Phil. He’s never won the U.S. Open, his last major victory came at the 2013 Open Championship, he finished 47th in the FedEx Cup standings last year and missed out on the Tour Championship, and his last Tour win came in early 2019.

So the only realistic way for Mickelson to automatically qualify for the 2020 U.S. Open is by World Ranking. Unfortunately for Phil, he is currently the bubble boy, sitting at No. 61 in the OWGR. In a normal world, he would have several more events to sneak into the Top 60. Though he missed his last two cuts at the Arnold Palmer and Genesis Invitationals, he nearly won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February, so his game is in good shape.

Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on U.S. Open qualifying

But now the coronavirus pandemic has thrown that plan into doubt. Last week, the PGA Tour postponed the PGA Championship and canceled all Tour events between now and then. Furthermore, the OWGR announced it would temporarily freeze the ranking, leaving Phil stuck at No. 61 and on the outside looking in for the Open.

And he can’t try his hand at 2020 local qualifying either, as the USGA recently canceled all of them. The only other way to get an automatic bid would be to receive an honorary exemption from the USGA, but last year Mickelson said he would not accept such an invite.

That means the final chance he has to exorcise his demons at Winged Foot is to hope that Tour resumes in late May, giving him an opportunity to improve his ranking. But it becomes more and more unlikely with each passing day that the Tour will return that soon. Furthermore, the U.S. Open itself, currently scheduled for June 18-21, could get postponed or canceled.

Any way you look at it, the dream of Phil finally lifting the U.S. Open trophy on the 18th green at Winged Foot might be fading.

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