#AskAlan mailbag: Does Phil Mickelson have enough in the tank for one last shot at U.S. Open glory?

June 12, 2019

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields your questions about the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and more.

Did Rory peak a week too soon thus increasing expectations to such a degree that he will miss the cut? -@BAIllini98

His expectations, or our own? With his New Age reading lists and other kinds of self-reflection, I think McIlroy has reached a blessed place of not really caring what fans or reporters think. That has to be helpful long-term. But based on his shaky Sunday play over the last couple of years it’s clear he has often been getting in his own way. Is that from trying too hard to force wins or a corrosive self-doubt that still creeps in at inopportune times? Only Rory knows the answer to that.

His dominant play in Canada is certainly a massive shot of confidence. Pebble Beach will largely take the driver out of Rory’s hands, but his short-game and iron-game were both razor sharp last week. I think Rory will put in a strong performance at the U.S. Open. It’s a big ask for him to separate himself on a short finesse course, but if he can get it done he will have answered every possible question about his game… and head.

My memories from the 2010 US Open, especially Sunday, are par-4s played with hybrids and sand irons (nod to Maltbie). That’s not US Open golf, is it? Tell us why it’ll be different this year. -@CHFounder

Every U.S. Open venue is a riddle. Solving it is the essence of the championship. I don’t particularly care how each player makes their score—it’s the number that matters. One of the cool things about Pebble is that you have options on so many par-4s. On 1, 3, 4, 10, 11, 15, 16 in particular there you can attack off the tee or lay back. The par-5 6th and 18th holes are preeminent risk-reward. A player could hit hybrid off every tee and still make a good score, or smash driver just as many times, inviting glory and disaster. All that matters is the number on the scorecard.

Players play the 9th hole at Pebble Beach in preparation for the 2019 U.S. Open.
Players play the 9th hole at Pebble Beach in preparation for the 2019 U.S. Open.
Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Given the small greens, is approach play or scrambling more important for success at Pebble? -@BrianFosterLHU

Yes, the leaders in strokes gained approach should be near the top of the leaderboard. But even the most proficient iron players are going to miss these greens, especially if the wind blows. And then scrambling becomes paramount. There is serious slope and tilt on these greens so chipping and pitching prowess will be put to the test.

Loved the 18th hole at the Canadian Open this week? Downhill, then uphill, and forced to be precise as opposed to simply being long. What is your favorite finishing hole on the tour and why? Venues at prior majors included. -@KeithKhorton

It’s hard not to pick Pebble Beach. This is one hole technology has improved, because now so many players can get home in two, so they’re confronted with the ultimate do-or-die shot. Others on my list: Carnoustie, Plantation Course, Riviera, TPC Sawgrass, Bay Hill, the Old Course.

Should Pebble be used every five years as a U.S. Open venue, like the Old Course is to the Open Championship? -@tamcfall

I go back and forth on this question, not just about Pebble Beach but the U.S. Open rota in general. With Chambers Bay and Erin Hills, the tournament lost a little bit of its identity, and neither course was an artistic triumph. No one is clamoring to go back to Southern Hills or Olympia Fields or Congressional, to cite some other venues from this century.

A tight rotation of Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Shinnecock Hills, Pinehurst and Winged Foot would be embraced by purists and perpetuate the championship’s rich history. But that leaves out so many great courses and vast swaths of this big country. The crowds at Erin Hills and Chambers Bay and Southern Hills were fantastic. The Northwest and Midwest certainly deserve to host an Open every once in a while; after all, this is America’s national championship. It belongs to all of us.

For the 1000th time can we talk about The Open vs U.S. Open vs Open vs British Open debate? Asking for a friend… -@HarvJamisonNCG

This week we are playing the U.S. Open. A lot of folks drop the prefix—I know because dozens of them have asked me, “Hey, can you get me tickets to the Open?” This is acceptable usage, given the context. In the world at large, “the Open” should always mean the linksy tournament we play each July in a moldy corner of the U.K. In print and otherwise, I try to refer to it as the Open Championship, which is its actual name. There is no such tournament entitled the “British Open.” That’s a colloquialism, much as if someone from overseas referred to our national championship as the American Open. You’d know what they mean, but it wouldn’t be exactly correct.

Now, “British Open” has become so common it’s treated as the actual name of the tournament, and I am unbothered by its usage. Some people are, namely the members of the British golf press. They have a point but are usually a bit too persnickety in making it. In summary, this is the ultimate first-world problem, but I would advise avoiding “British Open” whenever possible.

You’ve got a one-shot lead on the last, how do you best play 18? -@MarkTownsendNCG

Snap-hook into the bay, reload, push-slice out-of-bounds… Oh, you meant if I was a pro? 4-iron, 5-iron, pitching wedge, lag putt, tap-in, kiss my WAG and collect $2M.

Your life depends on this Euro to win the U.S. Open next week… who do you pick: Shane Lowry, Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood or Paul Casey? -@BrunoGarrett1

Oh, that’s easy: Fleetwood. His precise game is perfect for Pebble Beach and he’s already made a run at two recent U.S. Opens.

Is there a cash game at Cypress on Saturday for guys who miss the cut? How many people get out that day as opposed to a regular Saturday (20-30)? -@dylan_way

Not sure about Saturday, but I was out there Monday and the joint was jammed. For the first time anyone could recall, CPC had tee times, just to spread out the play. By Saturday, all those guys will have already played it and be ready to jet home.

Could Cypress hold a major? Will they? Also, is the reason Bandon doesn’t hold a major because of its location (remote, etc)? -@HighFades

No. No. Yes. To be a bit more expansive, the Cypress membership has steadfastly kept the course at 6,524 yards. They like it how it is, and because of the layout, the ocean and some existing houses there’s very little available room to stretch the course even if they were so inclined. It also serves as a kind of political statement against the pressure to modernize classic courses. But CPC is simply too short to hold a major. (Now, it would be ideal length for a U.S. Women’s Open, and hopefully the ghost of Marion Hollins can make that happen someday.) It would be kind of silly to watch the pros reach every par-5 in two and have wedges into pretty much every single par-4. As for Bandon, short of parking a fleet of cruise ships off the coast, it is hard to imagine where 30,000 fans a day could eat and sleep.

Loved your locals’ guide to the Monterey Peninsula. As a local, what’s your favorite hole and spot to set up a chair and spend a few hours watching the field come through? I spent a day behind the 8th green in 2000, but that was a long time ago. -@marshallmanson

That’s a strong choice—the approach to 8 is a such a dramatic shot to watch, and it’s one of Pebble’s toughest greens so the ensuing chips and putts are a blast. The nexus of 3 green, 4 tee and 17th tee is great fun because so much is happening all at once. For beauty and drama, it’s tough to beat 6 green/7 tee. The grandstand at 10 green is peaceful and lovely and you also have a neat view up 11. Honestly, there isn’t really a bad spectating spot at Pebble Beach.

They play a season of the PGA tour as 5 clubs only… who comes out on top? -@williamhardy

Tiger. Or Phil. This would emphasize shotmaking and creativity, and these two remain the gold standard. Other players on Tour are longer, or more precise, but take away the Trackman-fueled robotics of making the same swing every single time and most would be lost.

Phil Mickelson practices at Pebble Beach during a practice round before the 2019 U.S. Open.
Phil Mickelson practices at Pebble Beach during a practice round before the 2019 U.S. Open.
Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Does Phil still have enough left in the tank for one more run at glory? -@irishhusker5

I doubt it. Look at his comments at the Memorial, or meltdown at Shinnecock, or barking at Mike Davis at Merion⁠—the USGA is so deep in his head he’s mostly beaten before the tournament even begins.

What’s the biggest challenge the players will face this week at Pebble vs the traditional setup for PB Pro Am? -@cottonmc

How hard it is to hit a fairway. Not just because they’ve been narrowed, but because they’re running at about 11 on the Stimpmeter and so any drive without the proper shape is likely to skitter into the rough. At the Clambake the fairways are much softer, so somewhat off-line drives still have a chance to stop short of trouble. Pin positions will also be much different. For the Pro-Am, the emphasis is moving the wayward CEOs around the course, so easier pins are employed. That will hardly be the case this week.

Which of the many great simmering stories would you like to cover come Sunday and why? (Tiger’s sweet 16, Phil phinally, GMac rejuvenated, Brooks three-peat, DJ striking back etc). -@Dominique_Franz

Any of those would do, and obviously Phil would be the best story, finally snagging an Open on the course at which his grandfather caddied. DJ picking himself off the mat would also be compelling. But I don’t spend too much time fretting about what might or might not happen⁠—in a few days we’ll have a winner and they shall be celebrated with the same gusto as Lucas Glover, Webb Simpson, Michael Campbell… on second thought, give me Phil or give me death!

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