Phil Mickelson’s prospects for the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot have been in question for months, but any speculation about it was always couched in the idea that the USGA would likely offer him a special exemption. After all, his 44 career wins and five majors are the most for active players not named Tiger Woods.
Wednesday, for the first time, we were given Lefty’s feelings about that looming date and a possible exemption. Put plainly, he doesn’t want one.
“I won’t accept it,” Mickelson said during his press conference, when offered the hypothetical. “I’m either going to get in the field on my own or I’m going to have to qualify. I’m not going to take a special exemption.”
It was a surprising remark for a number of reasons, the first being his chase for the career grand slam, which he came ever so close to adding to at Winged Foot in 2006. It was followed up with a simple question: Why? Well, he views it as a “sympathy spot.”
“[The USGA has] never been an organization that likes to give out special exemptions,” Mickelson continued. ”I don’t want a special exemption. I think I’ll get in the tournament. If I get in I deserve to be there; if I don’t, I don’t. I don’t want a sympathy spot. If I am good enough to make it and qualify, then I need to earn my spot there.”
Mickelson’s exemption from his 2013 British Open win ran out in 2018, and the U.S. Open classically has the most stringent qualifying process of the four majors. Mickelson is currently ranked No. 72 in the world, and would need to reach the top 60 by May 18 or June 15 in order to avoid sectional qualifying.
That jump is less significant than it was just one week ago. Mickelson tied for 3rd at last weekend’s Saudi International, bumping him up from 86th. He will have plenty of opportunities to avoid the qualifying process between now and then, but nothing is guaranteed. Lefty won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last year, but struggled mightily in the months that followed, missing seven cuts in the next five months. The last time he did not qualify for the U.S. Open was 1993.
“I believe I can play at an extremely high level,” Mickelson said. “I just need to show it.”
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