BROOKLINE, Mass. — A wild turkey flapped its wings near Phil Mickelson’s ball. Yes, this actually happened deep in the trees on the 12th hole at the U.S. Open, the perfect visual for a good walk spoiled.
On his 52nd birthday, Mickelson endured an opening round Thursday that was painfully short on birdies, and an experience that was, you know, for the birds. Even the turkey at No. 12 couldn’t believe how wide right Lefty had landed his drive. Mickelson made a double-bogey six on his way to an 8-over 78, leaving him behind 13 amateurs and near the very bottom of the 156-man field.
If there was one victory to be claimed by Mickelson, it was the welcome he received from the Boston crowd, best described as warm. A couple of fans shouted gambling references at him in the middle of his round, but they were tame. And the galleries showered him with same-ol’-Phil adoration during the earlier practice rounds.
But once the ball was in the air for real in Round 1, the fans were of no help. Mickelson hadn’t played competitive golf on American soil since late January, and after he skipped the Masters, declined to defend the PGA Championship he had stunningly won in 2021, and played poorly last week in his LIV Golf debut outside of London, nobody expected much out of the six-time U.S. Open runner-up.
And Mickelson met that expectation. After making his first and only birdie at the 131-yard 11th, Lefty heard chants of “Philly…Philly” before one fan shouted at him, “You’re my idol. Two-hundred million!” Of course, that number represents the figure the Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit reportedly guaranteed Mickelson to leave the PGA Tour, which later suspended Lefty and his fellow LIV defectors.
Mickelson opened what has already been a long, long week by showing up to a Monday news conference looking and sounding like a haunted man. He’d clearly been impacted by the criticism from human-rights advocates and family members of 9/11 victims for partnering with the Saudis. Mickelson said his four-month exile from the game afforded him time to spend with his wife Amy, and to continue therapy to address “some of the deficiencies that I have,” including a long-term gambling problem.
As for the tournament, Mickelson called the course at The Country Club — where he’d helped the U.S. rally to topple the European team in the 1999 Ryder Cup — “a brutal test of golf.” On Thursday it was all of that.
Mickelson hit a lousy approach on the first hole, leaving his ball under a chair. He four-putted the sixth green to put him 5-over with a dozen holes to play. He tried and failed to fight his way back. His wayward tee shot on the 12th might ultimately book him a flight home after Friday’s second round.
The U.S. Open remains the one major that separates Mickelson from a career Grand Slam; his six second-place finishes stand as a tournament record. But after a birthday celebration gone awry, there won’t be any Sunday drama or heartbreak this time around.