BROOKLINE, Mass. — Phil Mickelson was desperate for some normalcy.
Yet little felt normal for him in the U.S. Open at The Country Club during a week that ended prematurely Friday with an unceremonious missed cut.
It was Mickelson’s 31st U.S. Open start and only the fifth time he has failed to make the weekend.
These have been turbulent times for Mickelson, who celebrated his 52nd birthday on Thursday by shooting an 8-over 78 in the first round to virtually guarantee he would miss the cut.
It didn’t get much better Friday in the second round and he bowed out of the tournament with a 3-over 73 to finish his two-day stay at 11-over, light years from the cutline.
Mickelson’s week began with an awkward 25-minute pretournament press conference on Monday (at which he was grilled like a fugitive coming out of hiding for his involvement with the Greg Norman-led LIV Golf Invitational Series). His week ended with him leaving the course in a courtesy car shortly before 2 p.m. Friday with half the field still on the golf course.
“I enjoyed getting back out there,’’ Mickelson told The Post and two other reporters after his round, moments before departing the premises. “The U.S. Open is the ultimate test and you don’t really know where your game is until you get tested. I thought I was a little bit closer than I was.’’
Asked what disappointed him most about the week, Mickelson said: “My play. I’m struggling with the putter — last week [at the first LIV event in London] and this week.’’
It’s difficult to decipher which part of Mickelson’s week was worse: The way it began with that uncomfortable press conference or missing the cut.
Mickelson was making his eighth attempt at completing the coveted career Grand Slam since winning the 2013 British Open. A U.S. Open trophy is the only one that has eluded him, despite a record six runner-up finishes (1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2013).
He caught lightning in a bottle when he won the 2021 PGA Championship at age 51 at Kiawah Island, becoming the oldest player ever to capture a major championship.
That will go down as one of the most extraordinary achievements in the sport. Yet Mickelson has been reduced to an ordinary golfer since that victory.
This U.S. Open was the 13th non-LIV Golf tournament he has played since his historic PGA Championship triumph and his sixth missed cut in that span. His best result since that benchmark win was a tie for 17th at the WGC-St. Jude Invitational, his only top-20 result.
At the inaugural LIV Golf event outside London last week, Mickelson hardly looked the part of the player LIV is reportedly paying $200 million. Against a thin field, he finished 34th out of the 48 players at 6-over.
Here’s a list of LIV players who finished better than Mickelson did last week: Hennie Du Plessis (who finished runner-up), Kevin Yuan, Scott Vincent, Jediah Morgan, Ryosuke Kinoshita, Viraj Madappa, Ian Snyman, J.C. Ritchie, Jinichiro Kozuma, Oliver Bekker and Adrian Otaegui.
No disrespect to those 11 players, but if you’ve heard of more than one of them you win a prize.
So, that raises the question: How good is Mickelson now?
He looked like a diminished player this week, and there’s building evidence that his game is no longer good enough to hang with the top players in the world — which is hardly a crime, considering his age. As it is, he defied most odds with his victory at last year’s PGA.
The Champions Tour, on which he has played in six events and won four of them, isn’t an option at the moment because PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan last week suspended Mickelson and 16 other players who played in that initial LIV event.
So, what’s next for Mickelson?
The second event of the LIV Golf series will take place June 30 through July 2 at Pumpkin Ridge outside Portland, Ore. Mickelson said he’ll play. He also said he plans to play the British Open July 14-17 at St. Andrews. Mickelson will then make a visit to the New York Metropolitan Area when he competes in LIV Golf’s third event, to be played July 29-31 at Trump National in Bedminster, N.J.
“I feel I’m certainly playing better than I’m scoring,’’ Mickelson, ever the optimist, said. “I’ll look forward to working on it. I’m pretty motivated to get back to work.’’
Maybe the work will give Mickelson a sense of normalcy to his golfing life, because there was none of it this week.
Not with that pre-tournament firing squad he faced.
Not by shooting 11-over for two days.
And not driving out of the club for the final time of the of the week on a Friday afternoon with the tournament’s second round not even complete.
Indeed, these are unsettled times for Mickelson and it was etched all over his face even as he tried to portray a positive front on Friday.