Phil Mickelson, who is attempting to complete the career grand slam at Chambers Bay, opened with a one-under 69 at the U.S. Open, the one major championship that has eluded him so many times with close calls. Mickelson got off to a very promising start, rolling in three birdies on the front nine and making the turn at three-under.
Although Mickelson, who has notched a record six runner-up finishes at his national championship, lost some momentum on the back nine, he was happy with his round.
“I’m very pleased with the way the round went,” he said. “I hit a lot of good shots today. I shot under par the first day of the U.S. Open. The first round was the round I was going to be most nervous at, getting started. You don’t want to have to fight to come back all the time. You want to get off to a solid start around par. And I got off to a good start and shot 1-under.
“I made a couple of bogeys coming in. The one on 14 was a good bogey, I’ll gladly take that. Missed a couple of birdie opportunities on 16, 17 and 18, but really pleased to be under par after the first round.”
On the drivable par-4 12th, Mickelson laid back with an iron to the narrow fairway and couldn’t convert for a birdie with a wedge in his hand.
“I felt like the left pins were going to be difficult for me to get driver up on the top section,” he explained. “I was going to be on the low section with a very difficult putt. I felt I could get a wedge every bit as close as I could a putt from the front of the green.
“I also felt at 3-under I don’t want to have one hole ruin my round. If I hit one bad drive and go in the junk and I make a 5 or a 6, it just hurts the round. I didn’t want one hole to come up and bite me. I hit the wedge too hard or not hard enough, depending on how you look at it. I flew it too far past the hole.”
Then, on the 13th, he made a few silly mistakes and missed a 10-footer to save par and settled with a bogey to drop back to two-under. On the following hole, the long par-4 14th, Mickelson found some bunker trouble and had to make a 15-footer to card a bogey — which was actually a “good” 5 and important to keep a double off his card that could’ve sucked the momentum out of his round.
“That was a big one,” said Mickelson. “It was a 15-footer for bogey. You’re going to make bogeys, everyone is going to make bogeys, it’s the doubles you want to try to avoid. To make that one and not make any doubles, that was a big one for me.”
Meanwhile, with all the build-up and speculation of how the golf course would play, we finally found out on Thursday, and though Mickelson gave the USGA his stamp of approval, he had one bone to pick.
“I thought it played terrific,” he said. “I thought it played as we expected. I thought there was nothing hokey or crazy with any pin positions or how it played. I thought it was difficult. I think the biggest challenge is that the green speeds are different from green to green. That’s going to wreak havoc on our touch. And that’s the only thing I could possibly think of that is not really positive, because I think it’s been very well done.”
It’s no secret that the greens at Chambers Bay aren’t the greatest putting surfaces in the world. They’re mostly fescue grass, but there’s poa annua and bent grasses mixed in there. The poa is the problem and they haven’t been able to keep it out, which is generally the case with that kind of grass.
Other players have voiced complaints with the greens being bumpy, but not varying in speed.
“That’s the best way to wreak havoc with us, change the speeds of the greens from green to green,” added Mickelson.
Overall, Mickelson was content with his start and he’s currently right in the mix at T13, with the afternoon wave out on the course. However, he did learn a bit more on Thursday and will adjust his strategy and course management accordingly.
“I’ll look at it a little bit differently on some approaches and some short shots, instead of using the slope like I did on 18, I was trying to use the slope just left of the hole to get it down, and I left myself with a putt that was so fast and I couldn’t hit it to keep it on line. Had I played to the right and maybe been 10 or 15 feet I would have had a better chance of making it, that’s something I’ve got to start looking at.”
Mickelson trails the current co-leaders Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson by six strokes.