Something was brewing. The crowds were growing. The pace was quickening. The roars were rolling through the towering pines. Phil’s group was approaching.
The atmosphere is just different with this guy. I navigated the full 18 with the legend Thursday. Watching him interact with his throngs of supporters Thursday was a real treat. He smiles, tips his cap, and occasionally even slaps fives with excited fans.
After the round, Phil acknowledged he could sense the emotional support the galleries supply him with around Pinehurst.
“It’s been great. The people out here have been wonderful. It’s a special place for me, got a lot of great emotions and memories from ’99. To come back and feel the support is really special and cool,” Mickelson says.
The emotional will and investment form the crowds was almost palpable. You could feel people trying to will the ball in the cup. Gasps were audible with every errant shot, and “Come on, Phil!”s were yelled with insatiable fervor by grey-hairs and young tots alike.
But something was different from Phil ‘The Thrill” this time.
When following Phil Mickelson around the course at the US Open you’re all but assured of some fireworks along with the roller coaster ride, but Thursday’s morning round had none of that usual spark.
It was a rather ho-hum day. No disasters, but no electricity either. It was methodical – nothing flashy. Phil’s even-par round of 70 was a solid score on Pinehurst No. 2 – at pretty much any US Open venue, for that matter.
Sure, there was plenty of buzz from the fans. They’re always engaged. But the man they want so badly to win this week wasn’t up to normal up-and-down antics. You’re usually asking yourself the question: what will Mickelson do next?
Don’t get me wrong, he played well. His driver, most notably, was on point. He routinely outdrove his playing partners, defending champ Justin Rose and U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick, by 30-40 yards. And what’s more, Phil was finding the fairways.
But the truth of the matter is that Lefty didn’t make any putts. And I mean zero. He set himself up for makeable birdies on countless holes. But frustratingly for the massive galleries, two-putts were the theme of the day.
As Phil himself said after the round, he was hitting it well enough to go much lower.
“I had a chance to get 3, 4, 5-under today had I made some makeable opportunities,” Mickelson says.
But no harm, no foul. You know the old golf adage: you can’t win the tournament on day one, but you can certainly shoot yourself out of it. Well, Phil is right in the hunt.
Phil got some good news from off the golf course after the round as well. He was reportedly cleared of a portion of the investigation into his alleged insider trading. Phil has maintained his innocence since the allegations were made. Now, it seems, the dark skies are parting just in time for a possible sunny weekend.
But Phil would rather focus on his performance on the golf course. And so we will oblige him.
He says one of the things he likes about Pinehurst is that he doesn’t have to be perfectly accurate, much like another of his favorite courses, Augusta National.
“I do feel that this tournament gives me a great chance on this golf course, because I don’t feel like I have to be perfect. I can hit a ridiculously bad iron shot, like I did on 2, and I can still get up and down,” Mickelson says.
With that being said, crazy heroics weren’t all that necessary in round one. Thursday was a grinder’s round, not a trademark Mickelson “grab your popcorn” round. But they say those boring kind of rounds are what win US Opens. It’s just one day, but heck, maybe this is the type of change that can lead Phil to the promised land on Sunday…