Phil Mickelson’s US Open quest: A journey fuelled by dreaming, thinking, and over-thinking

Last month the 50-year-old landed his sixth Major Championship victory, but the title he desires more than any other has remained tantalisingly out of reach his entire career.

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Phil Mickelson to be the top lefty

If there is anything more Phil Mickelson than becoming the oldest Major Champion on the longest Major Championship layout in history - a feat he achieved last month - it is his on-going pursuit of US Open triumph this week.

The Californian has won three Masters titles, two PGA Championships, and he even conquered the British linksland to claim one Open Championship triumph in 2013.

But the glory he has always set his heart on - winning his national championship - has eluded him time and time again.

Six times he has been a runner-up. Six times he's banged his head against a door that refuses to open. Six times his heart has been broken.

In 1999 he was leading with three holes to play; in 2002 he was the only man in the field to shoot level-par (unfortunately Tiger Woods was alone in bettering it); he was tied for the lead with two holes to play in 2004, but made double bogey at 17; on the final hole at Winged Foot in 2006 destiny called him, but his drive went to the tented village instead; another Sunday back nine lead came to nothing in 2009; and four years later a 54-hole lead fizzled away.

Throughout this crusade he has been a fascinating study in the notoriously fine line between thinking and over-thinking; between outfoxing the field, the course and the USGA, and outwitting himself.

Examples of the latter often prompt mockery. Often it is done in jest, more often it is the mean habit of the conformist who would rather fail doing what everyone else is doing than run the risk of falling flat on his or her face in search of triumph.

Mickelson has never been afraid of such perils and earned his PGA Championship win because of it.

In addition to his flexible mind, we will also come to miss Mickelson's astute observations and he began this week's return to Torrey Pines with a few thoughts about one of the key issues: how will be course play in comparison with January's annual Farmers Insurance Open?

"So when we play here at Torrey Pines, it's in February," he said.

That's another thing about Mickelson: he gets things wrong. The Farmers has been played in January, with one exception, since 2010.

"The golf course is a lot wetter and plays a lot longer for the Farmers," he continued. "So what starts to come out (this week) are the subtleties and the nuances.

"With the fairways being contoured the way they are, and being firm now, they're going to be more difficult to hit. You've got to shape it into the fairways.

"And the greens are very challenging. There's a lot of pitch, a lot of contour, and they're getting firmer.

"It's very difficult to get it to some of the pin positions. It's going to be a fun, but very difficult, challenge."

Mickelson has landed 10 top 10 finishes in 29 US Open starts and also has seven top 10s in 22 starts since 2000 at Torrey Pines: he's 11/4 end the week as top lefty with PlanetSportBet.

Naturally, he had plenty to say ahead the big week. Here's the best of the rest.

On coming home

"It's exciting to have a major championship here where I grew up. It's been a special place for me to grow up and play our high school matches. I played a lot of golf out here. To be here as a major winner is really cool."

On the changes to the course from when he was young

"It's a lot different than when I grew up 35 years ago. What's happened for me is that I spent so many hours here as a kid that, when the course was redesigned, all that local knowledge went away.

"It's hard to get a tee time out here and, when you do, it's a long round. So I don't spend a lot of time out here other than the Farmers. But, having the last week off, I spent time out here to really re-learn the greens. See if I can get that local knowledge again, learn the nuances. We'll see how that goes."

On how course renovator Rees Jones re-shaped the bunkering

"Typical thing of Rees Jones, in every bunker the green goes away from you. Wherever the bunker is, the green is pitched away, so you really can't short side yourself because you can't get it up and down out of those bunkers.

"Now, on tour, the average course we play, if you were to have a bunker shot, it's ten yards. That's the average shot, 30 feet, right? But here, because of the way it angles away, it's 15 yards. So it's a little bit longer bunker shot than what we would average on any other golf course.

"That also makes it harder to stop it on those short side shelves. So knowing to play away from the pin or being able to play away from the pin, give myself 30 or 40 feet, if I know the break, if I know the read and believe I can make it, then I'm more inclined to not force the issue and not press. That was my whole thought process on re-learning the greens."

On believing he could win the PGA Championship

"When you're playing at a certain level but not getting the results. It's very frustrating and it's tough to be patient. I'm hopeful that some of the things that I had learned heading into that week will carry over and give me some more opportunities this summer, because I feel like I'm playing some good golf."

On posting this thought on Twitter

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"It's challenging when you continue to work hard, do the right things, see progress but don't get the results. It's very frustrating and a lot of times people will stop or quit because they're just not getting out of it what they feel they're putting into it.

"But you kind of learn in plateaus, and every now and then you might be working hard, working hard, doing the right things and not getting the progress, and then you kind of get a spike. That spike came at the PGA."

On his chances this week

"It's a unique opportunity because I've never won a U.S. Open. It's in my backyard. So I've kind of shut off all the noise. I've shut off my phone. I want to really give it my best chance to play my best. Now, you always need some luck, you always need things to kind of come together and click, but I know that I'm playing well."

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