The inaugural 3M Open’s biggest draw at age 49, Phil Mickelson returned to Minnesota on Tuesday to play a few practice holes before Thursday’s opening round at TPC Twin Cities. He did so hitting bombs, of course — while wearing a shirt, thankfully — and afterward signed golf flags and hats, everything but golf balls for adoring fans.
He first played here as a 20-year-old amateur at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Most recently, he played in a 2016 Ryder Cup so unforgettable, it’s why he chose to play in the PGA Tour’s yearly return to the state for the first time since 1969.
“I’ve been coming here since 1991,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. But it has been 28 years. Gosh, I remember it pretty vividly. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. It has gone by fast. I remember playing here as an amateur and watching Payne Stewart win. It was pretty special.”
He returns now a husband and father who autographs everything but golf balls because grown daughters Amanda and Sophia own the only two he’ll ever sign.
In all those years between, Mickelson has won 44 PGA Tour events — two in the past 16 months — that include three Masters, a PGA Championship, a British Open but never a U.S. Open.
His victory in a 2018 World Golf Championship-Mexico and a fifth career victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am last February are reminders of what was and still is — sometimes — with a guy who has taken on something of an “Uncle Phil” persona recently with “phireside-chat” video selfies posted on social media.
Three weeks after rival Tiger Woods won his first major in 11 years, Mickelson was asked if there might be one more major left in him, too.
“I believe I do,” he said during a May visit to Minneapolis. “I believe I have some really good golf left in me, evident at the AT&T this year. But I need to get that level of play back.”
But his mood turned melancholy when he stood beside the Pacific on Father’s Day after he finished tied for 52nd in what could have been his final U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he called a “special place.”
A week later, he acknowledged time is ticking for him to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only men who have won all four majors. Mickelson has finished second six times at the U.S. Open.
“To me, that’s the sign of a complete player,” he said. “I really don’t have many more chances. Probably have to come to the realization I’m not going to win the U.S. Open. But I’m not going to stop trying. I’ll keep trying. You never know.”
His last major victory was the 2013 British Open, the one he once doubted he’d ever win. That was six years ago. Mickelson is 11 months away from eligibility to play on the PGA Tour Champions.
“How do you win a major if you make four bogeys every day?” said six-time major winner and CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who will broadcast at the 3M Open this week. “Phil will make the same number of birdies as the winner, but the winners make three, four bogeys in a week and Phil has 12. That’s the difference. And he’s getting older. These guys are half his age.”
So Mickelson has taken to Twitter and elsewhere with his chats, featuring bare calves and homespun stories from throughout his career.
In one video, he explained his decision to carry two drivers at The Memorial after he saw footage of an unsightly and “bear”-chested Bubba Watson booming drives. He chose a driver with which he could hit cute little cuts before he realized “oftentimes I wouldn’t want to get out of bed” if he wasn’t hitting “bombs.”
When he hit bombs again with a different driver, he noticed “my testosterone came back and my overall attractiveness increased.”
Hence the two drivers.
In a special-guest selfie, his mom Mary remembered how 15-year-old “Philip” avoided punishment for trying to skip an extended family Thanksgiving dinner. When found at the golf course, he said, ‘Mom, every day I don’t practice is another day ’til I’m great.”
The moral of the story: “You see, kids, playing on your parents’ worst fear of holding you back is the greatest way to get what you want,” he said.
Mickelson will come to Blaine early Thursday morning, looking to add another victory to that greatness, in a state he remembers so fondly.
“When golf comes here, they’ve given me some of the greatest memories of my career,” he said.