UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — To Phil Mickelson, time is a flat circle.
Mickelson is a different man than he was in 2003, the last time he endured a slump akin to the one he finds himself mired in now. He's 12 years older, 45 on Tuesday. He's a five-time major winner. And he's finished runner-up in the U.S. Open another six times.
Always viewing life through a positive prism, Mickelson sees all of that as noise. He makes the comparison now to '03 because he came out of that with his first major title. He's hoping to come out of this funk with his first U.S. Open and a career Grand Slam.
"I actually kind of see the turn of the corner coming," Mickelson said Tuesday at Chambers Bay. "I just don't know if it's this week or if it's in a month or next year or when, but I feel like it's closer than it has been."
In the offseason, Mickelson made a commitment to make one last push at glory and complete his major collection after so much heartbreak in this championship.
If you fail, try, try again, right? Mickelson subscribes to the philosophy that defeat inspires resolve. Sisyphus could've gotten that boulder up the hill if he just committed to it.
"I've always been somebody, ever since I was a kid, that got motivated by failure, that worked harder because of failure," he said. "Some people get discouraged by that, and it almost pushes them away. But for me it's been a motivator to continue to work harder and get over that hump, whether it was trying to win my first major championship that took significantly longer than I thought it would, whether it's trying to win [a British] Open championship or whether it's trying to win a U.S. Open championship."
If that's the case, Mickelson has plenty of fuel: Pinehurst in 1999, Bethpage Black twice, Shinnecock in 2004, Winged Foot in 2006 and Merion just two years ago – all part of his record collection of six runner-up finishes.
Mickelson channeled that energy into a year-long plan. He put in time at the gym, building strength and shedding pounds. The result: restored swing speed that has him hitting it, he says, as long as ever. He refined his swing plane and made some extra swing tweaks to feel good again over the ball. He made an early scouting trip to unknown Chambers Bay, and he walked away beaming with excitement.
While Mickelson is motivated by where he's fallen short, his belief he can overcome the past is rooted in experience. Stunningly, he won the 2013 Open Championship on a Muirfield course that was as burnt out, firm and fast as this Pacific Northwest semi-links. Mickelson was drawn to the comparison when asked about it.
"When the course [Muirfield] was dry and firm and fast and brown, much like it is here, that gives me much more confidence that I'm going to play well," Mickelson said Tuesday. "I think the other thing, too, about Chambers Bay is you don't have to be perfect. You can miss shots and reasonably still salvage pars, rely on short games."
It's easy to buy what Phil Mickelson is selling. Draw on success and turn failure into a positive. But if experience is to be believed, 24 failed tries indicates Mickelson may well come up short again. And then, again, he'd have another log of motivation to throw on the fire.
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