During the two weeks leading up to the 2010 U.S Open, the golf world was abuzz with the notion that Phil Mickelson would not only supplant Tiger Woods in the World Rankings, but also claim the second leg of the, much coveted, Grand Slam.
In order to accomplish that, a golfer would have to win all 4 golf majors in a calendar year, the difficulty of which cannot be understated. No one in golf’s history has ever achieved this feat as it had come to be defined in the 1930s (Bobby Jones completed the archaic version of a Grand Slam).
Now call me crazy but even before this weekend’s showing, I thought that was a mighty tall order for a man who has won a single major outside of Augusta proper.
This Holy Grail has eluded some of the finest players in the annals of golf’s history which include Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, et al. so it seemed more than far-fetched (at least to me) that Mickelson should be the first.
Still the murmurs that Mickelson would conquer the second leg of the Slam got more palpable as day 1 of the US Open kicked off. Unfortunately Mickelson had yet to adapt to the lofty demands of Pebble Beach, which included sizable wind gusts and cragged poa annua, and recorded an unremarkable 75.
Accordingly expectations had been muted before his second round on Friday, but an acclimated Mickelson got off to a sizzling start which included 5 birdies on the front nine and ended up with a tourney low 66 and the echoes of the Grand Slam reached a fevered pitch.
I watched incredulously as a straight-faced NBC sports analyst all but gave him the Grand Slam after his great round (in NBC’s defense, a colleague of said analyst quelled some of his enthusiasm by accurately stating that Mickelson still had a ways to go in winning the U.S. Open, let alone the Grand Slam).
By now we all know the outcome of the tournament; despite a few glimpses of greatness, Mickelson never really found championship caliber footing at the Open and ended in a tie for fourth.
The impulse to blindly support Lefty is both visceral and understandable, after all, his seemingly humble and family oriented persona harken the modern day image of fellow left hander, golfing legend, Arnold Palmer.
Like the great Mr. Palmer, much of Mickelson’s legacy, to date, has largely been tied to being the second best golfer for most of his career, stymied not by a lack of talent but largely by the otherworldliness and dynamism of Tiger Woods.
Although everyone loves an underdog (and to that end Mickelson has also been a fan favorite for much of his career), Mickelson never seriously figured to contend Tiger’s Era. That is until now, as Woods has floundered between alleged unrest in his home life and definite public scandal and ridicule. Amidst his life’s mutiny, whose scope is undetermined, Woods is now more vulnerable than ever to an attack from his competitors.
In the meantime, enter Mickelson, appropriately, stage left; until his loss made it an impossibility this year, he had ludicrously been delineated as the matador to tame the bull known as the Grand Slam.
This is not derisive of Mickelson but it is faulty and preposterous for the media to thrust Herculean expectations upon a very good, but not particularly exceptional golfer.
In their zeal to find an heir apparent to the throne that Tiger has not conclusively yet vacated, the press, and fans alike, hoisted an achievement into Mick’s stratosphere which was completely unwarranted.
It not only did a disservice to Mickelson to place him in the uncomfortable position in which he would undoubtedly falter, but it also debased the intrinsic value of the Grand Slam. Since much of its worth has been bound to its inaccessibility to even the crème de la crème golfers, it cheapens the grandeur of the Grand Slam to postulate that it would yield to the whim of a merely good golfer.
Let this be a lesson to the media to be more prudent about Slam predictions; wait until a prospector has won at least the first two legs before any such utterances or wind up with egg in his collective face.