He was a young professional just a few years into his PGA Tour career, and he had fans holding their breath as he carried a beeper on his belt awaiting an alert that his wife was going into labor with their first child. Phil Mickelson left no doubt — he would be there for the birth, even if it meant leaving Pinehurst No. 2 in mid-round, even if he held the lead in the U.S. Open.
It was just part of a storybook weekend in 1999, when Payne Stewart edged Mickelson by a stroke for his final golf tournament victory before dying in a plane crash in October. Mickelson returned home to Arizona in time to be there for his daughter’s birth the following day. He was only 29. He had just finished as runner-up in the U.S. Open, and he would have plenty more opportunities to win.
How wistful that seems this week, when the 2019 U.S. Open visits Mickelson’s best golf course, offering him perhaps his last realistic chance of completing the career Grand Slam. That Sunday at Pinehurst marked the first of six times Mickelson has finished as runner-up in the national championship. The daughter born that following day is now in college, and still a victory in the U.S. Open eludes Mickelson.
Will that change at Pebble Beach Golf Links, where Mickelson has won the regular tour event a record-tying five times, including this past February? Perhaps not, given his string of miserable performances since the AT&T Pro-Am. His odds of ending his U.S. Open drought at age 49 — his birthday is the Sunday of the final round — are long: +5000, according to top golf betting bookmakers.
Mickelson’s Past Vs. Present
But isn’t previous success on the course hosting the U.S. Open a trait bettors use to identify a potential winner? No question, and few in the modern era have been better at Pebble Beach than Mickelson.
It’s important to note that the setup this week will be much more difficult than in the regular tour event, where Pebble doesn’t want to embarrass the amateurs who pay top dollar to play along. But Mickelson tied for fourth in the last U.S. Open there, nine years ago.
His performance this season, though, makes it very difficult to label him a contender. Since winning in February, Mickelson has missed the cut in four of six starts, including in his most recent outing at the Memorial two weeks ago. The exceptions were the majors, where he finished 18th at the Masters and 71st at the PGA Championship.
In tournaments where he has made it to the weekend, his average finish this season has been 41st.
Mickelson’s track record at Pebble Beach is likely the only reason why his odds to win this U.S. Open aren’t much higher — the player directly following him in the world rankings, Gary Woodland, is +8000 on the golf futures betting market. Mickelson ranks 206th on tour in driving accuracy, hardly a match for a major famous for tight fairways and heavy rough. U.S. Open winners hit an average of 66 percent of fairways, according to Golfworld, and Mickelson this season is hitting 49 percent.
Best Mickelson U.S. Open Bets
Yet Pebble will be the second-shortest course of the past decade to host the U.S. Open, perhaps negating the advantage of the bigger hitters and placing some more creative types — such as Lefty — into the mix. The last time the U.S. Open was played at a layout this short, at Merion in 2013, Mickelson finished second.
So there might still be a way for savvy golf futures bettors to incorporate Mickelson into their wagering strategy, given the combination of a shorter course that fits his style and a track where he typically plays well.
Top-10 finish (+500); Top Five (+1000)
Mickelson is +500 to finish in the top 10, which doesn’t carry the value of a win bet but seems far more realistic. He is +1000 to finish in the top five.
Make Cut (-200); Win Group (+350)
Mickelson is -200 to make the cut, and +350 to win a group that also includes Tony Finau, Shane Lowry, Brandt Snedeker and Bryson DeChambeau — the latter being perhaps the best Mickelson bet available this week.
But some will be unable to get beyond Mickelson’s personal history at Pebble, or pass up the potential payout that comes with betting the great lefthander to win.
A player triumphing with Mickelson’s type of odds is far from unheard of: Martin Kaymer was +4000 when he won the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and Graeme McDowell was +6600 when he won in 2010 at Pebble Beach. And neither of those players had the incredible personal success on those golf courses that Mickelson will carry into this week.
So no, it’s not crazy to think that Mickelson can be part of another storybook U.S. Open week, becoming the first over-40 winner since Stewart in 1999, completing the career Grand Slam as a long-odds player in perhaps his final realistic chance.
And hey, there might even be a next year: Mickelson finished second at the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where the championship will be contested in 2020.