OAKMONT, Pa. -- It could be that Phil Mickelson will long for the day when he was an idiot. At least back then he still could swing a club.
Right now, it seems very unlikely that Mickelson will redeem himself for the U.S. Open meltdown at Winged Foot Golf Club, the one last June in which he turned a lead into a loss on the last hole and said, "I am such an idiot." He showed up at this Open in a different kind of pain, one in his inflamed left wrist.
If it weren't the U.S. Open, if it were some other tournament, he probably would not be playing, he said yesterday at Oakmont Country Club. "I have concerns," he said. "But I'm going to do the best I can."
In other words, this Open probably will not make the Best of Phil DVD. The injury that will force him to wear a brace on the wrist for the event that begins tomorrow sure didn't happen at the best of times. He was at the top of his game, having benefited from lessons from his new swing coach, Butch Harmon, and won The Players Championship (which the pros consider the next biggest thing to a major).
What really hurts is that he injured himself trying so hard to win the Open. He was practicing intensely at Oakmont on Memorial Day weekend, whacking balls out of high, thick grass.
"I don't have a specific shot," he said, when he was asked about the moment it happened. "It was just numerous shots of jarring at impact, the club stopping. When I went to hit drivers a day later, it just started flaring up."
After a cortisone shot, rest, therapy and more rest, it still is not healthy. He did not play the course Monday, played only nine holes yesterday and plans to do no more than chip and putt today.
So he doesn't expect to practice hitting his driver, which means he is likely to hit tee shots erratically, which means he is likely to hit shots in the rough, which means he will have to be extra careful not to aggravate the injury, which means this does not look like it is going to be a lot of fun for him.
"I don't plan on hitting in the rough," he said, drawing laughs at his news conference because everybody in the room knew that every golfer in a U.S. Open hits the rough, especially Mickelson.
"To win this tournament, you've got to hit driver and get the ball down the fairways, because the greens are so beautiful and so fast that you need spin, you need short irons coming into those greens to have a chance to keep the ball somewhat close to the hole," he said.
This kind of injury always is possible, considering the force with which modern golfers swing. "I pulled out of my first Open with a wrist injury, at Shinnecock," Tiger Woods said, recalling 1995, when he was an amateur and left on the sixth hole of his second round. "You can have strength, speed and technique, and sometimes that grass wins."
Mishaps happen. "I've had it all, mate," said Ernie Els, who still is looking to bounce back from a serious knee injury in 2005. The 1994 Open champion at Oakmont, Els prepared for this week by relaxing and playing recreational golf in Southampton, N.Y., (staying at Sebonack Golf Club, playing there and at neighboring Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America). About Mickelson, he added, "You don't really want to have the injury he has."
Another painful part is that it didn't have to happen. Mickelson got hurt while practicing in rough much deeper than anything he will face in the Open. "I'm sure it was just a precaution that they had the rough as high as they did, and cut it down to where they wanted it," he said, "but I didn't realize that."
He didn't go so far as to call that mistake idiotic, but he sure won't make it again.
Mark Herrmann writes for Newsday.