After a long hiatus, one of professional golf’s biggest stars is about to come out of hibernation. At this week’s Humana Challenge in California’s Coachella Valley, Phil Mickelson will begin his 25th season on the PGA Tour.
Over the years, he has become one of the most popular players in the game’s history; every time he plays, large crowds follow. The spectators at this week’s event will get the chance to see Mickelson kick off a year that could be among the most important of his career.
It’s not difficult to see the reasons behind Mickelson’s immense popularity. For one thing, he’s one of golf’s true legends; his 42 PGA Tour victories and five major titles place him among the leaders in both categories. Furthermore, an aggressive, entertaining style of play and a certain level of gregariousness towards the fans have endeared him to the public, making him golf’s most important figure who isn’t named Tiger Woods.
Now, at the beginning of the 2015 season, Mickelson finds himself at a career crossroads. He’s made it clear that his main goal is to win the U.S. Open; the tournament, which is held annually by the United States Golf Association, is the only major that he has never won.
If he did it, he would join a group of six legendary golfers who have won the Career Grand Slam, including Woods and Jack Nicklaus, who trumps them all with a record total of 18 major titles. However, Mickelson is coming off his worst season as a professional. On the PGA Tour, he only finished in the top 10 once, despite making 21 starts.
Of course, that top 10 finish was a thrilling runner-up at the PGA Championship. Mickelson had a chance to win the tournament as he, eventual victor Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Bernd Wiesberger stood on the 18th green at Valhalla. In the end he failed, but still proved that he could muster enough game to contend with the best.
Still, he followed that up with uninspiring performances in his next two starts, a withdrawal from the BMW Championship (he cited fatigue) and a lackluster showing at the Ryder Cup to finish his year. At this point, he’s a question mark.
This year’s U.S. Open is at Chambers Bay, a relatively new course that was inspired by the links of Great Britain.
While Mickelson is not known for his success at these types of venues, he surprised us all with a win at the 2013 Open Championship, so anything is possible. This event will be the focal point of this year; he will craft his schedule carefully so that he can prepare as he sees fit.
At the age of 44, Mickelson is running out of time to complete the Career Grand Slam, but he’s shown that he can still be competitive and has the appetite to win. The crowds that will be following him this week could be witnessing the start of something big.