Phil Mickelson lived up to his reputation as the people’s champion last week as he prepared for the US Open at Bethpage Black, which starts on Thursday.
A day after Tiger Woods played a practice round at the New York muni, Mickelson was doing the same for nearly seven hours under threatening skies.
But unlike Woods, who went out of his way to avoid more than 100 people waiting for him on Monday, Mickelson walked off the 18th green and interacted with nearly three dozen fans, signing autographs and talking about the layout of the course, which he meticulously scouted with short-game coach Dave Pelz and his caddie, Jim (Bones) MacKay.
"You have a great place here, what a wonderful golf course," Mickelson told spectators on his way back to the clubhouse. "I enjoyed my time here and I'm looking forward to getting back to Bethpage next week. I'm excited about it."
Mickelson politely sidestepped questions about his wife, Amy, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
"She's hanging in there," he said to one inquiring fan, but told reporters: "I'm not ready to talk yet to the media about it. I will tomorrow in Memphis."
Mickelson, however, was willing to talk about the Black Course at Bethpage State Park yesterday. His positive reviews stood in sharp contrast to the grumbling of most players back in 2002, when Bethpage hosted its first Open and featured rough that was nearly impossible to handle.
The biggest difference between then and now?
"If you just miss the fairway, it's not necessarily hacking it out back into play. You can actually try some shots," Mickelson, the 2002 Open runner-up, said of the current conditions. "The greens are immaculate. The rough is set up very fair. It's hard, obviously some hay, but the fairways are fair, and it's as good a golf course as I've seen."
After taking a few swings on the first tee box shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday, Mickelson briefly returned to the clubhouse as lightning ripped through the sky. He went back out about 15 minutes later and didn't return to the clubhouse for another seven hours.
Paul Casey, who hit the course about a half-hour after Mickelson, returned to the clubhouse long before Mickelson was spotted on the 18th tee box, where he hit six shots with four different clubs.
"I didn't think I was getting it in today," Mickelson said, smiling as he walked off the course late yesterday afternoon.
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because of tendinitis in his left wrist and elbow. Robert Karlsson has also withdrawn due to an eye injury.