GULLANE, Scotland — Phil Mickelson described his feelings toward links golf as a “hate-love” relationship, meaning he once dreaded coming over to the British Open for a brand of golf played only once a year. Now he loves it.
He felt that way even before his name was engraved on the silver claret jug.
Mickelson was in a great mood the first day he set foot on Muirfield last week. Fresh off a win at the Scottish Open, he played a practice round late Monday afternoon with Scott Piercy, a newcomer to links golf who received plenty of advice and a little needling from Mickelson.
When they reached the 18th hole, Piercy decided to hit driver with a slightly helping wind. He pulled it and watched it run into a bunker.
“This is what I love about Scott,” Mickelson said, loud enough for Piercy to hear. “For more than a hundred years they’ve been playing here,
everyone tries to keep it short of those bunkers. Scott gets here and says, ‘What do they know? I’m taking driver over those bunkers.”’
The entire group broke into laughter.
Mickelson is not sure when he figured out the secret to links golf.
Even though he won the British Open in his 20th try, he played good enough to win twice before. He finished one shot out of a playoff at Royal Troon in 2004, and a Sunday charge at Royal St. George’s two years ago was derailed when he missed a short par putt on the back nine. But he was always capable. Anyone with more than 40 titles and multiple majors can win anywhere on any surface.
He still won’t be looked upon as a links specialist, not like Tiger Woods or Ernie Els from his generation.
Even so, Mickelson’s three-shot victory at Muirfield for his fifth career major was every bit as important as his first major in 2004 at the Masters. The greatest players don’t just have multiple majors, their major trophies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, such as green jackets and silver jugs, along with more traditional cups.