Phil Mickelson provides strong defense for one of his most puzzling decisions ever

June 25, 2024

Phil Mickelson is a master of persuasion. Just ask him and he’ll tell you all about it. Even for him, though, this argument he made on a recent podcast appearance, and his genuine belief in it, was on another level.

To this day, nearly 20 years later, it remains one of Mickelson’s most-puzzling career decisions. We are of course talking about Lefty pulling driver on the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, where he held on to a one-shot lead as he prepared to fade one off the bunker just right of the fairway. “This better be a 4-wood,” said NBC analyst Johnny Miller as Mickelson addressed the ball. 

It was not a 4-wood, Mickelson’s big stick slicing off a hospitality tent left of the fairway and coming to rest in some trampled-down grass (good break) but behind a number of trees (bad break). Mickelson compounded the mistake by hitting it into a tree and leaving himself with 185 yards in, out of the thick U.S. Open rough, needing to get up and down to win. His next shot found a greenside bunker, where the ball plugged, and he wound up making double bogey. “I am still in shock that I did that,” Mickelson famously said afterward, adding “I just can’t believe I did that. I’m such an idiot.”

In retrospect, Mickelson was obviously referring to the hole as a whole, rather than just the decision to hit driver when a fairway-finding wood or iron likely, at the very least, secures him a bogey and a spot in a playoff with eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy. But fans and media have fixated on the driver pull ever since, understandably. 

Recently, on the Fairway to Heaven Podcast hosted by Jerry Foltz and Su-Ann Heng, Mickelson not only defended the decision 18 years later, but he actually made a strong case:

The question with Mickelson is — did he actually believe this at the time, or has he come to believe this after thinking about it long and hard for nearly two decades? If he did believe this at the time, he was way ahead of his time. The game now is all about bombing-and-gouging. Getting as close as possible to the hole and not caring if it’s in the rough or in the fairway. The closer, the better. And, like he said, he wasn’t hitting the fairway anyway on that hole, regardless of club selection. It was the second shot, as he says in the video above, that truly lost him the tournament.