ERIN, Wis. (AP) In pursuit of his first major championship, Phil Mickelson never saw the glass as anything but half-full.
Close calls didn’t change that. He was runner-up in the PGA Championship at Atlanta in 2001, third in the Masters the following year and then gave Tiger Woods a stiff challenge at Bethpage Black in finishing runner-up at the U.S. Open.
”I think that it would be much more difficult to handle had I not even been in contention,” Mickelson said. ”I love to compete for these championships. … And to be part of it, to be able to have a shot, compete in the end was a wonderful experience, even though I didn’t win.”
Fast forward 15 years to Rickie Fowler, who would appear to have the same positive outlook.
Fowler had arguably his best chance yet at a major in the U.S. Open, mainly because of his experience. He was two shots out of the lead at Erin Hills. He was one shot out of the lead at the Masters two months ago. He was in the final group at Royal Liverpool and in the penultimate group at Valhalla in 2014.
Sunday wasn’t his best day off the tee on the front nine and holing putts on the back nine. It resulted in a 72, and what figured to be his biggest disappointment yet. But it sure didn’t sound like one.
”If you look at the negatives too much, I mean, you’re going to be stuck doing that the whole time,” Fowler said. ”You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, just because that doesn’t happen a whole lot. I think Tiger had the best winning percentage of all time at 30 percent, and you’re lucky to even sniff close to 10. You have to say, `Hey, it’s a major. We played well this week.’
”Even though the scores were somewhat lower than a normal U.S. Open, to finish in double digits under par at a major, especially the Open, it was a good week.”
Mickelson didn’t win his first major until he was 33.
Sergio Garcia, who didn’t cope with losing nearly as well as Mickelson or Fowler, broke through this year at the Masters when he was 37.
OPEN SEASON: Now that the U.S. Open is over, it’s open season on players trying to find their way to Royal Birkdale for the British Open.
The Travelers Championship and the BMW International Open in Germany are the first steps. After this week, the R&A will take the leading five players from the top 20 on the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai who are not already eligible.
Only four players from the top 20 in the FedEx Cup are not already in the Open – Brian Harman, Brendan Steele, Russell Henley and Mackenzie Hughes. The issue facing Hughes, and Wesley Bryan right behind him at No. 22, is that they have to be within the top 20.
Also in the mix are Hudson Swafford (No. 26) and Charley Hoffman (No. 30).
Over in Germany, David Lipsky is in the same spot as Hughes. He is No. 20 in the Race to Dubai and playing the BMW International Open. Also needing a good week to secure their spots at Royal Birkdale are Fabrizio Zanotti at No. 14, Pablo Larrazabal at No. 16 and Dylan Frittelli at No. 17.
And that’s just the start.
More qualifying spots are available over the next few weeks through tournaments on both sides of the Atlantic. The Quicken Loans National and the Greenbrier Classic each offer four British Open spots to leading players, provided they finish among the top 12. Only one spot is available at the John Deere Classic from among the top 5.
On the European Tour, three spots among the top 10 will be available at the French Open, Irish Open and Scottish Open.
FINDING HIS GAME: Russell Knox had the best season of his life last year, with two victories, No. 10 in the FedEx Cup (with a $500,000 bonus) and No. 18 in the world. He started the next season with three straight top 10s, and then played reasonably well in Hawaii.
Since then, however, the game hasn’t come as easily.
He has missed the cut in seven of his last 12 events, and his only finish in the top 30 was a tie for 11th at Hilton Head. He wonders if the problem might have been playing too much late last year and taking too much time off this year.
”When I did take time off and then I played, I struggled a little bit. So I wasn’t able to get in any rhythm. I just kind of lost my confidence,” said Knox, who defends his title this week in the Travelers Championship. ”This game is all about confidence. If you’re starting on the tee kind of worried about your game, you have no chance.”
The solution for Knox? Play more.
The Travelers Championship is his fifth straight week, and then he heads to Europe to play three out of four – the French Open, Scottish Open and British Open.
”I’ve got to try to play my way out of this little funk,” he said, ”and I think I will or have done already.”
LOCAL QUALIFYING: The R&A received so many entries into its Final Qualifying that it has added another links course to the rotation and offered three more spots into the British Open. Among those who have signed up for the July 4 qualifiers are Vijay Singh, Ian Poulter and Retief Goosen.
That means 15 spots from five courses will be available. The additional course is Notts. The others are Gailes Links, Hillside, Royal Cinque Ports and Woburn.
”We have received an unprecedented number of entries for Final Qualifying … and have expanded the format to accommodate the record field,” said Johnnie Cole-Hamilton, the executive director of championships at the R&A.
DIVOTS: The LPGA Tour tied a record set in 1991 for going 15 tournaments to start the season without a multiple winner. … Steve Stricker already has played 12 times this year going into his PGA Tour Champions event in Wisconsin. … Jack Maguire, Jordan Niebrugge, Kevin Dougherty, Cameron Champ and Tyler Light were the only players who started in 18-hole local qualifiers who made the cut at the U.S. Open. That means they get to skip the first stage of qualifying next year and go straight to 36-hole sectionals. … The Web.com Tour has added the North Mississippi Classic to the 2018 schedule, its second new addition in the last three weeks. … The NCAA golf championships for Division I (men and women) will be played at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona for three straight years starting in 2020.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The last seven tournaments on the PGA Tour have had a cut that was over par.
FINAL WORD: ”If you had told me I was going to shoot 12 under this year at a U.S. Open and not win, I would have taken the bet for sure.” Brian Harman, who shot 12 under at the U.S. Open and tied for second.