Dahlberg: Wrist gives Mickelson an excuse | VailDaily.com

Dahlberg: Wrist gives Mickelson an excuse

Tim Dahlberg
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Charles Krupa/AP PhotoPhil Mickelson hits out of a bunker on the 15th hole during his practice round for the U.S. Open at the Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., Wednesday.

Mickelson’s wrist gives him an excuse when it’s needed most


AP Sports Columnist

OAKMONT, Pa. (AP) ” Phil Mickelson isn’t exactly sure what is wrong with his injured left wrist, other than it hurts. That’s a slight improvement over last year, when no one was certain what was wrong with his head.

The wrist now sports a glove more suited to making a 7-10 split than a 20-foot putt. Underneath the hat on his head, things have proven just as difficult to fix.

This was supposed to be the week when Mickelson would meet his demons head-on in the same tournament where his spectacular collapse a year ago instantly became a part of golf lore.

Either that or it was going to be the week where Mickelson confirmed what many have long suspected ” that even Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist would have trouble figuring out what goes on inside Lefty’s brain.

One way or the other, this U.S. Open was going to provide some closure for golf fans everywhere.

Then the wrist messed everything up.

Mickelson messed it up practicing chips out of the rough while preparing for the Open. That’s his story, anyway, and it does sound better than if he hurt it playing catch in the parking lot with his caddie, as he used to do to warm up before some majors.

Just what is wrong is murky at best. Mickelson says it’s inflammation, and it’s gotten bad enough to take a cortisone shot and wrap the wrist in a glove that looks more at home at a bowling alley than a golf course.

You half expected him to strap it onto the space-age contraption that his short-game guru was using to measure the speed of the greens and get a few electrical jolts to speed the healing. Mickelson politely declined autographs during Wednesday’s practice round, pointing to his wrist as the culprit.

Injuries, of course, can be funny things, and no one is claiming Mickelson isn’t being forthright about what ails him. If anything, he tends to give out too much information, in contrast to Tiger Woods, who goes about his business with the openness of a secret agent.

With Mickelson, you knew almost to the hour when his wife was going to go into labor at the 1999 Open. With Woods, the only guess is that his baby will be born sometime this summer.

And look no further than Michelle Wie for evidence that wrist problems can create havoc with a golf game. Mickelson himself withdrew from the Memorial a few weeks ago because of his injury and hasn’t played competitively since.

The injury seems serious enough to cost him a chance to win the tournament he wants ” and needs ” more desperately than any other.

In a strange way, though, it may have also happened at just the right time.

Without a sore wrist, Mickelson would have come to Oakmont with a lot of explaining to do. His wayward shots on the 18th hole at Winged Foot would have been replayed constantly on TV, and every move he has made since would be analyzed over and over again.

Fans would crowd around every tee just to see where in Pennsylvania he might hit it.

Instead, the questions center on his wrist, not his mind. That’s not bad, because they’re a lot easier to answer.

His excuse for the week is at the end of his left arm. Expectations have accordingly been lowered by the day.

“I wish I had one more week of recovery and practice time to prepare properly, but you do the best you can,” Mickelson said.

It’s now been a full year since the Mickelson meltdown, a collapse so shockingly sudden and complete that even the usually loquacious Lefty could barely summon up the words to describe it.

“I am such an idiot” was the best he could do, and few who were there to witness it could disagree.

Among them was Johnny Miller, whose job it was to describe to the nation what was happening when Mickelson for reasons that only he seemed to comprehend pulled out a driver on the final hole and promptly gave away the championship.

“Right now, Ben Hogan officially has rolled over in his grave,” Miller said as Mickelson’s tee shot sailed wide left. “Just crazy shot selection.”

Mickelson insists he left the disaster behind him almost from the moment he left the course. In his next breath, he also insists it has made him a better player because it forced him to pair up with instructor Butch Harmon to eliminate the wild left shot from his repertoire.

Indeed, the new Mickelson won the Player’s Championship with a shorter swing, hitting fairways and greens on the final day in what many thought was just a preview of what he would do in the Open.

But questions remained, as they always seem to do with Mickelson.

Would he be able to block out the past and contend? Would he sleep well Saturday night if he was near the lead, or would he dream the nightmare that was his a year ago?

Would he be able to stand on the 18th tee in the final round with a clear mind?

Don’t count on tuning in Sunday afternoon to find out.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org

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