Cleat Geeks

Off the Tee: FedEx St. Jude Classic

The clock is ticking and Phil Mickelson knows it. The chance to add another major championship – the one that’s eluded him all these years – may not come too many more times.

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

This week, Mickelson tunes up for the U.S. Open by playing the FedEx St. Jude Classic, continuing what’s been a regular gameplan for Lefty of playing competitively the week before a major championship.

That strategy is not shared by many top players, part of the reason this week’s event has only three of the world’s top 25 ranked golfers competing. In fact, here’s a sobering statistic: no player has won the PGA Tour event the week prior to the U.S. Open and then gone on and won the U.S. Open the next week. Never. Not once. In 115 editions of the U.S. Open.

But given that history, this stop the week before does still have Mickelson, who will turn 46 the day of the first round of next week’s U.S. Open. That puts him into the age range where few golfers have won major titles.

Julius Boros was the oldest, winning the 1968 PGA Championship at age 48. We all know about Jack Nicklaus and his heroic win at The Masters in 1986. And Old Tom Morris, 149 years ago, won the British Open at 46 years, 99 days old. That’s why they call him “old.”

And that’s it for major winners older than Mickelson now is.

“I guess maybe you hang around these young guys as much as I have been, you just feel young,” Mickelson said during Masters week. “I was looking at some of the highlights 10 years ago and I just thought, gosh, I wish I had known then what I know now about nutrition and about all aspects. I think I could have saved myself from grief in the last 10 years.

“But now I feel like I’m in some of the best shape I’ve been in. I feel like I’m driving the ball better than I have in well over a decade, and I’m so excited to play golf.”

Mickelson has had close calls at the U.S. Open, the most infamous a decade ago when the 2006 edition at Winged Foot slipped away after a disastrous double bogey that included a shot that somewhat fittingly landed inside a trash can. “I just can’t believe I did that. I am such an idiot,” he would famously say after.

He’s also done plenty right in his career, winning five major titles and 51 total tournaments, the first as a fresh-faced amateur who beat the pros in a 1991 event. A quarter-century later he still has a lot of game.

This week’s event has been a springboard in recent years, as three of the previous five winners – Harrison Frazar in 2011, Harris English in 2013 and Fabian Gomez last year – made it their first career PGA Tour victories.

Will it be another chance for an up-and-comer to break through?



ryan-palmer-630x472Ryan Palmer – After a strong finish two weeks ago in his home state of Texas and a pair of top five finishes since late April, Palmer is poised to do something big. He finished fourth here three years ago and tied for 22nd in 2015, a week before making the cut at the U.S. Open. He barely missed qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open Monday so should have some fire in his belly over that.

Brooks Koepka – The powerful Koepka had a real shot last month at the Byron Nelson before faltering down the stretch and losing in a playoff to Sergio Garcia. He has the strength to overpower this course and make a ton of birdies.

Daniel Berger – Since April, the Florida State product and second year PGA Tour player has compiled three top-10 finishes, and for the season he is on a run of eight cuts made in a row, all the while climbing into the top 50 in the world rankings.

Longshot – Wesley Bryan – This is a Stephen Curry-like, way-downtown dark horse pick. Or is it? Bryan has been outstanding on the Tour, leading that tour’s money list and winning twice, including the Rex Hospital Open last month. He could make a big splash in his first career PGA Tour start this week.

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