CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Phil Mickelson has never been afraid to fail, even though he can look spectacular in doing just that.
Put him in the trees left of the fourth green at Augusta National with the Masters on the line, and Lefty will try to punch out right-handed.
He made triple bogey.
In his quest to finally win the U.S. Open, he was willing to carve a 3-iron around a tree from a clean lie in the left rough. It's a shot he can pull off a majority of the time, but on this occasion in 2006, it struck the tree.
He made double bogey and lost by one.
“You've got to play without fear,'' Mickelson said Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Championship. “You're going to make mistakes. It's going to happen. You have to deal with losing. It's part of the tour. Out of 156 guys each week, one person is going to win, so 155 lose. But you can't worry about that. Rather than play tentatively or with concern or with fear or let somebody else hand it to you, I always like to try to get the tournament in my control, where if I execute the shots, I'm able to pull off the victory.''
That sounds like someone else at Augusta – Bubba Watson – who played a risky, wild hook out of the trees and onto the 10th green on the second playoff hole to beat Louis Oosthuizen and slips his arms into a green jacket.
Mickelson knows the feeling, and both sides of the outcome.
The four-time major champion returns to golf this week at Quail Hollow for the first time since he tied for third at the Masters. Mickelson is part of another strong field at the Wells Fargo Championship that features Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Hunter Mahan from the top 10 in the world.
Mickelson took plenty of positives from the Masters, where he played in the final group.
He made a triple bogey on the 10th hole in the opening round, and a triple bogey on the fourth hole in the last round. He finished two shots out of the playoff.
“On the weekend, I felt I played about as well as I have ever,'' Mickelson said. “I didn't make a single bogey, other than the mishap on 4.''
In his eyes, that mishap was more about a bad break than a bad decision.
He practiced from the drop area and the bunker left of the green for that front pin, knowing that anything missing to the right was a sure bogey. Just his luck, the shot caromed sideways off the grandstand and into the woods, leaving him no escape.
Go back to the tee?
“My goal would have been to get in the bunker, and I felt like I could get in the bunker with two right-handed shots every bit as I could with one from the tee,'' he said. “So mathematically, I felt like I'd get to the same spot. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.
“But once I got in the bunker, I was able to get up and down,'' he said, pausing to smile. “It just took me four to get there.''
Mickelson doesn't consider his double bogey at Winged Foot in 2006 a mistake, rather poor execution.
He had a one-shot lead when he sprayed his drive so far left that it hit off a hospitality tent, though he still had a clean lie. Then, he hit the tree and the ball bounced straight down. From there, he caught a plugged lie in the bunker left of the green, blasted out through the green and missed the chip. Geoff Ogilvy wound up winning.
“Most people look at that and think the drive was what cost me that tournament,'' he said. “I drove it like that the whole week. That wasn't the problem. The problem was the 3-iron off a nice lie that I cut into the tree as opposed to getting around the tree.''
What hurts is that he called that week at Winged Foot the best his short game has ever been for a tournament – that's like Woods saying it was his best week ever with the putter – and he couldn't get his second shot near the green to rely on his chipping.
The lesson for anyone else wanting to take on the hardest shots in the most crucial situations is to practice a weakness. Mickelson refers to it as facing fear, which he figures he learned while majoring in psychology at Arizona State.
The analogy is if a person doesn't like snakes, spend more time around snakes.
“I never felt comfortable flying, so I went and got my pilot's license,'' he said. “I never felt comfortable with being in an awkward situation, so I took up martial arts. I just always wanted to take on my fears head-on. That's kind of the way I approach golf. If there's a shot that I don't feel comfortable with, I'll go on the range and work on it until I do, until I turn that weakness into strength.
“Where I see a lot of mistakes being made out here is people practice their strengths, and they don't take their weaknesses and turn them into strengths,'' he said. “It feels better to practice things you're good at, not the things you struggle at, and I've always tried to do the opposite.''
Mickelson was asked if he had ever been guilty of playing not to lose. He thought for a minute, and couldn't come up with an example.
“If anything, I might go a little bit overboard the other way – which we can all attest,'' he said.