OAKMONT, Pa. — Phil Mickelson said his recovery from an injured left wrist has been slower and more painful than he expected, but he'll do his best to complete four rounds of the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.
Mickelson wore a black sleeve around his wrist as he sat for a press conference after working for 20-30 minutes on the driving range and playing nine holes on Tuesday. It was the first time he'd hit shots on the course since he arrived Saturday.
He said it's unlikely he'll be able to play the tournament pain-free, as he'd hoped, and he said he's even felt pain in his right wrist, which he was overusing to compensate for the injury. He's been icing both wrists, and he's even avoiding signing autographs (he signs right-handed), which conveys the seriousness of the situation for the Tour's most prolific autograph dispenser.
"I would probably like to have one more week before we started this event," Mickelson said, "but I'll be as ready as I can be on Thursday."
He added in jest that he'd floated to the U.S.G.A. the idea of bumping the tournament back, to no avail.
Mickelson, a favorite to win the Open two weeks ago before he pulled up lame in the first round of the Memorial, said he'd twice tried to play since the injury, stopping both times because of pain. Once was at home in Southern California last Tuesday; once was with his new coach Butch Harmon in Las Vegas last Friday.
Two doctors gave him the same diagnosis, inflammation, and he's taken a cortisone shot, which he said seemed to be working. Still, he's limited his early work at Oakmont mostly to chipping and putting. He hit full shots on the driving range for about a half hour Monday, and he has been receiving treatment from the energy healer Jim Weathers. The two are doing energy work and even "light therapy" to "stimulate cell activity" in the affected area, Mickelson said.
"This should not be a long-term problem if I don't aggravate the inflammation," he said, "and this unfortunately isn't the best week for that given my driving history."
Like last year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot, the driver is Mickelson's most problematic club. It provides maximum energy transfer from face to ball, which sends vibrations shooting up Mickelson's inflamed left wrist. It is also, he joked, the club most likely to leave him stuck in the rough, where the wrist will be most vulnerable. Mickelson said he'll most likely use a hybrid club, which slides through the rough, rather than a wedge, which would dig into it, potentially aggravating his inflammation. He did not try to play shots from the rough Tuesday.
It was in the rough that Mickelson believes he first injured his wrist. He came to Oakmont on an early scouting trip before the Memorial and hit too many shots from the long grass. It wasn't one specific swing that caused the trouble, he said, but the cumulative effect of so much practice. What he didn't realize was that the course was set up considerably harder than it would be for the tournament.
"I will say the rough is half or a third what it was when I got injured," he said, yet another tactical error for the world's second-ranked player at the tournament that's vexed him more than any other. A four-time U.S. Open runner-up, Mickelson had injured himself practicing for a situation he would not have to face.
The man who was on such a high after winning the Players Championship a month ago, whose upside seemed limitless under the tutelage of Harmon, has gone from pre-tournament favorite to a guy just hoping to get around Oakmont in one piece. This time Mickelson may have done himself in not on the 72nd hole but before hitting a shot on the first.
Members of the press were too kind to bring up his famous line of a year ago at Winged Foot: "I am such an idiot."