BETHESDA, Md. -- There is an unmistakable push to emphasize the "U.S." in the U.S. Open this year. It is the national championship, being held just outside the nation's capital and the official logo features the U.S. Capitol building. Then there is a meeting scheduled for Wednesday at the White House between top American golfers and President Barack Obama.
"He's such a charismatic man," said Phil Mickelson, the headliner on the guest list. "To have an opportunity to go to the White House and meet him in person is great. He has got the toughest thing down already. He plays lefthanded."
That, of course, comes from a lefty American golfer who has won four major championships and who has a 4 p.m. appointment at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue along with his wife, Amy, fellow lefty pro Bubba Watson and U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III.
What really would put an American stamp on this U.S. Open, though, is seeing an American name on the trophy Sunday night. That is not the cinch that it used to be. The United States does not hold any of the four major titles at the moment, a circumstance not seen since 1994 and rarely ever before then.
Not since Mickelson won the 2010 Masters has an American held a major title, which raises questions about the state of the game in the 50 states.
Not to worry, according to the Californian who is golf's Optimist in Chief. "I'm actually very encouraged with where our American golfers are, especially the young players," Mickelson said. "We have a plethora of great players coming up. And I think at the forefront is a guy like Dustin Johnson.
"We've got guys like Jeff Overton, who I played with today, or Hunter Mahan, Anthony Kim, as well as some good young players like a Rickie Fowler or Jamie Lovemark. So although international golf has really taken off, American golf is still in very good shape."
Then again, you can add up the majors won by all of the players Mickelson mentioned and the total is zero. With Tiger Woods sitting out this Open with knee and Achilles injuries, Mickelson stands as the logical best hope to end his country's dry spell. And Mickelson knows dry spells, having gone 0-for-20 in the U.S. Open.
The Open has produced his greatest heartbreaks. He lost a lead on the 71st hole at Shinnecock Hills in 2004 and the 72nd hole at Winged Foot two years later. He's finished second five times. Still, he keeps coming back with that old pioneer spirit. "I love this tournament," he said. "I've had a lot of fun in this tournament, a lot of close calls.
"I learned a lot from the loss at Shinnecock [in 1995]. Corey Pavin won and a lot of people don't even know I really was in it. I ended up finishing fourth and I played the 16th hole 6 over par and it ended up costing me the tournament. I learned a lot about how to play a U.S. Open that week because a lot of times, a par 5, which I normally think of as a birdie hole, is the toughest par."
Mickelson, who turns 41 Thursday, believes this finally could be his year. He said his putting is coming around. He loves Congressional, even though he has not played well on it. He likes the Open layout. He acknowledged that it might be more of a challenge without Woods. "Tiger has helped bring out some of my best golf over the years," he said.
So would Mickelson give Obama any golf tips? "I feel like I might help him with hoops," he said. "He always goes left."